Trip to Colored Mountains and Mati Si Temple – Gansu, China

Maria Goncharova China, Itineraries, Travel Blog Leave a Comment

Looking at incredible pictures of colored mountains in China, we decided to visit the beautiful geological park Zhangue Danxia Landform. Vacation was not an option, so we decided to go during three-days weekend including 1-day holiday.

Danxia Trip Posts:

Zhangye Danxia Landform Geopark – incredible “rainbow” colored mountains in China.
Sunan Danxia Scenic Area – amazing rock formation of different shapes.
Mati Si Temple in the Cliffs – must see showplace in Gansu Province.

Basic Information

  • Dates: 31.05.2014-02.06.2014
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Places: Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park 丹霞, Mati Si Temple in the Cliffs 马蹄寺.
  • Nearest town: Zhangye 张掖, Gansu province 甘肃, China
  • Starting point: Shanghai, China
  • Budget per person: 3,500 ¥ = $ 570 (for comparison, a guided tour from Beijing worth 9.500 ¥).

How to Get to Danxia Geopark?

When I started looking for information about the place, I knew the only thing – it’s colored mountains somewhere in China. I was hoping that we would buy a flight ticket to a town close to the park, and would take a taxi to a hotel. I planned to go to the park from a hotel by taxi as well. But it was not so easy.

  • The nearest city that are reachable from Shanghai by a plane is Lanzhou 兰州, capital of Gansu Province 甘肃 省. It is located 600 kilometers from the nearest town to the park – Zhangye 张掖 and it’s on the other side of the country from Shanghai. There are no night flights to Lanzhou. Actually there is an airport in Zhangye as well, but flights are not daily and basically they are from Lanzhou and Xian only. So this option is ok only for those who can adjust their journey under their schedule.
  • You can get from Lanzhou to Zhangye by train or by bus. The road takes you 6 hours and there are only daytime trains, which is not really convenient. It’s practically impossible to find information about buses schedule and to buy a ticket in advance.
  • Danxia park is located 40 kilometers away from Zhangye. There is no a direct “tourist” bus to the park. Initially, this information scared me a little bit.
  • You can book a tour that starts at Lanzhou, but they are pretty expensive.

I was puzzled for several days. I couldn’t realize how spend less than two days out of three to reach the place. I considered an option of direct trains from Shanghai to Zhangye, all flights from Shanghai to Lanzhou and all trains from Lanzhou to Zhangye. Also I kept in mind an information about 40 kilometers, which will have to overcome to get to the park. I was ready to give up, because of a complexity and a cost of the trip. It looked as too much for a place where you can find just colored mountains and nothing more.

Finally I found a winning combination. It was cost-effective and allowed to spend two days in the park. We traveled by train from Shanghai to Zhangye directly. On the way back it was a train from Zhangye to Lanzhou, and then a plane from Lanzhou to Shanghai.

Train T52: Shanghai -> Zhangye
 Train K170: Zhangye -> Lanzhou
 Flight MU2351: Lanzhou -> Shanghai

The train T52 departs from Shanghai in the evening at 8.25pm (just after a working day) and arrives to Zhangye at 1.58am. Journey time is 30 hours. We bought a ticket at the box office. Unfortunately, you can’t buy an e-ticket. Well, you can buy a ticket, but it must be original, so it can be delivered by courier or be picked up at the nearest ticket office. Travel agents can help you to book a ticket. It’s an option if you need to buy a ticket outside of China. Tickets for a specific date are available since 18 days before the departure.

The train K170 departs at 10.16 PM from Zhangye and arrives to Lanzhou at 04.36 am. Ideally, taking into account that the plane from Lanzhou to Shanghai departs at 07.45 am and arrives just in the beginning of a working day at 10.15 am.

Total schedule:

  • 30.05.2014 – departure from Shanghai
  • 31.05.2014 – a day in the train, arrival to Zhangye
  • 01.06.2014 – a day in the park
  • 02.06.2014 – a day in the park, departure from Zhangye in the evening
  • 06/03/2014 – arrival to Lanzhou, Lanzhou -> Shanghai, arrival to Shanghai

Unforeseen Troubles On the Way

Our train to Lanzhou was canceled.

On the way back, our train at 10.16 pm to Lanzhou was canceled two hours before departure. The only option is to return your money for the ticket and to buy a ticket for another train. But the next train arrives to Lanzhou after the plane took off. So we needed another plan. Taxi drivers were not going to drive us 600 km for any reasonable price. We didn’t have any information about buses. So we just asked employees of the railway to help us with buses schedule or any other way. We were waiting a long time while this wonderful woman called to her friends and relatives to find out some information about buses. Finally she figured out that there was a bus from Zhangye to Lanzhou that departed in 15 minutes from the bus station. But there was an option to catch this bus near by a bus stop in the town later. After a series of rapid trips by local taxi and fast-paced negotiations with people who expected the same bus, we were able to catch it and to lay down on our seats in the sleeping bus. In the middle of the path we had to change our bus to a taxi again. It was the only option to be on time at Lanzhou airport. Bus schedule remained a mystery to us. But given the fact that the bus spent more than an hour on a parking lot, we tend to think that we were not deceived about approximate time of arrival of the bus. By the way, Lanzhou airport does not work at night, it was closed until 6 am.

