If you fancy playing Lawrence of Arabia, make a trip out to the Tengger Desert (腾格里沙漠; Ténggélǐ Shāmò), a mystical landscape of shifting sand dunes and the occasional herd of two-humped camels. Shāpōtóu lies on the southern fringe, but it’s definitely worth heading deeper into the desert to avoid the crowds. The sun is fierce out here, so you’ll need a hat, sunglasses and plenty of water. Nights are cool, so bring a warm layer.
Níngxià Desert Travel Service in Zhōngwèi offers overnight camel treks through the desert, with a visit to the Great Wall by car, for ¥500 per person per day for a group of four. The price includes transport, food and guide. Ask your guide to bring along a sand sled for a sunset surfing session. Drinking beers around the campfire under a starry sky tops off the experience. The desert trek can be combined with a rafting trip down the Yellow River.