It was the world's first superhighway, a series of desert and mountain crossing that enabled silk to make its way from the ancient Chinese capital of Xian. The Silk Road allowed links between China and the West to flourish, an exchange of art, ideas and culture as well as trade.
Long before Xian became famed internationally for its silk, China's first emperor was embarking on a remarkable project which has survived almost intact to this day, over a spell of two thousand years. The terracotta warrior tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, with its rows and rows of thousands of clay warriors - each with a different expression - is one of the most stupendous sights in the world.
Visitors to today's Silk Road begin their journey in Xian, marvelling at the inventiveness of the Emperor who, as well as unifying the country and introducing standard weights and measures began work on the Great Wall, a structure which survives to this day along parts of the Silk Road route.
Xian, with its delightful Chinese-style wooden mosque and high city walls, is the ideal starting point for tours along the Silk Road, beginning in the same place as camel trains of yore. These days, air travel allows visitors to fly over the vast Gobi Desert, alighting in the oasis town of Dunhuang, home to a unique collection of Buddhist cave paintings, originally paid for by Silk Road traders to ensure good fortune on their way through the sand dunes.
Although foreign archaeologists raided some of the best treasures in the caves early in the last century, carting them back to Europe and the United States, there is much left to admire. Close to the town itself is the Silk Road Dunhaung Hotel, a modern-day architectural marvel, built in the style of ancient dynasties, which backs onto the desert itself.
A train ride away - across part of the Gobi Desert once more - is the oasis town of Turpan, famous throughout China for its juicy grapes. An inventive irrigation system allows melting snow from the Tian Shan mountain range to flow in channels through city streets and fields, giving Turpan a plentiful year-round supply of the desert's most rare and precious commodity.
That natural asset has allowed Turpan to flourish over the centuries. It was the site for two ancient cities, the hilltop Jiaohe, built in a fabulous, hill-top location, and the once-thriving Gaochang, which was a vibrant cosmopolitan centre in its day, welcoming traders, artesans, scholars and artists.
The people who live in the shadow of the rich red mountains surrounding Turpan are from the Uygur minority, renowned for their warmth and hospitality. Uygurs are particularly fond of singing and dancing: the women dress for performances in vivid red dresses, with the men attired in colourful braided waistcoats and trousers.
The Uygurs are followers of Islam, as are the Kazakh nomad herders who spend part of their year around the shores of Heavenly Lake, close to the Xinjiang region capital city of Urumqi.
The rich blue of the lake and the bright green of the meadows contrast with the stark white of the snow-capped mountains.
For supplies, the herders and nomads head into cities and towns, where sprawling bazaars sell everything from sizzling lamb kebabs to rolls of embroidered material to ceremonial knives. The biggest bazaar of all is the weekly Kashgar market, where herders come from far afield to trade sheep and goats.
Visiting this far-flung part of China is a chance to seamlessly mix modern-paced adventure with ancient culture. The arts and crafts of the region, strong since the Silk Road era, are still thriving: contemporary skills follow traditions dating back thousands of years, to the First Emperor himself.
Dunhuang, a desert treasure trove famed for its historical cave-paintings, is one of the most important oasis towns on the Silk Road.
Dunhuang used to be called Shazhou and was one of the “four counties in Hexi Corridor” in Gansu Province. Dunhuang adjoins Anxi to the east, and borders Aksay all the way to the neighboring Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwest. There are many tourist attractions in Dunhuang, including the world famous Mogao Caves which were put into the “World Heritages” by UNESCO in 1987. Dunhuang is listed as a state historic and cultural city.
Gansu Province is located in the northwestern China. Gansu covers an area of 175,289 square mile with a population of 24 million. The capital city is Lanzhou. The province lies between Qinghai-Tibet and Inner Mongolia and rises 4,921 feet above sea level.
To the west of Lanzhou and west of the Yellow River is the famous "Hexi Corridor," an important strategic passage on the ancient Silk Road stretching to the west. This area abounds in rich historical and cultural heritage, including grottoes, ancient buildings and other cultural relics.
