The city was founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty in 111 BC at the cross roads of two trading routes on the Silk Road, and the name 'Dunhuang', meaning to 'to flourish and prosper,' gives some indication of the town's prominence in ancient China. It is much less important today.
Dunhuang Airport (IATA: DNH) is 13km east of town center. Flights are available to Beijing, Lanzhou, Urumqi, and Xian. There is now a taxi stand at this airport (Sept 2013). Taxis do not run on meters and the charge is 50yuan for trip to city.
If you can get your hotel to pick you up, please do so. There can be shuttle busses which arrive when planes come, but these can be full, resulting in a long wait (1 hour) for a vehicle if you're not prepared.
The airport and train station are just 10 mins walk away. So one can take walk to the train station to take the bus to the city.
Dunhuang Train Station (敦煌火车站; Dūnhuáng Huǒchēzhàn) is about 12km outside the town to the northeast. There is also a ticket agent in town, across the street from Dunhuang Hotel, which sells tickets for most trains. Note that the train connection to Dunhuang is relatively new.
Travel times and train numbers for departures from Dunhuang as of early 2008:
Jiayuguan - #7528, departing at 16:10, arriving at 21:49; also departing at 04:48, arriving at 09:27
Mogao Caves (莫高窟), (25km from town, most people visit on pre-arranged tour or arrive by taxi. It is also possible to take the green city bus to Mogao for 8 yuan each way. The bus also stops at the train station, and stops in front of the Silk Road hotel in Dunhuang city, as well as just outside Charley Johng's cafe). English tours at 9AM, 12AM and 2PM daily. A UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with exquisite Buddhist art and manuscripts. Although the city had an early connection with Buddhism due to the passage of monks traveling the Silk Road, it was not until a monk had a vision of a thousand Buddhas above the desert at Dunhuang in 4th century that the famous caves were excavated and filled with the manuscripts and treasures. People will tell you that it is not possible to tour the caves on your own and all visitors are assigned to different guides, but after you enter the first cave in a group you can walk around the rest at will without a guide and no-one minds. The tour takes about two hours and 12 caves will be visited Oct 2013); all the rest are closed. if you're wandering around you can cover all the caves without rushing in 90 mins. The tours are different from group to group with every group visiting the main caves. The guide said that the number of visitors may be limited and advanced booking needed in the future. You can arrange to visit closed caves, It will cost you ¥200 per person and per cave. Note that It can be handy to bring your torch. Worth a visit even if you don't pay the steep entrance fee and tour the caves, as the museum is free to enter and contains replicas of several caves, and there are a few small temples you can easily hike to in the nearby hills. For information, during the cultural revolution the Buddha and some painting was destroyed. Main painting of the cave was restored around 1995. Well, restored, but restored ! As of Jan 2014, the 35 meter tall Buddha statue is again open to the public after a lengthy restoration. As of July 2014 tickets must be purchased at the brand new visitor centre, 8km from Dunhuang centre. It is not possible to buy a ticket without the additional access to the movies and bus. There was no operational ticket office at the cave site itself and the road to the caves did not appear to join the main road, making it difficult to visit the cave site by taxi or private car. The first movie explains the history of the site on the silk road while the second is a very impressive 3D movie of some of the caves which are off limits to tourists.As of July 2014, Mogao tickets are 240 yuan for foreigners (Sept 2014) (no discounts available; tours in English at 9:00, 12:00, and 2:00), 160 for Chinese nationals, and 80 for Chinese students. Tickets include access to 2 movies and a shuttle bus to the cave site. edit
Sand Dunes/Mingshashan—Yueyaquan National Park (沙丘), (Take bus 3 from downtown Dunhuang). Worth a trip. If you're not interested in seeing the lake from up close and just want to walk among the dunes just follow the fence to the right from Charlie Jongh's Dune Guesthouse. After a couple of minutes you will find an open gate and a path leading up to the dunes. From the top of the one on the left, you can see the lake. Entrance fee for the dunes and lake park is ¥120 (¥60 low season); an additional ¥100 per person for a camel ride (as of July 2014).. edit
