Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Silk Road Attractions - Xi'an to Dunhuang

We just got back from Xi'an a couple of weeks ago. It was our second trip to Xi'an in China and I truly enjoyed every minute of this ancient city which was the first capital of China. Its old name was better known as Chang'an where all the tourists today, could see the famous Terracotta Warriors besides the tomb of Emperor Shi Huang Ti and many other famous sites like the ancient City Walls. During our first trip in 2014, we stayed a week to visit many places and climbed up the most dangerous Huashan Mountains too. You can look up my previous Xi'an trips at the side bar of this blog if you are interested.

Many authors of Genghis Khan and Marco Polo's history, had written that Silk Road is an ancient trade route between China and Europe in 200 B.C. It all started from Xi'an in China and the route spanned across many countries including Mongolia, India, Russia, Persia until Africa before ending at the Turkish empire in Europe. Along the route, Chinese traders barter traded their many products in every little towns and the most prized items were the original China's Silk that attracted the foreigners.

 Xi'an Railway Station 
(Shaanxi Province - China)

This trip, we took the 24 hour train ride from Xi'an to Dunhuang because their internal flights are often over priced to cost a bomb! We wanted to see Mogao Caves since a decade ago and it was like a dream come true, with a price too. You will never get bored with Xi'an which is a huge ancient city since the Han Dynasty when the Silk Road started.

We stayed 2 nights at the Grand Soluxe Hotel in Xi'an which was just 2 minutes
walk to the railway station. We got there an hour before the gates were opened.


We booked the soft bed sleeping berths which had 4 beds. 
It was a hell ride as they allowed smoking at both ends
of all the coaches. They Chinese men smoked from sunrise till sunset
and until next sunrise. The filth of their nicotine smoke penetrated all
our lungs and it was a terrible journey. May they all rot in hell. 

It was quite comfortable with closed door privacy
to enjoy the scenic view for the next 24 hours!
It was a long shaky ride.


I am a 6 footer and the beds are 7 feet in length.
 So I had no complains. It was minus temperature at
Winter and they turned on the central heating at dusk.


We tried eating their meals at the restaurant coach.
There were over 20 coaches running but less than 1%
of the passengers ate there. Guess why?


Their mainland Chinese cooking always looked messy
with very bland taste. I just swallowed them with the help of
water and told myself to just do as the Romans
do when you are in Rome. Bluek!

Now look at the prices in their menu! No wonder all the other passengers
ate the cheap huge cup noodles with the free flow of hot water!
On our return trip, we bought ahead, plenty of bread, snacks, fruits
and our own cup noodles instead. All eaten happily ever after.

After makan, my wife was restless and took out her Korean
charcoal masks as the air was very dry. She looked like the
Black Face General and should have walked around to scare
all the smokers to death.

I spent hours looking at the country sides of China which
were all in grey and brown shades as it was Winter.
We passed through a hundred tunnels, many mountains, canyons
including the Gobi Desert. It was a spectacular sight to
see the melted snow everywhere.

My restless wife could not sit still. She climbed all over the
place like a cute monkey. This area is the cheaper sleeping triple
decker with hard beds and no privacy doors.


I saw many poor farmers along the way. They lived in wooden cottages
with mud walls and reared skinny looking goats. 


My restless wife who goes hiking daily at the Kiara Park hills
had to do some exercise. Here she did push ups in the mid air.

 Dunhuang Railway Station 
(Gansu Province - China)


We arrived Dunhuang after 24 hours train ride.
Look at our 2 cabin bags!
We had little clothes for 10 days trip.

 It was -4C and freezing outside the Dunhuang Railway Station.
It was Winter and the whole town was almost dead
with little or no foreigners. I guessed we were the
only 2 foreigners! Well, everything is at the cheapest
in Winter with cheap air tickets, hotels and
entrance fees with no crowds to push you.

 The arch along the highway to the city area of Dunhuang.

 Dunhuang is a very neat & spotlessly clean city with much Buddhism influence.
Here you will see many sculptures and statues of
graceful Boddhisatvas every where.

We stayed at Tian Run International Hotel
after reading so many reviews as a guidance
for my bookings. It is perfectly located right in the
heart of the city.

We paid less than RM150 a night for a big and comfortable
room with modern glass walled bathroom. Comes with
central heating and a fabulous TV box that airs hundreds
of good movies in Chinese and English. Their internet wifi
was too weak and slow like a dying snail. Pfftttt!!!


We hurriedly got to the site of Magao Caves to purchase our entrance tickets
and attend to their preview showing the dark interiors of the
caves. All the caves are dark with no lights or windows.
The coach transported us to the actual site of Mogao Caves
some 3-5 kilometers away.

Mogao Caves - Dunhuang
(Gansu Province - China)

 The front view of the whole Magao Caves with frozen river 
which consists of over 1000 caves. According to legend, 
in 366 C.E. a monk named Yuezun had a vision of a thousand 
radiant Buddhas on the cliff face, which inspired him to begin 
 excavating the caves. Today there are many more than a thousand 
painted and sculpted Buddhas within the caves.

From the 4th to the 14th century, hundreds of caves were 
painstakingly hand carved out of the alluvial conglomerate rock 
cliff face, under the sponsorship of Buddhist monks, local officials, 
and wealthy families who wished to build karmic merit and perform 
an act of veneration. Nearly 500 of the elaborately decorated 
caves remain today.

The caves were carved by hand, complete with altars and statues
at around 1,700 years ago.

The tour guides would just carry a small torch light to show
the interior and wall of the caves which are opened
to visitors in random numbers of 8-10 daily.
The caves contain the world’s largest collection of Buddhist art.   

