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How to Plan a China Silk Road Travel - Ultimate China Silk Road Trip Planner

More than 2,000 years ago, ambassador Zhang Qian of the Western Han Dynasty blazed a trail between ancient China’s Central Plains and the Western Regions. In the following dynasties, many routes and branches to farther and more places got developed, and turned the ancient Silk Road into an important and bustling international trade route. With abundant time-honored historic sites and cultural treasures, nowadays, the Silk Road is a charming and mysterious travel route that attracts travelers all over the world. Whether you’re interested in the Silk Road history or landscape along it, there are indeed lots of details to know when planning your trip to the Silk Road regions in China, such as where to go, what to do, which transport is the best, when is the best time to go, etc. Here China Discovery specially offers useful China Silk Road Travel Guide to help you design an ideal Silk Road trip itinerary.

Top China Silk Road Cities & Destinations to Visit - Xian, Luoyang, Dunhuang, Zhangye, Kashgar...

The ancient Silk Road of China started from Chang’an (today’s Xian), Luoyang (Henan), passed Ningxia, Gansu (Hexi Corridor), Qinghai to northwest China’s Xinjiang, spanning thousands of kilometers and linking dozens of cities.

Terracotta Warriors in Xian

Xian - the Starting Point of the Silk Road: Xian, (former name: Chang’an), only 1.5 hours’ high speed bullet train travel from Luoyang, is a world-famous historical city and the home to the UNESCO World Heritage site - Terracotta Warriors. The city was the original starting point of the ancient Silk Road and a flourishing capital of China for 13 dynasties. Therefore, Xian is a land of historic sites and cultural fusion related inheritances. Apart from the magnificent Terracotta Army, Xian’s cultural highlights include the Ancient City Wall, Bell & Drum Towers, Muslim Quarter, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and so on.

Luoyang - Great Ancient Capital City: Luoyang in western Henan is a great ancient capital of China for 13 dynasties, the center of the Grand Canal and one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization. During the Eastern Han Dynasty, Luoyang was the capital of China and a prosperous cosmopolitan city in the world, which received envoys from ancient Rome and traders worldwide, and promoted exchanges of goods, religions and cultures. The highest achievement belongs to cultural communication of Buddhism, and two best treasures are Longmen Grottoes - the best stone carving grotto work of China and White Horse Temple - the first Buddhist temple in China.

Ningxia - Connection between Xian and the Hexi Corridor: Located between Shaanxi and Gansu, Ningxia is a vital station on the ancient Silk Road, and it was the seat of the Western Xia Kingdom (1038 ~ 1227 AD). It has preserved some historic sites for exploring the past glorious history and marks of cultural exchanges on the Silk Road, such as the Xumishan Grottoes, Western Xia Emperors’ Tombs, etc. Meanwhile, Ningxia has a variety of complex topography, covering plateau, plain, mountains, rivers, lakes and gobi desert. Helan Mountains and Shapotou Desert are the most famous symbols. As China’s largest wine region, Ningxia still has many good wineries to taste and learn premium Chinese wine.

Tianshui - Stunning Grottoes Gallery: Tianshui is the birthplace of Emperor Fuxi (ancestor of Chinese civilization) and a vital town on the ancient Silk Road. The most famous cultural legacy is the Maijishan Grottoes - one of the Four Greatest Buddhist Grottoes in China. Fuxi Temple, built to worship Emperor Fuxi, is a remarkable ancient architectural complex of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Lanzhou - Gateway to Northwest China & Coastal City of Yellow River: Lanzhou was a traffic key-point to the Western Regions on the ancient Silk Road where Marco Polo, Zhang Qian, many ancient adventurers and travelers all visited. Gansu Provincial Museum in central Lanzhou has knowledgeable exhibitions of Gansu and the Silk Road. Dozens of miles of landscape along the Yellow River with modern buildings, traditional temples and local life scenes are worth a visit too.

Zhangye National Geopark

Zhangye - Magical Rainbow Mountains: Zhangye was a strategic city to further Western Regions in history. Zhangye Danxia Geopark with amazing colorful Danxia hills is the most famous attraction in Zhangye. The profound history and culture of Zhangye can be found in Matisi Grottoes on the cliffside and Dafo Temple with China’s largest indoor clay reclining Buddha and precious Buddhist Sutras.

Jiayuguan Pass

Jiayuguan - the First & Greatest Pass of China Great Wall: Jiayuguan City in the middle of Hexi Corridor was a crossroad on Silk Route and a major frontier battle filed. The landmark - Jiayuguan Pass is the westernmost fortress of the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty as well as the largest and greatest one. Besides, you can learn China's Great history in the Great Wall Museum and visit the less-known Overhanging Great Wall in Jiayuguan.

Cogao Caves

Dunhuang - the Oasis with the Finest Buddhist Art Treasury: Dunhuang is the home to the world-renowned Mogao Caves, Yumen Pass & Yangguan Pass of the Han Dynasty. The richest and largest amount of Buddhist murals and sculptures of Mogao Caves show the fantastic religious communication of the East and the West. Another dramatic fascination is the Crescent Spring surviving in the wild and barren desert of Singing Sands Mountain. Dunhuang suburbs and surrounding areas have more historic sites and unique landforms to venture.

Qinghai - Amazing Plateau Scenery: There were some sections of ancient Silk Road that went through Qinghai from Xining, via Qinghai Lake to Qaidam Basin. Xining remains different religious and ethnic cultures brought by the road, such as Kumbum Monastery, Dongguan Mosque. Beautiful Qinghai Lake is the No.1 must-visit. In remote areas of Qinghai, there is authentic Tibetan culture and primitive landscapes.

