The Deserts of Dunhuang

The train ride from Hohhot(Previous blog post on Hohhot) to Yinchuan was interesting. After a few hours, I was talking to Nobu in the hall of the train near the windows. These two little girls kept staring at me. They walked by a few times and I heard them call me foreigner in Chinese. Finally, I said “hello” to them and they started laughing. They said something in Chinese and I replied in Chinese. They were surprised and asked Nobu and I where we were from. After I told them I was American they had many questions about America and Americans. Another random girl joined in on the group conversation.

The kids playing with my Snapchat

They kept touching my hair and one of the girls was squeezing my arm for the next 30 minutes. They said they thought Americans had blue eyes and light hair, haha. This is a common theme I’ve heard from many Chinese. They also didn’t seem to have any prejudice against Nobu being Japanese, which I’ve found to also be common from Chinese.

After we arrived, the girls were waving goodbye to us on the way out and kept smiling. Definitely made the last couple hours on the train more interesting.
After finding the right bus and taking it to get us near the hostel, we began walking around to look for the place. We arrived to an area with shops and lots of apartment buildings, but weren’t sure where the hostel was exactly. A girl and guy saw us and asked where we were going. We told them about the hostel and the girl said to follow her. She lead us into a random apartment building, and I wasn’t sure what was going on exactly. Was she going to lead me to a place where they take our organs?

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Yinchuan’s location in China


Fortunately, after going up the elevator and entering a door, we arrived at the hostel. It’s basically a large apartment turned hostel, with a living area, bathrooms, and a few rooms with bunk beds. I’ll come to find that many hostels in China are in apartment buildings, and i’ll also come to find they all have NO SIGNS indicating you are anywhere near a hostel until you actually enter the apartment building and find the door.
The people working there were all younger Chinese. The guests were also all Chinese. We set our stuff down, and went to get some local cuisine. Yinchuan has a lot of Muslim Chinese and we ate some of their local food. I ate 土豆烧牛肉 (beef with potatoes and rice) and it was delicious.

A dish I commonly saw in the Muslim Chinese restaurants. 土豆烧牛肉 (Beef with potatoes and rice or noodles)

When we returned, we sat down to talk with the people working at the hostel and some of the guests. The main guy offered us a large beer, so we drank and I tried my best to communicate with my new friends in Chinese.

Hanging out at Lanzhou Lanzhou Youth Hostel.

The next morning, we were supposed to get our deposit back of 120 yuan, but the girl only gave us 100 yuan. She asked the main guy about the 20yuan and he said the beers were 20. What the heck? I never had a guy offer a beer and then charge for it. It was just strange. Maybe after he found out Nobu was Japanese he decided to charge for it. Sorry Nobu. (It might also be because they didn’t have anything smaller than a 100 yuan bill).

As we walked out of the apartment complex, I heard loud bangs going off. Honestly for a second I was thinking “Oh shit, terror attack”, because of all the things I’ve been seeing on the news lately. But it turned out to be some random fireworks being set off right in a parking lot some feet away from us. While filming it, I had a large piece of debris hit me in the face. In China, you can do anything.


We got to the train station and boarded the 18 hour train to Dunhuang. It was hard to sleep because some really loud family was yell-talking to each other almost all night. Also, when I went to the bathroom in the morning with a bad stomach ache, after only 3 minutes, a guy started banging on the door and wouldn’t stop, so I had to cut it short, and was a little peeved.

Dunhuang’s location in China

Dunhuang is a small city between the Gobi and Taklamakan desert. All around you can see high sand dunes. It’s pretty cool. We were picked up by some lady who took us to the hostel for only 5 yuan ($0.75). There were foreigners at this hostel and it wasn’t an apartment building. It had pretty nice bathrooms and actually had air conditioning in the room.

A street in Dunhuang
On the way to the bus stop
Just another sand dune near Dunhuang

We  met a Chinese guy in our room and we decided to all go to the Crescent Lake Oasis together. There is a bus from near our hostel to the oasis for only 2 yuan($0.30). There are always going to be taxi drivers offering to take you places for pretty ridiculous prices in comparison to the public transportation you can get. Always try to find the public transportation if you want to save money.

Camels in the Desert near the oasis

The Oasis was awesome. It’s believed to be about 2,000 years old. The water looked so nice and clean, It was so hot, I really wanted to go take a swim, but of course, no swimming allowed…
The entrance fee was 160 yuan, but with a student ID it’s 80 yuan. Thankfully, I’ve always been able to use my DUT Chinese student card. We also climbed up large sand dunes and took a “sled ride” down on a wooden box. I’d say it’s worth it.

Crescent Lake Oasis in the Gobi Desert near Dunhuang
The climb up a steep sand dune. The dry air and hot sun made it pretty tough.
View of the oasis down below

On the way back to the hostel, our new Chinese friend asked me if I knew about how some Chinese don’t like Americans. I said I haven’t found that to be the case. He told me that because of the South China Sea, some Chinese really dislike Americans and there was a boycott against all American products, like KFC. I’ve never seen a KFC not full of people in China. Anyways, it was interesting to know. Later that night we ate more Chinese Muslim food.

About to eat some good food

The next day, Nobu and I went to go see The Mogao Caves. The Mogao Caves 莫高窟, also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes, form a system of 492 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist art spanning a period of 1,000 years. The first caves were dug out in 366 AD as places of Buddhist meditation and worship.

The Mogao Caves
Some more of the Mogao Caves

Luckily, there was some kind of sand storm that day, so the sun was covered and the air was relatively cool. The caves were pretty awesome. In the beginning, since we were in the English speaking group, there weren’t many others and we got to explore some of the caves with only a few others, compared to the Chinese speaking groups that had almost 30 or so people in each group.

Desert near Mogao Caves
A secret photo taken with my GoPro in the caves

Nobu bought the tickets on some Chinese website, it also unknowingly came with a show later that night, which is why they were on the expensive side. It sounded really awesome, a desert performance with a moving stage. It turned out to be really disappointing, like a high school play.

Me in the Gobi Desert

The next day was Nobu and I’s last time together. We walked around Dunhuang for a few hours. We explored a part of town that looked a little run down, but was interesting.

Two much garbage just thrown everywhere.
Two ladies riding wearing hijab, pretty common attire in Dunhuang.
Banana peels hanging on a rope. I don’t know the reason. EDIT:My Chinese friend read this and told me they are cucumbers hanging to dry and eat later. 干黄瓜

Nobu took a train to Turpan, and I took a train to Lanzhou (I randomly chose Lanzhou because all train tickets to other cities in that direction were sold out). We took a taxi to the train station with a cocky Australian guy we had met at the hostel. The taxi driver was very entertaining, he beeped the horn MORE than the already excessive Chinese amount of horn beeping. He would beep the horn at nothing. After we paid him and said goodbye, he held down the horn when he started driving off. It was perfect.

Any questions about Dunhuang? What do you think about this different part of China? Let me know in the comments!


  1. It’s interesting to read your blog haha ~ and it’s a good way to know something about travel.
    I am very proud of that I give you advise that you should take a train to Yinchuan(is yinchuan? I forget ^_^)
    Through your blog, I learn that your trip is interesting and you must know much more about China and Chinese by your approachable, you allow that little girl touch your hair and squeez your arms. I guess some Chinese’ bad behaviours make you angry, but I don”t hope that will give you a bad impreesion of China, because there are much more lovely things~~ Welcome to come back ~~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nah, those kids didn’t make me angry at all! I didn’t mind. Thanks for reading and i’m glad you enjoy it. China is charming in it’s own ways 🙂


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