Located on the banks of the Yellow River, Lanzhou was once a major stop on the ancient Silk Road when it was known as the Golden City. These days, gray or brown would be more accurate than gold and few people visit as tourists. It is a heavily industrial city and one of China‘s most polluted.
Best Time to Go
The winters get very cold In Lanzhou and the summers get very hot; however, even in the summer temperatures drop considerably at night and you’ll probably want to bring a coat. Spring brings sandstorms from the Gobi desert, making the already polluted air even less pleasant. The most comfortable times to visit are probably late summer and early autumn.
Getting to Lanzhou
Flights connect Lanzhou to all major cities in China. The airport is located 75 km outside the city. If you don’t want to pay for a taxi, the airport has a 30 RMB bus service that will drop you at Tianshui Road downtown. From there, take a taxi or city bus #1 to get to the area with the cheap hotels. The train and bus stations are all located downtown.
To save money, take the city buses (1 RMB per ride). You won’t find any English though, but you can get most places you need to go using bus #1. That said, taxis are relatively cheap here, too.
The area around the train station is your best bet for cheaper hotels. You’ll find all price ranges here, including some really cheap (and pretty disgusting) places, but those aren’t technically allowed to accept foreigners. They don’t seem to follow that rule as strictly in Lanzhou as in other cities though. If you know a bit of Chinese, you’ll probably get a room, although may not want one. I ended up paying a bit more and switching to a nicer hotel once it turned out I’d be stuck in town for a few days.
If you prefer to have a place lined up before arriving, the Green Tree Inn on Zhangye Road is a safe bet. This chain hotel is probably the best value you’ll find in the city and it’s located right downtown. They have another location near the railway station, too. If you need a place near the airport, try the Lanzhou Airport HNA Express Hotel. It’s a bit more expensive, though, with rooms starting at around $50.
Lanzhou is famous for its beef noodle soup with hand-made noodles. You’ll find noodle places all over town and will save a lot by frequenting them. You’ll find numerous other good and cheap options for dinner at the Zhengning Road Night Market along an alley running between Zhengning Road and Jiuquan Road. You won’t find much western food in Lanzhou apart from fast-food.
Pickpockets work the stations and petty theft can be a problem in crowded areas. That said, the biggest threat to your health is the air.
Things to Do
- White Pagoda Mountain (Baitashan): the White Pagoda Temple overlooks the Yellow River and offers some nice views
- Zhongshan Bridge: “First Bridge across the Yellow River” is now a pedestrian bridge and THE place to be in the evenings; great for people watching
- Waterwheel Garden: small park along the Yellow River with traditional waterwheels; 10RMB
- Gaolan Mountain: nice views over the city and in the summer a chance to enjoy a cool respite from the heat
- Bingling Temple Grottoes: take a boat to view the carvings from the river
Money Saving Tips
- eat your dinners at the Zhengning Road Night Market or enjoy the famous Lanzhou beef noodles; avoid western fast food
- ask around various Chinese hotels near the train station; you don’t need to go for the absolute cheapest (they’re pretty nasty), but don’t stay at the overpriced hotels aimed at international tourists either
- only take taxis when they really save a lot of trouble; walk short distances and make use of the convenient bus #1
Photo courtesy of Dayou_X.