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The fertile Dunhuang (敦煌, Dūnhuáng) oasis has for millennia been a refuge for weary Silk Road travelers. Most visitors stayed long enough only to swap a camel; but some stayed, building the forts, towers and cave temples that are scattered over the surrounding area. These sites, along with some dwarfing sand dunes and desertscapes, make Dunhuang a magnificent place to visit.

Despite its remoteness, Dunhuang's per capita income is among the highest in China, thanks to a push into wind and solar energy production. The town is thoroughly modern, but has maintained its distinctive desert-sanctuary ambience – with clean, tree-lined streets, slow-moving traffic, bustling markets, budget hotels, cafes and souvenir shops.

Though relatively small, it's a clean and terrific walking town with wide footpaths and narrow alleys opening up into squares, markets and the lives of ordinary citizens.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Dunhuang.