I have a number of packing lists and suggestions on the site for travel throughout China. I have done trips so often that I feel like I ought to be able to pack without thinking. But for my trip to Gansu Province (including Lanzhou and Dunhuang), I needed to consider carefully.
My trip was not an ordinary one as far as my experience goes. Usually I fly into one place and travel from there by car to different sights, usually staying in a single hotel. This trip involved two overnight train rides, skipping meals (or not being sure we could get a decent meal), city sightseeing, camel riding, and desert trekking. Briefly, our itinerary went like this:
- Day 1 - arrive in Lanzhou in the afternoon, have a bite to eat and transfer to the train for our overnight travel to Dunhuang.
- Day 2 - dump our things at the hotel in Dunhuang and go sand dune trekking and camel riding in the morning. In the afternoon, visit the Mogao Grottoes. In the evening, visit the Dunhuang Night Market.
- Day 3 - depart hotel early for long drive to Yadan National Park in the Gobi Desert, visit park, and Han Dynasty Great Wall remnants all day. Arrive back to hotel for quick meal and then back to train station for 14-hour overnight train back to Lanzhou. (No time for a shower!)
- Day 4 - spend morning at the Gansu Provincial Museum, lunch and then quick walk along the Yellow River before heading to airport to return to Shanghai.
Aside from the itinerary, there were other challenges:
- Should I carry-on or check my suitcase?
- If I planned to check my bag on the flight to Lanzhou, should I bring wine? How many bottles? (There were seven of us going, after all.)
- The train compartments would have limited space.
- When and where would we eat?
- Would there be places to charge phone and camera batteries on the train considering we would spend 28 hours riding them?
- How would I bathe on the train?
- The weather would be variable - cool and damp in Lanzhou, hot and dry in Dunhuang.
Some of these questions might seem silly at first but, in the end, I was happy that I had considered them all. Thinking critically about every aspect of our trip, especially our train travel, was a good thing because we planned accordingly. And considering the varying weather and terrains we encountered in four days, I packed light, but had everything along that I ultimately needed - including a bottle of wine!
So, without further ado, below I present my packing list. I think travelers to China might find this helpful, especially if you're planning an overnight journey or two. But even if you're not, it's perhaps a good exercise for you to consider your own itinerary and what you'll need to bring along.
- Small (regular-sized) backpack for use at daytime. Inside can hold my water/tea, camera, notebook, tissues, hand wipes, etc.
- Very small over-the-shoulder pack to hold cash and phone.
- Small carry-on size roller suitcase for clothing and shoes (and wine).
- Trekking boots (not really heavy duty, more like high-powered sneakers with good treads)
- Sandals - good comfortable ones that are good for walking but can slip on easily (especially on the train). My preferred brand is Birkenstock.
Clothing:My idea was the everything I wore could be versatile with weather conditions, lightweight but sun-protective, could be layered if it got cool.
- Lightweight walking pants (that can be rolled up)
- Yoga pants/leggings
- 1 pair of shorts
- 2 t-shirts
- 2 long-sleeved linen shirts
- A long-sleeved lightweight cardigan
- A lightweight cotton/linen scarf (for warmth as well as keeping sun away)
- A hat
- Modest pajamas to wear to bathroom and other public parts of train at night
- More than enough changes of underthings including socks
Various and Sundry:
- Pillow case (nice to have in case the sheets aren't as nice on the train as you hope. In the end, I did not use it but some of my companions did.)
- Tea + thermos as you can count on boiled water everywhere, including in the bathrooms of the museum! Plus, it's important to keep hydrated.
- Phone, charger and extra battery (there was no place to charge things in the train so we all used our extra batteries)
- iPad with all the books about the area I had pre-downloaded and did not read until after the trip
- Camera + charger
- Small first aid kit (allergy meds, cold meds, sleep meds)
- Sleeping mask - I was worried it would be too bright on the train to sleep but I did not need it
- Towel + washcloth - this came in very handy on the train as there is nothing with which to bathe or dry your hands (there are sinks with running water)
- Wet wipes + hand sanitizer
- Shopping bag for extra purchases - I did not need this as everything ended up fitting into my suitcase but had I bought the very large stuffed camel I was eyeing in the Dunhuang market, I would have needed it!
Food and snacks:I brought along a lot more than I actually needed. We stopped for a quick bowl of noodles several times and we could get dried nuts and fruits in Dunhuang so I'll list what we actually ate/used in lieu of proper dinners/breakfasts on some occasions during our trip.
- Vacuum-packed tuna
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Starbucks "via" brand instant coffee + take-along creamers. Their instant coffee is surprisingly good.
- Copious amounts of tea - I get tired of drinking water but I can drink tea all day so I filled my thermos non-stop. There is hot boiled water on the train, at the hotels, in the museums.