Huyang Forest (胡杨林), (20km from town, take the bus to the railway station and ask the driver to go to Huyang Lin. (¥3)). It consist of a small forest of rare poplares (Populus Divesifolia). Some are more than 600 years old. Can give an opportunity for a walk far from town. The entrance fee is ¥30. edit
White Horse Pagoda (白马塔), (3 km west from town center.). The construction of this 12 meters stuppa has been ordered by Kumarajiva, a Buddhist translator, in honor of his horse which died in transporting him to Dunhuang, in 384.The entrance fee is ¥15. edit
Piper bounce statue (反弹琵琶雕像). Rebound Pipa statue is the symbol of Dunhuang, is located in the urban circle Flower Island Center, bar, and an even Highway South Road intersection in this. The statue through about 5 meters high, very graceful indeed, plump body, dance a benevolent and kind countenance, focus on the right leg, left leg lift back toward the front, Pipa behind the palm faces on the rebound.edit
Summer of Dunhuang Variety Show. June-October. Performances of singing and dancing in the Silk Road traditions.edit
Camel Trek, arranged by Charley Johng's Cafe, 22 Mingshan Road (Up the road from Charley Johng's Cafe), ☎ +86 0937 8827000 (email@example.com). Get to know the desert firsthand on a 2 to 7 day camel trek across spectacular sand dunes. A typical trek goes for 3 days and includes a visit to the Mogao Cave. Alternately, just camp out in the desert for a night to experience the Gobi Desert's night sky, sunset and sunrise. If you don't have much time you can have a one day tour with staying in the desert and riding to the Mogao Cave in the morning (400 RMB p.P.).Bargain hard, but going rate is between ¥250-500 per day depending on time of year. edit
Yadan Landforms (雅丹魔鬼城). Dunhuang Yadan National Park, also called Devil City, is 2 hours northwest of the city. A bus seat can be gotten for ¥9, with admission being ¥40 for park entrance plus ¥80 for the tour of the landforms. edit
Quad biking in the Desert (arranged by Charley Johng's or John's Cafe). edit Quad bikes rented by the hour (400-500 yuan per hour), go racing around the dunes.
Night market, (Downtown). Good dried fruits and nuts (walnuts, dates, raisins, apricots, small tomatoes...). Many souvenirs. Note that some people sell wood stamps, pretending It's made from the rare Huyang tree, but It's not. Huyang Tree is too soft to be carved. edit
There's a normal-priced supermarket opposite the long-distance bus station (beside Feitian Binguan) to stock up on water, snacks and other groceries.
Charley Johng's cafe, Mingshan Road 鸣山路 (Opposite the long-distance bus station and 50m north). Reasonably priced western meals available. Very helpful staff.¥25 for English breakfast set. edit
John's cafe, 22 Mingshan Road 鸣山路 (30m up the road from Chalie Johng's, in the parking lot of the Feitian Hotel 敦煌飞天宾馆). Reasonably priced western meals available. Good staff.¥25 for English breakfast set. edit
Shirley's cafe, Mingshan Road (opposite Charlie Johng's cafe). It's a bit pricy and the portions are pretty small.edit
Night market skewers stalls, (downtown night market). Lamb, potato, mushroom, bread... skewers; yogurt.edit
Yunnan Cross Bridge Mixian, 7 Baiwei Jie (in the night market area, between the covered market and street with all the skewers.). Until 12am. Own by a lively small lady, eager to introduce you to her home cuisine. Tasty rice noodles with authentic sauces. Chinese speaker handy.¥20/Person. edit
Lovina Pizza, No. 1, Level 3, B Building, Business Walking Street (敦煌市商业步行街B座三楼1号） (close to the local government office, above the kaierliang supermarket), ☎ 0937 - 8858996, . 10:30am to 11:00pm. A nice quiet pizza restaurant (only one in town) with good easy to read menu with English and pictures. Free wireless internet and decent relatively cheap coffee. They also do deliveries if you can speak Chinese.¥15 - 65 per pizza. edit
Oasis, Pedestrian Street (Southern end of the Pedestrian street, just a few blocks west of the Mosque), ☎ +86 150 0937 6021. opens at 2pm. Run by an Oklahoman (he's actually from Illinois), this cafe has good coffee, milkshakes, and a small menu with pizza and hamburgers. The wifi is fast. edit
Si Chuan Restaurant, Same block as Charlie Johng's Cafe, just a few meters south (From Charlie Johng's Cafe walk a few meters down south). Very good Sichuan cuisine at very affordable prices. Although they don't speak English, they do have English menu. But it's best to look at other tables for things you like and take a pick from there. Certainly a place not to be missed.edit
