Dunhuang (敦煌; Dūnhuáng) is a city on the old Silk Road. It is in Gansu Province in northwest China. It is best known for a large group of Buddhist cave temples nearby, with much historic artwork.


A fresco, Dunhuang

The city was founded by Emperor Wudi of the Han dynasty in 111 BC at the crossroads 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.

Buddhism reached China via the Silk Road and this is one of the more important Buddhist sites on that route. The Tangut or Western Xia ruled a substantial kingdom in the area, with its capital at Yinchuan, for centuries until the Mongol conquest in the 1200s. They were the main sponsors of Buddhist construction at Dunhuang.

Get in

By plane

Dunhuang Airport (IATA: DNH) is 13km east of town center. Flights are available to Beijing, Lanzhou, Urumqi, and Xi'an. Please note there is no taxi stand at this airport. 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.

By train

The train station

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 Dunhuang is on a branch line, and many more trains are accessible from the Liuyuan station, a 1-2 hour drive away. In particular, trains heading west to Xinjiang do not pass through Dunhuang directly.

Some active departures from Dunhuang:

Some active departures from Liuyuan:

By bus

Dunhuang has two bus stations diagonally across from each other. Most frequent buses leave from the main bus station and not the long distance bus station.


Entrance to one group of caves
Temple in the dunes




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





Go next

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 1,000 m to the 3,680 m pass in just 20 km. This road is subject to delays or closure in winter due to icy conditions.

The bus station in Dunhuang will not sell you a ticket to Huatugou unless you have an ATP. You cannot 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 ¥15 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. The road is now paved all the way. A minibus leaves from Shimiankuangs "bus station" to Charklik at 11AM, costs ¥80.

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 9AM minibus from Huatugou meets the minibus leaving from Shimiankuang about 11AM.

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 10AM.

There as buses to Delingha, but be careful, the city is not open to tourists.

Stay Safe

Dunhuang is a major tourist destination. Expect to be ripped off if you don't have your wits about you. Bargain hard and remember what you originally bargained for as the bill you receive at the end of the meal may not reflect the negotiated price.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, March 28, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.