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Climbing Sand Dunes.jpg

Dunhuang (敦煌; Dūnhuáng) is a city on the old Silk Road. It is in Gansu Province in north west China.


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.

The city is a neat small sizes city centred around a statue and the lovely market.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

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.

By train[edit]

Dunhuang Train Station (敦煌火车站; Dūnhuáng Huǒchēzhàn) is about 12km outside the town to the northeast.It a new well organised station with green buses meeting every train to shuttle passengers into town. Just come out the front and they will usher you into the next bus and for 3 yuan drop you opposite the Silk Road Hotel in town on the edge of the market. There is also a ticket agent in town, near the mosque which sells tickets for most trains. You can always get the bus back to the railway station to buy your ticket if you are heading to the Caves as the Caves entrance is a walk from the station.

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
  • Lanzhou - #N858, dep. 19:25, arr. 09:14
  • Xian - #K592, dep. 09:39, arr. 09:26
  • Yinchuan - #N854, dep. 14:30, arr. 08:2o

Please note: If you are heading west you will have to have to catch a bus to Liuyuan as DUNGHUANG is a branch off the main line and you would have to backtrack and change trains. Buses leave for Liuyuan to connect to each train. They leave from the bus station 5 mins down the road from the Silk Road Hotel (where the Dunghuang Train Station shuttle buses drop you). The trip takes 2 hrs and cost 36Y . There is not much at Liuyuan.

  • (Turfan)K2629 Sleeper Departing 2155 Liuyuan Arriving Turfan 0700(April 2016)

The Dunhuang train station is pretty quiet as mentioned it is the end of a branch line and most trains stop at Liuyuan (柳园), a couple of hours away from the city. From Liuyuan station, small buses leave to Dunhuang for 35Yuan. There are no set times for these buses as they leave when fully seated. If leaving in the morning, it is advisable to arrive at the station slightly before 10am, as many people will arrive at the station around this time so waiting time for the bus to leave will be short. If one has to spend the night in Liuyuan, the New Liuyuan Hotel (新柳源宾馆)at a 10 minute walk from the station will accept foreigners (as of June 2019, a standard two bedroom costs 138Y and a three person room costs 180Y).

By bus[edit]

From 2015 most buses leave from the main bus station -walk out 5 mins away from the market past the Silk Road Hotel (where the Train Station and bus to the Caves Depart).

  • Golmud - takes about 15 hours
  • Hami - takes about 6 hours (daily 8:30,14:00 81 Yuan Apr 2013)
  • Jiayuguan - takes about 4-8 hours
  • Lanzhou - takes about 17-24 hours
  • Liuyuan - takes about 3 hours
  • Xining - takes about 20 hours
  • Zhangye - takes about 13 hours

As of 2015 there is no overnight bus heading to Turfan. You will have to take a Western train option. Taxis do not seem to make this 13 hour run.

Get around[edit]

See[edit][add listing]

Magao caves.jpg
  • Mogao Caves (莫高窟), (25km from town, most people visit on pre-arranged tour or arrive by taxi or take the green city bus to Mogao for 8 yuan each way. The bus also stops at the train station, and picks up and returns in front of the Silk Road hotel in Dunhuang city, as well as just outside Charley Johng's cafe). . The Visitors center and entrance is on the main road (almost opposite the train station), whilst the actual caves are afurther 13 km in on a shuttle bus as part of your admission. You must join a tour group as the caves are locked and only the tour guides have keys.English tours at 9AM, 12AM and 2PM daily (2:30PM in low season). If you can't get a tour in the right language you will need to tag on to one of the Chinese tours.. 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.The tour takes about two hours and 12 caves will be visited , all the rest are closed. The tours are different from group to group with every group visiting the main caves. The number of visitors is limited to 6000 a day and advanced booking needed in peak seasons. 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. On-site tickets can only be purchased from the Visitor Centre (8km from Dunhuang city centre on the main road to the train station), it is not possible to buy a ticket without the additional access to the movies/bus and there is no operational ticket office at the cave site itself. From July 2015, you have the option to buy your ticket on the website of "Dunhuang Research Academy" ( Here ( you can book the tickets but only for chinese speakers.
    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 are 120 yuan in in low season for the english tour and 100 yuan for the Chinese tour (March 2016). Tickets include access to 2 movies and a shuttle bus to the cave site. 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..  edit

High Season: CNY (RMB) 200 (includes Mandarin guiding service) (June 2017) CNY (RMB) 220 (includes foreign language guiding service) (June 2017)

Low Season: CNY (RMB) 80 (includes Mandarin guiding service) CNY (RMB) 100 (includes foreign language guiding service)

50% discounts available for students, however a Chinese student card is required.