Shanxi Li Ji Pork Burger, Booth No.10, Fried Food Street, Night Market, Downtown Dunhuang (From the north entrance of the night market in downtown Dunhuang, walk about 30 meters on the left there will be a small green sign written in English Fried Food Street. Look for booth number 10.). Serves cheap but very tasty Chinese pork burger (hilariously claimed to be the origin of hamburger). A combination of slow cooked fatty pork, garlic, green peppers, and other Chinese spices stuffed inside a dense and crispy charcoal baked flat bread. This hearty pork burger is only 8 yuan a piece (as of April 2013), other meats and various soups are also available.edit
信得过牛面 Trustworthy beef noodles, (On west side of Shazhou road SW of the YHA). Excellent, fresh noodles. Plate costs 10RMB and is massive. Hardly any beef, though. Look for the green sign.edit
Note that the hostels close to the sand dunes looked closed in winter
Dunhuang International Youth Hostel, Near the Seed Company，Wenchang South Road，Dunhuang，Gansu（Which was in NO.1，Huancheng East Road，Dunhuang，Gansu） (Get to the east door of the Shazhou Market (沙洲市场), then walk about 300 metres straight towards the south. You will see the YHA sign on the right side.). Good location in the city center, well connected to the sites and bus/train stations by minibus. Walking distance from the bus station. Open in winter.¥50. edit
Feitian Hotel Dunhuang, 22 Mingshan Road, ☎ (0937)8822726 (fax: +86 937 8822311). Double room for ¥300 (Oct 2013), clean, hot water, good location.edit
Charlie Johng's Dune Guesthouse (敦煌月泉山庄), 甘肃省敦煌市月牙泉鸣沙山沙生植物园 (Transfer available from Charlie Johng's cafe; see Eat. Otherwise take bus #3 (¥1) to last stop and walk 400m to the right (look for signs).), ☎ +86 13893763029 (firstname.lastname@example.org). The whole place is a bit rundown (except for the nice cottages), with dirty and smelly shared toilets. Toilet papewr baskets are not emptied until they are overflowing. Flies are prevalent not only in the bathrooms but in the courtyard as well. Showers usually lack hot water and do not drain properly (one drain for 5 showers). The restaurant is okay but you are better of eating in town. WiFi avaliable. Staff speak only basic english but is helpful. laundry 10 yuan per load. Dorms 40 yuan as of August 2012, double 120 yuan, cottage 100 yuan. edit
Charlie Johng's Hostel, (In the night market area, next to the mosque.), ☎ +86 13893763029 - +86 09378857298. According to Charlie at the Dune Guesthouse, this place is no longer under his ownership, so don't expect to be able to make a reservation through the email address for the cafe or Dune Guesthouse. The change of ownership may be a good thing, however, given the hygeine standards at the Dune Guesthouse.Dorm ¥50, double/twin ¥180. edit
Double rooms are expensive at ¥170. However they are spotlessly clean (as is the entire hostel) and some of the staff speak English, if somewhat monotonously. This is a good option if everything else is booked. Laundry dries almost instantly if placed on the roof due to the desert sun. On Shazhou North road north of the Beichen market. * only chinese name, (direct opposite of Charlie Johng's cafe. Look for a sign with the number 444). ok twin room with hot shower & ethernet internet 100 yuan. editok twin room with hot shower & ethernet internet 100 yuan. edit
Five Rings Hotel, 20 Ming Shan Road., ☎ 0937 -8836574 (fax: 0937 -8835859). Double/twin ¥100. edit
Zephyr International Youth Hostel, Yueya Spring Scenic Spot (Located right next to Dune Guesthouse, but entry is opposite, so you need to circle it. Also lots of signposts leading from the main road.), ☎ 0086 937 8882000 (fax: 0086 937 8882002), . Big place made out of many small cabins/huts, like a tiny village, filled with trees, swings and hammocks. Nice, relaxed atmosphere. Hot showers, free internet/wifi, and at least one english speaking staff member. Also substantially cleaner than the Dune Guesthouse next door. Mainly Chinese guests.Dorm bed (before HI discount) ¥40, Cabins from ¥130 (prices as of 2013). edit
Tianyuan Fasthotel, 210 Mingshan Lu (Down the alley next to 'Gold Water Show Foot Way'. There's a sign on the wall next to the street number.). Nice clean hotel set back from the road. Friendly staff. En-suite room cost ¥100 in May 2013.¥100. edit
Silk Road Dunhuang Hotel, Dunyue Road (4km south of town, 10 minutes by car south of town, the dunes are 20 minutes walk away or accessible by bus 3, taxis are easily available at the hotel), ☎ +86 937 8882088, . Nice and clean hotel. Chinese/western restaurant. Roof-top cafe with beautiful views on the dunes, breakfast served here too. English speaking staff. Baby cot available.Doubles ¥680. edit
Silk Road - The route between Dunhuang and Cherchen (Qiemo) is probably the hardest to do in all of the Silk Road travels since public transit is complicated between the two points.
