After a very long hiatus, I am finally back with the next installment of my Silk Road series. I’m looking forward to filling you in on all that I have been up to during my break from writing. But for now, lets get back to Turpan China, and more Silk Road sights.
Turpan is an ancient Silk Road oasis town located southeast of Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. Honestly, Turpan wasn’t even on my radar of Silk Road destinations but my husband had been doing research in anticipation of our visit to Xinjiang and found that Turpan was rich in Silk Road historical sights. Fortunately, we were able to adjust our itinerary if we discovered something new and interesting to explore. I think of this as part of the joy of travel- things don’t have to be set in stone, and you can be inspired to add destinations based on other people’s suggestions, or things you read along the way.
How to get to Turpan
There are many options on how to get to Turpan- bus, taxi, slow train and fast train will all get you there. On the way to Turpan I took a bus from the Urumqi South bus station. There are quite a few bus stations around Urumqi, so make sure you head to the right one. It is labeled Nanjiao Passenger Transport Terminal on Google Maps. Buying tickets is easy, though the station can be crowded depending on the time of day. I decided to buy the tickets the night before, which proved a good strategy, because the tickets have seat assignments, so we ended up in the front row. The bus ride took about three hours. About halfway through the journey we stopped at a checkpoint and had to go through security, a fairly standard protocol when traveling in Xinjiang.
On the way back to Urumqi we took a shared cab with a fellow hostel patron from our hostel to the North Railway Station and took the high-speed train back to Urumqi. This was a little more expensive but took about a third of the time the bus did, and I didn’t have to get off the train for a security checkpoint. Also, high-speed trains in China are new, so are very comfortable and clean (and far superior to trains in the USA).
Once you arrive there are also a number of hotels and hostels to choose from. I stayed at the DAP youth hostel and really enjoyed my time there. The courtyard is beautiful, with grape vines hanging down and a beautiful place to lounge and get out of the sun. The young couple that run the hostel are very friendly and were very helpful in scheduling tours, hiring a taxi, and giving suggestions on local restaurants to eat at. They also passed out free melons and breakfast porridge. Oh, and if you are like me and love coffee, they sell a great cup of coffee.
When traveling to Turpan, or other lower areas within Xinjiang, you must keep in mind the heat. I found myself in Turpan in June and the average temperature was around 101F/41C and very dry. Turpan is located below sea level, and it’s in the middle of a desert. The good news is that it has white-capped mountains in the distance and plenty of water. There are therefore plenty of trees to see, making the landscape very dramatic and beautiful.
Turpan has many sights located mostly just outside the city that are very easily accessed if you hire a driver for the day. Via our hostel, we were connected with a driver who took us to all the attractions we had chosen, and some that were a suggested part of the route. Some of the attractions were a little underwhelming, creating a rather unnecessarily expensive day if you combine the cost of the driver (300 cny) with all the entrance fees (anywhere from 20-70CNY).
That being said, I did enjoy many things about Turpan, especially the food, the landscape, and the beautifully dressed people. Below I have listed my favorite places, and the places I would avoid.
My favorite places in Turpan
Ancient City of Jiaohe
This was probably my favorite attraction in Turpan. First off, it’s an easy cab ride to get there from town, and will cost somewhere around 25CNY. Alternatively, you can take one or two buses (depending on where you are starting in town) or hitchhike. The admission is 70CNY, one of the steeper entrance fees, but this one I thought was well worth it. If you are coming during summer, I would suggest coming early or around dusk to avoid the heat of the day.
We arrived around three in the afternoon and were one of a handful of people there. At times we were completely alone within the ruins, with beautiful views of the whole valley. There are English signs located around the ruins that will give some history of the buildings. For Star Wars fans, see if you agree that Jiaohe has a close resemblance to Tatooine, the mythical desert planet where Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywaker hail from. You can combine Jiaohe with the Karez Wells, which are located close by, via a taxi or hitchhiking.
Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
I didn’t find these caves as impressive as Magishan or Mogao, but a few of the caves have beautiful artwork and are worth checking out. Like Bingling in Lanzhou, Bezeklik is surrounded by an amazing landscape. The cave is located in a river valley surrounded by beautiful red mountains. In the distance are the white-capped mountains seen from all over Turpan.
The best part about this museum is that it is free. In addition, it is air-conditioned so serves as a great retreat from the heat. The museum has information and history about the local attractions and the city’s history, and obviously you can’t beat the price. Another great thing about the museum is that it is across the street from an amazing local restaurant. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a lover of food, and love finding local places with delicious, local food. We had grilled lamb shish kabob, a noodle soup, and a pilaf piping hot out of an enormous wok.
Places I would avoid in Turpan
Ancient City of Gaochang
The only reason I say to avoid this is because it was so similar to Jiaohe, and because it is fairly expensive for admission (I think it was 70CNY). You also have to pay to rent a bicycle or a seat on a golf cart to take you through the ruins. This is because the ancient city is so massive, and walking in the heat is painful. I didn’t want to pay extra so we just walked around a little bit. If you want to see the whole thing then you would need to pay more or visit anytime other than the hot summer when taking a long walk isn’t so difficult. Jiaohe by comparison was in better shape, and easily walkable, adding no extra cost to your visit.
Turpan Astana-Karakhoja Ancient Tombs
This is technically an extension of Gaochang, but it’s an extra entrance fee, albeit small. The sight has two sets of stairs that lead you down in to a few opened tombs. One has a mummy, the other has some random artifacts. Then there is a platform you can walk up to see views of Gaochang and the surrounding countryside.
Unless you are a big Journey to the West fan, I don’t understand the point of making a stop here. Yes, the mountains and views are beautiful, but if that is all you are excited about, you could easily find a place to have your driver pull over for a photo shoot of the mountains and surrounding areas. There is a little history and information on the surrounding area, but most of the information can be found elsewhere, like the Turpan museum, or even at your guesthouse. If you are trying to keep a budget, avoid this attraction, as it really is just a tourist trap.
Obviously these are all my personal opinions, but hopefully it will serve as a guide to your visit to Turpan.
Have you travel to any of these sights in Turpan? What was your favorite place in Turpan?