How to visit Rainbow Mountains in China as a DIY trip

Wanting to see Rainbow Mountains was my main reason for visiting China for the fourth time. Even though I didn't see such bright colours as shown, for example, in a Forbes magazine article, the colours of Danxia Mountains I saw were impressive enough to justify my expectations of the trip. The Zhangye National Geopark is located in the Gansu province in northwest China. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 and is the destination for many Chinese and some international tourists. It is also one of the 'Top 10 Geographical Wonders of the World' selected by National Geographic. It has been voted one of the most beautiful landforms in China by Chinese media outlets. As a distance is quite long, about 1700 kilometres from Beijing, make sure to also visit other sightseeing places in the area: Zhangye Great Buddha Temple and Binggou Danxia Scenic area. Here is how to do it yourself, not knowing Chinese.

42danxia china 1320862

How to get to Danxia scenic areas?

There are at least two Danxia scenic areas worth visiting in Zhangye: Binggou and the Danxia in north western China’s Gansu Province. They are both included in recently formed Gansu Zhangye National Geopark .The best way to travel to Zhangye is to go to Lanzhou first and then travel to Zhangye from Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, by air or by train.
I took two and half hour flight from Beijing to Lanzhou (LHW) first. Lanzhou airport is large, new and modern. As I arrived quite late, I stayed at Sky City hotel next to the airport100sky city hotel china 1320366. Then the following morning I went to the attractive Lanzhou West railway station with a self-playing piano in the waiting hall.102lanzhou west  china 1320388103lanzhou west  china 1320392104lanzhou west  china 1320412

From there I had a three hour high speed train ride to Zhangye West train station followed by a taxi ride to the hotel.105speed train china 1320432101train lanzhouchina 1320379

Visiting Zhangye Great Buddha Temple

If you arrive in Zhangye in the afternoon, first thing arrange a tour for the next day and then ask for a city map and directions to Great Buddha Temple. Just check its opening hours first. Located in the southwest part of Zhangye, the Giant Buddha Temple is the largest architectural relic in Gansu Province from the 11th century.110great buddha zhangye china 1320517Giant reclining Buddha is well preserved in this temple. It is China's largest indoor reclining Buddha.111great buddha zhangye china 1320519112great buddha zhangye china 1320521Buddha is made of clay, has a length of 35.4 meters and shoulder breadth of 7.5 meters, with feet of 4 meters. Even the ears of the Buddha are two meters long.113great buddha zhangye china 1320525114great buddha zhangye china 1320539Legend has it that an emperor’s advisor named Wei Mie had once excavated a reclining Buddha covered with glazed tiles of emerald-colour here. To show respect to Buddhism, the Giant Buddha Temple was built in 1098 to house this Buddha. The temple was restored many times during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1912). The existing complex consists of the Giant Buddha Hall, the Buddhist Classics Hall, and a Clay Pagoda. The gold-plated and painted Giant Buddha lies in the Nirvana s in the hall. The Buddha's calm expression moves visitors.116great buddha zhangye china 1320571

Binggou Scenic Area

It’s easy to combine visiting both Binggou and Danxia Scenic areas in one day. I recommend visiting Binggou first, which is about one hour from Zhangye City.12danxia china 132066512danxia china 132070814danxia china 132067413danxia china 1320672Even though it’s visited by fewer travellers, the Binggou Danxia Landform Scenery Area has its own featured charms. If Rainbow Mountains scenery is a visual feast of colours, then the Binggou Scenic Area is a theatre of the Mother Nature who sculptured the mountains in amazingly different shapes, like grand palaces, long corridors, and giant pillars.15danxia china 132069016danxia china 132069123danxia china 132072324danxia china 132072825danxia china 132072926danxia china 132073127danxia china 132073329danxia china 1320755Travelers move around in small tour buses and they also have to do some hiking to visit sightseeing spots. When planning your visit, I recommend allowing a minimum of two hours.
I arranged a day tour by car for this day trip. There are also buses from Zhangye West train station to the attraction.

