If you plan to visit Lanzhou for Silk Road tours, you should know these places for off the beaten path.
1. Bingling Si
The Bingling Si Grottoes can be visited in summer. I am told that access is only by water, and that the water in the Yellow River is too low most of the year. I visited the second week of August. Skies were clear and the air was mild. No humidity.
This is an extraordinary trip. I was expecting this to be a highlight of my trip to China, but I was not really prepared for the incredible beauty of the site.
There is a tourist ferry that takes you to the grottoes for about 95 rmb (unit for China money ) per person. I am told the trip takes approx. 2 hours each way and that you get about 90 minutes at the site. I knew beforehand that I probably wanted more time at the site, and that there would be the option of taking a private speedboat. Someone will approach you at the parking lot before you reach the ticket office for the regular boat. We were given and accepted the price of 600 rmb. A driver takes you 30 minutes by car to the powerboat launch area, and the speedboat ride is 30 minutes. The firs time you round the bend in the car and see the Yellow River, it is a magnificent sight. We spent 2.5 hours at the site. If you like rollercoasters, you will love the speedboat ride. It is wild. When you hit a wave, you will be sent into the air, I assure you. Think of it as a 30 minute rollercoaster ride. Still, I was able to take great photos on the trip.
There are grottoes to visit with the regular admission price of 50rmb per person, but these are fairly unimpressive. Once you are at the site, you will have the option of visiting two additional grottoes which are accessed from the giant staircase. This will cost an additional 300rmb per person, so this winds up being an expensive trip. I felt it was well worth the experience. The staircase is next to the giant buddha. You will also be approached at some point by somebody who will offer to take you by jeep to a further monastery. We did not do this. There is also a small, very nice museum at the grottoes with some beautiful relics and several places that serve food, bottles of cold water and tea at the dock where the boat lands. You could really make a longer day of it, if you wanted. Just make sure that the boat driver knows how long you intend to stay.
2. The Gansu Numismatics Museum
I have never been to this museum, but I keep seeing it on Dong Ganxi Lu, on the north side, about 400 metres from the Lanzhou Binguan. It seems to be in a branch of a bank. Must give it a try because it seems the kind of quirky place that you don't expect in a city like Lanzhou!
3. The old harbour
One block west of the Baiyuanguan Temple, is a bridge over a particularly badly polluted stream - not much more than an open sewer. Yet in the old days, this short stretch of mud and grass was where the boats and barges were tied up and unloaded and the city's wharves. Nothing to see there these days, but at least it is open and a break from the grim buildings in this area.
4. Xihu Park
Xihu Park is one of the more tranquil spots in this busy city, especially in the summer months for last minute China travel deals, when locals head for the river bank for their evening stroll. This park has several lakes, but also has the usual clutter of very old and very suspect-looking playground and funfair equpiment. Like in all parks across China, one of the joys of the park is watching the city come out to play, and Xihu park is particularly popular with people exercising their caged birds. It is also peopular with the park calligraphers, who wander around the lanes painting their art on the ground with sugared water so the calligraphy remains just for a few hours before evaporating.
5. Down to Sichuan province
One good recommendation is to travel overland from Lanzhou south to Chengdu in Sichuan province. Along the way, you will pass by some of the most breathtaking scenery around, including must visits to places such as Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong.
6. Bingling Siku- Ancient Buddhist Grotto
Bingling Buddhist Caves are some of the earliest yet least known caves in China. Built in the 5th century Jin Dynasty, these caves have been added to by successive dynasties and are still in decent shape. The giant Buddha is more than 27 meters tall. The artwork shows a transitional style from Indian to Chinese. The setting is also spectacular. Built into the side of a canyon just next to the Yellow River, the surroundings will astound. If you follow the dry usually riverbed up the canyon you will go through a narrow pass that opens into a surreal maze of hole filled towering cliffs. A 20 minute walk will bring you to a small temple across from which are more small unopened caves on the cliff face. Look out for yaks and the occassional flashflood. The Yellow River gives the only access to this amazing site. To get there during the summer, take the ferry from the dock by the Yongjing Dam. Outside the season, you might be able to get a speedboat to take you for several hundred RMB. Round-trip and a 3 hour wait included. Yongjing is a small town just a few minutes away from the dam and dock. You can get here directly from Lanzhou but I came via Xiahe and then went on to Xining in Qinghai (a popular destination for popular China travel package). Have fun.
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