In the past, the Silk Road connected the west to the east—back when Europe was still considered the west, that is. For thousands of years, the Map of the Silk Road stretched between Rome and Guangzhou, traveling overland through Xi'an (now more famous as the home of the Terra Cotta Warriors), and across the heart of China through Persia, and to the Mediterranean where ships would take goods to Rome. The route is dotted with some of the most famous historic sites in all of China. It crosses the majority of the northern Chinese provinces and was the initial introduction between the west and the east, a meeting whose ramifications significantly affected both cultures—the exchange of goods and philosophies had immeasurable consequences for both peoples at the time.
The actual map of the Silk Road was almost 2,500 miles and was instrumental in the opening of both the east and the west, the former which had been prominently insular at the time when the Chinese Silk Road was first formed. Although Silk Road history has largely been commandeered by the tourist industry in order to make itself more attractive to the foreign dollar, the spirit and cultural importance of the ancient path continues to intrigue and inspire a great number of travelers. Hundreds of backpackers make the extended trek each year, following the map of the Silk Road across the continents of Asia and Europe in hopes of making the same discoveries the original traders made for themselves, so many years later.
Nowadays, the idea of the Chinese Silk Road is more legend than anything. Its actual path has long since been paved over by the approach of the modern world. Even the remote parts of the Silk Road have not been passed over by the current notion of progress, yet there remain plenty of ancient artifacts and traditional civilizations to discover along what remains of the meandering and sometimes arduous path. Even if you exclude the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Chinese Silk Road is where you'll find all kinds of famous historic and cultural sites. You'll also find, among other sights, the Ruins of the Ancient City of Gaochang, found near the current city of Loulan. Rivaling anything you'd find in ancient Greece, or even Rome, these remains are among the oldest in the entire country of China.
For the most part, though, the main attraction of the Chinese Silk Road is the amazing natural beauty you'll find following the footsteps of the ancient traders. The path is lined with many fascinating sections, from the Flaming Mountains and Grape Valley in Turpan City to the Birds Islands in Qinghai Lake in northern China, home to many, well, species of birds. Populating these sections of the Silk Road, you'll find many different ethnic groups, many of whom have tried to isolate themselves from the modern world in an attempt to preserve their traditional cultures. Peoples such as the Uygurs, the Hazaks and the Tajiks can be found here, and add a fascinating dimension to any trek down any section of the Silk Road.
There was also a maritime route that traveled from the port of Guangzhou to Indonesia, India, East Africa, and up the Red Sea. Before the building of the Suez Canal, goods were transported overland and via the Nile River through Egypt and to the Mediterranean.