Visiting Zhangye Colourful Danxia scenic spot

The colourful Danxia scenic spot with Rainbow Mountains has spread over 50 square kilometres. It’s the most visited of all Gansu Zhangye National Geopark.30danxia china 132076431danxia china 1320760There are sightseeing buses available in the area, commuting between four viewing platforms.32danxia china 132085533danxia china 132085133danxia china 132090034danxia china 132077536danxia china 132081437danxia china 132081739danxia china 132084241danxia china 132085642danxia china 132086244danxia china 132086645danxia china 132087546danxia china 132087847danxia china 132088448danxia china 132088950danxia china 132091051danxia china 132092252danxia china 1320923The Zhangye Colourful Danxia scenic spot is known as “the eye candy of Zhangye”. Many artists admire this masterpiece of nature as it is unbelievably colourful, like an imaginative oil painting. Red is the main colour of the Colourful Hills in the area in China. Under the sunlight, the seemingly endless hills form a sea of fire. Some of the hills feature rock stripes in different colours, looking like bright ribbons fluttering in the desert. However, the scenes are totally different at the edge of this area. The colours there turn into yellow and grey, resembling crystal shells in the sun.

Practical information

The distance between the four viewing platforms is around eight kilometres (5 miles), and it takes at least 2 hours to finish the whole trip. Better allocate three to four hours to take in all the sights. Note that buses from one viewing platform to another just go in one direction, forward, and then go back to the entrance so it’s best to stop at each station and then go to the next. Note that there are two entrances to the area and remember the one you need for the exit. After a visit, you may go back to the city with your driver or take a public bus to Zhangye near the park entrance.

The best time to visit the Rainbow Mountains

The best months of the year to see the Rainbow Mountains are June, July, August, and September when the weather is comfortable. Moderate rainfall in the summer can cool the high temperatures; more importantly, deepen the colours of the mountain. Other months are usually very dry and windy. The winter is very cold, not a good time for visiting Zhangye.

Where to stay

I stayed in Huachen International hotel in Zhangye. I found the hotel to be beautifully placed and comfortable. Even the staff didn’t speak English, they did everything they could to make us feel comfortable, using Chinese-English translator on the phone.108huachen hotel china 1320457108huachen hotel china 1320589106huachen hotel china 1320437108huachen hotel china 1320448

Tips for visiting Zhangye

  • I arranged the flight and train tickets through the Ctrip website which was very convenient. Just note that for train tickets it’s easier to buy both tickets together: from the airport to Lanzhou West and also from Lanzhou West to Zhangye West. Then there’s no need to find a railway station in Lanzhou if you go by bus from the airport. Also, then you can go directly to the transfer area at Lanzhou West railway station.
  • Boarding trains in China is almost the same as boarding plains. Be prepared for passport and security checks.
  • Make sure you have all the destinations and hotels’ names written in Chinese with you.
  • Use every English speaking person for advice and written directions in Chinese and English.
  • Ask your guides, taxi drivers, and hotel staff to use mobile written English Chinese translator if they don’t speak English and don’t offer it by themselves. If you don’t have the Internet in China, do the translation of the most necessary names and sentences beforehand and take photos of them with your phone. It makes communication much easier.
  • If you want to stay connected in China, consider using VPN services and arrange this service before arrival in the country.

See my other tips for solo travel in China by clicking this link.
Have you been to China? What is your favourite place in the country? Share in the comments section!

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  • Published by Anita on 28 October 2017
  • Author: Anita Sane

    Anita 03 18

    About the author
    Anita is a part-time traveller, passionate photographer and a retired career woman from Latvia, 
    travelling mostly solo for more than 15 years. She is a skilled travel planner who plans and executes her travels by herself. Anita wants to show you how to travel the world and open your mind to new experiences. Follow her on FacebookInstagramPinterestTwitter and Bloglovin.


