Unbeknownst to many tourists and backpackers, one of the most unique and grandiose destinations to visit in China is the Chinese Silk Road. Some would prefer to visit the more accessible and popular spots in China, but few would want to witness the glory of something quite as different and adventurous as what the Silk Road has to offer.
Notable because of its dunes for sledding and camel rides through an oasis, the Silk Road is perfect for backpackers equipped with sand-proof knapsacks and sturdy travel boots looking for an adventure filled with endless possibilities.
The route, which bridged the gap between Europe and South Asia, is the travel route of the impeccable and high-priced Chinese silk during the early days of history. It begins at Xi’an, China and goes along the northwestern end across Gansu and the Xinjiang province before arriving at Central Asia.
Picking Routes In History
The Silk road splits into different routes to give traders a choice of city to visit. Historically, the most traveled part of the road is the one which runs from Xi’an to Jianyuguan, Gansun, and Lanzhou. From this area, travelers choose between traveling northwest to China’s wine country Urumqi (in Xinjiang), and the alpine peak of Tian Shan mountains are found.
If you’re looking for a sandy journey, going South from Lanzhou takes one through the raging Gansu desert, where one finds tall sand dunes and archaic caves of worship to Buddha, which ends in a meat oasis: Kashgray, famous for its livestock market.
For travelers with time to spare, a southern route southward from Jiayuguan all the way to Dunhuang goes northward to Urumqi, and down again to Kashgar, for the fullest fork-in-the-road experience, where you can the best of both worlds.
Views Left, Right and Center
Along China’s Silk Road, one can find a ton of amazing spots to witness that are both enticing and calming. Here are some of the exceptional sights-to-see:
- The Overhanging Great Wall. It has earned its namesake because it resembles the image of a dragon yearning for its life, clinging on to the side of the cliff. The Wall is often described as one of the most visually stunning works of man ever made. What’s more, it is accompanied by a mud maze that works its way through a zigzag it’s way up to a steep mountaintop. The Great Wall, likewise, has a great view from above.
- Grottos of Mogao. Found on the outskirts of Dunhuang, these sets of caves are filled with murals and artworks of the great Buddha.
- Grape Valley of Turpan. Also called an oasis town, Turpan is the citadel of wine-curating in China. While the quality of the wine is substandard according to wine experts, the experience of sipping a glass of white wine under a canopy of grape vines.
- Tian Chi Lake. Sitting atop the cradle of the mountains of the Tian Shan, this lake which earned the ‘heavenly’ namesake is not only a popular destination for the domestic tourist but also for those from around the world. Even though it is now infested with cacophonous boat horns and noisy tourists, one you find the spots of solitude around the are, the experience is soothing and calming to the senses. Another thing to try in this faraway paradise is to live with a local Kazakh family, just don’t forget to bring them water from the forest before entering their lovely abode.
- Kashgar’s Grandiose Sunday Bazaar. This grand bazaar is open on all days of the week, but it’s Sunday market is teeming with eager people, fresh produce, and high-quality meat from goat, sheep, and cattle.
- Ruins of Jiaohe. If archaeological attractions are your thing, you’re going to want to see the 2300-aged ruins of ancient capital in China. History would tell you that this city was invaded by Mongols back in the 13th century, marking its significance in the old books of man. Today, the remains of what was then a busy city is now an intricate display of structures in varying states of putrefaction, coupled with a maze-like connection of streets.
- Singing Sand Dunes. Found at the outskirts of Dunhuang, the Singing Sand Dunes is the beginning of a series of dunes across the Taklamakan Desert. What makes this san dune different from the rest is the mystery of how it still hasn’t wholly engulfed the oasis found below following long periods of sand erosion in that region. Besides, the adventurous types can consider climbing up the dunes to stay by the vistas and overlook the other trail of dunes.
- The Jiayugan Fort. The Great Wall of China ends in the Jiayugan Fort like a rainbow to a large pot of gold. It is an immense mud fortress which rises out from the sands of the desert. Also, the north of the Jiayugan town is where one can find phenomenal activities like camel rides and archery for tourists to enjoy.
- Zhangye Danxia National Geopark. Known for its great mix of layered clay and sandstone in bright hues of orange, red and yellow, this Geopark is a marvelous fiery landscape. While you in are the Zhangye area, also try to visit the Giant Buddha Temple, housing one of the world’s most colossal reclining wooden statues of Buddha in China.
While shaky and bumpy bus rides across northwestern China are popular and cheaper, the train and railways are the comfortable and easy-to-understand alternative. Also, regular flights are scattered across the region for those looking to fly around.
Note, however, that the beauty of the whole trip is found on land. With the bus ride or the train-riding, one will witness the anthropological and topographical landscapes across the area.
One can also see the living and culture of China’s northwestern region. Doing at least one bus ride or train hopping is an excellent way to see the fantastic landscapes and sceneries up close, but only for those with much time to spare.
Besides, flying is too expensive an option, but there’s nothing wrong with choosing to fly. However, this is an option reserved for those with more money to spare, and those looking to finish the trip in less than a week.
Tips for Your Trip
Much of the Silk Road route follows sunlight-drenched landscapes and burning deserts, so make sure that you and your friends bring along lots of water. Also, bring some sunscreen while you’re at it, and wear some breathable, airy, and comfortable clothing that does not stick to the skin. You can also bring large handkerchiefs or bandanas to shield your nostrils from the dusty conditions of the area.
If you are taking an overnight train trip across the country, bring lots of sealed water and plenty of food for your long trip. You can buy these from the hot meals and Chinese food like rice or stir-fried meat and vegetables that are served on the train. Easy-to-carry options such as instant noodles seed, fruits, and nuts are also available for you to pack in your bag.
For those looking for strong drinks, beer and wine are served on the train. One needs to be ready to talk to local over alcohol, though, and it’s one great way to meet the locals.
Also, note that the whole of China is in one standard timezone, China Standard Time, so be sure to always check your time for ticket departures and bus tickets.
All in All
The journey through the Silk Road is not for the faint of heart, but it is as fulfilling and incredible as it sounds. Through the heat, tear, and dust is a truly unforgettable and amazing experience that is truly one for the books and memories.
This travel itinerary is written for the adventurous, and this is one that each world explorer should consider. Just do not forget to bring lots of water and breathable clothes to get through the fiery exploration.