Top 9 Things To Do And Enjoy In Dunhuang, China

best things to do in dunhuang china

Dunhuang, China, a real tourist treasure. It used to be one of the vital stations along the silk road trading route. Its historical significance goes back more than 1,400 years. In fact, for centuries it was China’s most important military, political and economic region. Now, it hosts the remnants of its past history preserved for all to see. It’s the perfect location for those who want to take a step back in time and visit the relics of an age gone by. Take a look at 8 attractions that you should not miss if you take a trip to Dunhuang.

1. Mingsha Shan

Dunhuang, China Bebop Drone 2015-09-17T082603+0000 8FF38B
Source: Photo by user w0zny used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Mingsha Shan, also known as the Echoing Sand Mountains, is a worthy location to stop by. It’s located about 5 km (3 miles) away from Dunhuang city. The multicolored sand dunes stretch out across the horizon, a real sight to see. When there’s a light breeze, the sands create gentle, melodic sounds like music; thus it got its name.

There’s a legend behind the mountain. An old legend says that a general and his soldiers were having a great battle amongst the dunes, and a fierce wind blew quicksand over them, burying them and forming the mountain. They say that the sounds that are heard are actually the voices of the ghosts of warriors battling under the sand. It’s a beautiful location that you can traverse by camel-back and you will witness an incredible view from atop the dunes. If you don’t mind getting a little sweaty, you could even navigate up the dunes by foot. Don’t overlook this ‘national scenic spot’.

Mingsha Shan

Address: Mingsha Shan, Dunhuang, Jiuquan, China

Opening Hours: 5 am to 8:30 pm

Admission Fee: Ranges from 80 to 120 CNY (12 to 17 USD) depending on when you go

2. Crescent Lake

Source: Photo by user Sigismund von Dob... used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Located within the Mingsha Shan is a startling view. The desert surrounds a gorgeous oasis in the form of a crescent. The astonishing contrast between the golden dunes and the serene lake surrounded by lush greenery is a real sight to see. Throughout different times of the day, the lake reflects the sunlight casting different glowing shades. It’s especially beautiful to see during sunrise and sunset. In the evening the view of the stars and the moon reflected in the lake is not only amazing for tourists, it’s also a photographer’s nirvana.

Crescent Lake is an endangered site because the water recedes more every year. Take the chance to view the site, before it’s too late. Since you can buy a three-day pass that allows you access to both the Mingsha Shan and the Crescent Lake, you can take pictures at different times of the day. Here you get the chance to indulge in exciting activities like camel-riding, dune surfing, archery, karting and many more adventures for your pleasure. When you visit the Mingsha Shan, don’t forget to stop by Crescent Lake.

Crescent Lake

Address: Crescent Lake, Mingsha Shan, Dunhuang, Jiuquan, China (5 km/3miles South of Dunhuang)

Opening Hours: 5 am to 8:30 pm

Admission Fee: 80 to 120 CNY (12 to 17 USD. The ticket from the Mingsha Shan applies here, no extra cost)

Extra Activities: Any extra exciting activities you decide to part take in will be at an additional cost

3. Mogao Grotto

Dunhuang grottoes (Mogao cave)
Source: Photo by user Leon petrosyan used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mogao Grotto, also known as the Thousand Buddha Caves, are a historical treasure. Located 25 km (16 miles) away from Dunhuang city by road, these caves are a must-see part of your trip. These caves have been carved out of the sandstone crags of the Mingsha mountain. The entire stretch of grottoes were built over a course of 10 dynasties from the 4th to 14th-century, and they are known to be greatest trove of Buddhist art in existence. Legends say that a monk named Yue Zun was travelling across this region to return home, and he dreamed of 1,000 Buddhas. So he decided to bring his dream to life by painting them in the Mogao caves. Artists from each of the 10 dynasties contributed to the grottoes, building up the caves over time ending in the Yuan Dynasty (1368-1644).

Since then the caves have remained standing for hundreds of years, protected from erosion to a large extent by the caves. 496 caves remain standing today. You get the chance to visit the caves that have art spanning over a 1,000 years. It’s the most amazing way to take a step back in time in the caves where painters from generations ago put their mark on the walls. You should join a guided tour to get background into the amazing history of the caves and learn more about this monument, while looking around at the very objects of your discussion.

Mogao Grotto

Address: West of Hexi Zoulang, Dunhuang 736200, China

Admission Fees: May 1st to Oct. 31st: CNY 200 for Chinese citizens (30 USD); CNY 220 for foreign visitors (32 USD, including foreign tour guide service); Nov. 1st to next April 30th: CNY 100 for Chinese citizens (15 USD); CNY 120 for foreign visitors (17 USD, including foreign tour guide service) NOTE: (The admission fee includes Mogao Caves, Digital Exhibition Center, shuttle bus service between the Exhibition Center and the caves and tour guide service)

Opening Hours: During May 1st to Oct. 31st: 8 am – 6 pm, During Nov. 1st to April 30th: 9 am – 5:30 pm. (You must reserve tickets in advance)

Reservation Process: You can reserve tickets on the website listed below, but the website is not in English. All visitors should get tickets from the ticket office in downtown (No. 102, Building 15, North District of Yingbing Garden Community, East Yangguan Road; close to Yingbing Grand Hotel) or the ticket office in the Digital Exhibition Center (if you can’t get it on the website which is not in English)

Website: Mogao Grotto (in Chinese)

4. Dunhuang Grotto Art Protection Exhibition Centre

Fahai Temple Bodhisattvas
Source: Photo by user Xuan Che used under CC BY 2.0

You can take a break from the heat in the air-conditioned haven of an exhibition center next to the cave. Take a water break and use the restroom and while you’re there, make use of the opportunity for cultural enrichment. The Dunhuang Grotto Art Protection Center gives you a chance to learn more about the Mogao Caves either before or after you go. If you take a look before you go, you could get a chance to learn more about the caves you will soon enter.

