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Gansu Travel Guide


(gān sù 甘肃) is a province of the People's Republic of China, locatedin the northwest of the country. It is bordered by Mongolia (méng gǔ 蒙古), the autonomous regions of Xinjiang (xīn jiāng 新疆), Inner Mongolia (nèi méng gǔ 内蒙古), Ningxia (níng xià 宁夏), and the provinces of Shaanxi (shǎn xī 陕西), Sichuan (sì chuān 四川), and Qinghai (qīng hǎi 青海).It has an area of 141,500 square miles (366,500 square kilometers). The capital city is Lanzhou. Gansu has a multinational population which includes ethnic minority groups of Kazak (méng gǔ zú 哈萨克族), Mongolian (méng gǔ zú 蒙古族), Tibetan (zàng zú 藏族), Hui (huí zú 回族), Dongxiang (dōng xiāng zú 东乡族), Tu (tǔ jiā zú 土家族) and Manchu (mǎn zú 满族). Gansu is both blessed and cursed by nature. The province has fertile yellow earth that the Yellow River runs through, but the boundless Gobi desert also expands across other parts of the region. All in all, Gansu is a place worth for travel.


GansuHistorically, Gansu is the combination of the two regions, gan (gān 甘) and su (sù 肃), and marked the end or beginning of China proper. The name of Gansu is first used in the Song Dynasty (sòng cháo 宋朝) (960–1276) compounded by two prefectures, Gan Zhou (Zhangye City now) and Su Zhou (Jiuquan City now).

Gansu is called “Gan” or “Long” in abbreviation, and is also known as Long West or Long Right, in reference to the Long Mountain east of Gansu. The ancient Silk Road and the new Eurasian Continental Bridge run across the whole Province.

Administrative Divisions

There are fourteen administrative areas in Gansu immediately below the province level:


History and Culture

In prehistoric times, Gansu was host to a number of Neolithic cultures. The Dadiwan culture (lǎo guān tái wén huà 老官台文化), from where numerousarchaeologically significant artifacts have been excavated, flourished in the eastern end of Gansu from about 6000 BC to about 3000 BC. The Majiayao culture (mǎ jiā yáo wén huà 马家窑文化) and part of the Qijia culture (qí jiā wén huà 齐家文化) also took root in Gansu from 3100 BC to 2700 BC and 2400 BC to 1900 BC respectively.

GansuThe Yuezhi (月氏 yuè zhì) originally lived in this area until they were forced to emigrate by the Xiongnu (xiōng nú 匈奴) around 177 BCE. The Qin state (qín cháo 秦朝), later to become the founding state of the Chinese empire, grew out from the southeastern part of Gansu, specifically the Tianshui (tiān shuǐ 天水) area. The Qin name itself is believed to have originated,in part, from the area. Qin tombs and artifacts have been excavated from Fangmatan (fàng mǎ tān 放马滩) near Tianshui, including one 2200-year-old map of Guixian County.

With the development of history, Gansu entered her heyday on politic, military and culture in Sui Dynasty (518–618) and Tang Dynasty (618–907), emerging a politician named Liyuan (the Emperor Gaozu of Tang Dynasty), a famous poet called Li Yi, and a romancist with the name of Li Gongzuo. During this period, the Silk Road also got to its most prosperous peak. The Mogao Grottoes with exquisite murals and statues was first built in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420), developed in the Northern Wei Dynasty (368–534), the Western Wei Dynasty (535–556) and the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557–581), reached its scale as today in Sui and Tang Dynasties.

Gansu was first established as a province in Yuan Dynasty (yuán cháo 元朝) (1206–1368), which is the first dynasty dividing China into provinces.

After the Han (hàn cháo 汉朝) and Tang dynasties (táng cháo 唐朝), Gansuwas served as a channel for cultural exchanges and trade between the East and West. When Zhang Qian (张骞 zhāng qiān) of the Han Dynasty wenton missions to the Western Regions and Monk Xuan Zang (xuán zàng 玄奘) of the Tang Dynasty went to India to learn Buddhism, both took way of Gansu. The administrative division of Gansu underwent several changes in the Yuan (yuán cháo 元朝) and Ming dynasties (míng cháo 明朝) until the Qing (míng cháo 清朝) when it was finally defined. Since then it has remained unchanged. Till now, Gansu has been a province for more than 700 years. This time-honored land is a major habitation for ancient Chinese people, as well as one of the important birthplaces of ancient agriculture.

