Check in China: The ultimate guide to the sights and adventures of Dunhuang

Check in China: The ultimate guide to the sights and adventures of Dunhuang

The city in northwestern Gansu Province (甘肅) has a lot to offer, not least of which is the Gobi


This stunning crescent-shaped lake is a popular tourist destination.

The Gobi – crescent

Much of the experience in Dunhuang has to do with the Gobi Desert, and you wouldn’t want to miss it.

5 things to know about the Gobi

1 It’s Asia’s largest desert
2 It lies between China and Mongolia.
3 It is around 1,600km long and about 800km wide. It is 1.3 million square km.
4 Part of it is surrounded by another desert, the Taklamakan.
5 Several of its ancient cities were rest stops along the Silk Road, including Dunhuang and Old Turpan.

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Crescent Lake

This beautiful oasis is the central tourist attraction in Dunhuang, and you simply cannot visit the city without a trip to Crescent Lake. But don’t expect
to be swimming in it – it is crowded with tourists.

Things to do at Crescent Lake

A walk along the lake is the most relaxing way to enjoy it. But it won’t be long before you’ll be caught up in the excitement of helicopter rides, quad bikes, and dune sliding.

Ride a camel into the desert and back.

Camel rides
There is an endless procession of camels taking riders up into the desert and back. Hop on one for the experience and some great ‘Gram shots, but for a more personalised experience you might want to consider doing a night ride, which you can find online.

Dune sliding or hiking
The walk to the top of the dune slide – which is halfway up an actual dune – is not as impossible as it looks. There is a chain link ladder to help you to climb up. But, now and then, you will have to step aside for the people who carry the toboggans back to the top, and other faster climbers. You buy your tickets up there, but remember the warning in “before you go”.

You can go on from the toboggan station to the top of the dune, then choose to slide down, which is intense, or you can figure out how to walk down, which can also be quite fun.

Helicopter rides
If three of you can pool your funds for a quick copter ride around the lake, it shouldn’t break the bank – and it’s well worth paying for. Photographers need to sit on the passenger side –

if you sit behind the pilot, you’re not going to get the best view.

Quad bikes
In other places in the world, when you hire a quad bike, you get to actually drive it, but not here. No matter how much you protest, you will have a quad jockey with you, doing most of the work.

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Mingsha Shan

This is another of the must-see items on the list. It’s a beautifully coloured dune that is said to “sing”. Its sands make a strange sound when the wind blows on them.

Mogao Caves

The Mogao Caves are one of largest grottos in China.

These caves are possibly the most amazing thing you will ever see. There are hundreds of them at this particular site, and more at other sites. They contain beautiful paintings that you’re not allowed to photograph because the light may damage them. Make sure you go with a small group of people because, really, any more than 10 and you could miss a whole lot of what is being said and shown.

Don’t fret too much about the pics, though. At this site there is also an amazing museum that you will really want to spend a whole day exploring.

Shanzho Night Market

Expect great Instagram-worthy shots of colourful stalls and plates of interesting food. The big favourite is Rang Pi, a plate of cold noodles with a spicy mix on top. Dunhuang is surprisingly a fruit-growing place, so don’t pass up the chance to try some of the local produce. Keep an eye out for the Xiangshui Pear, Turpan grapes and Dunhuang grapes. Slake your thirst with some of the famous apricot peel water, as cold as you can get. There’s a lot of meat on offer too. We liked the barbecue lamb.

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How to get there

Most flights go via Xi’an (西安), which is a bonus if you have not been there before. You might want to take the time to check out the famous terracotta warriors there.

Before you go

  • Don’t take anything you don’t absolutely need. Once something falls into the sand
    it can be lost forever.
  • Keep your camera and phone in airtight plastic bags to keep them sand-free.
  • Take a head covering, and also possibly a face covering to protect yourself from the sand and sun.
  • Obviously you can’t go in high heels, but
    most importantly you have to have comfortable footwear. Don’t splurge on special dune boots, as they will be provided at the entrance. People will help you to
    put them on.
  • Do not forget your sunnies.
  • Bring small change.
  • Carry a big bottle of water or a sports drink.
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen!
  • If you’re not Chinese, ask one of your Chinese friends to help you buy tickets. It seems that foreigners get charged a little extra.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Much to do in Dunhuang


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