Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

While it’s not an actual road made of silk, this ancient trading route is probably just as valuable as if it was. Stretching from China to the Mediterranean Sea, this route connects east to west and is comprised of a collection of cultures. Silk was a hot commodity during this route’s heyday and was traded so often that the path was named after it.

Marco Polo was one of the most famous people to have traveled the Silk Road, and for years, travelers have been doing the same. In fact, backpacking along this route has become a rite of passage for many intrepid travelers, making it just as popular as backpacking through Europe or taking a road trip on Route 66.

While there are various versions of the Silk Road route, there are some well-known and loved attractions that all travelers here should experience. If you’re ready to explore this well-worn trading route, here are some of its best attractions.

Xi’an

Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

Photo Source: Thousandwonders

Xi’an is the home to the Terracotta Warriors, one of China’s most famous attractions. Start by visiting the excavation site of this army, but stay in the city a little bit longer to experience all of its attractions such as:

  • The Muslim Quarter: Wander the streets which are filled with snack vendors and noodle shops.
  • The Bell Tower: This is considered a symbol of the city for its architecture and historical significance.
  • The City Wall: Not only is it ancient, but you can rent a bike and ride along with a great view of the city.

Dunhuang

Located in the Gansu province of China, this area is considered a main gateway to significant stretches of Silk Road. Some of the main attractions to check out here include:

  • Mingsha Dunes: It is frequently referred to as an oasis and is largely visited for the unique sighing noises that can be heard from the sand. It’s a popular place for quad biking, camel rides, and sand sledding.
  • Mogao Grottoes: These Buddhist grottoes are considered the best of the best compared to all others in China. This is where you can see the third largest Buddha in the world as well as thousands of Buddhist paintings and statues.

Luoyang

Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

Photo Source: Tourbeijing

Although it’s a small city in comparison to those in China, Luoyang is one of the former capitals of the country. While visiting, make sure to check out:

  • Guanlin Temple: This temple is dedicated to the general Guanyu of the Shu State from years 220-280.
  • White Horse Temple: A modest temple with a significant collection of Buddhist artifacts.
  • Cave Dwellings: Impressive architecture that is built into the cliffs.

Urumqi

This is the capital of the autonomous region of Xinjiang Uygur. It’s a popular Silk Road visit largely for its natural beauty. While visiting, make sure to see:

  • South Pasture: A lush green display of nature that is dotted with traditional yurts.
  • Heavenly Lake: The lake is surrounded by snow-topped mountains that reflect beautifully in the water. Expect to see wildflowers, yaks, sheep, and horses.

Flaming Mountains

Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

Photo Source: Cnto

About 6 miles east of Turpan City, visitors can check out this extremely popular Silk Road attraction. Aside from their beauty, the mountains are so famous because of their mention in the classic Chinese novel, Journey to The West. The mountain appears red, and the area gets so hot that visitors can feel the heat on the bottom of their shoes.

Gaochang Ancient City

Founded in the first century BC, this city translates to ‘the King city’ and was meant to be great. However, it was abandoned in the 15th century, leaving behind the remains of once important buildings and structures. Visitors can see walls of the inner and outer cities as well as other remains and stunning scenery. Gaochang is also a significant Silk Road stop because of its religious history. It’s said that one of the famous Buddhist monks from the Tang Dynasty stopped here to give lectures on his way to India.

Kashgar

Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

Photo Source: Pinterest

This city has one of the largest Muslim populations in China and was one of the first stops for people from Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. The antiquated streets, markets, and shops give this place a ton of charm, making it quite an intriguing Silk Road destination. Make sure to stop by the Id Kah Mosque, which is over 500 years old. If you can visit on a Friday afternoon, you may be able to witness nearly 7,000 people flocking there to pray.

Jiayuguan Great Wall

No trip to China is complete without seeing The Great Wall. So, while backpacking on the Silk Road, make sure to stop off at this part of the wall. It can be found about 3.7 miles southwest of Jiayuguan City, in a narrow valley. This section crosses to Gobi desert and is representative of the starting point to the west.

Labrang Monastery

Best of Silk Road: Top Attractions For Backpackers

Photo Source: BThe land of snow

This is a great pit stop to understand a bit more about Tibetan culture. The monastery can be found at the foot of Phoenix Mountain in Gansu province. It has quite the scenic location as it sits right next to the Daxia River and looks out over Dragon Mountain. It was founded in the early 1700s and is considered the most important Tibetan monastery outside of Tibet.

The destination has been the home to many monks and has hosted quite a few festivals over the years. Housing around 60,000 sutras, this massive monastery is a perfect mix of Han and Tibetan architectural style. There is also a Buddhist museum on site which sells music, art, calendars, and herbal medicine-all perfect for Silk Road souvenirs.

While the Silk Road stretches from China to Europe, many of the hotspots for backpackers are found in China. Through the train and bus systems, travelers can get around the country quite easily, stopping off at significant sites along the way. Make sure to bring a sturdy backpack and a Chinese phrase book, and you should be all good to go on your Silk Road adventure.

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Shannon Ullman

Hey! I'm a published American travel blogger and teacher. My travel writing has been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Matador Network and Thought Catalog. I spent over a year living and traveling around China while I taught English there. I have also visited dozens of other countries around the world.