Where should I travel in China after my trips to Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Guilin? Go to northwest China where you will deeply be impressed by the legendary historic and cultural relics as well as amazing natural landscapes. This 15 days Silk Road tour with carefully-engineered itinerary covers a great galaxy of noble sites on the vast land of northwest China, bringing you an unforgettable adventure through whole life. Departing from Xian, the tour goes through the Hexi Corridor along Silk Road including Tianshui, Xiahe, Lanzhou, Xining, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang and the exotic Xinjiang with Urumqi and Turpan, plus an exciting excursion to Yinchuan including Shapotou, boasting the incredibly rich content!
*Visit the magnificent Ta’er Monastery–a holy land of Buddhist culture and Shamanism.
*Explore China’s largest inland lake and saltwater lake–Qinghai Lake.
*Visit one of the five most beautiful deserts in China-Crescent Spring and Echo Sand Mountain.
*Marvel at amazing Zhangye Rainbow Mountain and grand Jiayuguan Pass.
*Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery in Heavenly Lake.
*Discover some interesting things or local souvenirs in Erdaoqiao International Bazaar.
*Trace the history in Jiaohe Ruins and Western Xia Imperial Mausoleum.
- Day 1: Xian Arrival (No meal)
Upon your arrival at Xian airport / train station, the local driver will pick you up from the exit gate by holding a welcome board with your name and transfer to local hotel for check-in. Free and easy on your own for rest of the day.
Accommodation: Overnight in Xian
- Day 2: Xian - Tianshui by High-speed Train (B, L)Maiji Grottoes, Fuxi Temple
In the morning, the driver will pick you up from the downtown hotel and drop you off at Xian North Train Station to catch the high-speed train to Tianshui. The train rides around 1.5-2 hours which would be a good chance for you to rest on the train or enjoy the scenery on the way.
Upon your arrival at Tianshui South Station, you will find the local English speaking tour guide and driver waiting for you at the exit gate by holding a welcome board with your name. Your visit begins with Maiji Grottoes which is one of the “Four Great Grottoes in China” especially featuring its beautiful scenic landscape. The first grottoes here were excavated during the post-Qin Dynasty (384-417). And in the later dynasties more grottoes were excavated with the development of Buddhism. In June 2014, Maiji Grottoes was listed by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage site. There are 194 caves and about 7800 Buddha statues preserved in the grottoes.
Later, continue your visit to Fuxi Temple, the earliest and best-preserved ancestral temple complex, is an important material carrier for all Chinese people to worship and memorize Chinese cultural ancestor Fuxi. Stepping into the entrance, you will be enchanted by the dense atmosphere of ancient Chinese culture from the old temples, trees and statues which soon drags you to a world filled with mysterious tales of Fuxi and his time when Chinese civilization started. The vivid commentary from tour guide about this great man will help you better understand the origin of Chinese nation.
Last, transfer to check into local hotel.
Accommodation: Overnight in Tianshui
- Day 3: Tianshui - Xiahe (B, L)Labrang Monastery, Sangka Grasslands
After hotel breakfast, you will head to Xiahe. Driving around 5 hours, you will arrive at this amazing city and start your visit by Labrang Monastery. You will regret that you didn’t pay an earlier visit to Labrang Monastery if you hear the loud titles of it: one of the “Six Great Monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism Gelug Sect”, famous Tibetan Buddhist college with best complete teaching system of Tibetan Buddhism, the longest corridor of turning scriptures in the world…It does deserve the titles and also your visit after trudge. The grand temple complex housing elegant Buddhist images and statues, wall paintings and other treasures receives devout worship from those Tibetans who are pilgriming from misty valley in each dawn, telling you the moved power of belief from hearts.
In the afternoon, move on to Sangka Grasslands definitely would refresh yourself. Distinct from the spiritous touch at Labrang Monastery, Sangke Grasslands is filled with esthetical taste, appealing endless people to cry out mental pressure built up from busy life. Lush grasses waves green carpets here stretching distantly on the plateau with altitude of 3,000 meters while flocks and herds spotted on it to add more vitality, which forms awesome idyllic sights, bewildering travelers to crazily click the shutters. More “wow” moments here is from those interesting activities at local families, like have local foods and appreciate their ethnic dances.
Friendly tip: The best visit time to Sangka Grasslands is from June to September.