The center offers a bilingual explanation of the art pieces, gives demonstrations and has models. If you wish to prolong your Mogao Cave experience, make sure to stop by the center as they house the real Buddha statues. You will also find art replicas of the caves in the exhibition center. It’s a chance you shouldn’t miss.

Dunhuang Grotto Art Protection Exhibition Centre

Address: Opposite the Mogao Grottoes

Admission Fee: If you buy the ticket for the Mogao Grotto, this is included

Website: Dunhuang Grotto Information

5. Yumenguan Pass

Yumen Guan - Jade Gate lo-res
Source: Photo by user John Hill used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Yumenguan Pass, also known as the small square castle, is a dilapidated relic of its once resplendent nature. Over time it has become a degraded memory of what it once was. The Yumenguan Pass was once the gateway to the Silk Road. It was a strategic military outpost guarding the Western Frontier from the Huns. Built from rammed yellow earth, it was an ancient defence system, recently determined a World Heritage Site.

Visit the site at least to see how even the greatest defense systems can fall over time. It’s a reminder of our mortality, and a peek into the past. The pass lies 90 km (about 60 miles) northwest of Dunhuang city. It would be wise to make a one-day west-line tour, visiting the Yumen Pass, the Mogao Grottos and the Yardang National Geological Park.

Yumenguan Pass

Address: 60 miles (97 km) west of Dunhuang, Jiuquan, Gansu, China

Admission Fees: CNY 40 (6 USD, including the entrance fee of Dunhuang Han Dynasty Great Wall and Hecang Fortress, the site of old munitions storage)

6. Yardang National Geological Park

Source: Photo by user 张骐 used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Yardang National Geological Park, also known as the town of demons, is characterized by the screaming of the wind as it passes through the sand structures. The once stretch of highland has cracked over time and has eroded with the wind, creating the Yardang landform, resembling an ancient ruined town. Using your imagination, the structures can resemble the age old architectures of times past. Located 180 km (about 112 miles) northwest of Dunhuang city, the park trip should be a part of a greater tour. You can go to the Jade Pass and visit other ancient landmarks in the area. It’s a short stopover, but you won’t regret spending the time here.

Yardang National Geological Park

Address: 180 km northwest of Dunhuang downtown

Admission Fees: 7.50 USD, if one needs the service of a sightseeing bus, you will be charged another 3 USD

Transportation: There are routes of buses to Yardang Geo-area every day. They can be booked in the reception of different hotels

7. Shazhou Night Market

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During the evening hours, if you want to relax after your day trips, visit the night market. It takes the edge off the travel and gives you time to unwind while enjoying the festivities. The night market gives you the opportunity to learn about Dunhuang folk-customs and life. The market is cordoned off into different sections. You can enjoy some shopping for art and ethnic wares, and in another area you can enjoy snacks and a teahouse to really loosen up, and then go watch the amateur local opera street shows. Take the time to visit the market, you’re sure to have a good time.

Shazhou Night Market

Address: East Yangguan Road, Dunhuang City, Gansu Province, China

Prime Hours: 6 pm to midnight

Ideal Amount of Time to Spend: 2-3 hours

8. Shopping

Every trip should be supplemented with some shopping so you have souvenirs to trigger the great memories. Spend some time shopping in Dunhuang. You can get a lot of tourist souvenirs and local crafts at the Shazou Market, but if you want to go to the source, there are places you can visit firsthand to buy certain trinkets. Dunhuang is a prime place to buy Yangguan Jade cups (luminous cups) that glow in the dark. You can also buy calligraphy tools, art wares, carpets, paintings and antiques. Find what you love and choose what you want to take away to remember your trip by.

Shopping in Dunhuang

Dunhuang Shi Luminous Cups Factory: No.11, Yangguan Road (East)

Dunhuang Shi Carpets Factory: No.24, Danghe Road (North)

Dunhuang Painting and Calligraphy Yuan: No.36, Mingshan Road

Crescent Lake Craftworks Factory: Crescent Lake Village of Yongjia Bridge

Museum Store: No.8, Yangguan Road (East)

Start your journey

Making a trip to Dunhuang, China is probably one of the best choices you could make. It can be hard deciding what exactly you should visit in order to make the most of your trip. When you do make this trip, these eight attractions are the best places to start your tourist journey. You will have the ability to immerse yourself in history and enjoy exciting activities, as well as unwind with good food and great entertainment. What more could you ask for?

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Mahima is an avid traveler, who eventually wants to see the whole world, and she’s already made quite a start. Having grown up as a third culture kid, she has lived in 5 countries. She loves...Read more

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