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8 Days Classic Gansu Photography Tour

Ancient Silk Road – Hexi Corridor


In the ancient time, pioneers, like Marco Polo, traveled on Silk Road with a diary to record what they saw and experienced. Today, you will travel the same way but with a camera. We are not able to witness the tragic wars, ancient caravans and markets, but we can still feel the very solemn weight of history, see the same landscape as Marco saw, praise the brilliant artic works. More importantly, you can keep the real actual things in your camera instead of writing in a diary like Marco Polo.

China possesses more than a half distance of the whole ancient Silk Road, while Gansu occupies the most important part – Hexi Corridor on which Zhangye, Jiayuguan and Dunhuang are three most impressive destinations with profound historical sites and marvelous natural landscape. Now take our classic itinerary to explore their unique beauties.

This Silk Road photography tour can be customized depending on which sites your want to visit, what photos you want to take, and on the weather condition when you go. Feel free to tell your interests and ideas to your personal travel consultants!

Basic Photography Info

Travel Route: Lanzhou / Zhangye / Jiayuguan / Dunhuang /

Travel Length: 8 Days

Tour Code: CD-SPT-08

Tour Type: Customizable Private Tour

Departure: You Choose (you may plan it according to the best season and time.)

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Itinerary Details Day by Day

Day 1 Lanzhou Arrival

Welcome to Lanzhou - city of Yellow River. Once your arrival at Lanzhong Zhongchuan Airport or Lanzhou Train Station, you will be pick up by your local guide, then be escorted to your hotel in a private vehicle. The rest of today is yours to this northwestern historical city on your own.

Day 2 Lanzhou - Zhangye (B)

Today you will explore the best highlights of Lanzhou city. First stop is the White Pagoda Mountain. You can hike up the staircases to the top of the mountain, which is a awesome experience. If you don't want to bear the walk, you can take the cable car (Y35 to go up, Y20 to come down). On the top of the hill is the White Pagoda built in Yuan Dynasty with Lamasery style. Last, learn a great lesson of Gansu history and culture in the Gansu Provincial Museum. Don't miss its two best features: Buddhism Culture Hall and Pottery Culture Hall.

Check out from your hotel and take train(D2749-17:10, or D2743-17:40) to Zhangye which takes about 3 hours.

White Pagoda Mountain
Day 3 Zhangye (B)

After breakfast, you will go to visit the Giant Buddha Temple which is famous for having the largest indoor sleeping Buddha in Asia. This temple was built in Xixia Dynasty(1098), and keeps many precious Buddhist scriptures and wall paitings.The Buddha statue was carved by woods with a length of 34.5 meters. His ears are as big as the space which 4 adults can sit side by side.

In the afternoon, drive about an hour to visit the Zhangye Danxia Landform. Danxia landform is a spectacular petrographic geomorphology landscape which is formed from red-coloured sandstones and conglomerates. The one in Zhangye was formed in the pre-Jurassic Age. Thousands of mountains and stiffs stretch like the colorful sunset glow.

Drive back to Zhangye.

Zhangye Danxia Landform Views After Rain
Day 4 Zhangye - Jiayuguan (B)

Today you will dirive about 3 hours to Jiayuguan.

In the afternoon, visit the Jiayuguan Fort. Wander on the ancient city wall, and feel the heartbeats of the “first pass under heaven”. Then stroll to visit the Great Wall Museum where you will learn about history of Jiayuguan and the Great Wall.

When taking photos of Jiayuguan Fort, you can set the surroundings as the backgrounds or setoffs. The pleasant views, with the permanently snowcapped Qilian Mountains to the north and the black Mazong Mountains to the south, couldn’t be better scene to shoot.

Jiayuguan Fort
Day 5 Jiayuguan - Dunhuang (B)

Today you will drive to Dunhuang from Jiayuguan in the early morning. On route, visit the Yulin Grottoes. The forty-two caves house some 250 polychrome statues and 4,200 square meters of wall paintings, dating from the Tang Dynasty to the Yuan Dynasty (seventh to fourteenth centuries).

After visiting Yulin Grottoes, keep driving to Dunhuang City.

Yulin Grottoes (No. 3 Cave)
Day 6 Dunhuang (B)

After breakfast, start your full day Duhuang culture and sightseeing trip.

Firstly, drive from the Dunhuang city to visit the Mogao Grottoes. It is famed as the “Louvre of East”, which is outstanding for its exquisite mural paintings and statues. There are now 492 grottoes in which about 45000 square meters mural paintings and 2100 colorfully painted statues have been preserved very well. To preserve relics in the caves, it is not allowed to take photos inside the caves. . From outside of caves, you can take some great photos of serried caves built in the high cliffs.

The following attraction is the Echoing Sand Mountains. It is said, in the sunny days, the sand mountains echo like Orchestra music even if there is no wind. If you slide from the sand mountains, you can hear the echoing sound clearly.

