Smack-dab in the middle of the Héxī Corridor, the chilled-out city of Zhāngyè (张掖) has a relaxed atmosphere that belies its historical status as an outpost connecting Central Asia to the Chinese empire via the Silk Road. Marco Polo is said to have spent a year here around 1274 – he provided a detailed description of Zhāngyè (by its historical name, Campichu) in The Travels of Marco Polo. Even the name Zhāngyè alludes to its Silk Road importance: 张掖 is a shortening of '张国臂掖，以通西域', which translates as 'Extending the arm of the nation to its Western Realm'.
Today, Zhāngyè is a useful base from which to explore the otherwordly landscapes of the Dānxiá Geopark and the ancient cliff temples at Mǎtí Sì. In town, one of Asia's largest reclining Buddhas is ensconced in a beautifully preserved wooden temple, which, according to legend, was the birthplace of Mongol warrior Kublai Khan.