Yǎdān National Park

Desert in Dūnhuáng

Image by Megan Eaves Lonely Planet

The weird, eroded desert landscape of Yǎdān National Park is 180km northwest of Dūnhuáng, in the middle of the Gobi Desert’s awesome nothingness. A former lake bed that eroded in spectacular fashion some 12,000 years ago, the strange rock formations provided the backdrop to the last scenes of Zhang Yimou’s film Hero. Tours (included in the price) are confined to group minibuses (with regular photo stops) to preserve the natural surrounds, but the desert landscape here is so dramatic you will still feel like you're at the ends of the earth.

To get to Yǎdān you have to pass through (and buy a ticket to) the Jade Gate Pass and Sun Pass. The best way to get here is to take one of two daily minibus tours (¥100 per person): the first departs at 7am and can be booked through Charley Johng’s Cafe; the other leaves at 12.30pm and is organised through the Shazhouyi International Youth Hostel. Tour prices don't include entrance fees to the individual sights. The 10- to 12-hour tours include a stop at the Jade Gate and Sun Passes and the Western Thousand Buddha Caves.