Work on the runway extension at Jiayuguan has been completed and the airport is now open again. The services are not yet showing up on online databases but there are known to be direct non-stop services to Lanzhou, Urumqi and Dunhuang. As the whole point of the runway extension was to allow for non-stop flights to Beijing and Shanghai, it is presumed that some flights to Lanzhou and Xi'an (e.g. Shanghai Airlines) will now operate non-stop to the east coast.
If you are planning to travel to Anxi read the following information carefully!
The 312 road is being converted to a National Highway over its whole length, west of Jiayuguan. The road west is in an absolutely terrible state and it will stay this year for the next 12 months.
The quickest and easiest way to Dunhuang is by train to Liuyuan (also called Dunhuang in the timetables). Although the railway line is open to the town of Dunhuang, it is only for freight trains for the moment.
To get to Anxi it is far easier to get to Dunhuang and drive back along the 313 for 2.5 hours (3hrs to the ancient city of Guazhou or the Yulin Grottos).
The road from Anxi to Jiayuguan currently takes around 4.5 to 5 hours and is a bone-jarring, exhausting ride. Basically there is no access to the 312 from the southern Anxi area at all, so drivers need to use a track that follows the main irrigation canal the whole way from Anxi to Yumen. This is a gravel road and crosses the storm channel overflow of the river every kilometre. If there has been heavy rain (or rain is due) do not attempt to use this road. You could get stranded for days in the desert and this is a very wild stretch of the Gobi.
At Yumenzhen, you join the 312 road. The average speed is now just 25kph for most of the way to Jiayuguan. However, if you turn off to Yumenshi, you can use a slightly longer road that takes you into Yumenshi and back towards Jiayuguan, so avoiding the mess for about 40km. Do not confuse Yumenshi with Yumenzhen!
The current plan is that when one carriageway of the new 312 highway is open, cars and coaches (only) will be allowed to use it. It is not known exactly when this will happen but it will definitely be open by summer 2007. This willreduce the journey time to Anxi to about 2 hours and it then becomes feasible (and very enjoyable) to drive from Jiayuguan to Dunhuang via Anxi in around 4 hours.
Note also that there is a station on the new rail line from Yumenzhen to Dunhuang at Anxi.
Although many trains pass through Jiayuguan from Urumqi on the way to other parts of China, note that it is getting almost impossible to acquire tickets in soft or hard sleeper class. The standard method of upgrading when onboard is a hit and miss affair these days.
The T658 train (from Yumen to Lanzhou) departing at 20.56 and arriving in Lanzhou at 06.50 the following morning, is by far the easiest for tickets because it is "owned" and "operated" by the local authorities.
Strongly recommend Mr Huang Zebing: doesn't smoke, drives well (safe driver!) and overall very accommodating. He's a local of Jiayuguan, although his ancestry hails from Shandong province. Rate was 1500 RMB starting from pick-up at Liuyuan train station, 2 days in Dunhuang, drive to Jiayuguan and 1 day in Jiayuguan plus drop-off at Jiayuguan train station. We couldn't find a better rate than this and seriously, a smoke-free driver and clean car is really a god-send when you're in the car most of the time. The only thing is that he doesn't speak English much (only the barest) so you'll either have to bring your own translator or resort to charades/drawing. Or pay for me to go along ;)
Jiayuguan Airport is very small and is about 7km north-east of the city. It's short runway is suitable only for the Dornier 328s fully loaded, or for smaller Airbuses and Boeing 737s partly loaded, so until August 2006, flights to the east coast need to stop in Lanzhou or Xi'an.
There is no snow clearing equipment at the airport, so even a small snowfall will cancel all flights. When there is heavy snow, the buses out of Jiayuguan also get cancelled and there is considerable extra burden on the trains! If snow is forecast, get your train tickets early as it can become impossible to get soft or hard class sleepers in either direction when this happens.
Oh..and contrary to what some guidebooks say, there are winter flights to and from Jiayuguan - from Xi'an and Lanzhou!
The sleeper bus brought us from Golmud to Dunhuang and again from Dunhuang to JiaYuGuan. This is the coldest moment in the whole trip of China with the bus windows frozen into pieces of ice in the early morning. On the way to Dunhuang, one lady on our bus call for a stop for pee by the roadside, it was at night, no road lights, no toilets on the desert with absolutely nothing but only rocks, sands and stars on the sky. I was there too peeing with everybody but it was dark so nothing to shy, that was the biggest toilet in the whole world. One thing stupid was the driver cheated us by telling the bus has heater system, not to worry but at night it's frozen.
Train N852 departing at 2040 is a good overnight train to take to Lanzhou. It arrives at 0651 at Lanzhou (West) and at 0704 at Lanzhou main train station.