SHAPOTOU (沙坡头; shāpōtóu), 16km west of Zhongwei, is a tourist resort of sorts by the banks of the Yellow River. Most people come on a day-trip, but you can easily spend an enjoyable night or two here at the nearby Shapo Shanzhuang. The main pleasure of the place is in the contrast between the leafy, shady banks of the river itself, and the harsh desert that lies just beyond. The main focus is a tourist resort, a charming yet slightly Disneyfied place, with cafés and outdoor restaurants. Among the activities on offer are ferry rides, ziplines over the river, sand-skiing and camel rides. There’s very little shade in the complex, so bring a hat and sunscreen if it’s sunny. Additionally, the Shapotou Desert Research Institute has been based here for forty years, working on ways to conquer the sands. Travelling either by bus or train between Zhongwei and Shapotou, you’ll see some of the fruits of their labour in the chequerboard grid of straw thatch implanted to hold the sands in place and provide irrigation.
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