Accommodation: Overnight in Xiahe
- Day 4: Xiahe - Lanzhou - Xining (B, L)Huanghe River Custom Tourist Line
In the morning, drive around 4 hours from Xiahe to Lanzhou. Arrival in Lanzhou, follow your guide to find a local restaurant to fill your stomach, then have a glimpse of Lanzhou city by visiting Huanghe River Custom Tourist Line, which is considered as “the Bund of Lanzhou City”, taking Zhongshan Bridge as the axis to stretch out along the Yellow River. The sites to visit of the Tourist Line are distributed on the Road River, including Yellow River Mother Sculpture, Zhongshan Iron Bridge, White Pagoda Hill Park, Waterwheel Park and so on. A leisure strolling bathed in rosy light of dusk on the River Road is a top thing to do in Lanzhou.
Afterwards, you will be dropped off at Lanzhou train station for evening high-speed train to Xining. When you arrive at Xining station, the local driver will be waiting for you at the exit gate and transfer to local hotel.
Accommodation: Overnight in Xining
- Day 5: Xining - Qinghai Lake (B, L)Ta’er Monastery
Today you will explore the amazing Xining by visiting Ta’er Monastery. As one of the “Six Great Monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism Gelug Sect”, Ta’er Monastery is another site in Xining, Qinghai Province, sharing the same popularity with Qinghai Lake. Ta’er Monastery has profound historical origin that it’s the birthplace of famous Tsongkhapa, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism Gelug Sect. Not only bearing the divine position in religious followers, the monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist institution of higher education. Beneath the glorious decorations on surface fascinating your eyes, the rich accumulations in history, culture, religion and arts of Ta’er Monastery excites your souls deeply especially when meeting those devout followers trudged for pilgrimage here.
After that, drive around 2.5 hours to Qinghai Lake and accommodate in a local hotel.
Accommodation: Overnight near Qinghai Lake
- Day 6: Qinghai Lake - Xining - Zhangye (B, L)Qinghai Lake
Today you will spend most time with the amazing Qinghai Lake. You must have heard the fame of Qinghai Lake before you go. It is indeed hot for tour to Qinghai and the whole Silk Road. Why? The co-existence of different views collected at the meantime at Qinghai Lake push its fame higher and higher: massive sea-like lake, vast desert, lush meadow-grass and yellow sea of rape flower. A single one of the four elements would attract people as a “wonderful place”, however, the mix of the four at Qinghai Lake makes it a “must-go” place. Each summer (June and July), it ushers in the annual peak when the blossom of rape flowers and round-the-lake cycle track here.
The birds island in the lake is the paradise for many kinds of birds. Each summer thousands of birds fly to Qinghai Lake to escape from hot summer and the ground of grove will be covered with birds’ stool. And in August the lake area will be covered by golden rape flowers. You could optionally take a cruise ship to have some exciting time there. And if you are photography lovers, the Qinghai Lake area will be a great place to take some wonderful photos.
Finishing the sightseeing, drive back to Xining city and head to Xining train station for you to catch evening high-speed train to Zhangye. When you arrive at Zhangye station, the local driver will pick you up and transfer to local hotel.
Accommodation: Overnight in Zhangye
- Day 7: Zhangye Tour (B, L)Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park
After breakfast, follow your guide to explore the exciting Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park. The Danxia landform earns the most spotlight for Zhangye City. Rated as one of “10 Wonders of Nature in the World” in 2011 by National Geographic News, it does deserve the reputation. There are two main scenic area of the Zhangye Danxia with different features, and you will visit The Rainbow Mountain Scenic Area for today.
Located in Linze County, the Rainbow Mountain features in its bright color and is better to enjoy sunset, which chosen by most travelers. Seen from the high platform, the rising layers of mountains in beautiful red with different saturation is bathed in rosy sunlight, depicting a gorgeous picture for the visitors who trudged a lot to here.
In the afternoon, drive back to Zhangye city and continue your visit to Zhangye Giant Buddhist Temple. Built in Western Xia Dynasty, the Giant Buddhist Temple had survived from the vicissitudes and stands on Silk Road for 900 years. There is a gigantic sleeping Buddha statue of Sakyamuni with the largest scale in Asia inside the temple, hence the name. The beautiful woodcarving, paintings and statues as well as the underneath culture and history impresses travelers a lot.
Accommodation: Overnight in Zhangye
- Day 8: Zhangye - Jiayuguan (B, L)Jiayuguan Pass, Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum, Weijin Tombs
Today you will head to another important city along the ancient Silk Road - Jiayuguan. The driving lasts around 2.5 hours, you can have some rest on the van or just enjoy the scenery on the way.
After driving through the yellow sand of desert, you will come to Jiayuguan Pass, also known as the “First and Greatest Pass Under Heaven”, “the Throat of Hexi Corridor”. As the western end of Great Wall of Ming Dynasty, Jiayuguan Pass, being constructed for hundreds of years, not only occupied a vital position in military defense but also exerted importance influence in trade & culture exchange as a key waypoint of ancient Silk Road. You can climb up the tower to admire the entire view.
