In this article we’re going to report our journey in China giving you details about transportation, accommodations, and costs. We spent 28 days in China and we followed the so called Northern Silk Road from Kashgar to Beijing passing through Gansu Province and Xi’an. We were travelling overland from Italy so we entered China from Kyrgyzstan crossing Irkeshtam Border and exited through the Mongolian border of Erlian.
We have divided the article in three sections: Xinjiang Province, Gansu Province, and Shaanxi and Beijing Province. This aims to help you find the information you need.
Moving across China is very easy as cities are frequently connected by train. You can check out train timetables and seat availabilities on the mobile app China Train Booking; just make sure you purchase them at least one day in advance.
Where can I buy train tickets?
- You can purchase them through the same app but a commission fee will be applied.
- You can go to the train station and pay cash.
- You can ask a Chinese person in your hostel to purchase it for you through one of their mobile apps. They just need to register your name and passport and then can buy tickets for you. Save a screenshot with the reference number and present it to the ticket office at the train station at least one hour before departure. Pay your nice Chinese helper back, of course 😉
Also, bear in mind that if you’re taking a K-type night train, there will be three-floor bunk beds and the price decreases from down to top as well as your living space!
Irkeshtam Border → Kashgar
We paid ¥400 for the taxi between the two Chinese borders, Irkeshtam and Ulugqat. From Ulugqat we took a shared taxi from Ulugqat bus station and we paid ¥33 each. A police man brought us to the ticket office and to our car; shared taxis are well organized and you can’t bargain the price. We were dropped off in front of Kashgar bus station (opposite the train station) and we took the city bus No. 28 to go to the city centre and our hostel, Kashi Maitian Youth Hostel. The location on maps.me is wrong, we updated it and hopefully it’s now available. Anyway, you must get off after crossing the bridge, cross the road and walk till the second building along the road opposite the park with the lake (see pic below).
We spent two nights at Kashi Maitian Youth Hostel and we paid ¥78 each for a dorm; we later found out that private rooms cost the same.
Pros: all rooms, including dorms, are ensuite and spacious. Nice international environment.
Cons: toilet in the men’s dorm was dirty; not easy to find as there is no sign outside.
To know more about crossing Irkeshtam Border, read our detailed article Irkeshtam Border Crossing: How to go from Kyrgyzstan into China.
Kashgar → Kucha
We took the city bus No. 28 to Kashgar train station and from there a train to Kucha/Kuqa paying ¥171 each, top beds. A nice girl from our hostel bought the train tickets online for us.
In Kucha we went through the kind of usual security checks and then we were put on a taxi (¥10) and took to Kuche International Hotel. We didn’t choose it but we were told it was one of the three hotels in town accepting foreigners. We were tough cookies and finally obtained a room for ¥228. Read our article Visiting Kashgar, Kuqa & Urumqi: Weird Things Happened in Far West China to know more about Kucha and cities in Xinjiang.
We spent there one night, the room was ensuite toilet and big but a bit dirty. Breakfast was huge and good.
Kucha → Ürümqi
We took a K night train and we paid ¥178 for the middle bed and ¥184 for the bottom bed. We asked the receptionist to buy it for us and after one hour of Google Translate and disappointing faces, she was finally persuaded and purchased the tickets for us.
In Ürümqi we took city bus No. 301 to go to Maitian Youth Hostel but it was closed, so we decided to go to the nearby Bestay Hotel Express. It was a good choice! We spent three nights paying ¥129 per night for an ensuite room. The hotel was clean, central, and we had everything we needed in the room.
Ürümqi → Dunhuang
We took a D-type fast train to Liuyuan Railway Station (¥247) at 11:13 and in four hours we did almost 900 km. There is a direct minibus from Liuyuan to Dunhuang which costs ¥35 and takes almost two hours; it departs when all the passengers came out of the isolated-in-the-middle-of-the-desert train station, so don’t bother taking an expensive taxi.
We spent two nights in Dunhuang and went to a random hotel, Dunhuang Hotel, paying ¥120 per night for an ensuite room. We know there are hostels as well but we didn’t check them out, unfortunately. Bear in mind that in Dunhuang there is just one city bus which takes you to the Mogao Caves and Dunhuang Railway Station, but there are no official bus stops so it may be tricky to catch it (click here for tips about visiting the Mogao Caves). We often ended up taking a taxi, which are quite expensive.
