On the Yellow River 735 mi/1,200 km southwest of Beijing, Lanzhou, China, was a caravan stop as early as the second century BC. Today, Lanzhou is overcoming its notorious air pollution—you can now get a great view from the Baitashan (White Pagoda Mountain Park).

While you're in town, visit the Wuquan Shan Gongyuan (city park) and the Provincial Museum, and try to catch a performance of the Gansu Province Dance Ensemble. Be sure to walk across the Zhongshan Bridge at night, taking in the city lights as you cross the Yellow River. The area is also known for its spicy beef noodle soup.

Most visitors go to Lanzhou to see Buddhist cave art. About 30 mi/50 km away—by road and boat through dramatic scenery—are the Bingling Si Caves, where more than 180 caves contain statues, stucco sculptures and murals. The largest Buddha statue there is 89 ft/27 m tall.

Better, but more distant, are the Maiji Caves, 210 mi/350 km from Lanzhou. The caves at Datong or Dunhuang are better still.

You may want to avoid Lanzhou in winter, when temperatures can dip to -12 F/-25 C.

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