One leg of the trip is often closed due to washouts in the river canyon or landslides in the mountains, and is closed to most traffic in the winter. Be sure to ask, before you leave Dunhuang, whether the road between Shimiankuang and Charklik (Ruoqiang) is open.
Regular buses run daily each morning from Dunhuang, Gansu Province, 731 km to Huatugou (花土沟), a small oil drilling town in northwest Qinghai Province, and daily each morning the other direction. This road, a paved highway the entire way, crosses the Altun Mountains over Dangjin Pass (当金山口, 3680 m, 39º19'14"N, 94º16'11"E) at the provincial border between Qinghai and Gansu which runs along the crest of the Altun Mountains. One source says that the road rises from 1000 m to the 3680 m pass in just 20 kilometers. This road is subject to delays or closure in winter due to icy conditions.
April 2011- the bus station in Dunhuang will not sell you a ticket to Huatugou unless you have an ATP, You cant get this permit in Dunhuang because its in Gansu province. so you have to go to the PSB in golmud, and from there to take the bus to Huatugou
Twice daily minibuses run the 65 km in 1.5-2 hours for Y15 between Huatugou and Shimiankuang (石绵矿 literally: asbestos mine), a tiny worker hamlet north of a large surface-level asbestos mine. It's better to stay overnight in Huatugou than in the very basic lodging at the asbestos mine. Ask the Huatugou taxi driver for the Petroleum Guesthouse -- 石油 shí yóu 宾馆 bīn guǎn. There's also very basic lodging across from the Huatugou bus station -- ask the bus driver to point you in the right direction.
Some maps do not show Huatugou (38°08'60"N, 90°52'00"E, 2,859 m) and instead show Youshashan, about 5-10 km southwest. If neither town is shown, Huatugou is just northeast of Gaz Hure Hu lake. Some maps do not show Shimiankuang (38°15'00"N, 90°52'00"E, 3,200 m) and instead show the small oil refinery village of Mangnai Zhen, about 10 km southeast. If neither town is shown, Shimiankuang is right where Highway 315 crosses the provincial border. Older maps show Shimiankuang and Mangnai Zhen in Xinjiang Province, but the area was moved administratively some years ago into Qinghai Province.
The 241 km road from Shimiankuang, at the border of Qinghai and Xinjiang, to Charklik (Ruoqiang), Xinjiang, is a rough road, over a 4,000 m pass and through a narrow river valley as well as across the desert. This is the rough leg mentioned above.
April 2011 - the road is now paved all the way. a minibus leaves from Shimiankuangs "bus station" to Charklik at 11:00 , costs 80Y.
The minibus leaves from in front of the bus station in Charklik (Ruoqiang) at 08:00 Beijing time (06:00 unofficial local time) and arrives in Shimiankuang about 6 hours later, and generally in time to catch the afternoon minibus from Shimiankuang to Huatugou. The 09:00 morning minibus from Huatugou meets the minibus leaving from Shimiankuang about 11:00.
There as buses to Delingha, but be carefull, the city is not open to tourists.
Beijing - Although there are direct flights from Dunhuang to Beijing, they aren't cheap and are booked pretty quickly. A cheaper and less competitive alternative is to look for flight to Urumqi then from Urumqi to Beijing as this route can save you almost half the price of direct flights to Beijing.