The weird, eroded desert landscape of Yadan National Park is 180km northwest of Dunhuang, 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 Yadan 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: the first departs at 7am (¥120 per person; returning by 7pm) and can be booked through Charley Johng’s Cafe. There is also a sunset tour (¥88 per person) which sets off 8.30am and returns at 11pm. Tours include the Jade Gate Pass, Sun Pass and the Western Thousand Buddha Caves as well as a section of Han dynasty Great Wall. Tour prices don't include entrance fees to the individual sights.