Silk Route questions

Oct 6th, 2003, 08:40 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 163
Silk Route questions

Hello Asia posters. I am new to this board, I normally lurk around the Europe one.
But my husband and I may have a chance to spend a year in china with some time for exploring (albeit mostly winter time). The area of the Silk Road/routes has always been intriguing to me. Has anyone experienced the area around Jiayuguan, Dunhuang or Kashgar etc. Can you recommend the area in particular and anything specifically.
I have read some info on this area in China and it sounds fascinating if remote.
Are the Caves of Mogao a good place to see examples of Buddhist grottoes.
Look forward to any answers or info about this area.
keldar is offline  
Oct 6th, 2003, 11:18 AM
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What a great opportunity! I lived in SE Asia for 10 years and they had to drag me away. . .

The Silk Road area is not really a popular destination on this site, as most people here tend to travel to the main cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and to the Three Gorges. If you don't get many responses here, you might post this question on the Lonely Planet website at "". This is the site for budget travellers (for the most part) and the Silk Road area is popular. Get onto the chat/talk site and post your question. The area of the site you need is called "Thorn Tree Posts ". Select "South Asia and the Mainland". The site is somewhat similar to this Talk section of the Fodors site.

However, if you will be living there yourself, your best source of information will be other expats you meet during your stay who have travelled there. I would save the Silk Road for later in your trip, after you have become familiar with travelling in China and what to expect in terms of accommodations, etc in the outlying areas.

Also look into the American Women's Association in Hong Kong and/or Singapore. Both chapters sponsors guided trips to various areas in China and elsewhere, which are great and they have excellent guides, not your typical bus tour. . . . They would also be a good source of information on what to see and do in the Silk Road area generally. There don't appear to be AWA chapters in any city in China other than Hong Kong, but you might contact the Hong Kong chapter to confirm this. Websites for the Hong Kong and Singapore chapters are below., I am not sure if you can join if you don?t actually live in the city, but as it is a non-profit and has no mandatory activities I can't imagine they would turn you down if you offered to pay the annual dues. (About $75 for Hong Kong if I recall correctly.) You don?t have to be American to join (although you do have to be a woman, but spouses can come to any function and on trips.) The AWA is a great way to meet other expats as well.

AWA Hong Kong

The AWA Hong Kong is planning a trip to the Silk Road in May 2004. Go to their website for information.

AWA Singapore

Other websites with expatriate information you may find useful

There is a poster named Peter N-H who will probably respond with a huge amount of advice given in a very off-putting and condescending manner, IMO. He has written a guidebook (surprise!) to the area, and may try to sell it to you by giving you his website address at the end of his message, which (surprise again!) will lead you right to his site where you can purchase his book. . . .all this despite Fodor's prohibition on advertising!

I would love you to become the Silk Road expert on this site! It is a place I have not yet made it to but is definitely on my list.

Cicerone is offline  
Oct 6th, 2003, 12:40 PM
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I second Cicerone's advice about the Lonely Planet Thorntree site. I've used it and found it very helpful for more out of the way destinations.

Not sure if you're considering the Silk Road beyond China but just in case...

My husband and I considered a Silk Road trip earlier this year and ended up going to Armenia and Iran because of SARS fears that shut down visa applications to Turkmenistan.

I don't know if you're interested in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or Kgyrkistan the former Soviet republics in central Asia but they are also often discussed on the Loney planet board.

I'm not sure if you want to do something on your own, or in a group, but while some of the US based tours like Mountain Sobek are very expensive some of the European overland trips (Dragoman, Explore etc.)that pass through Uzbekistan, Turkemenistan, China etc are a little more reasonable.

At the time we were considering it I worked on a number of itineraries with local travel agents which is often the best value in terms of comfort and expertise.

I found David at to be very helpful and honest...when eveyone else was saying "visa no problem" he was honest enough to say, "look there's no way you'll get it in time for trip the ministry is sitting on all the applications because of SARS". Apparently they were worried tourists would bring SARS in from California!

Good Luck!
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Oct 7th, 2003, 04:29 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 125
I haven't been, but I have a friend who traveled a few winters ago and used Mir Corporation (I think U.S. based) to coordinate travel arrangements. My friend seemed pleased with the service.
Ben is offline  
Oct 7th, 2003, 09:55 AM
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Hello all:
Thanks so much for all the information. I am going to check out the Asia chat site on Thorntree as suggested as well.
Thanks Cicerone for the websites of the expat sites. I always find these offer great info if they are anything like the French ones I hang out on.
Thanks again to all,
keldar is offline  
Oct 7th, 2003, 10:39 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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As you seem already to have discovered, there is one main route from Xi'an along the foothills of the Nan Shan through Gansu Province, into the Xinjiang Region, and around the north side of the Taklamakan Desert which is often promoted as 'the' Silk Road or Silk Route. However, silk was traded in any direction in which there were purchasers, and even routes across China towards Central Asia and beyond come in many varieties. Roman coins and Middle eastern fabric remnants have been found in Ningxia Province, for instance, rarely visited by foreigners, but well-served (as are almost all corners of China) by bus and rail. If you have enough time, routes up through Ningxia, across Qinghai Province, or around the south side of the Taklamakan can be rewarding in a way different from the main tourist trail.

But if, like most, you want to set out from Xi'an and head for the northwest, then:

Tianshui for the cave-riddled red mountain of Maiji Shan

Jiayuguan for the spectacular (if rebuilt) fort on the desert's edge

Dunhuang for the largest and best-preserved set of cave temples anywhere in China

Turpan for the ancient ruins of two major cities, a well-sited if rather bare set of cave temples, and other sights in a desert yet grape-growing area which is the lowest inland place after the Dead Sea

Kashgar for a predominantly Uighur city as far west as you can get in China, and completely alien to mainstream Chineseness. The Sunday market is still worth seeing, but it has been reorganized substantially, and a new railway link is rapidly changing the character of the city. Continue round to Khotan on the south side of the desert to see what the Kashgar bazaar was like a decade ago (and en route you'll pass through Yarkand, which was once far more important than either).

Lanzhou, Gansu's capital, and Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital are both large, industrial, and heavily polluted cities worth avoiding. For a change of pace, consider crossing to Almaty in Kazakhstan, or Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan (rather harder to arrange), but take care of Kazakh/Kyrgyz visa details well in advance in Beijing, and make sure your Chinese visa allows re-entry, as visas are hard to obtain in Almaty or Bishkek.

For further reading: Luce Boulnois' history of the Silk Road has finally been translated from the French, Susan Whitfield's 'Life Along the Silk Road' is a very readable collection of first person accounts from individuals living at various points on the routes at different periods of its history, and Frances Wood has a new history out, which I haven't read, but is bound to be excellent. Of the small number of guides to the area, most are fairly dreadful, but you might like to look at the Odyssey guide "The Silk Road", which is a well-illustrated paperback. Its practical information is very limited, and it sticks to the main route, but the historical background material is good, and accounts of the sights reasonable. The pictures will help you choose where to stop, as there are many other options than those listed above.

Independent travel along these routes requires no 'help' from travel agencies, and can easily be arranged as you go.

Hope that helps.

Peter N-H
PeterN_H is offline  

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