Lanzhou Travel Guide, Gansu
Culturally and politically, Lanzhou remains remote from the great cities of eastern China, despite being both the provincial capital, the largest industrial centre and the 2nd largest city in northwest China.
Squeezed 1600 metres up into a narrow valley along the mighty Yellow River, it stretches out pencil-thin for nearly 30km. At the head of the Hexi Corridor, it was a significant fortress along the Silk Road and was the principal crossing point of the river. For centuries it has been a transportation hub, first for caravans, then shallow boats and now rail lines. Not until the Communist era, however, did it become a large population centre as well, in response to the city's burgeoning industry. Now there are nearly 3 million people in Lanzhou, the vast majority of them Han Chinese.
Lanzhou is a pleasant place with an excellent museum , tasty food markets and busy downtown shopping areas. The Yellow River, running thick and chocolatey through the city against a backdrop of hills dim with mist and pollution, is one of China's classic sights, while the major historical and artistic attraction lies just beyond the city at the Bingling Si Buddhist Caves, not easily accessible, but probably the most contributing factor to the caves little spoilt charm. Nearly all travelers on their way to or from Xinjiang will end up stopping in Lanzhou.
When to go? -- May to October
Getting there and away
Lanzhou boasts a fairly advanced transport network and is generally thought of as one of the most important railway and air traffic centers in west China. The city is an important transit point for travelers northwest to Xinjiang, east to Ningxia, south to Sichuan and north to Inner Mongolia.
- By air
More than 30 airlines connect Lanzhou with the major cities like Beijing/Shanghai/Guangzhou/Shenzhen/Xi'an/ Chengdu/Chongqing/Nanjing/Kunming/Hangzhou/ Changsha... international. International flights to Okinawa, Singapore, and Hong Kong are also available from Lanzhou Airport.
The Zhongchuan Airport is 70km north of town. It takes roughly an hour for the airport shuttle bus (Y30) to arrive at Lanzhou Eastern Hotel (No. 555, Tianshui Lu) at downtown. A taxi will cost about 140 Yuan.
- By train
Lanzhou is the intersection point of four major railway lines: the Lanzhou-Lianyungang line, the Lanzhou-Urumqi line, the Lanzhou-Xining line and the Lanzhou-Baotou line. There are almost daily trains passing the city either way--to Urumqi (35 hours), to Beijing (28 hours) via Hohhot (18 hours), to Golmud (20 hours) via Xining (4 hours), to Shanghai (24 hours) via Xi'an (17 hours) and Zhengzhou (12 hours).
To facilitate travelers within the province, there are daily special express trains to Zhangye (12 hours) and Jiayuguan (15 hours). The main railway station is at the foot of Gaolan Mountain in the southern part of town. Tickets, one or two days in advance, can be bought either from the station or a railway booking office on Donggang Xilu, just next to the CAAC office (open daily from 8:30am till 5pm).
- By bus
Though there are 7 long-distance bus stations in town and four state-level expressways pass the city, travelers are advised to take a train, for it takes much less time. However, if you are planning on heading south to Xiahe, bus is the only option.
The Lanzhou South Bus Station has buses to Yongjing (near the Bingling Temple Caves), Linxia (4 hours), Xiahe(5hrs), Hezuo (7 hours), Zhangye (15 hours) and Dunhuang (27 hours).
The Eastern Bus Station on Pingliang lu handles east-bound departures--one nightly sleeper to Xi'an (15 hours) and morning and evening buses for Yinchuan(11 hours) and Tianshui (9 hours).
There are several dozens of bus routes in town. Bus No.1 and Trolley bus No.31 both run from the railway station to the West Bus Station. Bus No.7 and 10 also run from the railway station and head west. More than 6000 cabs run in the city through the night.
- White Pagoda Hill Park
Located at the north of the city, on the far bank of the Yellow River. It is a nice place for strolling, with green forests, scattered pavilions, teahouses and, from its heights, some good views of both the churning river and the city beyond. The nearby bridge, Zhongshan Bridge, was the old crossing point for travelers and merchants who were then to head north on the Silk Road.
The park was named after the White Pagoda Temple that crowns the summit of it's steeply terraced slopes. The temple was first constructed in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD), allegedly under orders from the despot Genghis Khan to commemorate a Tibetan lama. Reconstruction and expansion took place in the Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Qing (1644-1911 AD) Dynasties. A climb to the 17m high construction will reward you with the best views in the park.