Hotel in Zhangye

We stayed at the Huachen International Hotel simply because I knew that there was a travel agency in this hotel. In the extreme case, we could use this option to get to the park. Also it must be an English-speaking staff in an “international” hotel. The was pretty much everything that you might need in the room: wi-fi, free water, kettle etc. We were lucky because staff at reception called a taxi with English-speaking driver for us. So it was easy to talk to him.

I don’t advise you to use paid services in the hotel, they are expensive and don’t worth it. The food in the restaurant is not tasty, massage is not really good. Be aware! Massage services area on the second floor of the hotel is for male only. I was allowed to go there for some reason (probably they just couldn’t explain it in Chinese), but at the end the whole situation became apparent and not rally pleasant. :) There was a room with blind masseurs. I would not say that the quality is something special, but you can try it as an experiment.

Local Transportation

A staff on reception helped us with the taxi in the morning. We agreed on a price directly with the staff. In order to properly negotiate, you need to know a location of main objects and approximate prices. We would like to visit two separate areas of the Danxia geological park: Danxia Linze 临泽 县 and Danxia Sunan 肃南, as well as a temple in a cliff Mati Si 马蹄寺. Distances from the town are 40, 50 and 70 km respectively, the same direction. We paid 500¥ ($80) on the first day – Mati Si and Danxia Linze, and 300¥ ($50) on the second day – Danxia Linze and Danxia Sunan. Taxi service in this case is actually a driver for the day. Duration, route, price – everything is negotiable. The first day trip took us 9 hours, the second one took a little bit less.

With their vivid bands of color, the “rainbow mountains” of China look like a land formation from another planet.

Taxi driver brings you to the place, waits as long as you need, then he gets you back. You pay after returning to the hotel. It is safe, comfortable and is not very expensive (to compare: day trip to one of mentioned places from our hotel worth ¥180 per person).

Taxi in Zhangye costs 15-20¥ ($2.5-3.5). Total cost calculates by taxi meter or by appointment on the price. Common practice is a taxi meter, pretty much all of taxis are equipped with it. By the way, do not be surprised in case other passengers are placed into the car on the way. This can cause a legitimate question: “I pay for a taxi, not for a bus! I don’t want someone else in the cabin!”. You can try to protect your rights, but keep in mind that it’s a common practice in the province. We’ve seen it many times. A trip in this small town takes 10-15 minutes, and the conversation on the topic can be longer. So think twice. :)

Scenic Spots

Zhangye Danxia Geological Park - Colored Mountians in China

Danxia National Geological Park

Zhangye Danxia Landform is a huge park with incredible “rainbow” lifeless mountains of volcanic origin. Definitely worth to be included to “China Travel” spots, but I wouldn’t recommend to go specifically to this place only from the other side of the Earth.

Two Danxia Landform Scenic Areas

There are two main scenic areas of Zhangye Danxia Landforms:

  • Danxia National Geological Park also known as Linze Danxia Scenic Area (临泽丹霞景区) is 40 kilometers away from Zhangye City and 20 kilometers away from Linze County Town. It’s the best spot to observe vivid rainbow mountains.
  • Sunan Danxia Scenic Area (肃南丹霞景区) lies in Sunan Uygur Autonomous County, 50 kilometers away from Zhangye City. Famous for rock formations in shape for a camel, a temple and a shrine.
Self-Planned Trip Zhangye Danxia Sunan China - 13

Sunan Danxia Scenic Area

Mati Si is not only a famous temple in the cliff, but also a wonderful scenic area around. Hundreds of meters of observation paths, horseback riding, a culture of Yugur minorities, tourists from remote provinces of China – everything can be found in this place. More information and pictures.

Thousand Buddha Temple - China

Thousand Buddha Temple in Mati Si Scenic Area

Possible Difficulties For a Traveler

  •  Almost no one speaks English in remote provinces of China. It’s better to learn a set of basic phrases to be able to communicate with the taxi drivers, to make an order in a cafe, etc. All names and addresses need to be written down in English and Chinese.
  •  Not everyone in China can read and write. It’s better to have pictures of everything that is important, including Danxia spots and a hotel. And to be able to pronounce it. It helps also as an additional information to a written address or a name.
  •  Union Pay is a payment system in China. It’s possible, even very likely that your Visa or MasterCard will not work. You need cash. Yuan. It’s the only way that ensures a successful payment.

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