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Hong Kong Express Charter - Dunhuang and the Silk Road

Hong Kong Express Charter - Dunhuang and the Silk Road

Old Jun 24, 18, 10:43 am
  #1  
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Hong Kong Express Charter - Dunhuang and the Silk Road

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.

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.



More photos from the flight on my website : https://www.globalphotos.org/uo-dunhuang.htm
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Old Jun 24, 18, 10:55 pm
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An interesting report. I actually had no idea HK Express did charter flights.

That meal looks pretty bad - though standard fare for the Hainan group.
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Old Jun 29, 18, 1:01 am
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Old Jun 29, 18, 4:12 pm
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Good pix, but putting them in a black border like that makes them look like funeral photos.....
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Old Jul 1, 18, 1:13 am
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Originally Posted by TravelDream View Post
An interesting report. I actually had no idea HK Express did charter flights.

That meal looks pretty bad - though standard fare for the Hainan group.
They have a few charter flights. Datong and Zhangjiajie are listed on their flight map but I think these change quite often. I recall seeing Baotou before.
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Old Jul 2, 18, 5:57 am
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I think they do charters for tours since its cheaper than cxka.
anyways, they cant take everyones luggage is lolololol
hainan group for you. Cant pay for fuel or better frames?
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Old Aug 8, 18, 10:45 pm
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Originally Posted by jeweled golf club View Post
I think they do charters for tours since its cheaper than cxka.
anyways, they cant take everyones luggage is lolololol
hainan group for you. Cant pay for fuel or better frames?
I suspect with a full load and long flight (5 hours) at nearly the aircraft's max range, they would go overweight loading all the bags. My agency gave everyone a free checked bag allowance, which the airline typically charges. This meant everyone checked their bags.
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Old Aug 8, 18, 10:54 pm
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The typical tourist itinerary is a 1-week run around Gansu and Xinjiang, covering a small section of the Silk Road in China. However, "small" is relative, as it is a vast piece of land, with the longest high-speed train trip taking 7 hours to get from one place to another.

Let's start with Dunhuang. Surrounded by mountains and the desert, Dunhuang is a small city of 140,000 people located in a remote part of Gansu. Tourism plays a big role in the economy thanks to its rich history being a stop along the Silk Road.

Yangguan Pass used to be the end of the Chinese Empire during the Silk Road days. A crumbling beacon tower is all that remains, while the other buildings before that are more modern creations to help tourists navigate the site.









Crescent Lake is an oasis in the middle of the desert just outside Dunhuang. Camels herd tourists from the visitor's centre to the site, but I opted for the shuttle bus instead. There were plenty of camels, and the guide mentioned each needs to be licensed.





You can pay for a lot of things on top of your admission, from camel rides to the bright orange shoe covers which are great to keep the fine sand out. Looking around at the bright orange landscape, you can see just how crowded this place gets even though it is in the middle of nowhere.



















Fall colours are generally yellow as the leaves don't turn red before falling off.











The dry climate means this region, from Gansu stretching all the way to Xinjiang along the Silk Road, is a major source of raisins and nuts.



















More photos on my website : https://www.globalphotos.org/silkroad.htm
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