Many ethnic minorities congregate in Gansu, which makes it a unique tourist destination with a variety of folk customs. The scenes of grassland, the Gobi desert, and snow-capped mountains add beauty to this mysterious land.
Jiayuguan City is located at the central part of the Hexi Corridor. Jiayuguan Pass was an important strategic spot in ancient times. It has been a magnificent pass for over 160 years. Although it is a booming industrial city now, there are many rich tourist resources, for example the Jiayuguan Pass, the Suspended Great Wall, and the Great Wall Museum. Other attractions include the Mural Tomb of the Kingdom of Wei and Jin Dynasties, Qiyi Glacier and Jiayuguan Glide Range.
Jiuquan was one of the “four counties in Hexi Corridor”. It has a variety of historic and cultural sites including the Jiuquan scenic spots dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC- 25 AD) and the many murals from the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) tomb. It is also a well-known wine glass production city.
The meaning of Kashgar is “Jade”. It is situated at the southwestern part of Xinjiang and is located in the western extremity of China, near the border with Tajikistan. It is the constellating point of Chinese and Western cultures.
Qinghai is in the northeastern part of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and its name comes from Qinghai Lake, the largest inland lake in China. The Yangtze, the Yellow and Lancang Rivers all have their origins there, so Qinghai is also known as the birthplace of rivers. Qinghai is over 9,842 feet above sea level. It is rich in tourist resources and possesses an ideal ecological environment. The people of the region have a unique religious culture and traditional folk customs, which also makes Qinghai a fascinating destination.
In the remote past, there was a branch line of the ancient Silk Road which stretched west from Lanzhou in Gansu to Qinghai, through Xining, Golmud, and then north to Dunhuang, finally converging with the main road. Along the Silk Road in Qinghai main scenic spots include Qinghai Lake and Birds Island, the Salt Lake and the famous Ta'er Lamasery.
Turpan, located in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, has the lowest elevation of any place in China. It is a basin in the mountains of east Xinjiang. Aydingkol Lake is 505 feet below sea level and is the second lowest area of the world, behind the Dead Sea in Jordan. The temperature in the summer can get as high as 50ºC, which is why it is also known as "The Fire Prefecture".
Famous historical sites include the ancient cities of Jiaohe and Gaochang, and the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves. It is 113 miles from Urumqi with expressways linking the two cities.
Urumqi means "a beautiful pasture land” in ancient Mongolian used by the Junggar tribe. It is the capital of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. Urumqi was an important town on the new northern route of the Silk Road, which made vital contributions in promoting Sino-foreign economic and cultural exchanges 2,000 years ago.
Urumqi is a city where ethnic minorities live in compact of mixed communities. They are the Uygur, Han, Hui, Kazak, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xibe, altogether over 40 ethnic groups of people. It is interesting that Han people are the major ethnic group in China, but in Xinjiang, they are minority group. The city's uniqueness, the strong colorful ethnic life styles and local customs are quite attractive to visitors.
Xian (also Xi’an)
Xian, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is located in the heart of the Guanzhong Basin, with the Weihe River running along the northern border of the city. It is the largest metropolis in northwestern China. Known as Chang'an in ancient China, Xian is a world-renowned ancient capital.
For 1,062 years beginning in the 11th century B.C., Xian was the capital of 13 dynasties including the Western Zhou, Qin, Western Han, Eastern Han, Sui, and Tang. The continuous dynastic occupation kept the city beautiful and magnificent. More than two hundred and seventy palaces and temples were built during its heyday, such as the "Three Han Palaces" in the Han dynasty, namely Changle, Weiyang, Jianzhang Palaces, and numerous other palaces and watch towers. The most well-known among these is the Tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang, with the Terracotta Warriors and chariot. Xian is also the starting point of the ancient Silk Road.
Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region Xinjiang is located in northwest China and covers 617 thousand square miles. Its population is 16.62 million. It contains one sixth of the total area of China, and is inhabited with different minorities and nationalities including Uygur, Han, Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xihe, Tajik, Uzbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar, and Russian.
