The western Chinese cityof Dunhuangwas founded in 111 BC at the cross roads of two branches of the legendary Silk Road. It is an oasis on the edge of the Gobi desert, surrounded by sand, and steeped in history.
The city itself has a number of attractions, but its prime importance is as the gateway to the Buddhist caves, primarily the UNESCO World Heritage Site Mogaogrottoes and the somewhat more distant Yulin caves. Students of Buddhist culture can spend days and days examining the frescoed walls of these caves, as well as the remaining statues.
But Dunhuang also has a life of its own. There are several adequate hotels, but the Dunhuang Silk Road Hotel located between the town and the immense sand dune known as Singing Sand Hill is well worth the price (modest by western standards). One can easily walk to the sand dunes which are rapidly turning into a tourist haven. Climb or ride a camel to the summit for spectacular vistas or go up in an ultralight for a bird’s eye view of the same. Stop at the famed Crescent Lake to dine, ok up the desert atmosphere or even take in a concert.
In the other direction the town proper offers a modern museum highlighting the archaeology of the region, pubic art reflecting the iconography of the Buddhist caves, and a fascinating night market teeming with spices and local crafts. A central square resembles the food court of n American Mall with vendors around the perimeter offering a large selection of region cuisine. The difference is that as soon as you sit down, a hostess appears, She takes your order, goes off to find your food, and oversees your meal. At the same time there is piped music and not always welcome strolling musicians. With the stars overhead, this is a memorable experience.