How to get there: Take bus No.101 in front of the railway station on Tianshui lu to the terminus. Bus No.2/13/15/34 also goes. A taxi can take you to Zhongshan Bridge and you can walk from here.
Admission fee: Y6
- Gansu Provincial Museum
A sight definitely worthe a visit in Lanzhou.The museum complex is made up of 3 separate buildings linked by corridors, and further divided into two sections, a natural resources section downstairs and historical exhibits upstairs.
The 13 exhibiting halls houses famous historical and minority relics and a number of rare or extinct animal specimens. Among them, the most interesting exhibitions or relics include the bronze Galloping Horse, a 1,800 years old statue discovered 30 years ago in Wuwei; the exhibition of the Silk Road, containing treasures of Neolithic painted pottery excavated from the town of Dadiwan, whose ancient civilisation is believed to date back some 7,000 years; the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) Wooden Tablets, once used to relay messages along the road; a 1.5m high statue of Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) warrior...
How to get there: the museum is located at 3 Xijin Xilu, bus No.1 and No.31 can ferry you there. The museum is directly across the street from the Friendship Hotel.
Admission fee: Y30
- The Bingling Grottoes
Also known as the Bingling Temple (Bingling si), are a series of Buddhist caves situated on a cliff, around 80km from Lanzhou. Of the total 183 grottoes at present, some are the oldest caves in China and thankfully, despite their age, there are still many well preserved statues and murals. Although a little out of the way, the grottoes are a day trip that should not be missed.
The first cave was built here in 420 AD, by daring Buddhists who descended from the cliff on ropes to carve their masterpieces. Although the cave complex was enlarged gradually over centuries, it is the work of both the Song (960-1279 AD) and the Ming (1368-1644 AD) Dynasties that remains most impressive. The temple was, in-between these golden years, to become a Tibetan Monastery (in the Yuan Dynasty, 1271-1368 AD).
Within and on the cliff are a series of winding walkways and stairs that will lead you around the site. The caves, carved out of the cliff's porous stone, contain over 700 statues, of both clay and porous rock, and hundreds of frescoes.
Besides the temple, the journey itself is impressive, especially within close proximity to the caves. The cliff face, 60m high, is part of the northern side of a gorge formed by the Yellow River. Below the caves is the Liujiaxia Reservoir, which will take a good three hours to cross, allowing you to enjoy at your leisure the stunning scenes.
Admission fee: Y60~Y300, depends on which and how many grottoes you want explore.
How to get there - take a bus from Lanzhou West Bus Station (or from the Victory Hotel) bound for Yongjing, getting off at the Liujiaxia Port (75km, 2hrs). Then catch a boat bound for the temple from here for about Y80, 54km / 2 hours. You can also bargain down the price for a motorboat (up to 8 people, one hour, around Y500-600). The last bus back to Lanzhou departs at 5pm, if you miss this you may have to stay in Yongji (try the Liudian Hotel).
Alternatively, many travel agencies in Lanzhou arrange a tour to the caves for around Y350/head, incl. transport and entrance fee and a meal. Agencies can be found along the little lane, Nongmin xiang, one block north from the Lanzhou Legend Hotel. Within the nearby Lanzhou Hotel is also the decent Western Travel Service.
- Hualian Bingguan - Located at #7-9 Tianshui Lu, directly cross the train station, Y30~90.
- Lanshan Hotel - Located at #6 Tianshui LuY20~40/bed
- Lanzhou Mansions - opposite the main railway station and near two of the bus stations. Y40/dorm.
Muslim restaurants and food stalls are found on nearly every street. The most common dish is the cheap and easy to make Beef . Noodle, restaurants (Lamian guan) serving this soupy delight are plentiful. The sweet Beef-Stuffed Cake is a favoured breakfast dish. A slightly more interesting, and hearty, Muslim delight is the Roast Lamb.
Besides those well-marked restaurants, there are a couple of interesting eating places to recommend:
- Night Market - on a lane just east of the Friendship Hotel. Muslim food including kebabs and beef noodles available.
- Dingxi beilu - around the University. Small restaurants and stalls serve a variety of local delicacies.
- Qingyang lu - restaurants line along the road offering local food, best of the lot is the Hotpot (Huoguo).
- Zhongshan lu- east of Jiuquan lu. Restaurants here serve cheap and fast food at affordable prices.
- Nongmin xiang- behind the Lanzhou Hotel (Lanzhou fandian on Donggang xilu). There are many stalls and small restaurants here that serve a variety of local food.