As I lay here in my hotel room thinking about my recent trip to Jiayuguan, the worst smog I have ever seen is rolling across the city. Although the town has so much to offer, it’s air quality can be truly terrible. Fortunately, I was only there for two nights and the air only got really bad for that one afternoon. I still highly recommend visiting the city but this is a good place to start your day early, as the pollution gets worse in the afternoon.
So, what is there to see in Jiayaguan? I was actually surprised there is so much to see and do. Like Zhangye it not only has the historical attractions located near town but also has a mountainous region with a popular glacier, and upon arrival I found out it also has a winery. That made me very excited for the opportunity to do some wine tasting in China. The reason most people visit the town is to see Jiayaguan Pass, the Overhanging Great Wall, and the First Tower of the Great Wall. These attractions are located in two different areas.
The Jiayaguan Pass is located just a bit outside the city and is easily reached by bus. The pass complex is pretty large, allowing you to stretch your legs and get some good walking in. Alternatively you can choose to rent a bicycle to get from the ticket gate to the entrance of the pass. Really, it’s not that far from the ticket area to the attractions, so I think the bike is a waste of money.
The pass consists of an outer wall, with an inner and outer city. It also has a great informational area on all the different parts of the Great Wall. Honestly I think that exhibit might have been my favorite thing about the pass, as it shows how vast and massive the Great Wall is. Seeing and walking on the wall for the first time in 2014 was pretty amazing, but learning that it spans so many miles across China is even more amazing to me.
After reading all about the wall, and seeing photos showing how the wall has had many facelifts over the years, you then enter into the main city of the pass, which has a temple and living quarters. Its also most likely you will see some people dressed up acting out different scenes inside the city walls. From here you can walk on top of the walls and stroll around admiring the views. Sadly, the smog had really started to accumulate, so instead of seeing snowcapped mountains in the distance, all we could see was haze. Later we would realize that at that moment the haze wasn’t as bad as it was going to get.
As you leave the pass complex you pass by the Jiayaguan Pass Museum, which is worth it. It actually has English signs, so you can learn a little more about the pass and it’s history and importance in Chinese history. It also allows for a break from the intense heat and sun. After finishing with the museum you start the walk towards the exit, which takes you out a different way than you came in.
As you finally reach the exit, many taxi drivers offering rides to the Overhanging Great Wall, and the Wei Jin Tombs will approach you. Knowing we should only pay around 50 CNY, we started our negotiations over the price, and after walking away from a few drivers, one finally agreed to that price. We only wanted to go to the Overhanging Great Wall, and not the tombs, but that didn’t stop our driver from trying to encourage us to go there as well, for a higher price. My advice is stick to your guns about price and itinerary, and you will eventually find someone who will take you. The ride takes about 15 minutes. When we arrived the driver said to meet him back there in one hour. Although I was feeling a little rushed, it ended up being a good amount of time, and enough time to climb up the wall.
Climbing up the wall was really fun. Along with loving to walk and hike, I love climbing to the top of things. But I was incredibly distracted by how smoggy it had gotten. Within the hour it took to climb up and down the wall, the smog had gotten so thick you could hardly make out structures that had been clear upon arrival. So, again, although I had climbed to the top of this hill, the views were blocked by terrible air. I was pretty grossed out to say the least, but know that is a reality for so many people in China. I can’t imagine how it would look in the middle of winter.
Arriving back at the taxi, the driver once again tried to take us to the tombs but we told him to take us back where he had picked us up. From there we hopped back on a bus to our hotel. The only other thing that I had wanted to explore in Jiayaguan was a winery that was advertised heavily at the train station. I love wine, and I thought how fun would it be to go wine tasting in China. So, with little information in English, and with the help of some translation tools and the nice lady who worked at the hotel, we grabbed a cab to the edge of town to check out the winery.
As the cab pulled up to the entrance of the winery, it seemed like a ghost town. I kept wondering if this was really the vineyard from those advertisements in the train station? Skeptically I walked into the office and retail shop, which also looked deserted, aside from the two ladies behind the desk. They didn’t speak any English, but from gestures they told me there was no wine tasting that day. Well darn, could I see the cellars? No, maybe I came too late, or maybe I needed a Chinese speaker. Well, we had to call the same taxi driver who had dropped us off, so while we waited I thought I might as well buy a bottle of wine. So I found an organic red made with a grape I had never heard of before. The whole excursion ended up being a big bust, and really just a lot of money spent on taxis to buy a bottle of wine. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
- Bus 4 and 6 will take you to the Jiayaguan Pass. The terminus of both buses is right at the entrance. It costs 1CNY.
- Admission to the Jiayaguan Pass depends on the season you visit but ranges from 102-122CNY
- Taxi from Jiayaguan to the Overhanging Great Wall and the First Tower of the Great Wall is around 50CNY, 100CNY to go to the tombs as well. Don’t be afraid of bargaining, and the best tactic is just to walk away as chances are one of the drivers will end up following you and agreeing to your price.
- The Overhanging Great Wall is free if you have already paid for a ticket at Jiayaguan Pass, so keep your ticket.
- Getting to Jiayaguan is easy now that it has a fast train station. You can come from Lanzhou or Urumqi. There is no transport from the train station to town aside from taxi. The taxi setup is really terrible at the train station, and they will most likely overcharge you a flat rate. It is possible to find someone to use the meter, although they will take a longer route to get the most money from you. But it still ended up being cheaper than the flat rate they start with. But be prepared to be a little annoyed at the taxi system at this train station.
Have you ever traveled somewhere with bad air? Have you been to Jiayaguan? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below!