Dunuhang → Zhangye
This time we opted for a K-type train which was a slow one running during the day; the journey of eight hours was too short for a night train. We left from Dunhuang train station at 8:40 and arrived at Zhangye train station (east side of the city) at 16:30 and we paid ¥81 for a hard seat.
From Zhangye train station we took the city bus No.1 to the city centre (¥1.50) to get to Silk Road Youth International Hostel. We stayed there for three nights in a private room, shared toilet, and we paid ¥90 per night (we had no reservation so we paid less than the price on booking.com). We think it’s the perfect stay in Zhangye because it’s central, clean and very nice.
Zhangye → Lanzhou → Xiahe (Labrang Monastery)
We caught a D-type fast train (¥149.5 each) from Zhangye West Railway Station at 9:38 and got to Lanzhou West Railway Station at 13:51. There, we immediately took a taxi to go to Lanzhou South Bus Station and catch the last bus to Xiahe at 15:00. We arrived at Xiahe at 18:00 and we paid ¥75 each. There are other buses at 7:30, 8:30, 9:30, and 14:00.
We stayed in Xiahe for two nights sleeping at Calling Marmot Youth Hostel (¥30 each for bed), which is five minutes walking from the bus station and 15 minutes to Labrang Monastery. The hostel is nice but extremely cold, which can be a problem in October – we slept with our warm clothes on and didn’t dare to have a shower!
Xiahe → Lanzhou → Xi’an
We took the first direct bus to Lanzhou at 6:30am from Xiahe bus station. It spent almost one hour collecting people in the town and then left to Lanzhou, where we eventually arrived at 10:00. This time, we paid ¥76 + ¥2 of fees. From Lanzhou South Bus Station we caught the city bus No. 11 to go straight to Lanzhou train station in the city centre.
We left our luggages at the cloakroom and visited the city. Later, we took a T-type night train to Xi’an; we paid ¥174 each for a bottom bed. The train was actually empty, so we had a very quiet night. It left from Lanzhou train station (just Lanzhou on maps.me) at 22:05 and arrived at Xi’an Railway Station at 8:00 am.
SHAANXI AND BEIJING PROVINCE
In Xi’an, we stayed for three nights at Xi’an Busy Hotel paying ¥110 for an ensuite room (again, we didn’t book so we got a discount). We strongly recommend this place because has got everything you need in the room and in the common room, also it’s central but not inside the walls so you can eat in nearby restaurants for a cheap price. It’s also close to AnYuanMen (Metro) Station and 30 minutes walk from the railway station. Look for “giant” bike shop in maps.me and you’ll locate it; once there enter the building and go up to the 4th floor.
For other details about the city and how to visit the Terracotta Warriors, have a look at our article about Xi’an.
Xi’an → Beijing
We took a T-type night train from Xi’an Railway Station to Beijing Xi Railway Station and we paid ¥254 for a middle bed and ¥264 for a bottom bed. It delayed 1h30m so we arrived at 8:30am.
In Beijing, we slept four night at the Emperor Tiananmen Beijing (it was a gift ;)) and then we moved to the nearby Leo Hutong Hostel (look for Leo Courland Hostel on maps.me). There, we paid ¥70 for a bed in a dorm, shared toilet; they also have private rooms available for ¥260. Rooms are very basic and the common area was quite cold, but the building is nice and it’s well located. Just mind that women toilet don’t have running water (at least in November 2019) so you have to use a bucket to flush.
If you are looking for information about visiting the Great Wall of China, read our detailed article Mutianyu Great Wall (Beijing): How to Get There and Hidden Spots Nobody Tells You.
Beijing → Erlian → Ulaanbaatar
We eventually got some adventure crossing the border between China and Mongolia! Indeed, we didn’t take a direct train but we saved money making everything much more interesting. Read our article Border Crossing Erlian/Erhenot – Zamiin Uud: The Cheapest Way To Go From Beijing To Ulaanbaatar for more details about it.