China Cultural tour: Exotic Silk Road by Train

Easy Tour China’s general manager Wei led a team, including a historian and linguist, and seven travelers interested in Silk Road and Chinese culture, and ventured into the heartland of Xinjiang. The tour is not only about Xinjiang highlights but also about the haunting background cultural clues, historical mysteries and the changeless local life.

After the exploration on Silk Road, Wei updated below Information on Silk Road and shared us the tips about Silk Road Train Tour on November, 2016

China Silk Road tours

High speed train connects Xinjiang and mainland China

In 1962, railway was introduced to Xinjiang section of the Silk Road for the first time in history. Steam engines roared into Urumqi from eastern part of China. From there the railway went further to Kuqa, Kashgar, Hotan, reducing the transportation time greatly. Before that time, local people from smaller oasis villages would ride camel for 1-2 weeks before they could arrive at a big bazaar to trade their merchandise and buy stuff.

In 2014, high speed train was introduce to Xinjiang and is running daily between Lanzhou and Urumqi, reducing the previous 24 hours to 11hours for the 1950km ride. In 2017, railway project between Hotan and Ruoqiang (Qarkilik) will start. Upon finishing, it will reduce the train ride out to the eastern part of China for the southern regions of Xinjiang by 1000km.

As modern transportation makes it easier for the local people, it is also easier for travelers to visit these fascinating western regions where the eastern Chinese are not yet quite familiar.

Train lovers from Easy Tour China would like to present you with an option to visit this mythical Silk Road to help you experience the culture and the people.

Silk Road Train Trip ideas:

Let us begin with Xi’an, the once greatest city in the world, and the China end/start point of the Silk Road. Xi’an is endowed with rich historical records & monuments, depicting the grandeur of the Silk Road trading and Chinese culture.

Silk Road tour from Xian 

Then we go west by train, along the Hexi Corridor, to the western end of the Great Wall. Hexi Corridor has been a constantly fought for regions since 2000 years ago, as it controls the Silk Road trading routes. Numerous kingdoms controlled this area. Beacon Towers went from Xi’an via Zhangye, all the way to the vast territory of Xinjiang, all the way to the western border regions. Today, there are still military horse ranches there, though the number is dwindling.

Zhangye City, one of the four important oasis strongholds of the Hexi Corridor, offers a terrific landscape of the colorful rock formations – Danxia Landform (Zhangye National Geopark). Here we can stay for one night or two to take in the history and scenery.

Jiayuguan is the western end of the Great Wall and is close to Dunhuang, the western frontier of the Han Dynasty 2000 years ago. Dunhang has the world famous Mogao Grottoes with rich Buddhist murals and documents accumulated over 1500 years. The Great Wall built in the Han Dynasty can still be found together with the beacon towers.

Turpan

Out of Dunhuang, the high speed train ride will take us further west to Turpan, an oasis town first built 2000 years ago at the current site of Jiaohe Ruins. The first settlers are Indo-Europeans, evolved possibly from the clans that lived here from 3000-4000 years ago. At that time horticulture was well developed and some early travelers thru this region claimed “possibly the best raisin in the world”. From 2000 years ago, Turpan changed hands many times between the super powers of Eastern Chinese, Xiongnus (Huns, nomadic tribe roaming the steppes further north), Turkic and Mongols, primarily due to its strategic location on the Silk Road.

Both the Jiaohe Ruins (108BC – 450AD) and Gaochang (460BC – 15th Century) Ruins are now UNESCO heritage site of the Silk Road. Jiaohe was once the world largest & oldest rammed earth city and is the only ruins of Han Dynasty city in China. Sections of religion, government, markets and local people dwellings were well preserved due to the dry climate. It offers a rare opportunity of history study of the Silk Road. Gaochang Kingdom (Gaochang Ruins) is the place where the famous monk Xuanzang stopped for one month (on his way along the Silk Road to India) and preached for the local people (7th century) and the preaching square is still there.

