Hannes is back on board, for a trip to the Crescent Moon Lake.

Dunhuang Travel Blog

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Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake

People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Hannes (Sweden), Colin (Canada), Portia (USA)

The previous night I had received news from Hannes that he was already in Dunhuang, so we had arranged to meet today at 15.30. Our bus from Jiayuguan arrived at 14.30, which just gave us enough time to check into the excellent value Youhao Hotel (80RMB/$11 for an en-suite room with air con and tv), shower and walk to a large roundabout where we had arranged to meet.

Hannes had travelled with us on and off for nearly half a year, through Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and East Timor, so it was weird that our paths would now cross again in China.

Camels trekking through the dunes
He had spent the last 8 months working in Australia, doing jobs ranging from camel driving to live aboard fisherman! It didn't seem like we hadn't seen each other for so long and within a minute we were back to our old ways, it was great to be united once again.

Our first priority was to find somewhere to eat, so we began walking to the market, when all of a sudden the street began to fill with sand and vendors started to make a move for cover. We went into one restaurant, but their prices were rather optimistic for donkey meat and beer, so we went to a Western style eatery called Charlie Johngs.

I was pleased to be inside, watching the sand storm form a safe distance, as it blew in from the nearby dunes. I felt terribly sorry for the road cleaner outside, who was stuck brushing the same area of road, only for it to be instantaneously covered with sand, just seconds later.
Sand blowing from the top of the dunes
Several hours passed by and she could still be seen from the window, somebody really should have given her the day off!

We had arranged to meet Portia at 18.30, but the weather was not letting up and going to climb a sand dune during a sand storm seemed about as wise as re-publishing a cartoon of Mohammed... but lets not get political now! I sent an email explaining our predicament and we settled in for a long night in the cafe, accompanied by some Tsingtao's, Ludo and our imaginations.

It was great to chat about our previous time together and also our future plans, which literally changed as we sat there. I had always planned on visiting Mogao Caves whilst in Dunhuang, some famous Buddhist Grottoes, but i was gob smacked to read in a comments book within the cafe that they had jacked the prices up to an absurd 180RMB ($25).
Julia and Hannes make their way up the sand dunes at sunset
For this price you could only visit 10 caves, had to be on a guided tour and could take no photographs. Unsurprisingly almost every comment said it was a waste of money and only worth a visit if you had a real fascination in this particular field. None of us do, so we decided to boycott the place, hopefully more people will do this in future, leading to a more reasonable pricing structure. I very much doubt it though.

Around midnight Hannes had itchy feet and wanted to be more active, so we recruited Colin, a Canadian who has lived in Beijing for the last 6 years and speaks fluent Chinese, to join us in heading to a pool hall. Julia and I managed to beat the guys 3-0, although the best thing about the night was getting to see the toilets.
Sunset over the sand dunes and lakes
Actually, i don't know if you can count 2 half full buckets of urine as toilets! Thank God nobody needed a number 2!

As it had been a late night and we had done a lot of travelling over the last few days, we agreed to have a relaxing day on Thursday and slept in until midday. Charlie Johngs cafe was our meeting place at 13.30, from where we move on to have lunch at Johns Information Cafe, located just 50 metres down the road. I think the food was much better value here, although i really liked the staff at Charlie's.

18.30 at Charlie's was the arrangement to meet Portia, so went along for a juice at 18.00 and just to hang out and wait. At 19.00 there was still no sign, so we were left with little choice but to head to the sand dunes alone. By chance, we bumped into each other at John's cafe, just as we were about to catch a taxi.
Me and Hannes jumping
We had got our wires crossed somehow, but this now meant that we didn't have time to have Dinner together, before heading to the dunes.

As it turned out, Portia had opted to visit Crescent Moon Lake earlier in the day, so wouldn't actually be joining us after all. Thankfully Dunhuang is forced to run on Beijing time, so although it was 19.15 when we arrived, the sun was still shining brightly. I had read in the Lousy Planet that we could gain free admittance to the site, if we just walked around the steel fence that was in place. 25 minutes later we had not set foot on the dunes and the fence was still disappearing into the horizon.

The three of us discussed the option of jumping the fence, but after spotting a guy who was tailing us with a loud speaker and also seeing the 100-200RMB ($15-$30) fine signs, we decided that our only option was to head back to the ticket office and enter the boring expensive way!

Just like every other site in China is appearing to do, Crescent Moon Lake has hiked its prices up to ludicrous levels, charging 120RMB ($17) just to climb a sand dune! The decision was made to cough up the fee, although we weren't even sure we could get any decent views before the sun finally set.
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
The chance of riding camels was politely declined, as we raced across the sand to the looming yellow mountains.

The first section of the climb was steep, but at least the sand was fairly solid, so although tiring, it was scaled rather quickly. The sun was now right behind one dune and i was sure that there was no hope to make it to the top in time. To complicate matters I still didn't even know which dune we were supposed to be climbing!