Your last things to do for today is the Crescent Lake. Surrounded by sand mountains from four directions, the Crescent Lake is a beautiful oasis with some well decorated traditional Chinese architecture, some trees and flowers and a lake that has never dried up. To witness the best scenery of the Crescent Lake, you need to climb to the top of the Singing Sand Dunes. The best hours for shooting are around sunrise and sunset. The strong light in the daytime creates strong noise. Besides, the temperature is very high.

Mogao Grottoes
Day 7 Duhuang (B)

Today’s highlight is the Yardang National Geopark. Yardang has been created over time by the sort part of the earth surface having being eroded by wind and rain, with the hard part of the rocks remaining in the desert. You will drive from Dunhuang city westwards. On route, visit the Yumenguan Pass and Ruin of Great Wall of Han Dynasty.

Drive back to Dunhuang City.

Beautiful Yardang National Geopark Sunset in June
Day 8 Dunhuang Departure (B)

Today is free for you to arrange activities until you tour guide see you off at the Dunhuang Airport/Train Station.

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Zhangye Photography Guide

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Zhangye is a historical medium-sized town located between Lanzhou and Jiayuguan. It used be not only an important stopover of the Hexi Corridor section of ancient Silk Road, but also strategic garrison guarding both the Great Wall and circulation of trade along the Silk Road. According to Marco Polo’s travelogue, he stayed here for a whole year. So what was the magic reason that made him stay for such a long time? The answer no undoubtedly is the rich historical sites and incredible landforms here. Unfortunately, Marco didn’t have a camera during that ancient time to record what he saw and experienced in Zhangye. But now, you have a camera to do what Marco wished to do, to record the colors, smells, experience in your photos.

Zhangye’s history is as old as Chinese history. The brilliant ancestors, including the farmers, artisans, merchants, solders, officers, together created magnificent relics, and inherited the tradition from generation to generation. At the same time, the spectacular geographic environment here formed unique natural wonder.

Best Sites for Photography

Dafo Temple

Dafo Temple was built in 1098 of West Xia Dynasty, is famous for the gently formed Sleeping Buddha with calm expression. The Sleeping Buddha is placed in a large two-story pavilion with regal roof and carving. The statue tells the story of Buddha’s Nirvana. The whole Dafo Temple is a large complex with regal arrangements. The Sleeping Buddha is the centrally seated, symmetric buildings situate along the sides.

Danxia Landform

There are many places in Zhangye with Danxia Landform. While, the most beautiful one is Nijiayi Danxia Landform about 40km away from Zhangye town which is the place can be seen on TV, photos, etc. The barren mountains are covered by a red grit rock stratum. At the same time, some surfaces of mountains appear other colors, such as white, yellow, etc, and form many irregular lines and blocks looking like some abstract oil paintings. You can’t see any other vegetation which is actually not necessary to exist in such a scene.

There are four viewing decks for you to watch and shoot. Sunrise and sunset are the best hours for taking photos. The golden sunlight makes the red mountains morbidezza and soft. The sunrise usually appears around 06:00 in summer and 07:30 in winter. The sunset happens around 19:00~20:00 in summer and 18:00~19:00 in winter.

Best Season for Photography

Zhangye is suitable for traveling all year around. The weather has little effect on sightseeing sites in downtown area. Generally, autumn is the best season for both visiting and photography when the weather is cool and fresh. The snow in winter is helpful to take some spectacular photos of Danxia Landform in winter.

Tips from Our Experts

1. What to pack

The temperature differs between daytime and night. Pack both light and thick clothes. As for equipment for photography, you can bring frequently-used lenses and tripod (for sunrise and sunset).

2. Transfer advice

There are highways connecting to Zhangye both from Lanzhou or Xining. Zhangye also has an airport, but there are not many tourists using because Zhangye is usually not the last or the first stop of a tour. Taking high speed train to Zhangye is now a very popular way.

3. Accommodation tips

Comfortable accommodation can be ensured in Zhangye. You have multiple choices ranging from guest house to comfortable class.

Jiayuguan Photography Guide

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Jiayuguan is the gate of northwestern China. It is the western terminal point of the Great Wall of Ming Dynasty. Jiayuguan used to play a very important role in ancient Chinese history as a strategic defense to protect inland China from invasion of tribes in northwestern China due to its spectacular location and terrain which is improbable to be invaded from outsiders. Today, Jiayuguan has transformed into a historical site which is also a good place for photography.

Featured Sites for Photography


The fort is the most significant part of Jiayuguan Pass as well as the last fortress of Great Wall of Ming Dynasty. It is a complex of towers, city walls and other military buildings covering more than 25,000 square meters. The city wall is nearly 11 meters high, and comprises an outer and inner wall. There are two large gates standing at the east and the west of the inner wall. Walkways lead to the top of the wall, allowing horses to climb up the wall.