The Silk Road served as an international link for the political, economic and cultural communication between ancient China and the West. Opening up before 200BC, the Silk Road boasted nearly ten centuries prosperity. Due to its position, Gansu at the forefront of China was one of the first Chinese regions to accept material and spiritual influence from the West.  The integration of Chinese and Western culture in Gansu has lasted from the past into the present.

Geographic Features

GansuGansu has an area of 454,000 square km, and the vast majority ofits land is more than 1,000 metres above sea level.
It lies between the Tibetan Plateau (qīng cáng gāo yuán 青藏高原) and the Loess Plateau (huángtǔ gāo yuán 黄土高原), bordering Mongolia to the northwest, Inner Mongoliaand Ningxia to the north, Shaanxi to the east, Sichuan to the south, and Xinjiang to the west.

The Yellow River gets most of its water from Gansu and also flows straightthrough Lanzhou. Area around Wuwei is part of Shiyang River Basin (shí yáng hé liú yù 石羊河流域). The landscape in Gansu is very mountainous in the south and flat in the north. The mountains in the south are part of the Qilian Mountains (qí lián shān 祁连山), which contains the province's highest point, at 5,547 metres (18,199 ft).

A natural land passage known as Hexi Corridor (hé xī zǒu láng 河西走廊), stretching some 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) from Lanzhou to the Jade Gate (yù mén guān 玉门关), is situated within the province. It is bound from north by the Gobi Desert (gē bì shā mò 戈壁沙漠) and Qilian Mountains from the south.

Long and narrow in shape, Gansu is the seventh largest province in China,so the landforms in Gansu are complex and various including mountainousregion, plateau, plain, river valley, desert and stone desert.

Climatic Features

Gansu enjoys a temperate monsoon climate featured by an apparent transition towards continental climate. It is dry and short of rainfall with considerable temperature difference. Winter is long and cold and summer short and warm, while spring and autumn come and go instantly even without one’s knowledge. The coldest month is January with the temperature ranging from -14°C to 4°C (6.8°F to 39.2°F) from northwest to southeast; and hottest month is July, ranging from 16°C to 26°C (60.8°F to 78.8°F) f16C to 26C from Qilian Mountains northward and to Bailong River basin (bái lóng jiāng liú yù 白龙江流域). The average annual rainfall is between 30 and 600 mm with gradually reduces from southeast to northwest. In the north-western part of the province, sunshine is adequate but it is quite windy and dusty in spring. In the southeast, there is much rainstorm in summer coupled with hailstones.


Agricultural production includes cotton, linseed oil, maize, melons, millet, and wheat. Gansu is known as a source for wild medicinal herbs which are used in Chinese medicine.

GansuHowever, most of Gansu's economy is based on mining and the extraction of minerals, especially rare earth elements. The province has significant deposits of antimony, chromium, coal, cobalt, copper, fluorite, gypsum, iridium, iron, lead, limestone, mercury, mirabilite, nickel, crude oil, platinum, troilite, tungsten, and zinc among others. The oil fields at Yumen and Changqing are considered significant.

Gansu has China's largest nickel deposits accounting for over 90% of China's total nickel reserves.

Industries other than mining include electricity generation, petrochemicals, oil exploration machinery, and building materials.According to some sources, the province is also a center of China's nuclearindustry.

Despite recent growth in Gansu and the booming economy in the rest of China, Gansu is still considered to be one of the poorest provinces in China. Its nominal GDP for 2011 was about 502.0 billion yuan (79.69 billion USD) and per capita of 12,836 RMB (1,879 USD). Tourism has been a bright spot in contributing to Gansu's overall economy. As mentioned below, Gansu offers a wide variety of choices for national and international tourists.

As stipulated in the country's 12th Five Year Plan, the local government ofGansu hopes to grow the provinces GDP by 10% annually by focusing investments on five pillar industries: renewable energy, coal, chemicals, nonferrous metals, pharmaceuticals and services.

Main Attractions

Mogao Caves-A Shrine of Buddhist Art Treasures
The Mogao Caves or Mogao Grottoes (mò gāo kū 莫高窟), also known as the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas (qiān fó dòng 千佛洞), form a system of 492 temples 25 km southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China. The caves may also be known as the Dunhuang Caves, however, this term also include other Buddhist cave sites in the Dunhuang area, such as the Western Thousand Buddha Caves, and the Yulin Caves (yú lín kū 榆林窟) farther away.

GansuThe Mogao Caves are a system of Buddhist cave temples near the city of Dunhuang in Gansu province. They were a center of culture on the Silk Road from the 4th to the 14th centuries and contain a religious artworks spanning that entire period. The Mogao cave complex is comprised of 492 caves, containing 450,000 square feet of murals dating and there are about 600 surviving cave temples, of which 30 are open to the public.

