Jiayuguan (嘉峪关), Gansu Province
Jiayuguan once marked the end of China and the beginning of barbarian lands. A huge fort was built at the end of the Great Wall — the first line of defense against invaders from the west. Now, the fort is a major tourist attraction, but the city retains a pleasant small-town feel. Like much of Gansu, the population is a mix of Han Chinese and Hui Muslims.
Places to see
The Jiayuguan Fort
Dating to 1372 (during the Ming Dynasty), the fort at Jiayuguan was constructed to mark the westernmost boundary of China. Today, China extends thousands of miles further west, but the fort remains. It is still an imposing site, sitting as it does in the middle of the desert. Try not to let the faux-Ming archers and camel rides distract you from imagining what it must have been like to be a soldier, brought from the green and watery eastern part of China to the strange desert landscape of Jiayuguan in order to defend the empire. The Jiayuguan Fort Museum explains that soldiers’ families often came with them and were granted land around the fort to farm. The museum also displays artifacts from the fort’s heyday.
Entrance to the fort costs 100 RMB in the high season (50 RMB for students). Your ticket includes access to the fort’s museum, which is definitely worth checking out. Bus #4 runs to the fort from Xiongguan Xilu, down the street from the Jiugang Binguan.
Overhanging Great Wall
So you’ve already been to the Great Wall in Beijing — do you really need to see it again? If you’re in Jiayuguan, the answer is yes. The rammed-earth section of the Wall outside Jiayuguan looks nothing like the stone sections around the capital. It’s a useful reminder that the Great Wall was never really a single unified wall, but was rather the name given to various stretches of wall built at different times all over northern China.
Entrance to the Overhanging Great Wall (Xuanbi Changcheng, 悬壁长城) is 25 RMB (no student price). Your taxi may try to take you to another nearby section of the Wall — word has it that it is both more touristy and more expensive. Insist on the Xuanbi Changcheng. A round-trip taxi from the fort to the Great Wall and back to town cost 50 RMB.
The Wei Jin Tombs
The Wei Jin Tombs are quite small, just three rooms buried underground. At first, they don’t make much of an impression — my friend sprinted through the first room without realizing that it was what we were there to see. On closer inspection, the brick walls are covered with small paintings depicting scenes from daily life: pigs being butchered, cooks preparing dinner, musicians playing guitars. It provides a rare glimpse of ordinary life from the years between 220 and 420 A.D. The tombs were rediscovered deep in the desert, 20 kilometers east of Jiayuguan and surrounded by absolutely nothing at all.
Entrance to the tombs (新城魏晋墓, Xincheng Weijinmu) costs 31 RMB. A roundtrip taxi from town to the tombs and back cost 60 RMB. Pictures are not allowed, so the photo at right is of a brick that has been removed for display in the Jiayuguan Fort Museum.
Jiayuguan’s culinary offerings were minimal, but the fruit we bought here in mid-August was excellent. We mostly ate at small restaurants around the Jinye Binguan. At the Liyuan Restaurant around the corner, we paid 15 RMB each for a meal of veggies and tofu. Noodles cost just a few kuai per bowl.
This was our cabdriver’s recommendation, accepted before we noticed that it was also in Lonely Planet. I had my best roujiabing (meat sandwich) of the trip here. Four RMB purchased a pita-like bread filled with a rich, moist pork-and-green-chili filling. A variety of cold noodles — including a bright-green spinach variety — was also available.
The market (Fuqiang Shichang) is located at Fuqiang Xilu, east of Xinhua Zhonglu. Walk past a string of small restaurants and fruit stands to reach the food stalls in the center of the market.
All of the tourist sites are located quite far from downtown, and only the fort is accessible by public transportation. To get to the Great Wall and the Wei Tombs, you will have to take taxis. All of the drivers we met were equipped with brochures with fixed prices for round-trip journeys, and they were not open to negotiation.
The train station is located 5 kilometers south east of town. Bus #1 runs from the train station to downtown for 1 RMB. A taxi will cost about 10 RMB. There is a train ticket office on Xinhua Zhonglu, just north of Lanxin Xilu. Although the employees don’t speak English, when I visited it was crowded with people eager to help translate.
This is a basic but clean hotel conveniently located in the center of town, near the bus station. There is not much in the way of fancy amenities — it’s a place to sleep, not a place to hang out. But for the price, it’s significantly better than what you will find elsewhere in Gansu. The staff does not speak English.
A triple room with an en suite bathroom cost 120 RMB per night. The hotel is located across the street from the bus station on Lanxin Xilu. If you are arriving by train, get on bus #1 and ask the driver to tell you to get off at the Lanxin Xilu stop. Walk west one long block and look for the hotel on your right.