Discovering Gansu and remote China (for National Holidays)

When you plan a trip in a remote area, you expect to find breath-taking empty landscapes and friendly globish-speaking locals to help you. National Holidays in China showed us that no matter how far to go, you will always find crowded places and communicating with locals will turn out to be a daily challenge. It also turned out to be the funny part of the trip. We experienced a thrilling adventure while finding our way, asking people to translate, using all means of communication (including mimics), missing trains or desperately trying to find a hotel for the night. It made me realize how helpful and patient Chinese people are and live tiny comforts of life – such as a hot shower – like a true miracle.

We were only six to leave Tsinghua for Gansu. Our Chinese classmates were going home and the rest stayed in Beijing for various reasons. We had an idea of the itinerary and spotted places to sleep, had booked the last train tickets for Xining in Qinghai, and that was it. It began the tough way with the 21 hour trip on “hard seats”. We did not really sleep, but we thought that we were lucky compared to those who just did not have a seat and were standing next to us.


In Xining, we visited the Kumbum Tibetan temple, one of the biggest bouddha temple of the region, 25km away from Xining. We mostly used buses and trains.

 In Zhangye area, we went to the Rainbow Mountains (Danxia), the troglodyte temple of Matisi, the Grand Canyon of China (Ping Shan Hu) and the Temple of Sakyamuni.

 In Jiayuguan, we walked on the Great Wall, one of the last Western part and the Fortress.

And finally, in Dunhuang, we penetrated the Mogao Caves and hiked the sand dunes around Crescent Lake in the Gobi desert. It was beautiful, though crowded. I noticed that Chinese people had a certain way to behave as tourists: they would take pictures of themselves in front the landscape or the monument, or a selfie, but aside from a few well-equipped photo amateurs, they would not take a photo of the landscape alone.

 Chinese people have been very patient and helpful with us. Many times, they showed us the way by walking with us, booked rooms for us on their phones or helped us find a hotel, translated for us or just smiled at us or asked to take pictures with us. Patience, kindness and smiles always worked well when communicating with them.

Some of us took two days to get back from Gansu by train, distances are longer in China! Getting back to Tsinghua felt like going home, and that is a weird thing to say considering that we have been there only for three weeks.

Funny facts:

  • Vincent and Joseph had taken their guitars, but when a Bouddhist monk asked Vincent to play in front of a public, he totally missed it.
  • Vincent and Joseph had bought sledges to ride the sand dunes at Crescent Lake, but it did not work at all.
  • We almost got stuck outside the guesthouse in Dunhuang because the owner had gone to bed. She opened up for us and did not get angry at us for waking her up.
  • We arrived at the wrong train station in Zhangye and had 20 minutes for make the connection with another faraway train station. Ultimately, we managed to change tickets in the last moment to take another train later.

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