Silk Road Tour Suggestion
We flew into Urumqi on Oct. 10, 2016. We started our tour there and went eastward. We were a little concerned on how cold the weather would be in Xinjiang at the time. Most tours went from East to west. We decided to reverse the direction so we won't end up in the cold region later in the month. We checkedweather.com before we left to make sure we pack the right clothing. The information we got was that it was going to be high 50's F to low 40's. Turns out the weather was very pleasant and comfortable. There was no rain, sunshine everyday. It was cool when we get up in the morning but quickly warmed up by 10 am and stayed comfortable till sunset. We were in shirt sleeves or light sweaters/windbreakers all through the day. Basically, it was typically desert weather. Most of us ended up packing too much warm clothing. Of course, there is no guarantee the weather will be the same in Oct. 2017 on the same dates. My suggestion is just pack in layers. There were two times when we needed to bundle up; the first day we went up to Tianshan(only a half day), and breakfast at the Dunhuang Hotel terrace. It was strikingly beautiful because we ate breakfast while watching the sunrise over the sand dunes.
We did the camel ride. It was a lot of fun. I've ridden camels before in Morocco and other places, but this is more fun than those. To start, these are two-hump camels. They group you into groups of 5, each group with an attendant that walked along side. These attendants might looked like uneducated village people but they can handle any sophisticated cameras. For 20rmb, they will use your camera and take pictures of you correctly framing your group and the background. Most of my group went the extra distance, hiked up to the top of the dunes and slid down. They had a great time. By the way, these are 60 years old. We think the crescent moon spring was a little too artificial though. If your group is more adventurous, you can fly on ultralights or helicopters at the dunes too.
To us, one of the least enjoyable aspects of packaged tours are the standard packaged tour meals. You know what I mean if you had been on any packaged tours in China. We arranged with Lesley to have a per head meal allowance. We want to order our own dishes out of the restaurant's menu. This freed us from going to the "tour group contracted restaurants". We ended up with private dining rooms in most of our meals and ordered food we wanted. Most of time we only have to add a small supplemental amount to the bill, 5-20 rmb per person.
By the way, we had very good tour guides. We requested english speaking ones because most of our members speak cantonese, a few can handle putongwa, but all can handle English. We figure the all the english speaking tour guides speak putongwa anyway. If the guide's english was not good enough, some of us can jump in and help translate.
So much for now. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any additional questions. I asume you are in Canada from your Email address. Oh, one more thing, there is a very good 10-part TV documentary series that highlights 2000 years of history of this region. It explains the significance of the many places you will visit. I found it very interesting and helpful....if you are interested in this sort of things.