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Gansu: Gateway to the Silk Road

Situated in the northwest of China, Gansu Province marks the end of China proper: its western frontier juts right into the borders of the vast steppes of Mongolia, the unforgiving deserts of Xinjiang and the high mountain wastelands of the Tibetan Plateau.  For over two thousand years, Gansu has occupied a strategic position on the Silk Road as a vital passage between China and the West. Traders and travellers entering or leaving China have always been channelled through the narrow strip of land that stretches 1,200 km in the central part of Gansu, passing a string of oasis towns and military bases. This passageway is known as the Hexi Corridor. Historically, the Hexi Corridor had always been a significant passageway of the ancient Silk Road. Whoever controlled the corridor could operate a stranglehold on the fabulous riches of the Silk Road trade. This enabled the growth of a strong communication network through Central Asia which linked Europe and Asia leading to a constant interchange of political, economic and cultural ideas.

But it was not just merchandise, technology and culture that passed along the Silk Road. From the early centuries AD, learned monks from the monastic centres of Central Asia propagated their religions to their Chinese counterparts by way of these trade routes. The many Buddhist caves chiselled out on precarious cliff faces along the Silk Road are among the earliest significant Buddhist monuments in the country.

On this study trip, we will have the opportunity to visit several world-renowned cave temples of ingenious architecture and admire China’s earliest Buddhist sculptures and frescoes dating as far back as the 5th century AD.  In addition, we will visit a major Tibetan monastery, home to the largest number of monks outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and the nearby Sangke Grassland of the Tibetan Nomads.

We will also enjoy Gansu’s diverse landscapes including parts of the foreboding Gobi Desert, the rainbow-coloured rock formations of Danxia Geological Park, the turbulent Yellow River, the majestic Qilian Mountains, the loess plateau that provides insulated cave dwellings, and the westernmost terminus on the Great Wall.

The Siam Society, under the leadership of Mrs Eileen Deeley, has organised a study trip to China from 21 May to 1 June 2024.

When

Tuesday, 21 May to Saturday, 1 June 2024

Leader

Mrs Eileen Deeley

Chairperson of the Music and Special Events Committee at The Siam Society

Booking

The tentative programme will be as follows:

Day 1: Tuesday, 21 May 2024:  Bangkok – Guangzhou – Lanzhou
06.00 Meet at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, and check in at the China Southern Airlines counter.
08.20 Depart Bangkok for Guangzhou by China Southern Airlines flight CZ362
12.10 Arrive at Guangzhou Airport and transfer for flight to Lanzhou.
14.20 Depart Guangzhou to Lanzhou by China Southern flight CZ3385
17.20 Arrive at Lanzhou Airport, Lanzhou is the capital city of Gansu province
Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Mercure Hotel, Lanzhou

Day 2: Wednesday, 22 May 2024: Lanzhou – Tianshui – Lanzhou
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and transfer to the train station.
09.00 Depart Lanzhou for Tianshui by High-Speed train D2685. Tianshui is the second largest city in Gansu province. It was once the first stop on the Silk Road for entering Gansu Province, midway between Lanzhou and Xi’an.
10.28 Arrive at Tianshui train station, and transfer to a local restaurant for lunch.
Afternoon:

 

17.33

18.55

Evening:

Visit Maijishan Grottoes. The existing caves were excavated from the 4th century Eastern Jin Dynasty to the 19th Qing Dynasty. Among all Buddhist Cave temples in China, Maijishan Grottoes boast the most attractive natural view.

Return to Lanzhou by High-Speed train G865

Arrive at Lanzhou Train Station, and transfer to a local restaurant for dinner.

Overnight at Mercure Hotel, Lanzhou

Day 3: Thursday, 23 May 2024: Lanzhou – Linxia
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to visit Gansu Provincial Museum. About 350,000 pieces of ancient and cultural relics are on display, including the beautiful bronze Flying Horse, the 2nd-century bronze statue unearthed in 1969.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Proceed to Linxia (Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture)
Visit Nanguan Mosque, one of the famous Islamic shrines in China’s northwest region first built in the 14th dynasty, Yuan Dynasty.
Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Hezhou Hongrui International Hotel, Linxia

Day 4: Friday, 24 May 2024:  Linxia – Xiahe
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to Xiahe County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

 

Noon:

 

Afternoon:

Visit Bajiao Cheng, an earthen-walled village that was originally built in the Han Dynasty (around 2000 years ago). Bajiao Cheng is still inhabited today.

Lunch at a local restaurant

Visit Sangke Grassland, a vast and breathtaking natural wonder. It covers an area of about 70 square kilometres and is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and a sea of golden grass. The grassland is home to a large number of Tibetan nomads who have lived there for generations, and their traditional way of life can still be seen today.

Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Rdzong Lhundup Hotel, Xiahe

Day 5: Saturday, 25 May 2024: Xiahe – Lanzhou
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning:

 

Check out of the hotel and proceed to visit Labrang Lamasery. This is a living lamasery well known for its grand architecture, its fine collection of books and documents and a history of more than 300 years. The 1,500 monks run six academies for religious and other teachings and learning, such as esotericism and medicine and so on. It is the largest Tibetan monastic academy in China as well as the world and is one of the six major Tibetan monasteries of the Gelugpa order (Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism). The monastery was founded in 1709 by Ngagong Tsunde, the first-generation Jamyang (the Living Buddha).
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Continue to Lanzhou
Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Mercure Hotel, Lanzhou

Day 6: Sunday, 26 May 2024: Lanzhou – Wuwei
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to Wuwei, which lies in the east part of the Hexi Corridor and used to be a vital stretch of trade routes along the ancient Silk Road route through which travellers from eastern China could travel to Xinjiang, and onwards to Central Asia.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon:

 

 

 

 

Visit Tiantishan Grottoes. Excavated on the eastern cliffs of the Huangyang River in the Qilian Mountains from the time of the Northern Liang dynasty (397–439 CE). The carvings and decorations of the grottoes continued throughout the Northern Wei, Tang, and Ming dynasties. The site is a honeycomb of 17 caves in three layers. The biggest cavern is 30 metres high, 19 meters wide and 16 metres deep. It houses a Sakyamuni statue that is 15 metres high and 10 metres wide, with smaller peripheral caves and murals. Because of the construction of the Huangyang River reservoir in 1960, the local government approved moving the wall paintings and polychrome statues of the grottoes to the Gansu Provincial Museum for preservation and built a 10-metre-high dam to protect the caves from water damage. Visitors can view the big Sakyamuni statue from the top of the dam and walk down the ladder to the statue’s feet.
Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Wuwei Hampton by Hilton, Wuwei

Day 7: Monday, 27 May 2024: Wuwei – Zhangye
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to visit Leitai Han Tomb, a large brick-and-stone structure built during the late Eastern Han Dynasty. A total of two hundred and twenty-one pieces of relics were unearthed from the tomb including gold, silver, copper, iron, jade, bone, stone and pottery. Among them, ninety-nine bronze figurines of honour guards are exquisitely made, as well as the bronze horse-pulled chariot. The famous Flying Horse now at Lanzhou Museum was found in this tomb.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Proceed to Zhangye and visit Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, known for the unusual colours of the rocks, which are smooth, sharp, and several hundred metres tall. They are the result of deposits of sandstone and other minerals that occurred over 24 million years. Wind, rain, and time then sculpted extraordinary shapes, with varying colours, patterns, and sizes.
Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Jinyang International Hotel, Zhangye

Day 8: Tuesday, 28 May 2024: Zhangye – Jiayunguan
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to visit The Giant Buddha Temple (Dafo Temple), which houses China’s largest reclining Buddha. Legend has it that an emperor’s advisor named Wei Mie of the Western Xia period (Xixia) found a huge reclining Buddha here covered with glazed tiles of emerald colour. To show his respect for Buddhism, the Giant Buddha Temple was built in 1098 AD to house this statue.  The temple was restored many times in later periods.
Then proceed to Jiayuguan, a moderate city in Gansu Province that lies in the Gobi Desert between Lanzhou and Dunhuang. The city was originally established in 1372 during the Ming Dynasty when a fortress was built to protect the last frontier of the Chinese empire. Later it gradually became a small township engaged in local trading, catering to the needs of the military garrisons stationed at the fort. The city used to be an important pass of the famous Silk Road, being the first pass at the western end of the Great Wall in the Ming Dynasty.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon: Visit Jiayuguan Town, the First Beacon Tower of the Great Wall, the Xuanbi Great Wall (Overhanging Great Wall), and the Great Wall Museum.
Evening:

 

Dinner at a local restaurant

Overnight at Noujin Hotel, Jiayuguan

Day 9: Wednesday, 29 May 2024:  Jiayuguan – Dunhuang
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Check out of the hotel and proceed to Dunhuang.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon:

 

 

Visit Yulin Grottoes. The forty-two caves house some 250 polychrome statues and 4,200 sqm of wall paintings, dating from the 7th – 14th centuries.

Continue to Dunhuang, the historical city Dunhuang is famous for the Mogao Caves. Since the opening of the Silk Road in the Han Dynasty, Dunhuang gradually developed into an important town controlling economic exchanges, as it commanded a strategic position at the crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Route and the main road leading from India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, as well as controlling the entrance to the Hexi Corridor.