Crescent Lake.jpg
  • Sand Dunes/Mingshashan—Yueyaquan National Park (沙丘), (Take bus 3 from downtown on Mingshan. 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. June 2017 update: there is now no open gate within a 20 minute walk of the guesthouse. Numerous security cameras have been installed along the fence and you will have to sneak through a private farm which contains a loud dog before reaching an area of thick vegetation. Not recommended. June 2018 update: East of the park about 2 km there's a cemetery. From there you can circumvent the fence and access the dunes. To get there, work your way back through the farm fields. I biked to the base of the dunes then hiked up. It was hard, but free & the views were stunning. 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 poplar trees (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
  • Yumenguan (玉门关), (80 km west from Dunhuang). Ruins of the gate which used to mark the westernmost point in ancient China. One-day bus tours also covering remainings of the Great Wall from the Han dynasty and Yadan National Geological Park with impressive rock formations in the desert area can be booked at Dunhuang Hotel(敦煌宾馆), around ¥400.  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Summer of Dunhuang Variety Show. June-October. Performances of singing and dancing in the Silk Road traditions.  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.

Buy[edit][add listing]

  • 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

Eat[edit][add listing]

There's a normal-priced supermarket opposite the long-distance bus station (beside Feitian Binguan) to stock up on water, snacks and other groceries.

  • 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, [1]. 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. Closed 2014 - a new milkshake place with the same name has opened around the same area. It was opened by a former staff member from the old place. He speaks English and wifi is available.  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. 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

Drink[edit][add listing]

Sleep[edit][add listing]

  • DUNHUANG HUA XIA INTERNATIONAL HOTEL (敦煌华夏国际大酒店), South Dunhuang Middle School, Dunyue Middle Road Dunhuang, Gansu 088500 China, 0937-8887111, [2]. checkin: 14:00PM; checkout: 12:00AM. national Hotel is located in Dunhuang, 200 metres from Dunhuang Historical Exhibition Park. Guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Free private parking is available on site. From 300 RMB.  edit


Note that the hostels close to the sand dunes looked closed in winter

  • Dunhuang Mountain Spring Hostel, No. 9 Group 2, Yueyaquan Village, Yueyaquan Town月牙泉镇月牙泉村2组9号 (Dunhuang) 736200 (100m down the road from entry of Charlie's Hostel and the Zephyer Hostel. Look for chinese signs, or simply look for the Chinese character for mountain (山). Chinese name: 敦煌山泉山庄青年旅舍), 18298597776 or 15337006330, [3]. checkin: 14:00; checkout: 12:00. Xuqing is a wonderful host and will help you out with planning activities. English is limited, but not a problem as she uses a translator. The hostel is very clean, with great bathrooms. A bit difficult to find, but once you're here, you'll love being out of town! ¥2 bus (bus #3) into town. 敦煌山泉山庄青年旅舍 is located in near Mingshan Mountain and other guesthouses in Dunhuang. Free WiFi. Each private room here has TV, air conditioning and private bathroom. 24-hour front desk. Open in winter. Dorm ¥25 to ¥40, Doubles from ¥70-¥125.  edit
  • 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 (). The whole place is a very rundown, with dirty and smelly shared toilets. Toilet paper 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). It looks like there is a restaurant but it has not been open in some time. WiFi avaliable. Staff speak only basic english but is helpful. laundry 10 yuan per load. The whole place feels like ten years ago it could have been something special, but since then it has fallen apart. During my stay (July 2015) it is mainly used by Chinese tourists. Avoid if possible. Dorms 40 yuan as of August 2012, double 120 yuan, cottage 100 yuan.  edit
  • New Dragon Gate Inn, (In the night market area, next to the mosque.). Currently under renovation (April 2015), but it looked very nice with an open air courtyard. I imagine this will be popular once opened. Location is right in the centre of town behind the mosque. Previously known as Charlie Johng's Hostel but now a new owner.  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. * <sleep name="only chinese name" alt="" address="" directions="direct opposite of Charlie Johng's cafe. Look for a sign with the number 444" phone" email="" fax="" url="" checkin="" checkout="" price="ok twin room with hot shower & ethernet internet 100 yuan">
  • 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), [4]. 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


  • Grand Sun Hotel Dunhuang, 5 North Shazhou Road, +86 937 8829998 (fax: +86 937 8822121).  edit
  • Dunhuang Hotel (敦煌宾馆; Dūnhuáng Bīnguǎn), 14 Yangguan East Road, +86 937 8822538 (fax: +86 937 8822195).  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, [5]. 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

Stay Safe[edit]

Get out[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.

From Charklik (Ruoqiang) to Cherchen (Qiemo), the bus leaves at 10:00, takes 5 hours to cover the 351 km and costs 58Y. In the other direction, a daily bus leaves Cherchen (Qiemo) for Charklik (Ruoqiang) at 10:00.

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.

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