XiAn has direct flights to Zhangye and it only takes about 2.5 hours to reach. I booked mine through trip.com and it was easy and cheap.
The Zhangye airport is about 100 yuan taxi ride away to the main town. The main things to do in Zhangye are the rainbow mountain, the Ping Shan Hu canyon, Mati Si (horse hoof temple grottos), the Big Buddha temple and the night market which has delicious food and shopping. You can easily do these attractions in 2 full days like me, or spend a leisurely 3-4 days. If you have more days, the wetlands and the racecourse in summer and the Binggou Danxia are also recommended things to see and do. The Yugur tribes, who were not there when I visited as it was too cold and they are nomadic.
My first stop was the night market to have dinner as I’ve arrived in the evening. My favourite things to eat were the skewers. They also have a lot of stewed pork dishes and also wantons they call Zhao Shou. Definitely a good place to visit for dinner and shopping, most are chinese brands though.
The next day, I started driving off to Mati Si at 8am. This is because it’s about a 2 hour drive to this very beautiful temple among snowy mountains at 3000m above sea level.
These temples are carved into the mountains and this is the only grotto temple where the ascending and descending from temple to temple is within the Grotto. This means everything is carved inside. If you notice the others later in my blog, the stairways are out of the grottos. There are 3 main places to see at this place. The 33 levels of heaven which houses the largest cave which holds a huge standing Buddha, the horseshoe print on a floor from the heavenly horse, hence the name and the other adjacent smaller caves.
Next, head to the King Gesear hall which has beautiful Tibetan flags and with the backdrop of the snowy mountains so close by, it looks super majestic.
I ended my trip with a visit to the thousand Buddha caves. Climbing up to the hugest is possible, where the medicine Buddha is but you can’t be claustrophobic to do so. Try it! Its really fun! A bit to the right outside this temple grounds, you can see the beautiful small pagoda like caves where monks used to meditate in. This whole place is very beautiful and the fact that you can climb the inside makes it wonderful as the other grotto temples, you can’t.
We drove back to town for lunch and a very famous thing to eat in Zhangye is the Chao Pao at Chun Ji Chao Pao which is essentially a long strand of noodles that’s been cut by hand and thrown into a big pot of broth. You eat this with a selection of braised pork and my driver chose the ribs and lean meat. Both were really soft and the vegetables and meat and 2 noodles only costs 66 yuan. Such value!
In the afternoon, after my heavy lunch, I went to the Ping Shan Hu Canyon. The Canyon is one of the top 5 canyons in the world. I can easily see why. Your entry ticket has to include the big bus that would bring you around to the stop where you can begin your hike for views and to hike down the canyon. It also includes the return trip from the top of the canyon at the end back to the car park.
You’ll need this as this Canyon is HUGE. Imagine the Grand Canyon, not Chinese! The hike back UP the canyon is quite something 🤣 there is something very adventurous called he sky ladder which really looks like it leads to the sky and you need to go under large rock formations to get to it. Not for the claustrophobic or people who fear heights. If you don’t fancy going up the ladder, there is a longer hike up with steps.
I was very tired after all the hiking and it took me about 3 hours to finish the entire hike, including stop times to take photos and have a snack. I’m so glad I had that heavy lunch. I guess my driver knew what was required 🤣🤣🤣🤣
The sunset is apparently very beautiful but I went in March so it gets very cold in the evenings and sandy so the park closes at 6pm and I couldn’t stay till then. The good thing about going in low season before April is the prices are half price for the attractions and there is very little crowd. The 2 above are beautiful when I was there and very peaceful.
What was not so great during the low season is The Rainbow Mountains, Qi Cai Danxia. The main attraction for my being in Zhangye. The reason is, when it’s winter and spring, it doesn’t rain and thus, the mountains are covered by dust and sand from the desert nearby. My driver also told me to go in the morning because in the evenings in March, there could be sandstorms that may affect the visibility. In July and August when it rains, the rainbow mountains will be at its most magnificent at sunset, and the colours will really be as being as those on google. Even though the colours were not as bright and I went in the morning, the mountains are still a super sight to behold. I wish I went in the afternoon for the sunset so the sunlight can really shine on the correct side of the mountain.
When you visit this attraction, because it’s so huge, there are buses that ply between the 4 viewing points. A lot of seniors were with me on the bus and some of them climbed the steps to get a good view but even if you don’t climb the stairs, the view is still beautiful. All the 4 stops shows different views and if you want to go back to one of the stops, just hop on the west bus at the ‘little Potala’ stop . There are also different entrances so make sure you remember which one your driver will be waiting for you at and hop on the right bus back to the car park. I went around all stops twice as once was at sunrise and I realised the sunlight wasn’t right and the other time in the afternoon so that I can see the colours properly. But, no rain means not as vibrant colours so come during the rainy season ok?
After the mountains, I made it just in time back to town to see the Da Fo Si, which means Big Buddha temple. This temple houses the largest indoor sleeping Buddha in China and its very old but very beautiful and peaceful. When I arrived, I asked my driver if there are any natural disasters in Zhangye. He laughed and said, you see the Buddha can sleep so soundly there for 1000 years how can there be earthquakes? 🤣 I knew I had to see this Buddha. The temple closes at 6pm.
A good place to eat nearby, perhaps the only place open at low season is at Ganzhou Shi Chang nearby, which is the Ganzhou night market which I went on the first night. I love the meat and vegetable skewers as they are sprinkled with spice and chilli pepper powder. I also had the braised pork soup that comes with a chinese pancake soaked in the soup. It’s super delicious. There is also Zhao Shou, which is the wantons that’s super delicious spicy or in chicken broth.
After all the food, take a stroll to the wooden pagoda. At night, this place comes alive with residents line dancing and the whole place livens up with lights. The wooden pagoda also looks more impressive at night than in the day.
After all the hiking and eating, I went back to my hotel to freshen up for my overnight train to Lanzhou at 11.35pm. It’s a 7 hour journey on a soft sleeper in a 4 person cabin and costs about 250 yuan.
I stayed at Holiday Inn express Zhangye and it was clean, nice and warm, very important for cold winter nights. The service was also impeccable. For discount on your first booking, click here.
Next stop I’ll write about Dunhuang and it’s magnificent history where the Han Great Wall Ruins and the famous 1000 year old Mogao caves are found.
Never stop wandering
Stella goes west