Turpan - the Door of Xinjiang: Turpan, where the Cheshi Kingdom and the Gaocheng Kingdom were located, served as an important gateway to the Western Regions on the ancient Silk Road. It has World Cultural Heritage sites - Jiaohe Ancient City, Gaocheng Ancient City and main attractions like Bezklik Thousand Buddhas Caves, Flaming Mountains, Grape Valley, Kumtag Desert and Karez System.

Urumqi - Window of Xinjiang’s Culture & History: Urumqi was a busy international trade center on the northern Silk Road. The Heavenly Lake of Tianshan Mountains near Urumqi has charming natural scenery. The Regional Museum in the downtown area introduces the splendid culture and long history of Xinjiang. International Grand Bazaar reproduces the hectic trades of the ancient Silk Road.

Kucha - the Earliest Buddhist Grottoes in China: Kucha (Kuqa) is where the ancient Qiuci Kingdom existed and thrived and many cultures met and mixed. Here is Kizil Caves - the first Buddhist Grottoes in China, Gaha Beacon Tower and Subash Ruins, three World Heritage properties.

Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar

Kashgar - A Living Cultural Museum of Xinjiang: Two major Silk Routes once joined in Kashgar and brought Kashgar diverse culture, religions and people. Kashgar Old Town is a living fossil with both old residences and an authentic and alive ethnic lifestyle. Travelling from Kashgar to Tashkurgan, Hotan, Kucha and other destinations in Xinjiang and neighboring countries is doable.

Where to Start or End Your Guizhou Tour?

There are several highly recommended destinations scattered around Guizhou in different directions that you can go there directly or you need to make a transfer from the gateway cities/counties. (1) Most travelers would like to reach Guiyang - the capital of Guizhou Province first and then get from Guiyang to other destinations. (2) For travelers who go from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (such as Guilin, Yangshuo or Longsheng Rice Terraces) to Guizhou, the best gateway is Congjiang County which lies at the border of Guizhou and Guangxi. Along this route, you can go like this: Congjiang - Zhaoxing - Rongjiang - Kaili - Guiyang - Other Destinations. (3) If you plan to go one or two destinations separately, it is a good idea to travel directly there. Usually, part of travelers would like to visit Mount Fanjing for one trip, you can fly to or take high speed train to Tongren City and make a transfer to Fanjingshan. As well, some travelers may link Zhangjiajie with Fanjingshan in one go, that’s to say, there is no need to transfer from other destinations in Guizhou.

Best Time to Visit the China Silk Road Destinations

The Silk Road travel route stretches across a very large area in China, so the best time for making a Silk Road trip varies by destinations. Historic and cultural sites are suitable to visit all year round but natural spots are affected by seasonal temperature and weather. Generally, April to October is the best time to travel to China Silk Road cities, because all destinations along the route will have a moderate temperature and fine weather during the period.

Spring (March ~ May): Since April, Xian and Luoyang enter a warm spring while Xinjiang and other remote regions get into spring until May. Luoyang holds the Peony Festival annual during April and May. Lovey wild flowers begin to bloom in the grasslands of Northern Xinjiang in May.

Summer (June ~ August): Summer is the peak travel season in China for the school summer holiday comes and numerous family travelers flow across the country. Xian in summer is super hot and crowded. Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang enter the peak season, because it’s a good time to enjoy wild desert, view beautiful green grasslands and lakes in Xinjiang, pretty Qinghai Lake with the golden sea of rape flowers. Many melons and fruits will mature in summer.

Autumn (September ~ November): Autumn has cool temperatures, more sunny days, high visibility and colorful natural scenery. You can visit all the destinations on the Silk Road. But, the temperature of Xinjiang drops sharply in the middle and late autumn. Zhangye Rainbow Mountains, Heavenly Lake of Tianshan, golden populus euphratica forests, Xinjiang’s grasslands during autumn have stunning natural sights.

Winter (December ~ February): Cold winter is the off season for most destinations. But, you can visit indoor historic sites and enjoy poetic snow scenes in Xian and some cities.

Tips: Better avoid public holidays like China Labor Day (from May 1st) and National Holiday (October 1st-7th) to have a better travel experience.

How to Get to & Get around Major Silk Road Destinations

Envoys, travelers and adventures in ancient times took years to walk through the Silk Road journey. However, present modern technology makes travel much easier, more convenient and flexible.

By Air: Xian, Luoyang, Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Zhangye, Urumqi, Turpan, Kashgar and nearly all destinations on the Silk Road are easily accessible by flight (mostly domestic flights). And, there are some flights flying among these destinations. Capital cities like Xian, Lanzhou, Urumqi, Xining also operate a few international flights.

By Train: The Lanzhou-Urumqi High Speed Railway links many cities along the Silk Road, making a Silk Road bullet train journey very popular and convenient. You can take bullet trains to Xian, Luoyang, Lanzhou, Zhangye, Jiayuguan, Dunhuang, Turpan and Urumqi, and transfer among them.

By Private Car: To visit major attractions in a city efficiently and visit remote destinations, a road trip by private car is the best option, because public transportation is either time-wasting or involves complicated transfers. For example, you can Terracotta Warriors in the Xian suburb and other sites downtown, travel from Urumqi to Heavenly Lake of Tianshan, get from Kashgar to Tashkurgan in our safe, clean, licensed, comfortable private car and accompanied by our professional local tour guide. Airport/train station pick-up and drop-off are provided in the tour package.

In general, a flight is best for long-distance travel. A bullet train is advised to visit medium-range destinations within half a day, while a private drive is the most practical way of transferring between short-distance places.

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