Gansu province, China: The origins of the ancient Silk Road

Gansu province, China: The origins of the ancient Silk Road

When mentioning the Gansu tour, travelers only name the Silk Road, which is a pity. Gansu has various sightseeing, destinations, and attractions to explore and acknowledge, and they may surprise you a lot. From my point of view, experiencing Gansu is like experiencing a new aspect of China. We would think of China as a country that only has mountainous areas and polluted cities. You would never think China also has the desert. Gansu proves you wrong with the breathtaking orange desert landscapes, colorful hills, geological diversity, and extraordinary oriental cultural quintessence.

qinghai lake gansu province

An overview of Gansu

Area 450,000 square kilometers
Population 23.7 million
Capital Lanzhou
Neighboring Shaanxi, Sichuan, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Cities Baiyin, Dunhuang, Dingxi, Jiayuguan, Gannan, Jinchang, Lanzhou, Jiuquan, Tianshui, Longnan, Linxia, Quingyang, Wuwei, Pingliang, Xiahe, Zhangye
Time zone GMT+8
Division code Gansu 620000
Lanzhou 620100
Jiahyguan 620200
Jinchang 620300
Baiyin 620400
Tianshui 620500
Wuwei 620600
Zhangye 620700
Pingliang 620800
Jiuquan 620900
Quingyang 621000
Dingxi 621100
Longnan 621200

Gansu is in the northwest of China. Here has the Yellow River, lots of meadows and a part of the Gobi desert. Gansu played an important role in the ancient Chinese military, a communication link and an essential strategic outpost of the Chinese empire. As a result, there are many special religious, artistic, and historical constructions.

Most of the Gansu’s terrain is desert, and it influences the weather strongly. The population here is multinational as Gansu is a neighbor of 6 different regions. The combination of inhabitants in distinctive regions has created a unique multicultural community. Thanks to the rich history and special geography, Gansu now has Mongolia’s immense steppes, Tibetan Plateau’s superior mountain wastelands, and Xinjiang’s unforgettable elegant deserts.


Due to the greatly different elevation and complex geography, Gansu weather is quite complicated. The general climate is dry; it is hot in day and cold at night and in the early morning. The lowest temperature in the winter is -14 °C while the highest in the summer is 25 °C. Despite the harsh weather, the fruit here is extremely tasty and sweet, especially in Dunhuang. It is advised that the time between May and October is most suitable for traveling, even though the weather is unstable. Tourists shouldn’t forget to bring necessary protection such as jacket, umbrella, hat, sunglasses, etc.

Transfer from Beijing to Gansu

As trains and airplanes are the most favorable transportation, I would give you details about them. There are no public bus, private car or taxi transfer you from Beijing to Gansu since the distance is about 1600 kilometers. Your destination will be Lanzhou – the capital city of Gansu.


With trains, there are 4 types of trains are available in China: G, D, C, Z, T. G, D, C are high-speed trains, so they take you only 7 hours to reach the destination, while Z trains take you between 16 to 19 hours, T trains take you about 18 hours.

Your departure stations are Beijing and Beijing West, but most of the trains to Gansu depart in Beijing West. And your arrival stations are either Lanzhou or Lanzhou West. You should book the train ticket online 2 months before your journey in case it is running out of tickets.

Trains are available 24/7 so you can be flexible in your schedule. The price range is from $101 to $350 for a high-speed train, $25 to $100 for a normal train. It could get higher depending on the occasions and when you book the ticket. Sometimes, the price ticket of the train is the same as flight, but more people tend to choose a train. Personally, traveling by train may be an interesting experience as on the way, you can view lots of stunning sceneries and, if you have a training break, you can try some local street food.


Flying may be more expensive than going by train, but it is faster and more comfortable. Most flights depart in Beijing Capital Airport and arrive in Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport. The price ticket is fluctuated based on your flight time, but the average price is $250-$300; it can be higher in rush seasons. There are only 3 airlines to choose from, including Air China, China Eastern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines; they are good and qualified airlines so you don’t have to worry anything.


Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport, Jiayuguan Airport, and Dunhuang Airport are the available airports in Gansu at present. Lanzhou Zhongchuan Airport is the most crowded airport in Gansu. It is about 70 kilometers far, which takes one-hour driving, from Lanzhou to the airport. Dunhuang airport has lesser flights, but still very prosperous in tourist rush seasons.

