Zhangye lies in northwest Gansu, 547 km from Lanzhou. Historically known as Ganzhou, it stood guard along the perilous Hexi Corridor, gateway to the Silk Road. To the west sits Jiayuguan and Dunhuang; to the east, Wuwei. The saying goes: “Gold Zhangye, Silver Wuwei,” hinting at the strategic value of this oasis town. 

Today, Zhangye draws visitors with its stunning rainbow-colored rock formations, or danxia landforms. Reds, yellows, greens and grays swirl in surreal natural art. Director Zhang Yimou chose this dramatic backdrop for his film “The Curse of the Golden Flower.” Morning mists after rain showcase danxia at its most alluring. 

Equally mesmerizing is the Mati Temple, nestled below Qilian Mountains on velvety meadows. Local Yugur people, excellent singers and dancers, inhabit this grassland. As the old adage states: “No need to gaze at distant snow-capped peaks, mistaking Zhangye for a southern land.” Indeed, Zhangye reveals the softer allure beneath the rugged northwest.

With rainbow rocks, vibrant culture and snow-capped ranges, Zhangye prospers at the colorful crossroads of Silk Road history.

Strolling in the colorful Danxia at dusk

As the sun dips low over the layered rock of Zhangye Danxia, the landscape explodes into kaleidoscopic color. Tones of fiery red, golden yellow, and muted grey ripple across the hills in intricate patterns. The alternating stripes and swirls evoke an abstract painting or textile weaving rather than natural terrain. The interplay of light and color transforms constantly, saturating the ridges and valleys with ever-shifting hues. Watching the undulating rainbow unfold across Zhangye Danxia is a meditative experience. These striated hills seem sculpted by supernatural forces into a celebration of color and form. The landscape glows as if lit from within by a romantic fire.Let the painterly beauty of Zhangye Danxia immerse you in nature's artistry. Wander through this dreamscape at twilight, when the setting sun illuminates the colors like a spotlight across a stage.

Climbing at Horseshoe Temple in the Golden Autumn Season

In the golden light of autumn, Matisi Temple comes alive with color. Crisp blue skies crown the mountain, which glows silver-white at its peak. Lush green pine forests blanket the slopes, while yellow grasses sway across meadows dotted with maples in fiery shades of red. This palette of fall hues outshines the more monochrome landscapes of winter, spring, and summer. Reds blaze like bonfires amidst evergreens darkened by the low autumn sun. Trailside thickets and stands of aspen exhibit every variation of yellow and orange. With the forested valley ablaze in color, few seasons can match autumn's brilliance. As you hike the trails around Matisi Temple, immerse yourself in the vibrant shades of fall and watch for fleeting glimpses of blue skies between branches. Let the color-saturated landscape invigorate your spirit during autumn's spectacular display in Zhangye.

Tasting Zhangye Special Snack - Rubbing Fish

For an authentic taste of Zhangye, try caoyu, a signature noodle dish. These fresh handmade noodles are rolled into slender strips that resemble tiny fish. Traditionally served in a savory broth or stir-fried with garlic sprouts and meat, caoyu delivers hearty Northwestern Chinese flavors. Among the best is Wuji Caoyu found at Gansu Market. Their fish-shaped noodles swim in a complex bonito-infused broth bursting with umami. Or opt for a sizzling wok of noodles tossed with spicy ground pork and crisp veggies for a satisfying combo. Caoyu's springy texture and versatile seasoning make for a warming, satisfying meal. As you slurp the chewy noodles, dip into the accompanying chili oil and relish Zhangye's scrumptious specialty. For an authentic local food experience, caoyu captures the city's rustic culinary traditions in one bowl.

Best Travel Time

June September: Zhangye has a cool climate in summer, making it a great place to relax and avoid the heat. Watching the sunrise and sunset in the Danxia Scenic Area in the morning and evening is not very cold. If you catch the rain, you can enjoy the very beautiful Danxia scenery. Zhangye is located in the central part of the Hexi Corridor, with strong winter winds and cold and dry weather. It is not recommended for tourism and sightseeing.

Self driving

Driving to Zhangye Danxia Landforms

Zhangye is intersected by G227 highway running north-south and G312 running east-west.

From Jiayuguan:

Take G30 Expressway east to Zhangye/Sunan Exit. Turn onto S213 highway.

1) Continue to Binggou Danxia. Pass Gangjun Town, Lao Lei Family, Zhangye Danxia Visitor Center. After the center, drive 1km past Yumuzhuang Town to reach Binggou Danxia. The scenic area has unpaved and dirt roads, drive cautiously.

2) At Gangjun Town, look for a large green jade stone marker that reads "Zhangye Danxia This Way" - turn in here and drive about 12km to the Sunan Danxia entrance.

From Qilian:

Take S304 east to G227 north to Zhangye. Turn west onto S213 to the danxia scenic area, following directions above.

The stunning rainbow-colored rock formations of Zhangye Danxia are easily accessible by private car. Take the expressway or national highways to Zhangye, then follow provincial roads S213 and markers to the main entrances. Drive carefully inside on bumpy unpaved roads. With a car, visitors can fully experience these unique Martian landscapes.

Medical treatment

Here are some key emergency numbers for Jiayuguan for an English travel website:Emergency Numbers in JiayuguanFire: 119Police: 110 Medical Emergency: 120Knowing these basic emergency numbers can help travelers handle any urgent situations in Jiayuguan. It's advisable to save these numbers in your cell phone in case of an emergency. Carry a card with the numbers written in Chinese as well. For medical issues, you can also contact the hospitals directly:- Jiayuguan First People's Hospital: 0937-6202233- Jiayuguan Second People's Hospital: 0937-6311120 Hotels and tour agencies can also assist travelers who need emergency help.Stay safe and let us know if you need any other important information for traveling in Jiayuguan!

Safety considerations

When visiting Zhangye, avoid accommodation near the train station, bus station and other chaotic areas. Keep valuables on your person and lock your room at night. Taxi drivers are mostly genuine and offer insider tips, but exercise general caution.

In public places:

- Keep bags in front of you and zipped at all times.

- Don't carry large amounts of cash or flashy gadgets.

- Only take registered taxis and note the number.

-Research your destination neighborhood and avoid poorly lit areas at night.

- Keep hotel details on a card to show taxis.

While petty theft occurs, violent crime is rare in Zhangye. With street smarts and situational awareness, Zhangye offers a warm window into Gansu province's silk road history and colorful Danxia landforms. Enjoy the sites, but remain alert in public.