The decorated caves’ walls and ceilings, totaling close 
to 500,000 square feet, are covered by elaborate paintings 
depicting stories of the Buddha, Buddhist sutras, portraits 
of cave donors, ornamental designs, and scenes of social 
and commercial life.

The Library Cave (Cave 17), which was unsealed by Wang Yuanlu, 
contained nearly 50,000 ancient manuscripts, silk banners and 
paintings, fine silk embroideries and other rare textiles dating 
from before the early 1000s, when this cave and all its contents 
were concealed for reasons still unknown.

 The caves also contain more than 2,000 brightly painted clay 
sculptures of the Buddha and other figures, the largest sculpture 
being over 100 feet tall.

Hope you enjoyed the photos. The next post will share the
camel rides across the desert at Mingshan Mountains.



  1. Wow.. what an adventure! Train with 4 berths, that means have to share the two beds with strangers? But seeing your wifey did the pumping on top of the two beds, that means both of you had the 4 beds to yourselves.. :) Yes, I will be very restless too unless got ipad to watch tv dramas and books to read.. or better still, can online! :)

    1. You are right that we had whole 4 bedded berths to ourselves there. The journey back was less fun as we had to share with a young bimbo and a heavy smoker!

      We had no prepaid data plans throughout the 10 days except the free wifi from hotels. Good detox from internet.

  2. Such an adventure! Sure is an eye opener for me, and your wife, haha, still remember to bring her mask, good la! Never forget to take care of the skin anytime anywhere =)

    1. It was a memorable trip with free & easy plans.
      It was wise of her to use the creams and masks as the cold winter is always harsh for our skins.

  3. I think I will get suffocated in the smoky train...and worse still is 24 hours ride?!! the hotel looks wondering if they serve good breakfast too?

    1. Yeah the ride was exactly 24 hours each way inside the smoke filled choo-choo trains.

      That hotel had too low occupancy during winter that they could not serve the full breakfast buffets. So I didn't want to pay and eat white porridge only.

  4. Swallow the food with help of water sound really terrible >_< 24 hours on train and attacked by 2nd hand smoke sound eve more terrible! O.O

    1. Yes it was this terrible but I survived somehow to understand their mentality. Smoking is allowed and encouraged everywhere even with the many "No Smoking" signs pasted.

  5. Are they allowed to smoke in the train? I will get choke too if smell too much of it.

    1. There are NO SMOKING signs everywhere in the train but they allow smokers to smoke in between the coaches. The sad thing was the doors and windows were all sealed & locked which enabled the smoke to enters all the rooms. When there were 3-4 men smoking at every 15 minutes all day long, what could we do except to curse them in silence.

  6. Too long in the train right? Workout a little bit in the train should not be a problem... Your wifey is very cute. Apply the Korean charcoal mask really can helps to keep your face moisture and dehydrated from the cold weather too.

    1. The hours were damn long and a good test on my patience without any internet. So I read a lot, chatted a lot and did some self reflects on my life after losing both parents in 2 years. It made me appreciate my life, the presence and every one around us.

      We will be heading to Sapporo soon and that would be even colder. So I will bring along all the creams and lotions to keep my skin alive & healthy.

  7. It is amazing to visit such places, especially the hand crafted Buddha statue.

    1. Yes we had seen many ancient sites in China and this place was very unusual, that there were such practices almost 2000 years ago.

  8. Good morning TM... The weather here is cloudy...

  9. Me also will be restless, i will look look at the scenery, walk here walk there...

    1. I believe that you will dance zumba from the first coach till the last coach. Wakakakaka

  10. Its definitely a long 24 hours with the smokers! But the beautiful caves is worth it all! waiting for more...
    thanks for sharing

    1. It was worth every minute spent to see these ancient caves which is not easily accessible for the tourists due to its far remote location in the North West of China.

  11. Beautiful caves! Wonder if there are anymore undiscovered caves.

    1. There were over 1000 caves but some 700 caves have been restored for public viewing. Their government strictly controls the number of caves allow for daily viewing. They will only open a few in random numbers. If I need to see all, I would need to go all day for a few months.

  12. For this trip, it appears to me that one must be willing to rough it out. This destination is one that is rich in history and culture. The decorated caves are amazing!

    1. It was not difficult for us as we were well prepared on what lies ahead throughout the journey after reading up a lot from other travelers. It was worth the visit to see these caves which are the only unique ones in the world.

  13. I don't think I can handle a 24-hour train ride...yikes! >.< And since the ride took 24 hours, it would mean you and your wife had to eat all 3 meals on board...double yikes! Thanks for all the photos inside the caves although I have to admit I have a phobia about going into's just too eerie for me! :(

    1. We only ate 2 complete meals in their restaurant during our journey there as we brought snacks and fruits to eat in between.
      We avoided the restaurant during the journey back by carting along all the delicious bread pastries, cup noodles and snacks from the shops in Dunhuang.

      The caves were carved out into squarish rooms with flat walls & ceilings as what you see in the photos. They were all painted brightly and colourful, so it should not be eerie. The only thing was the light came from the small torch of the guides.

  14. If you kill all the smokers in China, I think there would be no one left. Their smoking situation even worse than Malaysia >.< ... Next time take flight lah, not like you got no money what... :P

    1. The flight prices for domestic could buy me tickets to Japan. So I needed to spend wisely and I would have enjoyed the train if no smoking was allowed.

  15. i will read and reread your this post many times because i don't think i will ever visit there. i think i will die on the train due to suffocation from 2nd hand smoke. good to see you both enjoyed the trip especially the caves despite the smokey train journey.


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