The railway network here connects the western and the eastern of China, so it is quite advanced in Gansu. The most essential railroads are placed in Lanzhou. You can easily travel by train from different cities and provinces to Gansu; some regions even have the direct railway to Gansu.

The easiest and most convenient vehicle to travel around Gansu is the public bus. There are bus stops in every tourist attraction, and the price is definitely cheap. Getting on and getting off the public bus in Gansu is familiar with other countries, so just be confident and try this vehicle to save money. If you want to go faster, you can choose to go by train with some tourist spots.

Famous historical tourist attractions

Gansu is not a well-known tourist destination yet has many extraordinary attractions in every city. For example, Lanzhou has Gansu Provincial Museum, Waterwheel Garden, Xiguan Mosque, Zhongshan Iron Bridge; Tianshui has Maiji Shan Grottoes, Fuxi Temple; Wuwei has Han Tomb of Leitai, Confucius Temple; Zanghye has The Giant Buddha Temple, Mati Temple; etc. I will go a little detail into some hottest tourist attractions that you shouldn’t skip during your journey to Gansu.

Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park

Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park

You will have a big surprise about how natural mountains could be such elegant and stunning in this geological park. It is truly a masterpiece; the mountain ridges are uniquely colorful like a rainbow. Across the landscape, there are burning red cliffs with rocky outcrops owning weird formations. It takes thousands of years to form such multicolored ridges.

Mati Temple Grotto

Mati Temple Grotto

Mati Temple Grotto is on the northern side of Zhengye city. Another name for it is Horse Hoof Grotto; this relates to its backstory. Mati Temple Grotto is one of three Hexi Buddhism grottoes in China. This is a major tourist attraction as grottoes are hanging in the cliff, which sounds impossible and extraordinary. The scale of more than 500 Buddhist caves, shrines, and towers in Qianfo Cave is the uniqueness of Mati Temple Grotto. Besides, 21 grottoes are located in Thirty-three-heaven Cave, organized in the formation of a pagoda.


Dunhuang china

Dunhuang was a strategic city, a key part in ancient Chinese international communication. It was the intersection city of north, south and central silk routes. In Dunhuang, the ancient businessman could exchange healthy camels, food and guards for their journeys across the Taklamakan desert.

As the main stop of many businessmen on the Silk Road, the historical attractions here are abundant. Many Buddhist caves have been found in Dunhuang, and the most famous one is Mogao Caves. It is distinctive thanks to the hidden Buddhist art and manuscripts. There are Crescent Lake, Dunhuang Museum, Yangguan Pass, and Yadan National Park to discover in Dunhuang.

Jiayuguan Great Wall

the great wall

Jiayuguan is a part of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall, built in 1372. Jiayuguan is the biggest and the most well-preserved pass of the Great Wall. Instead of being built by bricks and stones like other sections, Jiayuguan was built with rammed earth. It is the reason why it has such a yellowish color, blending perfectly with the desert landscape.


Gansu cuisine is strongly influenced by religious and ethnic minority factors. Hui people, the most influential minority, are Muslim. As a result, Gansu cuisine does not use much pork or chicken; the common choice is beef. As Gansu is considered as a cold region, inhabitants here like salty, spicy, oily and fatty food with an abundance of seasonings. Some special dishes in Gansu are Lanzhou beef noodles, grabbing mutton, stir-fried hump with five shredded toppings, snowy mountain camel hoof, etc.

Some notices for your Gansu journey

Local flights in China are usually delayed, so you should consider and plan your schedule well before booking the ticket. I suggest you add 2 extra hours at your arrival time. Some airlines and trains do not sell ticket soon, so you can only book ticket online 2 months before departing.

If you want better convenience, you should charter car in your accommodation or from a formal company as the distance between attractions is pretty long, and public vehicles are not available everywhere; you may have to get on various buses to reach your destination. The hire fee could be expensive, but you can share with your friends or other tourists for less money.  You can call a taxi, but the price is familiar with renting a private car.

Tourist service in Gansu is not well developed, so sometimes you may feel uncomfortable. But prepare yourself first; always bring water, some snack, hat, light jacket, sunglasses, etc. along with you just in case. Save the number of your accommodation or some taxi service so you can get back to your accommodation safely.

More: Fujian Province, a spectacular historical Chinese tourist destination

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