The Last Outpost
Ready for your epic trip across Gansu? After you land in Beijing, a guide will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. Take the rest of the day to settle in, perhaps taking a stroll around the historic Hutong district or head to a rooftop bar for a spot of people watching.
The next day you'll tour many of Beijing's cultural highlights including Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Relax with a peaceful boat trip around the Summer Palace before spending the evening at a famous Beijing duck restaurant. Your final day in Beijing will be spent at the fascinating Jinshanling section of the Great Wall. Once you're done exploring this piece of history, you will enjoy a picnic lunch and admire the far-reaching views from the Wall.
Leave Beijing and fly to the foodie heaven of Lanzhou. Acting as a gateway between the Buddhist south and Muslim north, the food in Lanzhou is influenced by both. Don’t leave without trying the Lanzhou beef noodles. If the mood strikes you, take part in a noodle-making class and learn how to make your own. And if you're still hungry? Check out the bustling night markets with plenty of delicious street food stalls to taste your way around. You'll spend the night at the Wanda Vista Hotel.
In the morning you'll enjoy a peaceful start to the day with a visit to the Taoist White Cloud Temple and the Buddhist White Pagoda Temple across the river. In the afternoon you'll board a train to the laidback city of Zhangye. Your base for your time here will be the Huachen Hotel. The next day takes a trip out to the Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, home of the iconic 'Rainbow Mountains'. These swirling hills of orange, yellow and white were created when an ancient lake dried up and the sand oxidized. You'll arrive in time for sunset when the fiery landscape looks even more spectacular bathed in the glow of dusk.
Activity and Adventure
It's time to hit the desert in search of the largest fixed sand dunes in the world. At over 1,600m, you can't miss them, but perhaps more surprisingly you'll also hear them. As the sand collapses down one side, they emanate a deep booming noise. Check out the nearby lakes too – they attract grazing sheep and flocks of birds. You'll spend the night at the Badain Jaran Lake Hotel, however, depending on the weather, you may choose to camp here for an immersive dessert experience.
After waking to a spectacular sunrise, it's back to Zhangye to shake the sand out of your shoes! After a restorative day relaxing, head to the evening food market and sample some of the local delights.
Known as 'the last outpost of civilized China', the Jiayuguan Fort marks the end of the Great Wall of China before it tapers off into the Gobi Desert. See it for yourself, take in the impressive architecture and climb the 55 flights of stairs for sweeping desert views and glimpses of snow-capped peaks to the west and north. If you're feeling adventurous, you can walk to the end of the wall and see where it disappears into the sands. Alternatively, check out the oldest part of the wall to the north. Here, you'll spend the night at the Jiayuguan Hotel.
Activity and Adventure
It's time to head out into the Gobi Desert to Dunhuang. For years it provided a refuge for weary Silk Road travellers. Most left, but some stayed and built the creations you'll see dotted over the surrounding landscape today including forts, towers, and temples. Dunhuang is known for its clean energy innovation, meaning it's much less polluted than much of China. On arrival check into your hotel, the Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel, next to the sand dunes before visiting the night market. Try the cumin lamb, pork sandwiches known as ‘roujiamo’ and apricot juice made from the local fruits. Grab a seat and watch local singers and bands perform while you eat.
The next day you'll head up to the hotel’s rooftop for breakfast with a side of views. Afterwards, you'll visit the Singing Dunes and Crescent Moon Lake where you can make the most of the desert environment. Sand slide down dunes, ride a dune buggy or go paragliding. Those seeking solitude could skip these activities and go for a peaceful dune walk instead.
On your last full day in Dunhuang, you'll visit the Mogao Grottoes, considered one of the most important collections of Buddhist art in the world. You'll find 492 caves, but only 20 are open at one time to sensibly protect from overexposure. You'll enjoy a tour of the open caves with a local scholar from Dunhuang Academy. That evening enjoy dinner on the hotel rooftop, with the sunset over the dunes as a backdrop, glass of wine in hand.
Bid farewell to the desert and fly to Xi'an where you'll check in to the Grand Mercure. You're headed for the Muslim Quarter, where you'll see the largest mosque in China. Visit the markets of the Muslim quarter to pick up any last-minute souvenirs and enjoy a final taste of the Gansu flavors you've been enjoying. The next day you'll visit the Terracotta Army for a tour of one of China's most visited attractions. Afterwards, enjoy a cycling tour of the ancient city on a tandem bike. On your final night, you'll visit a restaurant for a delicious dumpling dinner, one of Xi'an's famous delicacies.