Xinjiang is far from the sea and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, boundless deserts and vast grasslands. There are many basins and oases scattered over the region. The dry climate has created the peculiar natural scenery such as the Gobi Desert and salt deserts. The clear water from melted snow and ample sunshine make it an invigorating place.
After entering the border of Xinjiang, the Silk Road splits into three routes: the north, middle and south. Many ruins of ancient cities, watchtowers and numerous historical sites of the Han and Tang dynasties that have been swallowed by the sand remain along the routes. There are also important cities and towns such as Urumqi, Turpan, Kashai, Kuqa, Hotan, and Taxkorgan along the ancient Silk Road.
Xining Located on the northeastern part of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Xining is the provincial capital of Qinghai. It is the hub of Lanzhu-Qinghai and Qinghai-Tibet Railways, and sits astride the main route to the hinterland of Qinghai and Tibet. Xining is 7,463 feet above sea level and is a typical example of a plateau city.
Xining has unique and beautiful scenery and many places of interests. The Ta’er Lamasery which holds plenty of precious relics and good editions of Tibetan scriptures. Major attractions include the world-famous Qinghai Lake, Bird Island, Sun & Moon Hill, Jin Yin Tan plain and mysterious Atom City.
Located in the central part of the Hexi Corridor, Zhangye was one of the four counties in Hexi Corridor. It was known as Ganzhou in the past and is regarded as a granary in this area. Visitors can visit the sleeping Buddha in the Giant Buddha Temple. Visitors can get the feel of the prairie in south Gansu, riding horses and tame deer on the grasslands with the hospitable Yugur people. There are also opportunities to sing and dance with the Yugur people. Mati Temple is near Zhangye in the Sunan area.
We had a fabulous experience in Dunhuang. We learned that less than 3% of the visitors are American yet more should go to experience the richness of the area. Truthfully, it was The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel website and link to your tours that piqued our interests to visit. As seasoned, independent travelers who have never utilized a tour company, we were immensely gratefully that we chose you to coordinate our trip to Dunhuang. The customized 4-day tour with a private driver and English speaking guide allowed us to enjoy the incredible historical sites, vast Gobi desert ventures, fun camel ride and authentic Chinese culture, cuisine and life, which we would never have experienced on our own. Our guide, Ms Fan, was knowledgeable, compassionate, friendly, and flexible to adapt each day to best suit our interests and desired activities. She was absolutely fantastic, and we give her five stars for her extraordinary skills as a guide. Mr Lee, our driver, was always reliable and a safe driver. Thank you for employing the best people to serve your clients. Also a note of acknowledgement for the wonderful stay at The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel. Our suite was beautifully decorated, the beds were very warm and comfortable, and the staff were always gracious and helpful. Eric Huang, Assistant Manager, was definitely a key resource person and we appreciated his help. We dined at the Chinese Restaurant because Western foods we could eat at home. All the meals were attractively presented and tasted outstanding. Hot Pot was a favorite dining experience. We traveled to China solely to visit Dunhuang, to stay 6 days at your hotel, and to take the 4-day personalized tour. Standing on the roof top cafe to enjoy the sand dunes and walking around the large hotel grounds are memorable experiences. We were never disappointed, and would highly recommend the hotel and your tour services to others traveling to Dunhuang. We will definitely share our experiences with family and friends, and hope more travelers will make the journey to Dunhuang.
Again, many thanks to all the fine staff who made our trip memorable.
Eirin and Gregory Hilton
4 Days Dunhuang (21 – 24 October 2012)
Thanks for following up. It is much appreciated!
I had such a great time everywhere else so this is a small thing. The trip was really very well-organised and enjoyable. I had a very good time and also felt very reassured that you called me every few days.
Ms. Ella Wong
17 Days Silk Road tour (2 - 18 Sep 2012)
Thanks, we all had a great time. Surely I will introduce friends to you as you are very responsible and kind person which I cannot not use (whom I cannot reject to use).
