I loved the Silk Road, the fruit, the desert and the whole place. Spectacular landscapes, wonderful places. Awesome history. It just kept getting better and better.
I liked the driving, and was glad we took the time to get out and about, because it goes through such amazing country, the history and the geology are fascinating and the sights were all great.
If there is limited time then drop the replica fort and private museum at Yangguan, why see an imitation when the real thing is still around? On the other hand it was a bit of a surreal experience , that one. I enjoyed Yumen Guan and Yaddan, although it was a long drive. The villages were also gorgeous, fascinating with the lush fruit and sudden boundary to the desert. And of course, MoGao Caves. I was sorry that we were limited in what we could see to 10 caves, and so heavily controlled, but I guess it has to be that way. Impressive.
Crescent Lake and Ming She Mountain were fun, especially with all the alternative ways of getting around (Camels, quad bikes, microlights, electric carts, jeeps etc) and worth allowing time for the more energetic to do some of the activities
The Summer in Dunhuang show was pretty, but rather dull – full of unfulfilled eastern promise.
Food here was good, particularly the final restaurant in a private room looking through a wooden screen to the central courtyard with the guests singing.
Finally, I liked the way that Richard(our guide)took us to the Museum, which itself is not much, but provided a good orientation and introduction to the Silk Road, and what we would be seeing. White Horse Tower was not much, but a nice way to start and get the feel of the place.
Train Dunhuang to Turpan
Fine. Slightly lower bunks (therefore bag storage) than other trains. Other westerners we met clearly loved the area. The Australians told us about a great boat ride they had done, to visit Buddhist caves of Bingling Street (from Lanzhou? Natasha knows) and an irrigation scheme that impressed them.
We were told that in August up to 50,000 migrant workers (cotton) eat, live and sleep at the station, and DON'T DO THE TRAIN THEN!!
Another fabulous place. However, this one has its own rules – a crazy monopoly company that sells tickets to the attractions in defined groups, forcing you to buy tickets to 2nd row and stuff you don't want to go to, in set combinations. They also change the rules as it suits them. The joys of being a special zone.
I preferred Jioahe ruins to GaoShan, bigger, more able to wander at will, and in spectacular surroundings. Especially good in the evening as the wind comes in, and imagine would also be great early in the morning.
Tuyugou (Tuyoq) village and caves also fantastic, a great experience, loved it, the same for the Karez. Missed Suleimans Minaret but expect it would be good too.
Again, driving out of town was a pleasure, and really interesting. Thought the roads were all good. We didn't go to Mt Nan and Terai pastures, Dong warned us that the horses there were 'frisky', and really people only do that for something to do. If people are going to Heavenly Lake from Urumqi then I wouldn't bother.
Another nice place – bigger and more industrial, but still interesting, also for the increasing feeling of being ‘in another country'. Apparently Russian tourism is big, with huge factory outlets of clothes made specifically for the Russians – worth checking since these would be western sizes?
The drive to Heavenly Lake was great, and the place itself fantastic. The boat trip was short, but OK. The local agency can arrange walking and camping trips here, providing guide, tents and equipment hire, and there are plenty of places to camp and spend a few days, which would be great.
Oh Wow. My favourite of all. Exciting to be near the ….stan borders, and what a fabulous place, relaxed, pleasant and with local and Beijing time side by side. Mind you, the hotel's habit of making the room difficult to get into during the day was rather odd!
All the attractions we saw were good, and the Sunday Livestock Market was fantastic. BE SURE TO INCLUDE A SUNDAY HERE, HOW AWFUL TO COME AND MISS THAT MARKET!
The other market was probably not as good as Beijing's Panjiyuan, but was fun especially the carpet places. Who can resist a good market.
Mosque, the streets, etc. all good, and the drive up Karakoram to Lake Karakul amazing- again there are overnight camping (yurt stay) opportunities here, and trekking. The timing of the drive (what time to leave in the morning etc) is seasonal, as is the ability to do it.
Restaurants in town were good (although the yurt lunch was pretty much what you'd expect) – they often take the tourists to lunch early, because a lot of the popular places get very full at lunchtime This also allows for a siesta during the most punishing part of the day. The 'family' one was not actually eating with a family, but they use the 2 visitors rooms of their home as a restaurant, so it's still pretty private/special. A nice drive through treelined streets bordered by walled houses, then you are welcomed into the courtyard, wash hands, sit on floor, traditional home, nice little courtyard and another behind it with their garden/orchard. Great.
Note that people can eat Uighur or Chinese, but muslim (Uighur) = no alcohol, no pork usually.