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    Frey Medina
    Some of the most amazing natural phenomena to know. I have also visited Machu Picchu and other mountains in Peru, incredible and amazing, which I have asked to meet with the company
    Salvador Stell
    hello very good information about rainbow mountain.
    Juan Carlos
    A spectacular place, in Peru - Cusco, there is also a similar mountain of multiple colors.
    Annegret Pfuetzner
    Thanks a million for all the information!

    April Ma
    Anita, I am so glad to have read such a positive recommendation about Zhangye Danxia as I am originally from Zhangye. Thank you indeed for such an informative guide! I genuinely wish more people would travel there and actually be able to experience how amazing my town is!!
    I have also come to realise that it is fairly difficult to find any local that speaks English when you visit Zhangye so that it would be harder for the visitors to truly experience and appreciate the local culture. I am a university student studying in the UK and as I will be having my summer holiday soon so if anyone is planning on visiting Zhangye during this summer please contact me and I can help you out!!!
    My email is aprilmwj
    I will be more than happy to show you around in Zhangye !!

    Hello! So wonderful and informative to ready. I am moving to Foshan, for at least a year, and this is one of my trips I am wanting to experience!

    Hey April Ma!
    I am an exchange student from Germany studying in China right now and I am going to visit the Rainbow Mountains in summer. I would love to meet you there and get a deeper understanding of this place, your hometown and it's culture.
    I sent you an e-mail already but just in case you didn't receive it, I would like to try through this website as well.
    My e-mail adress is
    Hope to hear from you soon!

    Some of the most amazing natural phenomenon to appreciatte. Also I have visited the Rainbow Mountain in Peru, amazing and beautiful, since you can also appreciate how native people live..
    Jen C
    This is great information for us, because we have wanted to go thete but thought it was harder to get to. We've been to China twice, the highlights were Juizhaigou and Wullingyuan/Zhangjiajie. China is extraordinary and the people are amazingly polite and helpful.
    Thanks for this detailed guide. We are usually visiting China every year for business. Also leaving at least 1-1.5 week for sightseeing by ourselves each time.
    Good way of describing, and nice post to take data about my presentation subject, which i am going to present in college.
    Gosia said :
    Hi, is it possible to make trekking in Rainbow Mountains? I mean about 4 days trekking. Is it possible to do it DIY?Regards
    Hi Gosia, I have done just short hikes for several hours there. In my understanding you can not stay in the parks at night, meaning you can do a day hike and then go back the next day for more. Happy travels!

    Hi, is it possible to make trekking in Rainbow Mountains? I mean about 4 days trekking. Is it posible to do it DIY?Regards
    In the meantime, you can rest assured that the runny nose you could have is probably not the Zika virus.
    Lara Dun
    I love painted hills and have been to the Badlands a handful of times. Wow! I didn't even know about this part of China. Would love to see it for myself. Looks like it is quite a trek to get there so I appreciate all the handy tips for a DIY trip as that is the route I like to go.
    Oh wow! I've always wanted to visit China, but would be too nervous to do a DIY trip...but you've broke it down to where it looks manageable! Your pictures are absolutely beautiful and such great quality. Thanks so much!
    Oh, what a trip! With all this infrastructure in place, I can see how this trip is doable as an independent travel. I am quite surprised by the hotels, train stations and trains. Some money has been pumped into the region. The areas is lovely. It reminds me a bit of some areas in Arizona and Utah. You said your didn't see places as colorful as on other photos (you mentioned Forbes). Do you think those photo are Photo Shopped? Or, you didn't make it to certain areas?Thanks, Ruth, yes infrastructure are all recently built and working very well. About colors, maybe they are photoshopped in Forbes, I have also heard that general public is not allowed in all areas. Maybe it's why.
    Wow - what an amazing place!
    Wooo...These are some gorgeous mountains!! Love the colors even without greenery...this is something I Look forward to visiting soon!!
    Amy P
    Hey Anita,Wow! This is in China??? Incredible. These photos are stunning. I'd really like to explore more of the Mainland (so far I've only made it to Beijing and Shenzhen). Here's hoping! Thanks for sharing.

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