Journey into Northwest China: Qinghai-Dunhuang-Xi'an

Category: Travel Stories

Written by Sunny Tang, and published by Vera Zhao

Back to a few days ago, in mid-August, I spent 6 days in Northwest China journeying from Qinghai Province to Dunhuang in Gansu Province and Xi'an in Shannxi Province. It was my dream trip. The vast northwestern part of China enjoys stunning landscapes, history and culture but is off the beaten track for some reasons. Now I've come back and I am eager to share with you the amazing experience and photos

Qinghai - highland lakes and flowers

Qinghai is located 3,205 meters above sea level in the north-west corner of Tibetan plateau; this vast province with a population of only 573,000 people offers travelers the chance to enjoy a journey with the most amazing and unique landscapes and travel experiences in China. The region is home to a diverse group of ethnic groups including Han Chinese, Mongolians and Tibetans, the Tibetan population accounts for around 24.4% of the total population giving the region a unique cultural flavor. Qinghai is less known to the world than Tibet but it has equal or even more splendid views.

Qinghai Lake:

Qinghai LakeIt really seems like a sea rather than just a lake.

Qinghai LakeBecause we came in August, there were seas of cole flowers along the lake, which enhanced the beauty of Qinghai Lake.

Qinghai LakeQinghai Lake is known as "Blue Lake" by local Tibetans.

Kelsang flowers at Qinghai LakeThese brilliant flowers are called Kelsang flowers, meaning "Flower of Happiness". They are the most tenacious and most common flowers on Tibetan Plateau.  

Qinghai LakeWhere there are colorful prayer flags, there are Tibetans. Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, longevity, and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity.

Tibetan antelopesAlong the way, there were herds of antelopes and yaks freely strolling or eating grass.

Chaka Salt Lake:

I would call it a "pure, beautiful girl". A straight road leads to the other end of the lake, but it seems that there is no end. Looking from afar, a vast expanse of whiteness stretched beyond the horizon. Getting close to it, I found the water is clearly mirroring the white clouds. The beauty of Chaka Lake is no less than that of Qinghai Lake, but more sacred. I got there in the evening and I believe it would be more stunning at sunset. This gives me a reason to come back.

Tibetan woman, Chaqia Salt LakeA local Tibetan woman walking towards the lake. Salt sculptures can be seen on the road. 

Chaqia Salt Lake, QinghaiThe white clouds are clearly mirrored in the lake.

Chaqia Salt Lake, QinghaiSalt crystals formed in the lake 

Chaka Salt LakeThe salt world is the best place to shoot reflections in the water. 

Taer (Kumbum) Monastery:

Although there were too many fellow travelers, it still is an eye-opening experience to visit it. The brilliant architectural styles, marvelous religious paintings, barbolas and yak butter sculptures are what makes it so outstanding among all the Tibetan monasteries. From the tour guide, I learned that it was built to commemorate Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), founder of the Yellow Hat Sect in Tibetan Buddhism.

Taer Monastery The entrance of Taer Monastery. 

Taer (Kumbum) MonasteryAlthough I am not a Buddhist, I hold a special reverence for Tibetan Buddhism.

Kumbum Monastery

Tibetan monksTibetan monks

Dunhuang - a major stop on Silk Road

Dunhuang is a popular travel route for those both domestic and international tourists who want to explore the Silk Road. It was once in ancient times a famous commercial port on the Silk Road. Merchants from the west kept coming here for trading. Today Dunhuang is again experiencing economic growth with tourism and manufacturing leading the way. It is known to the world for the exquisite murals and sculptures of Mogao Grottoes. The famous desert landscape of Mingsha Mountain and Moon Crescent Spring that I saw in a book is what first drew me to this oasis in the desert, I wanted to see with my own eyes what made this place so attractive to tourists.

Mingshashan (Singing Sand Dunes) & Moon Crescent Spring:

DesertWhen the wind blows, the sands will make loud sound seemingly being produced by some ancient musical instrument, hence the name. 

DesertRiding camels in the desert 

DesertMoon Crescent Spring, a unique tourist attraction in the desert of Dunhuang 


Mogao Grottoes:

This World Heritage Site is the largest, best preserved and richest treasure house of Buddhist art in the world. 

MogaoThere are a total of 492 caves, containing some 2,100 colored statues and 45,000 square meters of murals. I was amazed by the craftsmanship of the ancient people. 

MogaoThis cave houses a 35.6 meters high painted clay sculpture, the third largest of its kind in China.

Dunhuang, a town falls short of the metropolis of Lanzhou and Xi'an, is really a comfortable mix that is rich in natural beauty and culture.

Xi'an - the ancient capital


Xi'an is one of the most popular destinations in China. As I had only a half day to spend there, I went to the must-see site Terracotta Warriors. Here I was amazed by the wisdom of the ancient people again. 


WarriorsTaking a close look at them, I found each of them has a different expression. 

A WarriorKneeling Warrior

A final word

This short trip gave me a glimpse of northwest China. I was really amazed by my country; it is so rich in natural beauty, history and culture. If this article has whetted your wanderlust for China, contact us to tailor-make a trip or write to for more information.

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