October is a great time to travel in north Asia. The temperatures have fallen, the sun is out, and threat of typhoons drops off dramatically. My friends have gone exotic lately, heading to the likes of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan to see the Silk Road. I opted for a more conservative option - China's Silk Road in Gansu and Xinjiang. The 8-day trip would just scratch the surface as I wouldn't deep dive into the really beautiful parts of Xinjiang. That would deserve another trip.
Getting there used to be a pain involving a transfer in Beijing or Shanghai, and possibly getting stuck due to persistent delays and air traffic flow controls. Recently, Hong Kong Express began chartered flights to Dunhuang in Gansu. It is not available for purchase by DIY tourists, so I joined a package tour to make this whole journey relatively hassle-free.
After the Golden Week cancellation fiasco, I was a bit nervous this chartered flight could get unpredictable. Luckily, things went smoothly and check-in was seemless. There were dedicated counters at Terminal 2 for group passengers, which was quite crowded but the lines moved steadily.
Today's flight would depart from the new satellite concourse, where I spotted Hong Kong Airlines' new A350.
We ended up boarding by bus, and it was a full flight occupied by 4 travel agencies.
The flight time was announced at about 5 hours. That surprised many passengers. I did some research beforehand on this. While Dunhuang is about the same distance away as Nagoya, our flight path would not be a direct line, but go north to almost Beijing, then veer west to Dunhuang. Being stuck for so long in a cramped seat was not very appetizing. My knees were already touching the seat in front of me.
My travel agency included 20kg of checked baggage and a meal for the flight. The crew were busy checking the passenger lists to make sure they distribute the Evian water and the pork chop rice to the correct people. The rice was not too big and did not taste too nice. Low-cost carriers I suppose.
I heard later that one of the groups did not provide the free meal, hence the paperwork.
While flight deck announced light to moderate turbulence, the first half of the journey northwards was relatively smooth. The clouds rolled in beneath us as we headed west towards Gansu, and the seat belt sign came on and off for quite some time during the last stretches. I had thought this part of China is dry and sunny at this time of year, but all this cleared on final approach as we were met by a beautiful sun on landing.
A bit bored with no IFE and a long flight time, I scanned around the literature for some inspiration.
Now is a great time to see fall colours in Japan and Korea.
Wish they had some local Hong Kong snacks for purchase on board.
The airline's fleet is simple with only a few types of narrowbody planes. The destination list was not up-to-date as today's Dunhuang charter flight is not included. The crew also announced we could claim Reward U miles after the fact but a subsequent email discussion with customer service confirmed charter flights are not eligible to earn any mileage.
Dunhuang is a small town surrounded by the desert. The domestic terminal is new and looks quite nice, but our international flight would park at a small building far from it. When the staircase was attached and the doors opened, they had to slowly let small groups of passengers into the terminal as there wasn't enough space for everyone to line up for the 2 immigration counters.
During the long wait to disembark, I took a few more photos of the cramped seats where my knee would touch the seat ahead of me.
There are no baggage carousels here. The luggage would come in through the side door and get deposited in front of the check-in counters. Then head to the X-ray, and out the door to the buses. Unfortunately, my luggage did not make it to Dunhuang, and I later overheard the guide say 50 luggages were not loaded. For a full flight of about 180 passengers, that is almost 1 in 3. Ain't that great. There was an airport staff with the forms already with a big crowd surrounding him. He asked where I would be for the next 2 days and marked something down on the property irregularity report. I was reassured we would stop at the night market that evening to do some shopping as it was expected to get quite cold. My winter gear were all in my large suitcase. Getting to the Silk Road has gotten a lot easier with this chartered flight, but not having my luggage arrive with me was a great hassle, and eventually I got it back on day 3. It went a long way - through Kunming and Lanzhou, since this charter only flies once a week.
Now a few photos of this city surrounded by desert.
For more photos of China's Silk Road, check out my Silk Road gallery .
Flight Reports Main
Flight Reports Main