When taking photos of Jiayuguan Fort, you can set the surroundings as the backgrounds or setoffs. The pleasant views, with the permanently snowcapped Qilian Mountains to the north and the black Mazong Mountains to the south, couldn’t be better scene to shoot. To take the full view of the fortress is very necessary, and you can find the best place for framing from the place 500 meters to the southeast of fort. The best hours are around the sunrise and sunset.

Great Wall

It is a good idea to learn the history of the Great Wall before your shooting. In the Great Wall Museum, you will learn big events happened in the history of Great Wall from the Han to the last Ming Dynasty. Many rare photos and scale models of the Wall are displayed in the Museum.

After visiting the Great Wall Museum, it is time to explore the real Walls. Jiayuguan is famous for the so-called Overhanging Wall which is connected to the fort and Mazong Mountains. The walls were built on lofty cliffs with incredibly large gradient looking like an overhanging cantilever. Climbing up to higher gives you excellent views of the surrounding land and mountains.

Best Season for Photography

You can visit Jiagyuguan in every season. There is no distinct four seasons here. September to November is the best time for cool temperature, less rainfall, clean sky.

Tips from Our Experts

1. Ticket fee

The entrance ticket covers fees for the Fort, Great Wall Museum and Overhanging Walls.

2. What to pack

Bring necessaries to prevent from ultraviolet light.

3. Transfer advice

Taking flight from Lanzhou, Xian and Beijing to Jiayuguan is available, but there are not many schedules. Both regular trains and high speed rails link Jiayuguan with Xinjiang and Zhangye, Lanzhou, and Xining. It is about 5 hours’ driving from Dunhuang, 2 hours’ driving from Zhangye.

4. Accommodation advice

You can choose to stay in Jiayuguan City for good amenities, or to stay next to fort which is cheap and basic.

Dunhuang Photography Guide

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Dunhuang is the last stop of Gansu Silk Road photography tour, which is also the most highlighting part. It proudly has the world’s largest colossal sand dunes and boasting Buddhism art works.

Recommended Sites for Photography

Mogao Grottoes

Mogao Grottoes are located 25km southwest of Dunhuang City. The history of Mogao Grottoes can be dated back to more than 1600 years ago. Thousand or more caves were built in cliffs, and only over six hundred survive with recognizable form. So far, there are thirty caves open to the public.

Why the caves are so charming and famous? Because they keep thousands of precious murals, Buddhist scriptures, paintings and other relics from which you can trace the development of Chinese art over 1600 years from one dynasty to the next because each dynasty built own caves to record its own features.

To preserve relics in the caves, it is not allowed to take photos inside the caves. But it is worth exploring the caves one by one to appreciate the beautiful murals. From outside of caves, you can take some great photos of serried caves built in the high cliffs

Crescent Lake & Singing Sand Dunes

Seeing enough gobi desert along the Hexi Corridor? In Dunhuang, you will be pleased by some gentle and beautiful landscapes of real desert – Singing Sand Dunes (Mingsha Shan). The National Geography elected as the most beautiful desert in China. As the name suggests, the desert here sings. Scientifically, it is a resonation of moving sands driven by wind. The sand ridges rise and fall on which you may possibly see the caravan passing by.

The most fabulous scene is the Crescent Lake which is surrounded by sand dunes. The most magical things are: 1. The lake including its surrounding has never been flooded by shifting sands; 2. The lakes has never been drained without water supply from river. The lake shapes like a crescent moon lying in the arms of sand mountains. Near to the lake are some ancient Chinese traditional buildings. To witness the best scenery of the Crescent Lake, you need to climb to the top of the Singing Sand Dunes. The best hours for shooting are around sunrise and sunset. The strong light in the daytime creates strong noise. Besides, the temperature is very high.

Best Season for Photography

May to October are best months for sightseeing and photography. November to April of next year is not suitable for shooting because of cold weather and frequent sand storms. September and October are cool time with clear views of desert and mountains.

Tips from Our Experts

1. Desert traveling tips

There is huge temperature gad between daytime and night, so pack with more clothes for different conditions, thick clothes for night and morning, light-color clothes for daytime. Sunblock, sun glasses, hat are necessary.

You must also pay attention to sand prevention, including your camera, bas, boots, etc.

2. Can I take photos in the caves?

It is usually not allowed to take photos when visiting inside temples and Buddhist grottoes. If you want to take photos of monks, taoists, get their permission first.

3. Transfer advice

Flight transfer is the most popular way if you start or end your trip at Dunhuang. There are many flights connecting Dunhuang with major cities in China, such as Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Shanghai, etc.

4. Accommodation

Dunhuang offers flexible choices of accommodation ranging from 2 star to 5 star. Tourists usually accommodate in Dunhuang City. Some backpackers prefer to stay near Singing Sand Dunes with cheap price but basic amenities.

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