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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Sand Dunes at Dunhuang
CLASSIC CHINA Beijing April 23 April 24 April 25 April 26 April 27 April 28 April 29-30 May 1-2 May 3-4 May 5 Pinyao, Shanxi May 6 May 7 Xian, Shaanxi May 8 May 9-10

TIBETAN PLATEAU Xining, Qinghai May 11 May 12 Tongren, Qinghai May 13 May 14 Xiahe, Gansu May 15 May 16-17

THE SILK ROAD Lanzhou, Gansu May 18 Dunhuang, Gansu May 19-20 May 21-22 May 23 May 24-25 Turpan, Xinjiang May 26 May 27 Kashgar, Xinjiang May 28-29 May 30 May 31 June 1-2 June 3-6 Hotan, Xinjiang June 7 June 8-9 June 10-11 June 12-13 June 14-16 June 17-19

A LAST LOOK Shanghai June 20-29 Beijing June 30
Sand Dunes, Dunhuang, Gansu, May 21, 2003


May 19. LIUYUAN (Gansu Province) Our train to Dunhuang, Liuyan actually since Dunhuang is another 2.5 hour bus ride from the small town where the train stops, was pretty slick.  It was an express train and was going to shorten the expected 19 hour ride to just 14 hours.  The only bad bit about that was that we would be getting to Liuyuan and would have to spend a night there before moving on to Dunhuang.

We had hard sleeper tickets for the ride since they were the same cost as soft seat, which weren't available anyway, and gave us plenty of room to spread out for the long journey.  We were initially put out to have to take a day train since overnight trains can save on a night's hotel and you lose a day just sitting around.   But, this train ride turned into a good way to relax while viewing some striking scenery.  

From Lanzhou the train shot down the Hexi corridor, the narrow strip of Gansu province between the Gobi Desert and the Tibetan Plateau.  On the right side of the train the land was mostly flat but on the left we could see the snow capped peaks of Qinghai Province rising up from the desert landscape.   The mountains seemed to get closer as we moved further up the corridor.   The scenery also afforded us some glimpses of bits of the old Han Great Wall made of mud and straw, a big contrast to its stone built counterpart in the east.

I'd had a cough coming on for a couple of days that had me increasingly worried.  We might have stayed another day in Xiahe if I hadn't been afraid of coming down with the flu from the bitter cold weather and total lack of heat.  The temperature check at Lanzhou station was fine but as our day went on I felt worse and worse.  When I took my temperature around midday I was at 37.1ºC (0.1ºC above normal).  It wasn't anything to be too worried about except for the SARS paranoia the was pervading China.  Our sleeper seats came in very handy as I was able to sleep on and off all day until we reached Liuyuan.  We had brief thoughts of continuing directly on to Urumqi since health facilities there would be better if they did find my slight fever alarming.  But, as the day went on my fever came down and we still go off at Liuyuan.

Our train had been mostly empty the whole way to Liuyuan.  There were no other people in our sleeper area which was nice.  The train was relatively new; even the curtains were still white.  I witnessed one of the train staff emerge from the toilet with his fly still ajar and use the white curtains to wipe off his hands.  The trains toilets had water but no soap so that clearly wasn't a good anti-SARS maneuver.  Those curtains wouldn't remain white at that rate.  They cleaned the floors of the train cars several times throughout the day but never seemed to get to the toilets so SARS wasn't having the impact on hygiene that we were hoping it would.  

As we got close to Liuyuan people started getting ready for bed.  The young couple in the aisle next to us took an untimely interest in a toy that one of the train vendors was selling.  It was a gyroscope that played happy birthday when it was spun.  They played it and played it and played it, over and over.  None of the Chinese seemed phased by the annoying sound but I was glad to be getting off the train.  The cabin lights went out just before Liuyuan. We got off the train at 11:30.

The SARS check was minimal.  They just took our passport numbers and waived us on.  Taxi drivers were hovering on the other side of the exit yelling "Dunhuang, Dunhuang."  With another 2.5 hours to reach Dunhuang we wondered if hotel would still be taking visitors at 2am and just opted for a hotel next to the train station.  It was nothing special but at 11:30 at night we weren't up for shopping around.

May 20. DUNHUANG (Gansu Province) We had the first hotel hassle of our trip checking out of our hotel in Liuyuan.  When we looked at rooms the night before the floor attendant had told us the room was Y100.  We deposited Y120 at the front desk since you are always asked to leave more money than the room cost in case of damage.  But, when we went to check out in the morning they told us our room had cost Y120 and refused to give us any money back.  We were pretty furious which seems ridiculous since we are only talking about US$2.50 but when you think about in local terms and just from the perspective of pride it is hard not to get mad.  Of course there wasn't much we could do so we left in a flurry of insults.

As soon as we exited the hotel there were loads of taxis trying to take us to Dunhuang for rip off fees.  We tried to find out about the bus but the taxi drivers kept saying "Mei You" (Isn't one).  Naturally we were suspicious because taxi drivers aren't always known for their credibility but with the SARS crackdown there were fewer tourist so perhaps there were fewer buses as well.  We went to a nearby store to get some drinks and a couple of the taxi drivers stalked us.  We had them down to Y50 for the 2.5 hour trip but the bus was only Y30 and there were plenty of taxis so there was no harm in figuring out what was going on with the buses.  We tried to ask the woman in the snack shop about the bus schedule but she was unwilling to tell us directly about the bus with the taxi driver hovering behind us.  When they were distracted for a moment she typed 10.3 onto her calculator, trying to tell us the bus would come at 10:30.

We wandered up to the train station to check the onward schedules.  One taxi driver was still stalking us and just sat in a seat in the station waiting for us to exit.  We reconfirmed with the people working in the train station that a bus should be coming.  The taxi driver kept saying "Mei You".  As they were deliberating amongst themselves they went to look out the front door and sure enough there was a bus waiting. It was about 10:15.  We raised our hands towards the bus and looked at the taxi driver and said "Oh, mei you bus?".  At that point he had to give up.  We boarded the bus and waited about an hour for it to search out some more passengers at the train and bus stations before departing for Dunhuang.

The drive to Dunhuang went pretty quickly.  The landscape was mostly barren desert which occasionally gave way to small green oasis areas.  There was supposed to be some remnants of the Han Great Wall off to one side but we couldn't clearly tell it from the other lumps of earth on the horizon.  A couple of herds of mangy looking camels wandered across the desert scrounging for something to nibble on.  We did have a SARS check when entering the town but it just involved the standard forms and getting zapped with the infrared thermometer.  We rolled into the oasis town of Dunhaung around 2:00.

A tout latched onto us when we got off of the bus.  He followed hopefully trying to point up the street to his hotel.  We were hungry and didn't want to hassle with a tout so we just headed straight for a cafe to get some breakfast.  Seeing that we weren't going to take him up on his offer the tout finally shuffled off.  Charley's Cafe was a typical backpacker place with the standard fare - pancakes, reasonable attempts at Western food, and a selection of Chinese food.

After breakfast we made the rounds to several hotels and found one closed entirely and a two star hotel discounted from Y280 to Y100 for a nice double room.  We opted for the nicer room at a cheap rate since going into dormitories amounted to a significant drop in comfort for not much savings.  The beds of course were rock hard and since the pee trap hasn't been invented in China the bathroom stunk of poop but otherwise it was a clean and comfortable place.  They even turned on the elevator so we didn't have to lug our bags up the stairs.

After a long rest in our hotel we only managed to make it back to Charley's again for dinner.  It wasn't much to show for our day but the warm dry weather of Dunhuang was a good remedy for a cold.