Continuing along the ridge of the biggest dune visible, the sand began to sink beneath our feet, making it tough on the legs. To add to the challenge, the wind was blowing sand off the top of the dunes and we were inhaling enough to make our lungs resemble Miami Beach. Hannes and I soon had our shoes off as they were full of sand, whilst Julia had some striking orange boots to protect her feet from becoming too bogged down.
Rippling sand effect on the dunes


I reached the top first and had the fun of watching the other two struggling their hardest to join me. To be fair, i was totally knackered, but sitting up there with a glowing orange ball descending on the horizon, over a gorgeous yellow sand dune and glittering small ponds, whilst the clear blue sky turned shades of purple, red and orange, really had made the journey thoroughly worthwhile.

From the top, the views of the surrounding dunes were fantastic, with camel silhouettes on the horizon, adding to the ambiance. Hannes, Julia and I performed some jumping maneuverer's to try and get some fun photos, i think Hannes has some stunt man in him, whereas Julia and I looked deformed most of the time!

A little after 21.00 the sun finally set and we ran back down the dunes, which was great fun.
Sunset over the sand dunes and lakes (crecent moon on the left)
Camel treks were just returning as we were leaving the area, making for an interesting spectacle. Thankfully there was a lone taxi in the parking lot and he drove the 6km journey back to town for a bargain 10RMB ($1.40). Amusingly when Hannes tried to put his seat belt on in the taxi, the driver wouldn't let him, clearly they have very little regard for road safety.

John's cafe was already closed when we arrived back into town at 21.30, so we went to Charlie's for Dinner. It was going to be an early start the next day, so drinking was off the menu and instead we went to the interesting night market to look around and buy some provisions for the following day. Stocked up, we walked Hannes back to his hotel and got to bed around midnight.

Deats says:
If i was in your shoes i would have 100% paid, no questions. Just we cant pay for everything and i think in the bigger picture, they were expensive for what they were. Horses for courses!
Posted on: May 28, 2008
portia says:
Mogao caves was definitely worth the money for me! After coming more than 10000 km from the US to see them, I wasn't about to let 180 RMB get in my way. Actually I paid 160 for non-foreigners! But I also paid 200 each to see 3 additional, special caves, which to me had great significance! It's just that people are different, what's good for one is not always good for others. But still I wouldn't have seen them at this time without joining you on this trip...
Posted on: May 26, 2008
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Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Camels trekking through the dunes
Camels trekking through the dunes
Sand blowing from the top of the d…
Sand blowing from the top of the …
Julia and Hannes make their way up…
Julia and Hannes make their way u…
Sunset over the sand dunes and lak…
Sunset over the sand dunes and la…
Me and Hannes jumping
Me and Hannes jumping
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Rippling sand effect on the dunes
Rippling sand effect on the dunes
Sunset over the sand dunes and lak…
Sunset over the sand dunes and la…
Me, Colin and Hannes outside the p…
Me, Colin and Hannes outside the …
Camels on the sand dunes at Cresce…
Camels on the sand dunes at Cresc…
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Camels at the sand dunes at Cresce…
Camels at the sand dunes at Cresc…
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Camel trekking at Crescent Moon La…
Camel trekking at Crescent Moon L…
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes and pond at Crescent Mo…
Sand dunes and pond at Crescent M…
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Julia and Hannes make their way up…
Julia and Hannes make their way u…
Walking up the ridge of a sand dune
Walking up the ridge of a sand dune
Sunset over the sand dunes at Cres…
Sunset over the sand dunes at Cre…
My feet became swamped with sand
My feet became swamped with sand
Footsteps left in the sand dune
Footsteps left in the sand dune
My shadow on the sand dune
My shadow on the sand dune
Feeling tired from climbing up the…
Feeling tired from climbing up th…
Nearing the top of the sand dune, …
Nearing the top of the sand dune,…
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Julia and Hannes following in my f…
Julia and Hannes following in my …
Sunset at the Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at the Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Julia in her fetching orange prote…
Julia in her fetching orange prot…
Me on the sand dunes
Me on the sand dunes
Me at sunset, pointing to Crescent…
Me at sunset, pointing to Crescen…
Julia jumps for joy to reach the t…
Julia jumps for joy to reach the …
Sunset at the sand dunes
Sunset at the sand dunes
Crescent Moon Lake
Crescent Moon Lake
Hannes leaps into the shot
Hannes leaps into the shot
Me photographing Hannes jumping on…
Me photographing Hannes jumping o…
Sunset at the Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at the Crescent Moon Lake
Julia and I sharing a kiss at the …
Julia and I sharing a kiss at the…
Julia and I at Sunset, at Crescent…
Julia and I at Sunset, at Crescen…
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sunset at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Sand dunes at Crescent Moon Lake
Hannes and Julia going bak down th…
Hannes and Julia going bak down t…
Me dancing my way down the dunes
Me dancing my way down the dunes
Crescent Moon Lake at sunset
Crescent Moon Lake at sunset
Sunset and the moon in the top left
Sunset and the moon in the top left
Hannes plants the Swedish flag
Hannes plants the Swedish flag
The moon comes out over the dunes
The moon comes out over the dunes
Hannes and I getting the sand from…
Hannes and I getting the sand fro…
Dunhuang at night
Dunhuang at night
Statue and the Olympic mascots in …
Statue and the Olympic mascots in…
Dunhuang
photo by: Deats