Lanzhou – Defying our Lowest Expectations


The expanding metropolis capital of Gansu province. I had some expectations before I arrived. I expected that Lanzhou was one of the most polluted cities in China. I also expected that we could find cheap accommodations for one night; After all Lanzhou is a major transportation hub of China. I am surprised because Lanzhou defied all of my expectations. Let me explain:

Guidebooks and other travelers we had met had mentioned that Lanzhou was one of the most polluted cities in China. This was not the experience that we had. Our short stay contained only clear skies and terrific weather. I enjoyed the warmth and clear skies as a change from the rain we had all of the way through Sichuan provence.


Upon arriving we headed strait for the train station to purchase tickets to the next city - Jiayuguan. Lanzhou being one of the transportation hubs of the Northeast, I expected there would be many trains running in that direction. All overnight train tickets were sold out. We purchased tickets. 8 hour daytime soft-sleepers; the only available option. Spending money on soft-sleepers can be worth it if you need the rest; However paying a premium for soft sleeper tickets during the day seemed like a waste. We had no other option.


Next we headed out to find cheap accommodations. From our guidebook we found nothing but disconnected phone numbers, address to locations on the other side of the town ( far from the train station). Asking around we found out several of the hotels that could house foreign guests near the train station had closed in the last few years. Much of the information online was outdated. We ended up staying in the "Lanzhou Mansion", a three star luxury hotel across from the train station. After asking for a discount, our room rate totaled 180RMB per night. The hotel was a far cry from a mansion. Our room was on the 17th floor overlooking more dusty apartment buildings. Sometimes you just roll with the punches in China; that's exactly what we did. We took a power nap and headed out into the city for some exploration. We were surprised at what we found.


Lanzhou as a transporation hub


Wandering around the down-town we were able to find foreign grocery stores such as Carrefour, and Watson's; and we stocked up on necessary items such as shampoo, and hand sanitizer. We had a nice meal at a Japanese noodle shop. A nice change from the Chinese food that we had been piling down over the previous two weeks. We took a stroll through the various night markets, enjoyed the cooler nice weather, and ever had a few chats with some curious locals who offered their suggestions of how to spend our next day killing time before our afternoon train. Overall we really enjoyed our night in Lanzhou and we also decided; Lanzhou was the perfect one-night stopover. A comfortable hotel room, access to a few foreign conveniences, train and flight routes all over the country. In the summer: Lanzhou definitely doesn't deserve the bad rep it gets.

Written by Matt


Matt founded Backpack In China in 2010 to help travelers make the best of their trips to China. Since that time he has been living and working in Florida, USA. Each summer he for vacations in China for several weeks.


  1. Hello Matt, I absolutely agree with your description of Lanzhou, I got an opportunity to learn Chinese there and do a 2 year course and was a bit skeptical at first because of the information i saw on the net but i was nicely surprise about the city and the friendliness of its people who I believe are much nicer than in Wuhan (Hubei)

  2. Mil

    I’ve just read this. I agree!Have a question, though. Where is Carrefour in Lanzhou?

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