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Dunhuang

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.