Exploring the Gobi desert

The Gobi was considered “the hardest area to live on the planet” because of its terrain of huge sand dunes, harsh climate with terrible sand storms and gangs of robbers. However, the desert has now become one of the “dream” destinations  when visiting Asia. 

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The Gobi is Asia’s largest desert in with a total area of 1,300,000km2 and the fourth largest in the world. It arcs across the borderlands of northern China and Southern Mongolia. The “Gobi” means “large and dry” in the Mongolian language. The desert not only consists of sand, but also rocky ground, sand dunes and limestone mountains.

The Gobi, the fourth largest desert in the world, is a truly amazing place boasting several big mountain ranges with caves and canyons, extensive golden sand dunes, colourful rocky cliffs and bizarre rock formation as well as plenty of wild life. Mingsha Mountain, known as Singing-Sand Mountain Dunes, is the largest and most spectacular. It is 5km from the centre of Dunhuang City along the ancient Silk Road.

It costs tourists about 100 Chinese yuan to buy a ticket to enter the desert, plus the same to ride a camel during the trip. It is necessary to take glasses for preventing sand getting in your eyes, shawls, sunscreen and bags for shoes.

It is a wonderful experience to discover the Gobi Desert by riding two-hump camels, known as Bactrian (Camelus bactrianus) which only live in this place. They are the best means of transport in the desert. There are now more than 1,000 camels and hundreds of local guides to serve tourists.


Two-hump Bactrian camels, which are dubbed as “the desert’s lord”, are used to carry visitors to the desert.
Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


To discover the Gobi desert, tourists need to hire a camel and a camel-puller. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP

A camel-shaped information board is placed near the tourist area of Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake.
Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Despite harsh weather and difficult trail, Mingsha Mountain of the Gobi Desert still attracts a lot of visitors.
Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


At present, there are more than 1,000 Bactrian camels and hundreds of camel-pullers
serving tourists in Mingsha Mountain. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


A group of five camels has a camel-puller in charge of guiding tourists
during a 4km journey into the desert. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Visitors pose for photos on the backs of camels. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Camels at a resting place. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Tourists can walk to the top of the sand hills to admire the desert. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Visitors take part in sports such as sand boarding, mountain cars, paragliding, etc. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Tourists enjoy themselves at a stop in the desert. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


A tourist takes a selfie in the desert. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Crescent Lake (Yueya Quan) is a crescent-shaped lake in Mingsha Shan, a 2,000 year old oasis
which serves as a resting place for traders following the Silk Road before they cross the Gobi Desert.
Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


Near Crescent Lake is a Chinese-styled pagoda built from the Han Dynasty. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP


The image of lines of camels carrying people across the yellow sand dunes in the Gobi desert
is one of many unforgettable memories for many tourists. Photo: Trong Chinh/VNP

Each guide leads a group of five camels in the 4km long journey to head into the desert. The camels form a long line that reminds tourists of the image of traders with camels carrying goods on their route from the east of China through Central Asia to the Mediterranean thousands of years ago.

On the back of a camel, tourists will be surprised by the great variety and breathtaking landscape of the desert in general and Mingsha Mountain in particular with winding sand dunes in various forms. At each stopover, tourists can walk on smooth sand, trek up mountains or participate in adventures, like riding motorbikes or sliding on the sand.

Going deep into the desert, tourists will arrive at 2,000 year old Crescent Lake, 218m in length, which is surrounded by Mingsha Mountain. With the reputation of the First Desert Spring under Heaven, Crescent Lake has survived in the extensive dry desert for thousands of years. The lake is full of clear and clean water that can reflect one’s shadow as clearly as a mirror.

Despite facing challenges during the tour, it was definitely worth every ounce of effort and sweat when tourists finally reached the famous sites and got to witness picturesque landscapes.



Mingsha Mountain, covering 31,200km2, has a length of 40km from the East to the West with the highest peak at 1,715m above sea level. Renowned for its coexistence of mountains and springs, sand and water, the scenic spot of Mingsha Mountain and Crescent Lake was listed as National Key Tourist Attractions of China and was given the title “One of the Most Beautiful Deserts in China” in 1994.

By Trong Chinh