Silk Road tour by train

The Buddhist Grottos, though heavily destroyed by Muslim presence in the history, offers a good look at the gradual influence from India, Europe and Central Asia. And do not forget the raisins, another commodity brought to this region from central Asia earlier than 500BC, which flourished till today (some claimed 1/3 of Chinese raisins are from Turpan).

From Turpan, we will take the normal train (speed around 80km/hr), via the strong wind belt of some 30km. Strong wind in the winter time can sweep the train off its track and it happened a few times in the past 50 years. And a few trains halted today because of the wind (Nov.05, 2016).

Kuqa or Kusen in Uighur language

8hrs of train ride takes us to Kuqa from Turpan. Some of the tunnels on the old rail line are permafrost layers and took tremendous labor to finish.

Famous in history for Iron smelting, Kuqa was once a flourishing Kingdom. As early as 272BC, King Ashoka of India (one of the greatest Kings in Indian history), exerted his influence here. The close link with India contributed to the numerous Buddhist Grottos and temples around Kuqa. The Buddhist Grottos in Kuqa are the earlier Grottos in China.

Buddhism was carried here from the high mountains of Pamir to here in the 1st century and reached a peak in the 3rd century. In 627, as per the records of Monk Xuanzang, “there are more than 100 temples with more than 5000 monks studying the Buddhist scripts”. In his debate with the Kingdom’s Buddhist leader, Xuanzang won in every aspect. From here, Buddhism made its way to China.

Music in Kuqa, under a strong Indian influence, went along the Silk Road to China and became the Royal court music and dance. It was named “Music and Dance from the heaven”.

Xinjiang and Silk Road tour

Ancestor of Kuqa spoke Tocharian language, a dialect of Indo-European language, similar to Germanic language, and the written form took from Brahmi of India. It was replaced by Uighur language in the 8th century AD.

Our trip focus Kuqa will be the Buddhist heritage, the mural paintings (strong influence of Ghandara and Persian art), sculptures and the ruins of once flourishing temples. Lamb, prunes and Naans are the local specialties.

Kashgar

From Kuqa, around 7 hours on the train, we will be riding along the Tian Shan (Heavenly) Mountains. The highest peak reaches 7439m (24,406ft) above sea. Many of the mountain passes rise above 3000m above sea near the snow line, thus we can imagine the difficulty met by the caravans traveling along the Silk Road. The Tian Shan Mountain has been inscribed on the natural heritage of UNESCO.

We will arrive at Kashgar, a dynamic trading city linking China with the central Asian countries, Kirgizstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. All three Silk Road routes out of Dunhuang and Hami converge at Kashgar. Out of Kashgar, the caravans will continue thru the Pamirs out to the west, splitting again into different routes, into Europe.

As early as 10th century BC, legend has it the King of Zhou Dynasty went on a western expedition and took part in a large scale trading in Kashgar. In the following years, Kashgar went between the rule of Xiong Nu, Turks, other nomadic groups in the north steppes, and the Eastern Chinese kingdoms with independence for some duration. It adopted Buddhism in the 2nd century.

China Xinjiang tours

After Islam was adopted by the local King in 915, religious war was fought 80 years against Khotan Kingdom dominated by Buddhists. Scripts from the famous Mahamud Kashgari, the royal writer (author of the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic language), “We came down on them like a flood, We went out among their cities, We tore down the idol-temples, We shat on the Buddha’s head!”

Today, trading is still a large part of the economy. Neighboring countries’ traders come in to sell and buy, just like what their ancestors did for the past few thousand years. In 1980, Pakistan traders came in painted trucks along the Silk Road and traded with local people in kinds. Silk was still the most popular goods from China. Today, one of the most intriguing bazaars is the livestock market on Sundays, where horses, yaks, camels, sheep, horses, and cows are on full display.

Arts and crafts thrive here. Handmade bronze wares and potteries are local specialties. Education, especially Islamic, had made Kashgar a major center in Central Asia. Music, especially the Muqam, spread all over Xinjiang province.

