Wanting to see Rainbow Mountains was my main reason for visiting China for the fourth time. Even though I didn't see such bright colours as shown, for example, in a Forbes magazine article, the colours of Danxia Mountains I saw were impressive enough to justify my expectations of the trip. The Zhangye National Geopark is located in the Gansu province in northwest China. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 and is the destination for many Chinese and some international tourists. It is also one of the 'Top 10 Geographical Wonders of the World' selected by National Geographic. It has been voted one of the most beautiful landforms in China by Chinese media outlets. As a distance is quite long, about 1700 kilometres from Beijing, make sure to also visit other sightseeing places in the area: Zhangye Great Buddha Temple and Binggou Danxia Scenic area. Here is how to do it yourself, not knowing Chinese.
How to get to Danxia scenic areas?
There are at least two Danxia scenic areas worth visiting in Zhangye: Binggou and the Danxia in north western China’s Gansu Province. They are both included in recently formed Gansu Zhangye National Geopark .The best way to travel to Zhangye is to go to Lanzhou first and then travel to Zhangye from Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, by air or by train.
I took two and half hour flight from Beijing to Lanzhou (LHW) first. Lanzhou airport is large, new and modern. As I arrived quite late, I stayed at Sky City hotel next to the airport. Then the following morning I went to the attractive Lanzhou West railway station with a self-playing piano in the waiting hall.
From there I had a three hour high speed train ride to Zhangye West train station followed by a taxi ride to the hotel.
Visiting Zhangye Great Buddha Temple
If you arrive in Zhangye in the afternoon, first thing arrange a tour for the next day and then ask for a city map and directions to Great Buddha Temple. Just check its opening hours first. Located in the southwest part of Zhangye, the Giant Buddha Temple is the largest architectural relic in Gansu Province from the 11th century.Giant reclining Buddha is well preserved in this temple. It is China's largest indoor reclining Buddha.Buddha is made of clay, has a length of 35.4 meters and shoulder breadth of 7.5 meters, with feet of 4 meters. Even the ears of the Buddha are two meters long.Legend has it that an emperor’s advisor named Wei Mie had once excavated a reclining Buddha covered with glazed tiles of emerald-colour here. To show respect to Buddhism, the Giant Buddha Temple was built in 1098 to house this Buddha. The temple was restored many times during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1912). The existing complex consists of the Giant Buddha Hall, the Buddhist Classics Hall, and a Clay Pagoda. The gold-plated and painted Giant Buddha lies in the Nirvana s in the hall. The Buddha's calm expression moves visitors.
Binggou Scenic Area
It’s easy to combine visiting both Binggou and Danxia Scenic areas in one day. I recommend visiting Binggou first, which is about one hour from Zhangye City.Even though it’s visited by fewer travellers, the Binggou Danxia Landform Scenery Area has its own featured charms. If Rainbow Mountains scenery is a visual feast of colours, then the Binggou Scenic Area is a theatre of the Mother Nature who sculptured the mountains in amazingly different shapes, like grand palaces, long corridors, and giant pillars.Travelers move around in small tour buses and they also have to do some hiking to visit sightseeing spots. When planning your visit, I recommend allowing a minimum of two hours.
I arranged a day tour by car for this day trip. There are also buses from Zhangye West train station to the attraction.
Visiting Zhangye Colourful Danxia scenic spot
The colourful Danxia scenic spot with Rainbow Mountains has spread over 50 square kilometres. It’s the most visited of all Gansu Zhangye National Geopark.There are sightseeing buses available in the area, commuting between four viewing platforms.The Zhangye Colourful Danxia scenic spot is known as “the eye candy of Zhangye”. Many artists admire this masterpiece of nature as it is unbelievably colourful, like an imaginative oil painting. Red is the main colour of the Colourful Hills in the area in China. Under the sunlight, the seemingly endless hills form a sea of fire. Some of the hills feature rock stripes in different colours, looking like bright ribbons fluttering in the desert. However, the scenes are totally different at the edge of this area. The colours there turn into yellow and grey, resembling crystal shells in the sun.
The distance between the four viewing platforms is around eight kilometres (5 miles), and it takes at least 2 hours to finish the whole trip. Better allocate three to four hours to take in all the sights. Note that buses from one viewing platform to another just go in one direction, forward, and then go back to the entrance so it’s best to stop at each station and then go to the next. Note that there are two entrances to the area and remember the one you need for the exit. After a visit, you may go back to the city with your driver or take a public bus to Zhangye near the park entrance.
The best time to visit the Rainbow Mountains
The best months of the year to see the Rainbow Mountains are June, July, August, and September when the weather is comfortable. Moderate rainfall in the summer can cool the high temperatures; more importantly, deepen the colours of the mountain. Other months are usually very dry and windy. The winter is very cold, not a good time for visiting Zhangye.
Where to stay
I stayed in Huachen International hotel in Zhangye. I found the hotel to be beautifully placed and comfortable. Even the staff didn’t speak English, they did everything they could to make us feel comfortable, using Chinese-English translator on the phone.
Tips for visiting Zhangye
- I arranged the flight and train tickets through the Ctrip website which was very convenient. Just note that for train tickets it’s easier to buy both tickets together: from the airport to Lanzhou West and also from Lanzhou West to Zhangye West. Then there’s no need to find a railway station in Lanzhou if you go by bus from the airport. Also, then you can go directly to the transfer area at Lanzhou West railway station.
- Boarding trains in China is almost the same as boarding plains. Be prepared for passport and security checks.
- Make sure you have all the destinations and hotels’ names written in Chinese with you.
- Use every English speaking person for advice and written directions in Chinese and English.
- Ask your guides, taxi drivers, and hotel staff to use mobile written English Chinese translator if they don’t speak English and don’t offer it by themselves. If you don’t have the Internet in China, do the translation of the most necessary names and sentences beforehand and take photos of them with your phone. It makes communication much easier.
- If you want to stay connected in China, consider using VPN services and arrange this service before arrival in the country.
See my other tips for solo travel in China by clicking this link.
Have you been to China? What is your favourite place in the country? Share in the comments section!
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Author: Anita Sane
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