Dunhuang – Oasis City

In the past, Dunhuang (敦煌) was an important stop on the ancient silk road. With the development of China’s new silk roads, the city is getting popular once again. Tourists are rediscovering the oasis town in the Taklamakan desert.

I travelled to Dunhuang city at the beginning of August, just days after the opening of the high-speed train from Lanzhou to Dunhuang. But being a slow traveller, I went for the old overnight train. Arriving at the train station just a little outside of the city in the early morning, I could already feel the heat of the day awaiting me. For my stay in Dunhuang, I had chosen a little family hotel that greeted me with a hearty breakfast cooked by grandma.

The sand dunes in Dunhuang as seen from the city centre

Bus or Taxi – Both are Cheap and Easy

Dunhuang is a small city with a population of only about 187 000 and all the major tourist sites are very close to the city center. Traffic is easy and there are public buses on all the main roads. With an investment of 2 to 40 yuan, you can get to about everywhere in Dunhuang.

Streetfood in Dunhuang

First on my list was «Crescent Lake» and the «Singing Sand Dunes». Crescent Lake (月牙泉) is an oasis surrounded by the white Singing Sand Dunes (鸣沙山). Apparently, the dunes give a singing sound when the wind is blowing. The name dates back to the Ming Dynasty. As on the day of my visit, it was 38 degrees and no wind, I was not able to confirm the story. And I probably would not have heard the singing anyway with the tourist site being an amusement park with camel riding, quad car driving, helicopter flights and tobogganing.

Posing with camels

But next to all those fun on the Singing Sand Dunes lies beautifully «Crescent Lake». There, you can feel like a movie star in a Chinese drama from the ancient dynasties.

The Thousand Buddha Grottoes

The following day, I went to Dunhuang’s most famous tourist site: The Mogao Caves. The Buddhist Grottoes are a system of 492 temples with stucco sculptured Buddhas. The Buddhas and caves are colorfully painted and embroidered with gold and jewellery.

Mogao Caves

I arrived at the site completely unprepared and was very lucky – tickets are limited for the site and the ones for the Chinese language were sold out for days in advance. For the English language, there were still spots left. The ticket included eight caves, one museum and three movies. So you can only really get a glimpse of the splendid caves that are protected from the air and public by well locked doors.

Taking photos is only allowed outside the caves. This wall painting can be found in front of one cave.

Young Travellers, Outdoor Travellers

Dunhuang feels different from many Chinese cities I have travelled to. Many young Chinese couples travel there individually – by car, train or plane. The camp outside in the desert and enjoy outdoor activities.

Young travelers with outdoor gear at Dunhuang airport

Places to visit in Dunhuang:

Mogao Caves (莫高窟): 25 km from the city centre. Go there by taxi or city bus. In peak season, it is recommended to pre-arrange tickets in order to guarantee entrance.

Crescent Lake (月牙泉) and Singing Sand Dunes (鸣沙山): Very close to the city centre. Go there by taxi or city bus nr. 3.

Night Market: Downtown. Streetfood and souvenirs such as dried fruits and nuts.

Green Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant (清連素食): Downtown next to Night Market. Excellent vegetarian food.