Great architectures are another cultural heritage. The Apak Khoja family tomb and largest Mosque in China – Id Kah mosque (1442) are magnificent monuments and symbols of Kashgar.

China is now planning/constructing railways to link with Pakistan, Kirgizstan and Uzbekistan. Hopefully the modern transportation will help the countries along the old Silk Road with faster trading and cultural exchange.

Hotan, Khotan

From Kashgar, we will take the 6hr overland train journey to the east.

Khotan, an intriguing city, was influenced by cultures from Greek, Egypt, central Asia, India and Eastern China. The earliest language used here is a sub group of east Iranian language. Then for some time in history, a few languages were used at the same time in Hotan.

One of the earliest traded merchandise in Hotan is the famous Hotan Jade. As early as 3500 years ago, Hotan jade was traded along the Taklimakan Desert all the way to the Eastern part of China.

Xinjiang culture tour 

Paper making in Hotan is said to start more than 2000 years ago. In an excavated accounting book in the Tang Dynasty (1400 years ago), it records the trading of paper in Hotan. Starting from the 3rd Century AD, Hotan paper was exported to the other parts of Central Asia and to Europe. In Qing Dynasty, paper notes were printed on this mulberry paper.

Hotan woolen carpet has a history of more than 2000 years. Wool weaving here went earlier to 3500 years ago. Dyeing materials in the beginning come primarily from the nature, including plants & minerals. As Silk Road official trading pushed commerce to a unprecedented high, Hotan carpets were exported to Eastern China for royal families and to Europe via Central Asia. Today, museums in London, Washington and Frankfurt all have exquisite Hotan carpets on display.

Hotan Silk: the most popular story is about the princess stealing silk worm from eastern China and carried to Hotan, as secrets of silk was well kept by the Dynasties in the Eastern part of China. Also called Etles or Atlas, meaning tie-dye in local Uighur language, the Hotan silk is a must for each Uighur woman in southern part of Xinjiang. The history goes back to more than 2000 years ago and the Silk Road trading made it a hot item for the ladies in the 10th century in Eastern China and Europe. The traditional colors of Etles/Atlas Silk is black and white.

Xinjiang and Silk trips

As Hotan is one of the least touched by modern commerce, our trip here focus on the history and original lifestyle of the locals. Our visits will include the jade market, old city area, bazaars, paper making, carpet or Silk making, the museum, and a camel ride into the desert.

Urumqi and return trip

From Hotan, we will fly to Urumqi – oops, the train ride is too long and repeated. Our grand finale is Urumqi. Like many cities in China now, the city is quickly expanding with modern high-rises. However, the capital status means we will see the best things excavated from all over the province, thus enabling us a general picture of the trips we have made so far. The provincial museum is a must, followed by visits to the local bazaars and good food. And we will be rewarded with choices of hotels of modern comfort, both good to relax and to keep up on the diary.

From Urumqi, there are many choices of flights to connect with your home bound flights, be it Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Chengdu.

72 Hours in Guilin: Top 10 things to do

Guilin trip ideas

Thanks to the 72-hour visa free transit policy, Guilin now allows international travellers from 51 countries to stay for up to 3 days without a visa. With its incredibly beautiful natural scenery and the laid-back atmosphere, you’ll find a Guilin vacation enjoyable and memorable. So let’s find out the ten best things to do in Guilin and its countryside Yangshuo for your 3-day Guilin Yangshuo vacation!

#1 Li River bamboo-rafting or cruise trip

You can choose either the cruise trip from Guilin to Yangshuo or the bamboo-rafting from Yangdi to Xingping to flow through the picturesque green pinnacles.

#2 the enchanting caves

It is a magic world in the caves with strange and beautiful formations illuminated by colorful lights. The most famous ones are Reed Flute Cave and Silver Cave.

Yangshuo trip ideas

#3 practicing Tai Chi in Yangshuo

The stunning landscape makes Yangshuo an ideal place to practice Tai Chi. There are Tai Chi schools in Yangshuo available to international visitors.

#4 Yulong River bamboo-rafting

Simply enjoy the relaxing hours and have fun with the water!