Evening: Dinner and overnight at Silk Road Hotel, Dunhuang
Day 10: Thursday, 30 May 2024: Dunhuang
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning: Visit Mogao Grottoes, consisting of 750 caves that stretch 1,600 metres long from north to south; the first cave was chiselled in 366 AD. Acknowledged as the pearl on the ancient Silk Road, Mogao is now a World Culture Heritage Site. The statues and murals in the grottoes explain some fundamental facts about local culture, arts, Buddhism, economy, and trading along the Silk Road in ancient times. Visit the Mogao Grottoes Digital Exhibition Centre first for about 40 minutes then the caves.
Noon: Lunch at a local restaurant
Afternoon:

 

Visit the Echoing-Sand Dunes (Mingsha Shan). When you slide down the slopes, you can hear the roaring echo of sand, hence the name. Nearby is the Crescent Lake, the crescent-shaped spring surrounded by the endless Gobi Desert.
Evening: Dinner and overnight at Silk Road Hotel, Dunhuang
Day 11: Friday, 31 May 2024: Dunhuang – Xi’an 
Breakfast at the hotel
Morning:

 

Noon:

Afternoon:

Check out of the hotel and proceed to visit Yumen Pass, the crucial fort along the ancient Silk Road for the import of jade from Xinjiang. The fort was first built in the Han dynasty and again in the Tang. The current Yumen Pass is the remains of the one built in the Tang dynasty.

Lunch at a local restaurant

Transfer to Dunhuang airport

16:25 Depart Dunhuang for Xi’an by China Eastern Airlines flight MUS2216
18:40 Arrive at Xi’an Xianyang International Airport. Take the luggage and proceed to the International Terminal and check in at the Air Asia counter.
22.50 Depart Xi’an to Bangkok by Air Asia flight FD588 to Bangkok Don Mueang Airport
Day 12: Saturday, 1 June 2024: Bangkok
01.45 Arrive at Bangkok Don Mueang Airport

The Siam Society reserves the right to change the programme as necessary.

Booking:

Contribution of THB 89,000 (THB 93,000 for non-member). Single room surcharge of THB 16,000. A deposit of THB 40,000 and a photocopy of the identification page on your passport must accompany the booking. Your reservation will be confirmed as soon as the deposit has been made. In addition, basic accident insurance is included. There is a 3% surcharge for credit/debit card payments to cover bank charges. Payment in full will be required 30 days before the start of the trip (i.e. by Saturday, 20 April 2024). Please pay by cash or cheque payable to “The Siam Society”. Transfer can also be made to The Siam Society travel account at TMBThanachart Bank (ttb), saving account no. 053-2-18000-7 or by scanning the QR code below. Once payment has been made, please e-mail the deposit or transfer the docket to us.

Inclusions:

  • Domestic air ticket is included in the price (Dunhuang – Xi’an)
  • High-speed train as mentioned in the programme
  • Accommodation (twin sharing basis), meals as mentioned in the programme, transfer and sightseeing coaches, entrance fees, gratuities, and other costs incurred to make this trip possible.

Exclusions:

  • International air tickets are not included in the price (Bangkok – Guangzhou – Lanzhou and Xi’an – Bangkok),but for those who would like us to book their tickets, it can be arranged at the time of booking.
  • Visa fees (if any), personal expenses, personal food and beverage consumptions, etc.

Tourist Visa Policy

Thai passport holders and foreign nationals will require a visa to enter China. Please be informed that your passport must be handed to The Society to apply for the visa. The required documents from the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre will be informed to you at the time of booking. Kindly note that the visa fees would cost around THB 1,800 to THB 7,000, depending on your nationality.

Your passport must be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in China.

*Thai passport holders will be notified of the update on the Tourist Visa Policy after we receive an official announcement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

To comply with payment and cancellation policies set forth by the tour agencies and to facilitate smooth working conditions between The Siam Society and the tour agencies, please carefully read the cancellation policies stated below:

Cancellation charges:

40 days before the start of the trip: Deposit forfeited
39-30 days before the start of the trip: 50% of the tour cost
Less than 30 days or cancellation without notice: No refund

*The cancellation charges will also depend on the date we pay the deposit to our travel agent. If we have to pay the deposit to the travel agent before the 40-day period prior to the start of the trip, our officer will send an email to inform every participant before we make the payment as only a partial amount of the deposit can be refunded after that point.

Covid-19 policy

Due to a lower number of worldwide infections, many countries have relaxed their travel restrictions and quarantine requirements regarding Covid-19.

Nevertheless, when travelling as a group, The Siam Society would like to remind you of the following measures that we have put in place:

– In the event that trip participants are tested positive during the trip, the group will continue to follow the planned itinerary. To ensure the health and safety of all trip participants, those who tested positive shall adhere to appropriate self-isolation measures as directed by the trip leader.

– Those tested positive with severe symptoms shall be treated in accordance with the health measures stipulated by the local government. Medical costs in excess of the insurance coverage shall be at the expense of the trip participant(s).

– The Siam Society will provide health insurance for all trip participants. Medical costs in excess of the insurance coverage shall be at the expense of the trip participant.

– Our staff and local tour operators will constantly provide you with the latest updates on local health and safety regulations.

For further information and bookings, please contact Khun Thun at 02-661-6470-3 ext 205, or studytrips@thesiamsociety.org. The Society’s office is open from 09:00 to 17:00, Tuesday to Saturday.

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