Next, continue your visit to Jiayuguan Great Wall Museum. Inside the Jiayuguan Pass Scenic Area, there is the first Great Wall themed museum with 7 major exhibition halls to show you more detailed knowledge about this great constructional engineering in Chinese history. The oil painting of Great Wall exhibited here with large scale, about 220.5 m2 is a highlight deserving longer stop.
Last, move on to Weijin Tombs. Driving through the wilder Gobi about 20km from Jiayuguan City, you will come to the famous “underground gallery”, Weijin Tombs. In accordance with the title, wall paints dominate the theme of the visit to this site. Underneath the yellow sand, were about 1,400 ancient tombs buried in the obscure desert and only 6 tombs are open to public today. It’s definitely a surprise discovery process when beholding the paints with bright colors vividly depicting the scholars and officals’ life in Weijin Time. The background knowledge about history, culture, politics and economy reflected by the paintings explained by tour guide helps you better understand this site, please follow up your guide closely!
Accommodation: Overnight in Jiayuguan
- Day 9: Jiayuguan - Dunhuang (B, L)Crescent Spring and Echo Sand Mountain, Shazhou Night Market
After breakfast, drive around 5 hours to Dunhuang. You are suggested to wear comfortable shoes and take some snacks considering this will be a long-time journey.
Having lunch in Dunhuang, and after short rest when it is not too hot, you will head to Crescent Spring and Echo Sand Mountain. Echo Sand Mountain and Crescent Spring are harmonious mates of miracle created by natural, glittering like a pearl along the Silk Road for thousands of years. The incredible co-existence between spring water and sand mountains always amazes visitors at their first sight here: the sand mountains meanders like a huge dragon and roars when wings blowing while the Crescent Spring, like a gentle maiden, is embraced in arms of mountains without being smudging. A life-time experience provided here as optional activity is camel ride at Echo Sand Mountain.
Friendly tip: There is camel ride available in the Echo Sand Mountain, if you would like to try it, please pay in cash on your own (around CNY100 /pax ). Of course your tour guide will help to purchase tickets.
Last, come to Shazhou Night Market for further exploration. Though you might have visited many night markets or food streets during your weeks of vacation, Shazhou Night Market still brings something different for you. Mogao Caves visited in daytime put the most outstanding highlight of Dunhuang before you, Shazhou Night Market just takes you into the down-to-earth life of the local. Do you feel a pull from the strong perfume emitting from the stalls bathed in the dim lights and speed up towards the hawkers and carefully avoid the busy crowds? For sure, you will find the special vitality of this northwest city remoting from the country center during your leisure strolling.
Accommodation: Overnight in Dunhuang
- Day 10: Dunhuang - Turpan by High-speed Train (B, L)Mogao Grottoes
Today you will head to the amazing Mogao Grottoes. As the existing anthology of Buddhist art with biggest scale and the best preservation in the world, Mogao Caves wins a fame of “the pearls of oriental art”. It keeps 735verns, about45,000 square kilometers frescoes, 2,415 painted sculpture, more than 4,000 flying Apsaras (the beautiful Bodhisattva in the Buddhism who has fair scent and does well in dancing and music), and 5 wooden constructions of Tang and Song Dynasty as well as thousands of Stone pillars and flagstones with lotus carving on them.
In the afternoon, you will be dropped off at Dunhuang train station to catch afternoon high-speed train to Turpan. You can have a nap on the train since it needs 3.5 hours’ train riding. Arrival in Turpan, you will find the local driver waiting for you at the exit gate by holding a welcome board with your name. Later, drive to local hotel.
Accommodation: Overnight in Turpan
- Day 11: Turpan - Urumqi (B, L)Karez Well, Sugong Pagoda, Tuyu Valley, Jiaohe Ruins
Today the first site will be Karez Well, an underground irrigation system created by ancient Xinjiang people. This project can be called the source of life for the arid northwestern region. Later, move on to Sugong Pagoda, you will witness this typical Islam architecture with the largest scale among all pagodas in Xinjiang.
Next, come to Tuyu Valley. It is the oldest Uyghur village in Xinjiang and a nice place to soak up Buddhist and Islamic culture. Afterwards, continue your visit to Jiaohe Ruins, the largest, oldest and best-preserved raw-soil building in the world with a history of more than 2,000 years. You will wander around this ancient city stepping back in time to trace past civilizations.
At the end of the tour, you will head to Urumqi by 3 hours’ driving.