The traveler finds the Mogao Caves, a shrine of Buddhist art treasures, 25 km (15.5miles) from downtown Dunhuang on the eastern slope of Mingsha Shan (Mount Echoing Sand). A network of plank reinforced roads plying north to south 1600 meters (5, 249 feet) long lead to the cave openings, which are stacked five stories high some reaching up to 50 meters (164 feet). By the way, Mogao means high up in the desert.

Location: 25 kilometers southeast of Dunhuang city in Jiuquan, Gansu Province
Tel: 0937-8869060
Transportation: Taking special non-stop bus in Dunhuang city, the bus is available per 0.5 hour during 08:30am and 20:00pm
Opening Hours: 9:00am~17:00pm
Admission Fee:
CNY 160 (May 1 to Oct. 31); CNY180 (including English guide)
CNY 80 (Nov.1 to Apr. 30); CNY 100 (including English Guide)
Recommended Time for a Visit: 1 day
The Best Tourism Season: Summer and Autumn

Maijishan Grottoes--One of China’s Four Greatest Buddhist Grottoes
GansuLocated 45 kilometers southeast of Tianshui City (tiān shuǐ shì 天水市) in Gansu Province (gān sù shěng 甘肃省), Maiji Mountain (mài jī shān 麦积山) rises up abruptly 142 meters from the landscape. The people named the mountain 'Maiji' because it resembles a stack of wheat straw (mai meaning wheat, and ji meaning stack). Maiji Mountain is 150 meters tall, and it was named for its shape. According to historical records, the Maiji Grottoes (mài jī shān shí kū 麦积山石窟) were excavated during the Hou Qin Dynasty of the Sixteen Kingdom Period. The Maiji Mountain Grottoes have a long history.

The Maijishan Grottoes are a series of 194 caves cut in the side of the hill of Majishan in Tianshui, Gansu Province, northwest China. This example of rock cut architecture contains over 7,200 Buddhist sculptures and over 1,000 square meters of murals. Because of its exquisite clay statues and superb sculptural skills, Maiji Caves acquired special recognition. They have been classified as an 'Oriental Statues Exhibition Hall'. Maiji Caves are one of the four most important caves in China.

The other threes are Mogao Caves (mò gāo kū 莫高窟) in Dunhuang, Gansu Province,Yungang Caves (yún gāng shí kū 云冈石窟) in Datong, Shanxi Province, and Longmen Grottoes (lóng mén shí kū 龙门石窟) in Luoyang, Henan Province. Their emphasis is on exquisite statues and beautiful natural scenes, while the others' are on florid murals or magnificent stonecutting.

45 kilometers (about 28 miles) southeast of Tianshui City in Gansu Province
Tel: 0938-2731407
Transportation: Get to Tianshui City first and then wait for the bus 34 (Tianshui Railway Station - Maijishan) which is leaving every 15 minutes from 06:30-19:30. Get off the bus and you can find the ticket office of Maijishan 30 meters away from the bus station.
Opening Hours: 8:00-17:00
Admission Fee: Through Ticket of Maiji Mountain Scenic Area: CNY 70 per person
                       Ticket excluding Maiji Caves: CNY 20 per person 
Sightseeing Bus Fare: CNY 10 including return trip

Kongtong Mountain--The Earliest Famous Mountain of Taoist
Kongtong Mountains
(kōng tóng shān 崆峒山) is one of the sacred mountains of Taoism. It is located in Pingliang City (ping liáng shì 平凉市), Gansu Province (gān sù shěng 甘肃省), People's Republic of China. To the east of Kongtong Mountains there is famous ancient city Xi'an (xī ān 西安), to the west it is Lanzhou (lán zhōu 兰州), this mountain is the west exit fortress of GuanZhong flatland (guān zhōng píng yuán 关中平原) along the ancient Silk Road.  It is the mythical meeting site between the Huangdi (huáng dì 皇帝) (also known as Yellow Emperor) and Guangchengzi (guǎng chéng zǐ 广成子).

Lying 7.5 miles to the west of Pingliang, Kongtong Mountain is noted for its marvelous natural scenery and exquisite manmade landscapes. It enjoys the reputation as "The Holy Land of Taoism", "The Remarkable Spectacle of Western China" and "The First Mountain in Western China". With the magnificence peculiar to the northern mountain and elegance of the southern mountains, the Kongtong Mountains is a famous place of tourism in eastern Gansu.

