In the northwest corner of Gansu Province, Dunhuang is a desert oasis that was once a hugely important way station along the Silk Road. Today, this magical place is unlike any other part of the country. Loaded with history, surrounded by majestic sand dunes, and focal point for both western and eastern Chinese culture, Dunhuang should be on the itinerary for any adventurous traveler.
Dunhuang first rose to prominence as a garrison town under Han Dynasty Emperor Wu. For centuries, it was a key base for Central Asian traders coming to trade with Chinese merchants. It was also a focal point through which Buddhism spread through China. Over the centuries, it was conquered by many different ethnic groups, including the Tuoba, Uighur, Tibetans, and Mongols.
The undisputed highlight of Dunhuang is the exquisite Mogao Grottoes site. Unlike the Buddhist art found at Longmen or Yungang, Mogao contains more paintings than carvings and was constructed over a much longer period of time. Nearby, the beautiful Singing Sand Dunes Park and Crescent Moon Lake make for a wonderful afternoon of fun for the whole family.
The city itself hosts a lively night market that seems to take over the town. It contains food streets, café/bar streets, a fruit market, and a street of handicraft vendors.