The Fourth Stop of The Ancient China Silk Road-Dunhuang

Situated near the common boundary of Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang, the historical city Dunhuang is a renowned tourist destination, famous for the Mogao Caves. The landform of this area is a declining basin-plain from west to northeast, high in the north and south, and low in the middle, with Mt. Qilian in the south, Mt. Mazong in the north and desert from east to west.

In ancient times, Dunhuang was the trade center between China and its western neighbors. At that time, it was the most westerly frontier military garrison in China. With the flourishing of trade along the Silk Road, it was prompted to become the most open area in international trade in ancient Chinese history. It provided the only access westward for the Chinese Empire and eastward for western nationalities. Today, as a reminder of this historical area, we are left with the Mogao Caves, Yangguan Pass, Yumenguan Pass and many wonderful Chinese poems depicting the time. As a city in desert, sandstorm usually happens, so prepare glasses, hats and gauze kerchiefs to protect you. The best visiting time is from May to September.



Mogao Caves

Art of Dunhuang Caves

The traveler finds the Mogao Caves, a shrine of Buddhist art treasures, 25 km (15.5miles) from downtown Dunhuang on the eastern slope of Echoing-Sand Mountain (Mingsha Shan). A network of plank reinforced roads plying north to south 1600 meters (5, 249 feet) long lead to the cave openings, which are stacked five stories high some reaching up to 50 meters (164 feet). By the way, Mogao means high up in the desert.

According to Tang Dynasty records, a monk had witnessed onsite a vision of thousand Buddhas under showers of golden rays. Thus inspired, he started the caves construction work that spanned ten dynasties. Mogao Caves are commonly known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.


Buddhist art has its origins in India. Mogao sculptors improvised where the rock surface did not work well under their chisels. They placed clay statues in front of the cave walls, carved relief murals as backdrops, and painted the sidewalls and ceilings with art decors. The largest statue is 34.5 meters (113 feet) high and the smallest a mere 2 centimeters (0.79inches) high.

The traveler will note traces of Indian Buddhist art in the earlier works. More recent works depict all walks of life and activities in a local setting. You will relive the daily routines and special events as captured by the artists while you are exploring the 750 caves. There are also ups and downs in the artistic quality over the centuries, depending on the fortunes of Buddhism with available art patronage. Artists in each dynasty painted with their distinctive palette. The visitor can tell the works in the Tang Dynasty from those in the Song Dynasty.

People believe it possible to fill 25 kilometers (15.5miles) of gallery space with the works of art from Mogao. There are 50,000 manuscripts written in many languages apart from artifacts. The Mogao Caves are a depository of historical and cultural exchanges over more than a thousand years between China and other nations.



1.The Digital Exhibition Center has been formally open to the public since August 1, 2014. Shuttle bus service is available between the caves and the Digital Exhibition Center. Visitors can enjoy two amazing movies ‘A thousand Years of Mogao Caves’ and ‘Splendors of Buddha’s Palace’ at the digital exhibition center and then take the shuttle bus to visit the caves.
2. Within the caves, no photo! An electronic torch maybe necessary to see inside the caves.

Reservation Procedure

The total number of visitors is limited to 6,000 per day, so it is necessary to reserve a ticket in advance, especially during the peak season (May 1 to October 31). One can reserve a ticket online through the official website of the caves 15 days in advance. Unfortunately, the English version of the website hasn’t been ready.

From July 20, 2015, individual visitors who reserve the entrance tickets are required to provide their valid ID documents used for reservation to get their tickets. Foreign visitors can use their passports. All visitors should get tickets from the ticket office in downtown (No. 102, Building 15, North District of Yingbing Garden Community, East Yangguan Road; close to Yingbing Grand Hotel) or the ticket office in the Digital Exhibition Center.

Those who don’t reserve the entrance tickets in advance can buy tickets at the above two ticket offices.

If visitors have any question, they can call (+86) 0937-8825000 / 8825166 / 8825066 (7:00-00:00).

 Notice to visitors in July and August
Every year, supplementary tickets at the price of CNY 100 will be issued for odd-numbered days in July and even-numbered days in August. The limit for supplementary tickets is 12,000 per day. Different from regular tickets, they only allow visitors to visit four caves and the museums. The Digital Exhibition Center is excluded.

How to get there

 By bus
Take regular mini-bus from Dunhuang Hotel. The bus passes by Silk Road Hotel and Dunhuang Railway Station. It costs around CNY 8. Additionally, the earliest one departs at 08:00.

 By taxi
It costs CNY30 -50 from the railway Station. Usually, the drivers don’t run the meter so that visitors need to bargain with them.

 How to go there from Dunhuang Airport?
Walking out of the airport gate, visitors can take mini-buses to the railway station. It costs around CNY 3. Then they can choose to take a taxi or regular mini-bus to the caves.