Location: 15km west of Pingliang City or 12km west of Kongtong District
Tel: 0933-8711212
Opening Hours: 08:00-17:00 (Monday-Sunday)
Transportation: There are buses in Pingliang city bus station driving to the foot of Kongtong Moutain (about CNY15)
Admission Fee: CNY120 tourist season (April 1 to October 31)
                        CNY60 off season (November 1 to March 31)
Best Time to Visit: Summer and Autumn (The weather is appropriate)

Waterwheel Garden in Lanzhou
GansuThe Waterwheel Garden (shuǐ chē yuán 水车园) built in 1994, is located in the Binhe Middle Road (bīn hé zhōng lù 滨河中路) in Lanzhou (lán zhōu 兰州) , Gansu Province (gān sù shěng
甘肃省) . The garden covers an area of 1.45 hectares (3.58 acres) and is comprised of two waterwheels, a cofferdam, the recreation area and a house of water mill. It is certainly an exciting experience for the visitors to tour around the Waterwheel Garden, a restoration of the ancient irrigation system. It occupies an area of 14,500 square meters, consisting of a huge double-wheeled waterwheel, a cofferdam, a water mill and amenities.

Location: No. 524, Binhe East Road in Lanzhou, Gansu Province.
Tel: 0931-8587111
Transportation: Taking No.140, No.26 and No.15 buses can get there
Opening Hours: 8:00am-18:00pm (8:00am-20:00pm in summer)
Admission Fee: CNY10 (peak tourist season)
                        CNY5 (tourist off-season)
Attractions Nearby: Zhongshan Bridge, White Pagoda Park

Five Springs Mountain Park
GansuFive Springs Park lies in the northwest part of Gaolan Mountain (gāo lán shān 皋兰山), which stands in the south part of the downtown area in Lanzhou City (lán zhōu shì 兰州市), Gansu Province. The park, the largest in Lanzhou, occupies 266,400 square meters (2,867,599.56 square feet) on Five Springs Mountain (wǔ quán shān 五泉山). The park is well-known for its tranquil and beautiful scenery with lush forest, gurgling springs, a lot of ancient temples. Wuquan means five springs in English and it got the name from the five springs in the here namely, Ganlu, Juyue, Mozi, Hui, Meng. This area has became a resort for the rich over 2,000 years ago.

Location: in the northwest part of Gaolan Mountain
Tel: 0931-8243247
Transportation: Take Bus No. 8, 18, 76, 106, 101, 102, 31, 33, 34 in Lanzhou city and get off at station Five Springs Mountain (wǔ quán shān 五泉山)
Opening Hours: 06:00 to 18:00
Admission Fee: CNY5

Local Characteristics

Grotto (shí kū 石窟)
Gansu has a long history and an abundant culture, The tourism insustry of Gansu Province somewhat benefits from the grottoes for its great scale, skillful technology, rich content and long history. Thus Gansu provincehas the reputation of "the hometown of grottoes". 

GansuGansu’s grottoes had their originations in India’s grotto temples, and this model was spread into China sometime during the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties. It blended in rapidly with Chinese traditional elements and left behind a huge number of grottoes. The development of grottoes reached its peak during the periods of Wei (魏), Jin (金)and Tang dynasties (唐朝). The earliest grottoes were predominantly spread along the route that connects China and India-The Silk Road.

Not only that these grottoes recorded the history of Buddhism in China, but the frescoes in the grottos are also a reflection of ancient China’s development in art and culture. Gansu’s most popular grottoes are Mogao Grotto in Dunhuang of Gansu, Tianshui maijishan Grotto and Yongjing Bingling Temple Grotto (永靖县黄河炳灵寺石窟). Out of all these grottos, Maogao Grotto is the largest in size. The process of development is also the longest and is broadest in content, and the most well preserved.

luminous jade cup (yè guāng bēi  夜光杯)
GansuLegend has it that the spring water under the ancient Jiuquan City is endowed with intense fragrance of alcohol. One day, such fragrance was smelled by two gods (God of South Star and God of North Star) who were on an inspection tour. God of North Star squatted beside the spring, acclaiming, “What an alcohol spring!” God of South Star picked up a stone and turned it into two cups. When darkness fell down, there was no moonlight, but the cups were sparkling. It is from then on that this place is named “Jiuquan” (means “Alcohol Spring”) while the cups left by two gods are known as “Luminous Cups”.

