In ancient times, Chinese businessmen traveled through Gansu on the Silk Road to Central Asia and Europe. Gansu has a vast and diverse cultural landscape with striking scenery and prominent historic sites.
Here we list the top 10 things to do in Gansu, from ancient Silk Road culture to Tibetan culture, from sacred temples to rainbow mountains, from vast deserts to tranquil towns.
1. Discover Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves
“In the West there is the Louvre, in the East there are the Mogao Caves”.
The Mogao Caves are “a gallery in the desert”. The murals in the Mogao Caves are the biggest highlight. To see the exquisite Buddhist art murals is most visitors’ biggest wish when they come to Dunhuang.
Painters from different dynasties painted their social life and their understanding of fairy tales and Buddhist stories on the walls of the caves. All kinds of paintings from different periods spanning over one thousand years complement each other there.
The 45,000-square-meter mural painting display in the caves fully shows the cultural exchange and collision between the central plains of China and the western Silk Road regions.
- Related tour: 6-Day Silk Road Tour in Dunhuang and Zhangye
2. Explore the Great Wall of the Ming Dynasty at Jiayu Pass
Jiayu Pass (Jiayuguan) Fort got the name "the First and Greatest Pass under Heaven" for its strategic, commanding position and grand presence. It was the westernmost fort on the Ming Great Wall.
There, you will feel as if you had traveled to the Silk Road 2,000 years ago, standing on the grand fort and watching the caravans moving slowly through the desert.
The Jiayu Pass Fort sunset view is the most stunning. The ancient city walls looked particularly appealing against the golden setting sun and vast desert. In autumn, the reed marshes swaying in the wind beneath the gate towers add more beauty.
3. Visit Harmonious Langmu Temple Town
Langmu Temple Town is an “intercultural” town. There, Tibetans, Hui people, and a small number of Han people live in harmony.
Langmu Temple Town has a unique location. A stream runs through the town dividing it into two parts… and two provinces. The town north of the stream belongs to Gansu province, where the Tibetan people live, while the town south of the stream belongs to Sichuan Province, where hui people live.
There you can visit the Langmu Temple — a Tibetan Buddhist temple. There you can visit a platform where celestial burials are held. It is the only place that allows visitors to see a celestial burial in Gannan.
A celestial burial or sky burial is a traditional Tibetan funeral, during which a dead body is taken to a designated location and eaten by vultures.
If there happens to be one taking place during the day of your visit, you may choose to witness the ceremony.
- Related tour: 6-Day Xiahe, Langmu Temple and Zhagana Tour
4. Explore Labrang Monastery
Located in Xiahe County, Labrang Monastery enjoys the nickname “Little Tibet”. It has the best Tibetan Buddhism teaching system in China. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet Autonomous Region.
All the temples in it are built with local stone, wood, and earth as building materials, rarely using metal. The architecture is wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, approximately trapezoidal.
According to their different functions and grades, the temples are respectively painted with red, yellow, white, and other pigments.
It has the world's longest circumambulation with more than 2,000 prayer wheels: about 3.5 km (2 miles). It takes at least an hour to turn all the prayer wheels.
5. Discover the Maiji Mountain Grottoes
The Maiji Mountain Grottoes are an “Oriental Sculpture Hall” carved into the cliffs.
Standing at a distance from the foot of the mountain, you will see the mountain is full of the winding “hanging” plank roads. You’ll walk along these “hanging plank roads” to see the grottoes.
In the area are preserved 7,000 clay sculptures and carved stone statues showing the characteristics of statues in different ages spanning more than one thousand years and reflecting the development and evolution process of clay sculpture art in China.
The artistic style in these grottoes still shows the influence of Central Asian cultures, but the Maiji Mountain Grottoes display more of the features of the culture of China’s Central Plains than Mogao’s because they’re nearer to central China.
6. Visit ‘the Rainbow Mountains’ in Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park
There you will see the most beautiful rainbow of rock.
In Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, multicolored ridges of weathered strata stretch to the horizon.
It is like rainbows fall over the hills, tinting them with colors. One of the best viewing times is at sunset in a sunny day. Golden sunsets settle on these hills, deepening their charm and hues.
In Gansu, there is no better places than Zhangye Danxia Park to take photos.
- Related tour: 7-Day Dunhuang, Zhangye, and Ejina Qi Photography Tour
7. Ride a Camel on Dunhuang’s Singing Sand Dunes
The Singing Sand Dunes have a magical natural phenomenon: the dunes will echo to the sound of the slipping sand as you slide down its slopes. They make fast shifting sand roars when a strong wind blows, but when the wind is little more than a light breeze, the dunes produces gentle, dulcet sounds akin to music.
You can explore the sand dunes by camel, electric car, or foot. Riding a camel on the desert of the Singing Sand Mountains is a great experience. Enjoy the beautiful wavy shapes of the smooth yellow dunes against the deep blue sky, and imagine you are traveling the ancient Silk Road.
Crescent Spring is situated at the foot of the Singing Sand Dunes. Seen from afar, it resembles a crescent moon, hence its name.
8. Explore Edenic Zhagana
Joseph Rock, the National Geographic photographer, visited Zhagana in 1922 and said: “I have never seen such a magnificent view in my life. If the author of Genesis had been to Diebu, he would have chosen it as the birthplace of Adam and Eve.”
Zhagana is a Chinese transliteration of a Tibetan name meaning ‘stone town’. It is a Tibetan village hidden in the mountains of Diebu County, Gannan.
Colorful prayer flags flutter in the wind. Surrounded by unexplored mountains and covered in mist, Zhagana is like a fairyland.
- Related tour: 6-Day Xiahe, Langmu Temple, and Zhagana Tour
9. Visit Ganjia Grassland in Summer
Ganjia Grassland is in Xiahe, a county in Gannan. Surrounded by mountains, Ganjia Grassland is a typical highland grassland, a natural and idyllic pasture.
Every summer, the whole grassland turns green, like a natural green carpet, covered with fresh flowers in full bloom. Flocks of Tibetan sheep are scattered there.
Blue sky, white clouds and green grassland match each other like the colors of a flag, giving you a perfect view to behold in the fresh and cool summer.
10. Appreciate the Sunset at Tangke Town
Tangke Town, like Langmu Temple, only a 2-hour drive away, lies on the border of Gansu and Sichuan provinces. Actually, the town doesn’t belong to Gansu, but its view north does.
There you can stand by the First Bend of Yellow River as it divides the provinces and look out at the endless wetland dotted with beautiful lakes. Watch the water birds fly over the rose willows and appreciate the sunset views of the Yellow River surrounded by vast prairie.
Tour Gansu with Us
Gansu is an ideal destination for natural landscapes, desert scenery, and Silk Road experiences. See our popular Gansu tours for more inspiration:
- 7-Day Dunhuang, Zhangye, and Ejina Qi Photography Tour
- 6-Day Xiahe, Langmusi and Zhagana Tour
- 8-Day Dunhuang, Zhangye and Qinghai Lake Tour
- Contact us if you’re ready to tell us your ideas for a custom tour or make an inquiry.