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How to Plan a Silk Road Tour

How to Plan a Silk Road Tour

Written by Chris QuanUpdated Jan. 29, 2024

Are you thinking of a Silk Road trip to China? To help you get inspired and start planning, we've summarized how long to spend, what to see and do, weather, accommodation, culture, and transport information and tips.

Silk Road Tourist MapThe main tourist destinations along the Silk Road

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What to Do and See

Traveling China's Silk Road is a journey into China's ancient history and diverse culture quite unlike any other.

It's a journey of contrasts: Han and Uyghur ethnicities, Buddhist and Muslim religions, Eastern and Central Asian culture, natural and man-made wonders, dry desert, and Alpine mountain scenery.

Adventurous travelers are guaranteed a trip of a lifetime, complete with sand dunes in pristine deserts, camel rides, treks along steep mountains, Buddhist caves, caravan life, alpine lakes, ancient forts, lively bazaars, and more!

Learn about the Rich Culture of the Silk Road

XinjiangA family visit in Kashgar in Xinjiang

Buddhism and Islam entered China through the Silk Road, and during your trip, you can see the ancient Buddhist sites such as the Mogao Grottoes and contrasting Islamic architecture in Turpan and Urumqi.

In Xinjiang and Kashgar especially, you'll see how Central Asian peoples' culture contrasts with the Chinese Han majority's further east. See the Uyghur minority's minarets, dancing, and foods, such as roast mutton and grapes.

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See Ancient Man-Made Wonders

Older imperial antiquities can be seen in Xi'an at the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang. Luoyang, because it was one of China's Seven Capital Cities, has ancient creations that were built in several eras, such as the Longmen Grottoes.

Turpan has ruins from the Silk Road era such as Jiaohe. There is also the ancient ingenuity of the Karez Well System.

Experience the Contrasting Deserts and Mountains

The Silk RoadOur guests in Zhangye Danxia National Park

During your travels taking in the Silk Road sites, you could be enveloped in solitude in natural places such as Dunhuang where you can climb the beautiful Mingsha Sand Dunes and ride a camel like in times of old.

Then plunge back down into the Turpan Depression desert which is the third deepest depression on the planet for a deeper desert experience.

Further west, journey up from scorching desert austerity to watery blue mountain beauty and lush green pasture at Heavenly Lake.

Then, if you have time, you could cross the austere Taklamakan Desert to the frontier outpost of Kashgar which has a market as fragrant and bustling as in ancient days.

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Or contact us to create a trip according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements.

Your 1:1 travel consultant will reply within 1 working day.

How Long Does a Silk Road Tour Take?

Qinghai LakeOur guests in Qinghai Lake

There are 12 recommended destinations along the Silk Road. The length of a Silk Road tour will depend on the number of cities you choose to visit.

We advise you to set aside a minimum of 6 days (for two or three destinations) to about 2 weeks if you want an immersive and rich experience from your travels. See more on How Long to Spend on the Silk Road

Xi'an, Dunhuang, Zhangye, Turpan, Urumqi, and Kashgar are the most recommended and classic destinations along the Silk Road, which would take about 10 to 12 days. See 11-Day Along the Great Silk Road Tour.

Ningxia and Gannan are hidden destinations with rich culture and breathtaking views. See 6-Day Gannan Tour.

All our tours can be customized. The itinerary can be adjusted according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements. Just contact us.

Best Times to Visit the Silk Road

The Silk Road becomes drier as it heads west into China, given its extreme inland location. Since the road meanders through desert and mountainous areas, be prepared for extremes in temperature. The temperature in Turpan can reach 40°C (104°F) in the summer and -20°C (-4°F) in January. Winter is long and bleak.

The best time to travel the Silk Road is from May to October. Weather conditions are pleasant from late spring to early autumn, with an average temperature of 15°C (59°F). Although summer weather can be scorching, the heat is dry and more comfortable than in the humid tropics.

The scenery is ideal when the fruits ripen, the flowers are in full bloom, and green grass covers grassland areas... in spring (April, May, June) and fall (September, October).