#5 various outdoor sports

Yangshuo, together with its nearby Longji Rice Terraced Fields is a paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts – enjoy yourself by swimming, hiking, biking, climbing, rock climbing, or even taking a helicopter ride…

Yangshuo Guilin tours

#6 cooking school in Yangshuo

You don’t have much time, yet you are still able to learn some authentic Chinese dishes.

#7 the performance of Cormorant Fishing

Yangshuo vacation

#8 West Street

Noisy, bustling, the West Street in Yangshuo is lined with bars, cafes, restaurants, guesthouses, snack shops and souvenir shops.

#9 Impression Liu Sanjie night show

Don’t know what to do at night? Go watch the magnificent outdoor performance of Impression Liu Sanjie on water.

#10 Guilin downtown lakes

It is free and ideal for walking and enjoying the delightful night scene.

Top 6 Ski Resorts in China

China winter tours

Yabuli International Ski Resort

China’s largest and best ski resort so far, Yabuli Ski Resort has advanced trail, intermediate trail and primary trail, with complete supporting facilities.

Season: Early November – April

Location: Shangzhi City, 198km away from Harbin, Heilongjiang Province in northeast China

Floor space: 22.55 square kilometers

Trail vertical drop: From 200m to 1200m with the average drop of 700m

Idea for: all including the beginners and experienced skiers

Recommended tour to Yabuli Harbin: 5-day Harbin Tour

Beijing Huaibei International Ski Resort

The earliest ski resort in Beijing, it is considered the most beautiful ski resort in China, as the ski glade is connected and surrounded by the Great Wall of Mutianyu Section.

Season: December to March

Location: 70km from downtown Beijing, in the Jiugukou (Nine Valleys Pass) Natural Scenic Area

Floor space: 9.6 square kilometers

Trail: 1 advanced trail, 3 intermediate trails and 4 primary trails, with average vertical drop of 238m

Idea for: beginners

China winter trips

Beijing Nanshan Ski Resort

The best and largest ski resort in Beijing, it is a comprehensive leisure resort, also with skating rink, water ski and grass skiing facilities.

Season: Mid December to March

Location: in Miyun District, 62km away from the city center

Trails: 21

Ski Board: Yes

Idea for: all including the beginners and experienced skiers

Xiling Ski Resort

Situated on Xiling Snow Mountain, the highest mountain in Chengdu, it is the largest and best alpine ski resort in China.

Season: Mid December to March

Location: 120km away from Chengdu, Sichuan Province

Trail: 7, 1km in length

Idea for: all including the beginners and experienced skiers

China winter vacation

Jilin Beidahu Ski Resort

Beidahu Ski Resort has successfully held national Winter Games for twice and Asian Winter Games for once.

Season: Early November – April

Location: Beidahu Development Zone, Jilin, 53km away from the city center

Trails: 19, with the average drop of 930m (the biggest drop among China ski resorts)

Ski Board: Yes

Idea for: all including the beginners and experienced skiers

Changbaishan Ski Resort

It is an ideal alpine ski resort, with perfect natural condition. Ever since its completion in 1959, numerous professional athletes have been here for snow skiing training.

Season: late November till middle March

Location: at the foot of Changbaishan Mountain, 220km away from Yanqing City, Jilin Province

Idea for: all including the beginners and experienced skiers

Nearby scenic spots: Tianchi Lake, Erdaobai River, hot springs

China Winter Trip Ideas: Top Places to Enjoy Blooming Plum Flowers

Plum flower, in traditional Chinese culture, is the symbol of grace and nobility, and always inspired ancient writers, poets and calligraphers. In this cold winter, instead of moping around the house all day, why not go out and enjoy the blooming plum flowers.

China winter tours

In Beijing

Lingfeng Plum Flower Forests – It’s said local monks have planted plum trees since Qing Dynasty. Today, there are over 5000 plum trees of tens of varieties.

Beijing Botanical Garden – Many people visit the park to make pilgrimage to the Reclining Buddha Temple and the two plum trees in front of it.

