Midnight at the Oasis
Dunhuang Travel Blog› entry 43 of 80 › view all entries
Though not strictly speaking an oasis town Dunhuang feels like one. The town is perched on the edge of a line of huge sand dunes and to the north stony semi-desert disappears into the distance. The town would probably be nothing more than another small desert crossroads and might even, like many of the ancient silk road towns in this area, have fallen into ruin, if it were not for the discovery of the Mogao caves about 15km away. The caves have some of the finest buddist art anywhere in the world and to add to their distinction about 100 years ago a sealed cave was discovered with thousands of ancient documents, including the oldest printed book in the world. This has placed Dunhuang firmly on the tourist trail - it has a new railway station and even a small airport.
The advantage of all this tourism is that the town has a good range of hotels and the level of competition ensures that the prices are reasonable. We check into one in the centre of town which is possibly the best place we have stayed yet. There are 3 cafes within 100m all offering identical breakfast menus and internet access.
The downside of the commercialism is that the sights here are expensive. Access to the sand dunes, and that is just entrance, the activities (everything from camel riding to microlite flights) are extra is 130Y. That seems too much for something we don't really want to do, so we walk around to the edge of the village to take some photos of the dunes, but even here they are fenced off.
We only plan to spend a day or 2 here so toss up whether to visit the famous Mogao caves or the less well known Western Thousand Budda caves which we can reach by local bus.
Onward travel here is also a little harder to organise than I had expected. The train booking office and bus station have both moved since our LP was published and we find that there are actually no trains running north from here; Dunhuang is the end of a branch line and trains only run south, the trains to Urumqi leaves from Liuyang a town 2 1/2 hours north of here by bus. The only train we can buy a ticket for is at the less than ideal time of 1:03 am and the last bus leaves here at 17:00 so we will have a few hours to kill in Liuyang, I hope it has a restaurant or two.