Top ChoiceCave in Dunhuang

Mogao Grottoes

Mogao Grottoes

The Mogao Grottoes are considered one of the most important collections of Buddhist art in the world. At its peak during the Tang dynasty (618–907), the site housed 18 monasteries, more than 1400 monks and nuns,...

Top ChoiceBuddhist Site in Zhangye

Big Buddha Temple

Big Buddha Temple

Originally dating to 1098 (Western Xia dynasty), this stunning temple contains an astonishing 35m-long sleeping Buddha – China’s largest of this variety and among the biggest clay and wood reclining Buddhas in...

Top ChoiceFort in Jiayuguan

Jiayuguan Fort

Jiayuguan Fort

One of the classic images of western China, this huge fort once guarded the narrow pass between the snowcapped Qilian Shan peaks and the Hei Shan (Black Mountains) of the Mazong Shan range.Built in 1372, it was...

Top ChoiceOasis in Dunhuang

Singing Sands Dune

Singing Sands Dune

Six kilometres south of Dunhuang at Singing Sands Dune, the desert meets the oasis in most spectacular fashion. From the sheer scale of the dunes, it’s easy to see how Dunhuang gained its moniker ‘Shāzhōu’...

Top ChoiceMuseum in Dunhuang

Dunhuang Museum

On the road to Singing Sands Dune is this sparkling museum that takes you on an artefact-rich journey through the Dunhuang area (from prehistoric to Qing dynasty times) via hallways designed to make you feel as...

Cave in Wuwei

Tiantishan Grottoes

Tiantishan Grottoes

By the Huangyanghe Reservoir (黄羊河水库, Huángyánghé Shuǐkù), it's hard to appreciate how massive the 15m-high Shakyamuni Buddha statue at Tiantishan Grottoes is until you reach his truck-sized feet to peer up at his...

Desert in Dunhuang

Yadan National Park

Yadan National Park

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...

Cave in Mati Xiang

Mǎtí Sì

Mǎtí Sì translates as 'Horse Hoof Monastery', a reference to when a heavenly horse left a hoof imprint in a grotto. Between the 5th and 14th centuries a series of caves were almost as miraculously built in sheer...

Historic Site in Dunhuang

Jade Gate Pass

The Jade Gate Pass, 78km west of Dunhuang, was originally a military station. Together with Sun Pass, it formed part of the Han dynasty series of beacon towers that extended to the garrison town of Loulan in...

Historic Site in Dunhuang

Sun Pass

This Han dynasty military post was one of the two most important gates marking the end of the Chinese empire along the ancient Silk Road. Today, a dusty museum chronicles some of the site's artefacts, but the...

Archaeological Site in Wuwei

Changchengxiang Great Wall

Running between fields near the village of Changchengxiang (itself named after the Great Wall), this section of Great Wall makes for an interesting excursion from Wuwei. The wall runs for around 600m, a...

Buddhist Site in Dunhuang

Yulin Grottoes

About 180km south of Dunhuang, the 40-plus caves of the Yulin Grottoes face each other across a narrow canyon. The interior art spans a 1500-year period, from the Northern Wei to the Qing dynasty. Many show a...

Historic Site in Jiayuguan

Overhanging Great Wall

Overhanging Great Wall

Running north from Jiayuguan Fort, this section of the Great Wall is believed to have been first constructed in 1539, though it was reconstructed in 1987. It’s a reasonably energetic hike up the equivalent of 55...

Museum in Jiayuguan

Jiayuguan Museum of the Great Wall

Located inside Jiayuguan Fort, this excellent and highly informative museum contains photos, artefacts, maps, Silk Road exhibits and models to show just how the fort and the Great Wall of China influenced the...

National Park in Zhangye

Zhangye Danxia National Geopark

Zhangye Danxia National Geopark

The swirling orange, yellow, white and brown lunar landscape of this national park is the result of sandstone and mineral deposits that have eroded into odd shapes over the course of millennia. Infrastructure was...

Historic Site in Jiayuguan

First Beacon Platform of the Great Wall

Atop a 56m-high cliff overlooking the Taolai River south of Jiayuguan, a large, crumbling and wind-eroded chunk of packed earth is all that remains of this beacon platform, believed to be the first signalling...

Buddhist Temple in Wuwei

Haizang Temple

A fascinating active monastery with a minute pavilion to the right of the entrance containing a well whose ‘magic waters’ (神水, shénshuǐ) are said to connect by subterranean streams to a Holy Lake (圣湖, Shènghú) in...

Tomb in Jiayuguan

Weijin Tombs

These tombs date from approximately AD 220–420 (the Wei and Western Jin periods) and contain extraordinarily fresh brick-wall paintings (some sadly ineptly retouched) depicting scenes of everyday life, from...

Confucian Temple in Wuwei

Wuwei Confucius Temple

This large Ming-era temple complex divides into two sections: the Confucian Temple and the Wenchang Hall, both fine examples of traditional architecture. An important stele featuring the extinct Xixia language...

Pagoda in Zhangye

Xilai Wooden Pagoda

Zhangye's main square is dominated by this good-looking and elegant nine-tiered brick and wooden pagoda. Though first built during the Northern Zhou dynasty (AD 557–588), the current 27.4m structure is a thorough...