In the winter months, Silk Road tourism is in its off-season. You may benefit from a better experience due to far fewer tourists. Xinjiang's snow scenery is really beautiful, especially in Kanas. You can also have fun in its Silk Road International Ski Resort, one of the three biggest ski resorts in China. See more on Xinjiang Weather.

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Accommodation Tips for the Silk Road

The Silk Road has become a popular route for tourism. High-quality hotels are available, though not as many as in the major cities.

To ensure a comfortable hotel experience, we suggest booking 4- or 5-star hotels. They can offer Western-style breakfasts as well as simple English communication.

In remote cities, such as Kashgar and Turpan, star-rated hotels might not be as good as the same rating of hotels in big cities due to local expectations. To provide you with a comfortable experience, we can help you arrange the best possible hotels for you.

When booking a hotel by yourself, please make sure the hotel is qualified to accept foreigners and choose an area that is convenient/conducive:

  • In Xi'an, near the Xi'an City Wall or Bell Tower would be good for eating and transportation, but near Greater Wild Goose Pagoda is quieter.
  • In Zhangye, staying near Zhangye Danxia Landform Park is recommended. A Mongolian yurt in Kaoshan Camp is also popular among travelers.
  • In Dunhuang, stay near the Mingsha Mountains or in the city center.
  • In Turpan, stay in the downtown area, such as Xihuanbei Road, Gaochang Road, Qingnian Road, lvzhou Road, and Wenhua Road.
  • In Urumqi, stay in the city center, such as near Renmin Park and Hongshan Park.
  • In Kashgar, accommodation in the downtown area is best.

Silk Road Transportation

Flights and bullet trains are the usual ways to cross the large distances on the Silk Road to the major tourist cities, and then private transport is best for travel around the cities and to the main highlights.

People usually start their trip from Xi'an or Lanzhou, which are easily reached from other big cities in China.

"Xi'an/Lanzhou–Zhangye–Dunhuang–Jiayuguan–Turpan–Urumqi–Kashgar" is the suggested arrangement.

  • Xi'an to Zhangye: 2 hours' journey by plane
  • Zhangye to Dunhuang: 4 hours' journey by bullet train
  • Dunhuang to Jiayuguan: 2½ hours' journey by bullet train
  • Jiayuguan to Turpan: 5 hours' journey by bullet train
  • Turpan to Urumqi: 1 hour's journey by bullet train
  • Urumqi to Kashgar: 2 hours' journey by plane

In cities along the Silk Road, many attractions are situated quite far from the city center, making private car transport more convenient and flexible. Access to a private vehicle allows for immediate use without the wait for taxis. 

Our private tours would include private transfers throughout the trip only for your family/couple/group. Train/flight tickets between cities will be booked in advance for you to ensure a smooth and worry-free journey. 

Just contact us to create your trip based on your interests and requirements.

Culture Considerations

Please do not talk about sensitive issues such as religion and politics when in Xinjiang.

Sixty percent of the total population of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are minorities, and their primary belief system is Islam. Please respect their customs (no pork or alcohol) and follow your guide's advice when visiting a family or entering a mosque.

When visiting religious sites such as mosques, women should wear long–sleeved clothes. At certain times women are not allowed to enter mosques.

Taking photos at some attractions is forbidden. Please follow your tour guide's advice. When you shop at a market, bargaining is taboo if you do not intend to make the purchase.

What to Bring

Understandably, this is a challenging route that passes through some of the most difficult terrains and climates. The varying landscapes make it important for sufficient planning and preparation to be made in advance.

  • Bring warm clothing even in the hot summer, as the temperature can change greatly between day and night in some places along the route.
  • Bring shoes that are suitable for walking.
  • Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and lip creams to protect your eyes and skin from the sun. Also, consider bringing a moisturizer because the air is very dry in the desert areas.
  • Most of the route is arid desert climate so it is essential to pack dust protection and other items for hot desert travels: wide-brimmed hats, face masks/neckerchiefs, and loose cotton clothes.
  • Drink/carry plenty of water at all times of course.
  • Bring some medicine for diarrhea, travel sickness, etc., just in case, as well as any other medication prescribed/recommended by your doctor.

Travel the Silk Road with Us

All our tours are customizable. Contact us to create a trip according to your group size, time, budget, interests, and other requirements. See our recommended Silk Road tours for inspiration:

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