Xiangshan Mountain – Access the park through the east gate, and head for the Liuli Tower, and you’ll find the plum trees valley.

In Hangzhou

Lingfeng Peak – the most popular place to enjoy plum blossom in Hangzhou, it is home to more than 5000 plum trees of over 50 varieties and a dozen of historic sites.

Xixi National Wetland Park – the first and only national wetland park in China, it possesses some of the best plum tree variety.

Gushan Mountain – the plum blossom has been famous ever since Tang Dynasty, thanks to moist soil and ample sunlight.

In Nanjing

Meihua Mountain (Plum Blossom Mountain) and Gulin Park are the best places: there’re festivals with many activities about plum blossom. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery with blooming flowers, taking awesome photos, and simply have fun.

China winter vacation

In Chengdu

Happiness Plum Tree Forest – the primitive village is embraced by hundreds of thousands of plum trees. Enjoy the free winter days with the farm food, tea, sunshine and plum blossom.

Du Fu Thatched Cottage one of the famous cultural sites in Chengdu, the place becomes a classical garden in winter with rows of blooming plum trees, lovely pond, humble cottage, ancient bridge, temple…

In Kunming

Black Dragon Pool Park – The Spring City Kunming is known for the colorful flower markets available all year round. But if you want to see the plum blossom, go visit the Black Dragon Pool Park. Tens of thousands of plum trees of over 100 varieties have been blooming since early January.

In Libo Guizhou

Libo Maolan Karst Primitive Forest – about 20,000 wild plum trees grow here, including100 over 200-year-old ones, with the surreal limestone peaks as the background.

In Shanghai

Shanghai Grand view Garden – It’s the biggest Plum tree garden in Shanghai, with stunning colors from red to pink and green to white, and match perfectly with the ancient bridges, river, pavilions and paths.

Qingpu Plum Tree Garden – You’ll see houses and structures of antique Jiangnan architectural style, over 5000 plum trees and many other kinds of flowers and plants.

Impressive Images of the Most Beautiful Railways in China

Let your imaginations run wild with the amazing photos of China’s running trains – the seemingly infinitely extending railways take you into the rarely seen landscapes, and some mysterious untouched land.

1. Guiyang-Guangzhou Railway – it covers the world’s most stunning Karst landscape, and features countless surreal peaks and exotic, vanishing mountain tribe villages.

South China tours by bullet train

2. Qinghai-Tibet Railway – deep inside, everyone of us has a Tibet dream – we’ll touch its mysterious land someday. This railway is a mortal attraction for world travelers and railway fans.

Tibet tours by train train to Tibet

3. Chengdu-Kunming Railway – one of China’s most difficult and challengeable railways, 42 of the 122 stations are built on the bridges or inside the tunnels.

Chengdu Kunming tours by train Sichuan Yunnan tours by bullet train

4. The Southern Xinjiang Railway – another extreme railway in China with a total of 33 meters of tunnels on 3000m above sea level, and runs through desert, oasis, snow mountain and valleys.

China Xinjiang tours

5. Lanzhou-Xinjiang Railway – stretching 1903 km, it lies between grasslands and deserts, newly-emerging industrialized cities and enchanting ancient towns.

 

6. Lhasa-Shigatse Railway: the closest railway to the sky…

Lhasa Shigatse group tours

7. Hunan-Guizhou Railway: it lies in the mountains and valleys, and offers a panorama view of Zhenyuan Old Town

South China highlight tours by high speed train

8.Neijiang-Kunming Railway: a major railway in Southwest China in 20th century, it traverses through Sichuan Basin to Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. 66 people died for this huge construction…

China tours by high speed train

Recommended China train tours:

11-day China In-depth Culture Tour by High Speed Trains

11-day East China Exploration by Bullet Train

12-day Silk Road Adventure by China Orient Express (Beijing to Urumqi) 

16-day China Speed Train Discovery

A Cultural Trip through Chongqing City: 6 Must-visit Sights

China’s biggest “mountain city” Chongqing is one of the three starting cities of Yangtze River Cruise, thus many travelers would like to have a one day Chongqing tour before embark on the luxury ships and begin China’s most legendary voyage.

