There are some new interactive features on the Air Quality page, which lets you see the daily Air Pollution Index results of provincial cities and municipalities measured by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Below are some screen shots:
Lonely Planet China 12th edition is now available to download.
As well as the improved look of the electronic version, the new edition has a slightly less negative description of Lanzhou than in previous editions:
"The city sprawls in an inelegant east-west concrete melange" (p.805). Not disagreeing, but remove 'east-west' and this would be a fair description of many Chinese cities.
"Trapped between mountains, Lanzhou has frequent bad-air days when a grey sun sets anaemically over a hazy city." (p.805). By taking out the 'most polluted city in China in the late 1990s' line from the 11th edition, the new description is less hyperbolic than before. Even so, it fails to mention that the pollution is mainly during the winter months. In the summer months, there is every chance of blue skies: In 2010 the best months were May (94% of days were good-excellent air quality), June (97%) and July (100%).
It's good to see that this edition has taken out "there's little reason to linger here any longer than it takes to extend your visa or book your train ticket." (11th ed. p.850), which I'd always thought a little harsh.
In terms of the list of 'sights', there's no great change. Here is a comparison:
11th Edition Sights:
There is no mention of the Steles Forest, high up on the north bank hillside, or the new Golden Pass Cultural Quarter developments, also on the north bank opposite the beach. While they are not necessarily essential places to visit, these are significant additions to the landscape (the latter especially attractive when lit-up in the evenings), which point to a city undergoing change. The new edition of the Lonely Planet doesn't really reflect this, unfortunately.
Most surprisingly, there is still no discussion of Lanzhou's many mosques. In fact, Xiguan Mosque has disappeared completely from the map in this new edition. This is a shame: the mosques are Lanzhou's most obvious feature of Gansu's "cultural diversity" (p.803) , and sets Lanzhou apart from other cities in central and eastern China (as well as being an explanation for the numerous halal beef noodle restaurants, of course).
"Airport buses leave every hour […] three hours before scheduled flight departures." It's usually safe to leave two hours before your departure, or even less for early-morning or late-evening buses (1 hour for the journey; check -in opens 1 hour before departure). Taxis usually do the journey in a bit under an hour.
"Lanzhou badly needs a metro system" (p.809). Funding for a rapid bus transport system has been approved, and is scheduled for completion in 2014.
Some additional recommendations:
Play the slideshow below for a selection of city photos:
The Economist has published a piece that highlights the problem of talking about the development of China in terms of national averages. It is probably more instructive to look at the regional picture (e.g. urban vs rural, or coast vs interior).
The article links to an interactive map that compares each province with its country equivalent, and ranks them in order of performance. I have embedded it on this site here.
This is what it tells us about Gansu's 'equivalent country' and its ranking in the list of Chinese provinces:
Guidebooks to the area really do Lanzhou a disservice, and the aim of this site is to redress the balance.
There are two misconceptions about Lanzhou:
1) There's not much to see or do. Well, hopefully, this website can persuade you that a city does not need 'famous' sites to be worth exploring. See here for a few recommendations. In fact, the underrated nature of Lanzhou adds to the experience of the visit. And when people talk about wanting to get off the beaten track and see the 'real' China, Lanzhou (and the rest of Gansu) would be as good a place as any to spend some time.
2) It's the most polluted city in the world / in China (delete according to which outdated source you are reading). The Air Quality page on the site covers this in more detail (and gives sources for the charts below), but in summary: visit in the summer, and there is every chance you will enjoy clear, clean skies (as well as warm, 'dry' temperatures). In 2010, between April to September, 82% of recorded days had either 'good' or 'excellent' air quality.
The Waterside Mosque and White Pagoda Hill, photographed from the south side of the Yellow River. The new hillside development is the Lanzhou 'Golden City Pass' Customs and Culture Quarter, home to the China Qinqiang Opera Museum.
More historical photos here.
Two photos showing changes to Lanzhou during the period 1983-2009. As with the previous comparison (1994 vs 2009), Lanzhou is viewed southwards, from the vantage point of White Pagoda Hill.
The 1983 photo is part of a fascinating 'Lanzhou 1983' set, published on Flickr by Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
More historical photos here.
Lanzhou residents (past, present and future) may be interested in taking a look at Eric Enno Tamm's online chapter previews of his book 'The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds' (publishing August 2010). He travels from St Petersburg to Beijing, via Lanzhou in Chapter 12 (Lanzhou: The Chinese Renaissance). See the drop-down menu under 'Multimedia' to find more chapters.
UPDATE (June 2011): Apparently, the restaurant has recently closed down.
As sent to me in an email:
"We're opposite Lanzhou Tobacco Factory, 300 meters from Nanguan intersection, from South towards Wuquan Shan. Nearest prominent landmark: Aili Bakery (opposite our restaurant) , China Unicom (2doors away from us) If you have trouble locating us, please give us a call at 8455899 we'll be happy to guide you. BTW: We're organizing a Buffet Dinner on the 29th April, Thursday evening from 6.30-9pm. There'll be a foreign band performing live for your dining pleasure. Cost per pax is RMB$58 incl soft drinks. Buffet menu consist of Soup, Antipasto Starters, Salad, Pasta, Pizza and desserts. Come try our authentic italian-taste wood fired oven baked pizza."
I'm not in Lanzhou at the moment, so reviews and photos gratefully received…