Lanzhou (兰州), Gansu Province
Lanzhou gets a bad rap as one of the most polluted cities in China. Truthfully, I didn’t notice that the air quality here was any worse than other big cities in China, though the Yellow River’s chocolatey hue was not especially inviting. There’s not much in the way of tourist attractions, but if you need to spend a day or two here en route, you’ll be able to fill your time without too much trouble.
Places to see
For a city of its size, Lanzhou doesn’t have too many places of note for tourists. The Gansu Provincial Museum has a good reputation, but it is closed on Monday — and naturally, that’s when we were there. If you’re going to be in Lanzhou for more than a day, check out the Redefining Lanzhou guide. It highlights a ton of sites missing from Lonely Planet, and has restaurant and hotel suggestions to boot.
White Cloud Temple
Once we realized that the Provincial Museum was closed, we headed for this Taoist temple near Zhongshan Bridge and the main mosque (which is not open to visitors). The small temple is somewhat interesting, though we all wished we knew more about Taoism.
Once you’ve seen the temple, head across the street to the Yellow River. More chocolatey-brown than yellow, on summer days the river is full of cruising speedboats and the banks are lined with Lanzhou-ites out for a stroll. Drinks vendors set up shop with tables and sun umbrellas, creating a pleasant atmosphere to stop and talk or read a book.
The temple is located on Binhe Zhonglu, west of Zhongshan Bridge. There is no admission fee.
Lanzhou is close enough to the Buddhist caves at Bingling Si that they can be seen in day trip. For more information, see my guide to Bingling Si.
Much like that of Changsha, the food in Lanzhou can redeem the city in visitors’ eyes. There’s not too much to do in between meals, but the meals themselves are fantastic. Two local specialties are niurou mian, a bowl of spicy beef soup noodles, and roujiabing, a sandwich filled with spicy minced meat.
The bustling night market near the train station is a great place to sample the aforementioned local specialties. In addition to beef noodles and roujiabing, we saw spicy stewed snails and goat’s-head soup, which we were a little leery of sampling. On the lighter side, there are fruit stalls and bakeries selling naan and other breads.
The market is on Hezheng Lu, running from Tianshui Lu to Pingliang Lu. It is about a block north of the train station. 10 RMB is more than enough for a very filling dinner.
Lanzhou’s local bus system is quite easy to figure out, with fares between 1 and 2 RMB.
The city has several large bus stations, so be careful to specify which one you need. Buses to Bingling Si (via Liujiaxia) depart from the west bus station on Xijin Xilu. Buses to Xiahe, Langmusi and Hezuo depart from the south bus station on Langongping Lu. (South is somewhat of a misnomer here — it is in the western part of town, south of the west bus station.) Buses to Xining leave frequently from a number of different stations.
Lanzhou is a little short on good budget options. There is no youth hostel, and the hotels available for hostel prices are pretty dingy, especially if you are looking for a room for one person. Both hotels below are on the block north of the train station, which has accommodation at basically every price point.
This can’t truthfully be called a budget option, but it would be my pick on a return trip to Lanzhou. It has clearly undergone a fairly recent renovation. Our triple room was clean and some attention had even been given to the furnishings and decoration.
A triple room with en suite bathroom cost 160 RMB per night. The hotel is located across the street from the train station.
Qian Bai Hui Fandian
This was, without a doubt, one of my oddest hotel experiences, ever. Strange thing #1: You’re asked to remove your shoes as soon as you step into the lobby (they provide slippers). #2: Your room door will lock, but you won’t have a key. Every time you come and go, you have to get an attendant to open it for you. #3: A shower costs as much as the room itself. I can’t honestly say I want to go back, but if you’re not too picky — and if you’re not alone — it’s a fine option.
A room for a night costs a mere 38 RMB, but a shower will set you back another 38. The hotel is located on the east side of Tianshui Nanlu, just north of the train station. It is linked to the Zijinghua Hotel.