Admission Fee:
May 1st to Oct. 31st: CNY 200 for Chinese citizens; CNY 220 for foreign visitors (including foreign tour guide service);
Nov. 1st to next April 30th: CNY 100 for Chinese citizens; CNY 120 for foreign visitors (including foreign tour guide service)

1. The admission fee includes Mogao Caves, Digital Exhibition Center, shuttle bus service between the Exhibition Center and the caves and tour guide service.
2. Chinese and foreign students presenting a valid student ID card can enjoy 50% discount. If a foreign student wants to enjoy foreign tour guide, he/she has to pay extra CNY 20.
3. Children below 1.4m (4.6ft) can visit for free, but they need to pay CNY 10 for tour guide and CNY 10 for shuttle bus between the caves and the Digital Exhibition Center.

Opening Hours: During May 1st and Oct. 31st: 08:00 – 18:00
During Nov. 1st and the next April 30th: 09:00 – 17:30
Recommended Time for a Visit: 3-5 hours

Crescent Lake

Just as water and fire are incompatible, neither can a desert and a spring coexist. But, this is not the case for the Crescent Lake that is surrounded by the Echoing-Sand Mountain. The golden sand hill and the blue lake cast a beautiful contrast in a harmonious existence.

The Crescent Lake is also known as the Crescent Spring or Yueya Spring. It is located north of the Echoing-Sand Mountain and about six kilometers (four miles) south of Dunhuang City. It can be considered a natural wonder of the Gobi Desert. Just as its name implies, the lake appears like a crescent moon and with its crystal clear water, resembles a turquoise or pearl inlaid in the vast desert. Some say it reminds them of the eye of a beautiful woman, lucid, beautiful and amorous. Others say it looks like the mysterious, gentle and seductive lips of a pretty woman, or a slice of a lush, sweet and crystal cantaloupe.

One should visit both the Crescent Lake and the Echoing-Sand Mountain together. Entry to the area can be by using either the shuttle buses, located left of the entrance, or by walking along the main path to the lake when time permits. Another option is to ride on a camel and have fun sliding down the slope of the sand dune before walking to the lake. Admire the thick reeds swaying gracefully in the breeze at the southern bank of the lake; as well as a group of elegant pavilions and temples dominating the skyline.


Visitors are able to witness the variable scenes of the lake from early sunrise to sunset; such as the soft glow of sunrise and the smooth mirror image at dusk.  It is during the latter time that the lake reflects the rosy clouds and golden dunes of the surrounding. In the evening, blue neon light encircles the lake resembling the moon on the ground. The scenic area stays open till late in the evening, allowing visitors to enjoy themselves under the starry night. It is also a photographer’s paradise as ticket is valid for three days. Hence, photographers have the opportunity to shoot at different time of the days.

Overall, one not only wonders the strange co-existence of an oasis and a desert, but also the opportunity to have great sand adventures, such as camel rides, ‘dune surfing’ and shooting arrows. Other exciting facilities such as gliding, motorcycling, karting, SUVs and helicopter rides are also available. One would definitely marvel the dramatic view at the top of the dunes.

Why do sands not bury the Crescent Lake

Research shows that the mysterious crescent landform was the result of a natural wind created depression. As the cross-ventilation theory states, sands falling from the surrounding mountains would be blown to the other side of the nearby Echoing-Sand Mountain. Thus, the sands do not smother the spring. This natural phenomenon keeps the sand dunes and spring in a harmonious and almost paradoxical existence.


Crescent Lake facing the threat of disappearing

The crescent shape has been considered as one of the “Eight Great Sights in Dunhuang” since the Han Dynasty(202BC-220AD). Having in existence among these sand dunes for thousands of years, the Crescent Spring survived many sandstorms and still retains its position as the No. 1 spring in the desert. However, there was a time when the water level was lower than 0.7 m (2.3 feet). Hence, the Crescent Lake Oasis might face a possibility of disappearance due to severe soil and water loss.

Please do visit the Crescent Lake then before its possible disappearance!


1. Visit the attraction in the morning or late afternoon since it is hot at noon.
2. Prevent sunburn by applying sunscreen cream, wearing a hat and/or cover yourself with a scarf.
3. Keep your camera encased when not using it to keep the lens away from sand.

How to get there

1. Take a mini-bus (CNY 3 per person) from Dunhuang Airport or Railway Station to the downtown area. Then catch bus no. 3 from Panxuan Road to the scenic area directly. Ticket price is CNY 1 for the 20 minutes journey to your destination.
2. Take a taxi from the downtown area to the scenic area, costing CNY 15 to 20.

Admission Fee Crescent Lake & Echoing-Sand Mountain:
May to October: CNY 120
November to April: CNY 80

Half price for children between 3.9 and 4.6 feet (1.2 – 1.4 meters) in height
Free entry for children below 3.9 feet in height

 Ticket holders have multiple entries to the Crescent Lake and Echoing-Sand Mountain for three days. Interested visitors for the multiple visits must have their fingerprints and tickets recorded at the ticket barrier before they finish their first visit and leave.
Note: The above rule does not apply to visitors enjoying free entry.

Camel Ride CNY 100 for a round-way trip
Shooting Arrows CNY 1 per arrow
Grass Skiing CNY 25 per person
Sand Sliding CNY 15 per person
Shoe Cover Rent CNY 15 per pair
Sightseeing Bus CNY 10 for a one-way trip; CNY 20 for a round-way trip
Opening Hours 05:00 to 20:30
 Please note that the opening hours may be adjusted according to the number of tourists.
Best Time to Visit Summer evening (from June to August)



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