Accommodation: Overnight in Urumqi
- Day 12: Urumqi - Yinchuan by Flight (B, L)Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountain, Erdaoqiao International Bazaar
After hotel breakfast, drive around 1.5 hours to the amazing Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountain. Heavenly Lake, read Tianchi Lake in Chinese, is an alpine lake nestled against the slope of the snow-covered Bodga Mountain. Heat, the special feature coming with summer is seldom there due to its geographical conditions. Looking out over the scenic area, the white snowy mountains mirroring in the green lake and colorful flowers spotted on the green grassland along the lake, plus the tour guide’s commentary to the tale of Queen Mother of the West bringing it some color of mystery, both your eyes and souls will be fully pleased by the pure beauty here.
Later, continue your visit to Erdaoqiao International Bazaar. It’s one of the bazaars with largest scale in the world with strong Islam flavor in its buildings. You should not miss this site during your tour to Urumqi, even if you are not going for shopping, you would favor the experience for the strong ethnic flavor here. Eyes are dazzled by an overwhelming of goods in the stalls while ears are excited by the hawking, bewildering you if you are travel through space and time to the ancient silk road to glimpse the prosperous trades between different nations.
Last, you will be dropped off at the airport for evening flight to Yinchuan. Upon arrival in Yinchuan, the local driver will pick you up on time and transfer to local hotel.
Accommodation: Overnight in Yinchuan
- Day 13: Yinchuan (B, L)Helan Mountain Scenic Area, Western Xia Imperial Mausoleum
After breakfast, follow your guide to explore the best of Yinchuan! The first stop will be Helan Mountain Scenic Area. Helan Mountain siting on the boundary of Ningxia Province and Inner Mongolia, between Yinchuan plain and Alxa Plateau, is renowned as “Father Moutain” by locals because its huge ridges well protect the plain from the Tengger Desert’s erosion and Siberia cold snap, making the pleasant climate conditions of Ningxia Plain. Helan Mountains Scenic Area with many appealing sites like Suyukou National Forest Park, Rock Paintings, Gunzhong Pass and the Two Pagodas in Baisikou, is just nourished in such a gentle environment, providing tourist with fascinating scenery. Not only featuring in natural sights, Helan Mountain also bears profound history which could be easily traced from Chinese ancient poems. Visit here is definitely both visual and spiritus enjoyment.
Later, continue your visit to Western Xia Imperial Mausoleum, as its name suggests, is the graveyard for the emperors and royal family members of Western Xia Dynasty. The Mausoleum is the largest existing Western Xia cultural relics and also the largest-scaled imperial mausoleum with most complete ground relics. Although there has been erosion hitting the Mausoleum in some degree, today we can still find its grand scale and delicate layout demonstrating bright features of that kingdom. Influenced by Buddhist architectures, it combined well Han culture, Buddhism and local Tangut culture, making it the unique style and helping it to gain the title of “Oriental Pyramid”.
Accommodation: Overnight in Yinchuan
- Day 14: Yinchuan - Zhongwei (B, L)Qingtongxia Dam, 108 Pagodas, Shapotou
Today you will head to Qingtongxia City where the noble Qingtongxia Dam locates, the second hydraulic project on Yellow River. The site to visit here is the 108 Pagodas, a large-scaled pagoda group of Western Xia time, sitting against the hill at the west bank of Qingtongxia reservoir. It is believed by in Buddhism that people are suffering from 108 troubles, chanting scriptures for 108 times or wearing 108 Buddha beads helps to get rid of the annoying troubles. So, the local people think that you will get the troubles removed and receive fortune as long as you pray at the 108 Pagodas. Interesting, right? Remember to pray fortune for your loved ones here.
Later, move on to Shapotou which is a complete paradise on Tengger Desert, with so many titles on head: AAAAA National Tourist Attraction, National Ecological Preservation Area, Global 500 environmental protection Unit…Not featuring single landscape, Shapotou incredibly collects the sights of desert, Yellow River, hills and oasis, satisfying visitors with both Chinese southern and northern style beauty. The highlights at Shapotou are the activities of amusement, including sheepskin rafts and speed boat on Yellow River, glass bridge, sand skiing, desert surfer, camel riding…
A warm notice for you regarding visit here: hat, sunglasses, sun cream or things like that are suggested as it’s hot there.
Accommodation: overnight in Zhongwei
- Day 15: Zhongwei - Yinchuan & Yinchuang Departure (B)
Your 15 days Silk Road tour ends today. In the morning, drive around 2.5 hours back to Yinchuan and drop you off at Yinchuan airport to see you off.