Produced in Jiuquan, made of jade picked in Qiliang Mountains, They are unique and well-known both at home and around. The history of production of jade cups dates from ancient times. Wanghan (wáng hàn 王翰), a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty, once wrote in his poem that grapes and wine were tasty, cups were luminous; when I was about to drink, the instrument of Pipa was played to hurry me up on horse; no laughing at me when I was drunk, because nobody knew who could come back from war.

Jiuquan is a bright pearl laid on the Silk Road. The luminous jade cups, being one of the most characteristic local products, have great potentialities in market. Along-side tourism development in an all-round way, the luminous jade cups produced in Jiuquan would be treasured by more and more people. 

Other Local Products

The production of flax ranks the first in China. Fruits and melons are grow mainly in Lanzhou, Tianshui, Zhangye and other places, of which Bailan melon (bái lán guā 白兰瓜) and Zui (Drunk) melon (zuì guā 醉瓜) are well-known throughout the country. Also famous are its Hequ horse (hé qǔ mǎ 河曲马) and Oula goat bred in southern Gansu. Some rare animal like giant panda, golden-haired monkey are found in the province. The province’s southern mountainous areas, known as the “time-honoured home of herbal medicine”, abound in medicinal herbs, and Rhubarb (good for headache and dizziness.) produced in Mindang and Quanshui enjoys fame both at home and abroad. Among its traditional handicrafts, the best known are luminous cups made in Jiuquan, Tea inkslab in Lanzhou and carved lacquer in Tianshui, etc.

Speciality Foods

GansuTianshui Liangfen (tiān shuǐ liáng fěn 天水凉粉)
Tianshui Liangfen boasts its diverse varieties and flavors as well as excellent making ways.Its main materials include haricot,flour and pea.The snack is very popular with people in summer,and is also helpful to appetite.Gansu

Zhangye Bacon Mutton (zhāng yè là yáng ròu 张掖腊羊肉)
Zhangye Bacon Mutton, enjoying a long history of hundreds years, takes high quality mutton as its material and is mixed with ginger, Snowcake Salt in Gaotai and other seasonings. It tastes sweet and delicious, and is the main food used to entertain guests by Zhangye people.

Niang pi zi (zhāng yè là yáng ròu 酿皮子)
GansuNiang pi zi cannot be missed among the local delicacies. Flour paste is steamed for 3 - 4 minutes, then cut into strips and served with mustard, garlic, sesame butter, chili oil, vinegar, and soy sauce. This is a favorite among the locals and many of the tourists.

Lanzhou Beef hand-pulled Noodle
(zhāng yè là yáng ròu 兰州牛肉拉面)
GansuAs for Chinese noodles, Lanzhou Beef hand-pulled Noodle is the most famous and welcomed one as well as the unique local snack of Lanzhou. The special hand-pulled noodles originated from the reign of Emperor Guangxu (guāng xù huáng dì 光绪皇帝) of Qing Dynasty. It was firstly created by Mabaozi, a senior of Hui Minority Nationality. Today, well-renowned for its taste and low cost, there are plenty of Beef Noodle Restaurants all around China.


By Air: The most convenient way to access Gansu Province is by plane, travelers may land in three cities here, Dunhuang, Jiayuguan, and Lanzhou. There are daily flights to Lanzhou from most major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Xi'an.

By train: Gansu is an important railway section connecting east China and west China. So the railway is very advanced in most parts of Gansu. Travelers can directly arrive at Tianshui, Dunhuang and Hexi Corridor without changing trains at Lanzhou. Read more detail transportation information in Jiayuguang, Zhangye, Tianshui and Jiuquan. Check the train schedule in cites of Gansu.the east, will also pass through Tianshui on their way towards Lanzhou.

By bus: Because there is no railway in Gannan, so it is more convenient to get to Gansu from Qinghai Province and Sichuan Province by highway. The 215 national road connecting Golmud in Qinghai and Dunhuang is good in road condition and beautiful in the scenery along, so it is an good choice to get to Dunhuang from Urumqi (passing Turpan and Kumul) by highway. Most coach bused to Gansu will firstly arrive at Lanzhou, so travelers need to changes buses depending on their destinations. Read more detail transportation information in Jiayuguang, Zhangye, Tianshui and Jiuquan.


Travel Tips

1. Most of the murals, sculptures and museum within the historic sites are banned from taking pictures, which is in order to protect the cultural relics and property rights, please obey the rules. The service department in these Attractions will generally sell exquisite album or introductions.
2. Gansu is dusty and windy, it is advised to take a waterproof bag or plastic bags which can prevent dust from damage the camera. If you go to Gansu in winter, a backup battery is needed as the cold air will shorten battery life.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 09:03

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