The Lanzhou-Urumqi Highway
The Lanzhou to Urumqi Highway (#312) has made a major improvement on travel times and comfort for getting around Gansu.
The road is complete from Lanzhou right the way through to within a short distance of Jiuquan, and from Zhangye to Jiayuguan is now just 4.5 hours. Note that this route is only two lanes, most of the way, but is a proper toll highway, so no old iron-buffalos, goats, ambling motorbikes to slow you down. However, you do miss the stops at the villages and the roadside noodle-stalls after a few hours. Sit on the right (heading east and south) for great views of the elusive Qilianshan, especially in winter and spring when there is snow on the ground.
On the stretch through Gulang County and then through Lanzhou Municipality, keep an eye out for tiny fragments of one of the oldest stretches of Great Wall, which has almost completely disappeared. Along much of the route, even the path of the wall through the fields is completely lost.
Zhangye Railway Station
The railways station is 20 minutes by car north of the city centre, and allow extra time in the rush hour. Many of the long-distance trains arrive late at night or in the early hours. There are always taxis waiting outside, so there is no problem getting into the city centre.
It always proves difficult getting away from Zhangye by train, as they have a very limited allocation of tickets. The best bet is to get a hard sleeper ticket and then upgrade (if you wish) on the train. Go straight to the soft class (Ruanwo or RW on the side of the carriage) and ask politely to upgrade. Normally not a problem. This always seems easy heading east from here than west.
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