a VirtualTourist member
Planning to Xi'an, Lanzhou (Gansu Corridor), Jiayuguan (deserted sections of the Great Wall), and Dunhuang (Mogao Caves, Dunhuang Museum, Echoing-Sand Mountain, Camel Ride, Crescent Lake). Does anyone know if I need additional travel permits on top of the 3 months china tourist visa to visit these places? I'm planning to fly from Shangri-La to Xi'an and then take a train/bus from there to the other cities along the way to Dunhuang. Also, would a tour guide be necessary? I'd prefer traveling on my own but would still be fine with joining a tour group if that's the better way. Thanks!
No additional permit is required. (Different from Tibet where you do need one.)
For train to Dunhuang from Xian, I suggest taking the one all along from Xian to Dunhuang as the train condition is usually better than the other way. However, make sure you have the tickets in advance as this route is quite popular. From the way back, you can get point to point train tickets easier (comparatively) and more flexibile to fit your schedule staying in the middle of the way.
As for tour guide, I don't know how "good" you are travelling in China (ie., how you communicate wtih Chinese). But if you used not to have one when you are in China, you don't need one for Xian/Dunhuang. If your concern is how to arrange transportation, my experience for the same route was to hire a cab instead of taking bus. I hired a cab in Dunhuang for two days, including picking up at train station, transport within Dunhuang for major points like what you quoted. I also hired a cab when I was in Jiayuguan. I considered this more efficient and convenient than taking buses. Of course, I also found the charge reasonable.
These are really helpful information! Thanks [VT member 93f85] :)