Ms. Violet Tan
14 Days Silk Road tour (29 Aug - 11 Sep 2012)
The guides were all flexible, informative, helpful, had excellent English, and all of them obviously had both a pride in doing their job well, and made us feel they had our interests at heart when it came to dealing with matters that came up along the way. The food was consistently good, but I was particularly impressed to be given very good quality fresh coffee and fresh croissants in the hotel in Dunhuang [Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel], which I had not expected.
8 Days Silk Road
14 – 21 Nov 2011
Drivers were all are very good. We all loved the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel. Janny’s planning and organization were excellent. Tour guides’ attitude were very good.
Ms. W. Wan
14 Days Silk Road tour (16-29 Sep 2010)
First class guides and driver, very good English language. Explanations were clear. Driver in Gansu Province was terrific, friendly, pleasant and safe. Hotels were excellent throughout , clean and comfortable, good service. Did a great job catering to vegetarian dietary needs. An excellent itinerary which exceeded our expectations. Seamless throughout. Polly did a brilliant job co-ordinating and also we all appreciated her follow up throughout the trip. Well done!
Ms. M. White & party
18 Days Silk Road Tour (23 Sep – 10 Oct 2007)
Conditions along the Silk Road vary from a typical continental climate around Xian to a desert climate as you travel westward. Average daily variation is about 12°C. Temperature in certain desert areas may vary up to a maximum of 36°C in one day between noon and midnight.Despite the hot weather, the summer months of June, July, August and September are a popular time to travel when the oasis towns are full of life, flowers are blooming, fruits are in season, and the fragrance of sweet melons and grapes fill the air. Spring and autumn though short and barely noticeable, are a comfortable season to travel too. Winter is cold but offers a different perspective in scenery.
Light cotton dresses, sunglasses and a hat to guard against sunburn for the summer. Wool and fleece layers, topped with a down jacket with wind-breaking shell, scarves, gloves, hats and woolen socks for the winter.Wear layers that can be added on or discarded as weather changes. Comfortable rubber-soled shoes are recommended.
“Culture Hotel” is our hotel brand that aims to bring to you a unique hotel concept. Each hotel blends in with local architectural style and décor to preserve the indigenous flavour of the region. During your trip, you may have a chance to stay at one of below distinctive hotels that have character and soul:
: Lusongyuan Hotel
: The Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel
: Pingjiang Lodge
: Tunxi Lodge
: Turpan Oasis Hotel
: Xidi Travel Lodge
: Tsongkha Hotel
Food & Beverages
Hotels in China usually offer buffet breakfast or continental breakfast. You may bring some snacks along with you for the trip. Avoid drinking tap water and eating cold dishes or beverages at the street market. Drink only bottled water and well cooked food during the trip.
The most efficient and comfortable way to travel is by air. Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Hainan Airlines operate regular flights along the Silk Road cities using aircraft models Boeing 707, 737, 757 and Airbus A320. In addition, the Lanzhou - Urumqi Railway line operates train service along the Silk Road. For the more adventurous travellers who prefer to trace the footprints of Marco Polo, they can consider entering China by road through the Khunjerab Pass from Pakistan on the KarokoramHighway, or by the International Railway from Moscow to Urumqi.
China Visa & Travel Document
Most of the overseas passport holders are required to apply for a China Visa to enter China. Please check with your local Chinese embassy for visa application. To visit Tibet, all overseas passport holders are required to apply for a special permit. Please allow at least one month to apply for the Tibet Permit. Remember to check if your passport is valid for at least 6 months’ before your departure date.
There are two service systems for China Cell Phone – GSM and CDMA. China Mobile's feature is the GSM system, while China Unicom the CDMA system. Cell phone network covers most provinces in China except that transmission may sometimes be interrupted in certain desert areas. Most hotels have IDD lines where you can make IDD calls in your room. Internet access is available at the business centre of most hotels.
The currency is called Chinese Yuan (CNY), which is also known as Renminbi (RMB) locally. International credits cards like Visa and Master are accepted by hotels in the major cities. US Dollar Travellers Cheques are acceptable for money exchange in most hotels.