There are many to explore in Chongqing: the profound, enticing culture, the well-arranged streets and houses melting into the fog (the city is also renowned for heavy fog), the beautiful mountain landscape stretching charmingly, and the excellent spicy foods

Ciqikou Ancient Town

Built in Song Dynasty, Ciqikou is over 1000 years old, and was an important commercial dock by land and water. Here you can experience the ancient Bayu Culture, local religious life, discover some historical sites of WWII, and many interesting folk activities.

Chongqing tours

Chongqing tours to Ciqikou Town 

Highlights: East-Sichuan architecture, wood or bamboo-made dwellings, temple fair during Spring Festival, Sichuan Opera, teahouses, traditional craft like dough figure, oil manufacture, sugar refinery

Zhongshan Four Road

The 800-meter-long street is jammed with historical building and museums, mainly of Anti-Japanese War period during WWII.

Highlights: The museum of Chinese democratic parties, Gui Garden, Zhou Residence, Dai Residence.

Eighteen ladder Road (Shiba Ti)

The best place to see the old Chongqing, it used to be the main street of the city. Its prosperity is far gone, but turns to be a charming cultural street, where you can find stone-slab streets, traditional noodle stalls, the old barber’s shops…

Eling Park (Goose Neck Park)

A rich businessman Lee Yaoting built it in 1909 as a private garden, now it becomes a popular public park among locals. Sited in the highest place of the Yuzhong Peninsula, Eling Park is famed for the grandness, steepness, and elegance. Here you can have the best view of the mountainous city Chongqing and the majestic Yangtze.

Chongqing trips

Liberation Monument Shopping Area

Around the Liberation Monument, the most important landmark of Chongqing, the city government built China’s first commercial pedestrian street – Jiefangbei Pedestrian Commercial Street. It is ideal for shopping, entertaining and dining. 300 meters away, Chongqing’s most famous food street offers all kinds of local specialty foods and snacks.

Chongqing Night Scene

Enjoy the wonderful Chongqing night life and the beautiful night scene as the neon is lighted. Best places for the night view include Eling Park, One Tree Observation Deck on Nanshan Mountain, the night cruise, Hongya Cave

Chongqing night cruise

Chongqing day tour

A Romantic Approach to Dali for Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain

For years, the peaceful, romantic town of Dali has been a popular destination for honeymooners, photographers and world travelers. However, a few days’ cursory sightseeing tour will not reward you the real unique beauty of Dali. Why not take an in-depth Dali tour with unexpected cultural and spiritual experience?

Dali tour

Embraced by Erhai Lake and Mount Cangshan, small Dali is a place of self-exile. Numerous people from big cities like Kunming, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou come and stay here to relax the mind and find peace. They cycle around Erhai Lake to find the primitive villages of Bai people, take a boat cruise in Erhai Lake to watch the cormorant fishing, and take a cable car up Cangshan Mountain to find the ancient Buddhist temples and the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple (at the foot of the mountain), and enjoy the splendor of sunset and the wonderful panoramic view of Erhai Lake.

You’re encouraged to reserve a hotel or guesthouse by Erhai Lake in Shuanglang, Longkan, Taoyuan or Caicu Village with a lake-view room. Stay several days for the sunrise on Erhai Lake, the dramatic scene when it is sparkled in the sunshine, and absolutely clear after the rain.

 

Dali trip 

For some spare time, you can stroll through Dali Old Town to feel and perceive its profound culture and folk art. Stop on the Renmin Road (People Road), you will find some special shops with special stories. For example, here is a watchmaker’s shop, which is a mess, with a beaten-up shopkeeper. His wife left him in 2006, so the time of all the clocks and watches stops in 2006. Sounds like a movie script, right?

 

Recommended China Yunnan tours to Dali:

9-day Colorful Yunnan

12-day Yunnan Tour to Dali Lijiang Shangri-La