Zhongdian / Shangri-La
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 Home >> Yunnan >> Zhongdian 中甸
Updated on 7 October 2005

Things to see
Trek in Zhongdian
Getting there/away




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Zhongdian, known as Gyalthang in Tibetan, recently changed its name to Shangri-La. Perched on a plateau at an elevation of 3300 meters, dotted with beautiful hills, flowers and alpine lakes, the region of Zhongdian offers great possibilities for trek, botanical exploration, as well as discovery of Tibetan culture. The picturesque Tibetan villages on the outskirts of Zhongdian still keep unique customs and traditions, attracting many independent travelers. Most travelers stay in Zhongdian for one or two days, but some would stay there for a week.

In order to protect the local natural resources, several nature reserves have been designated in the region, such as Bita and Napa Lake Nature Reserve, Haba Snow Mountain Reserve. Zhongdian County was also included in Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, which was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites in 2003. A report made by WCMC (World Conservation Monitoring Center) on this wonderful park concluded that “This is an area of unparalleled biological diversity, unusually explicit geological and landscape variety and great scenic beauty.”

Best time to visit: In May and June the region is alive with enchanting wild flowers. From Mid-October to Mid-November the region is covered with marvelous autumn colors. July and August is a high season for tourism as well as rainfalls. Winter is dry and cold, with average temperatures below zero(C).

Things to see:

- Visit the old town, the museum and Sumtseling Monastery. Get relaxed and adapted to high altitude. (Half day)
- Hike in Bita Lake, visit Shudu Lake. (One day, rent a mini bus or taxi, Y150 - Y180)
- Visit Napa lake and nearby Tibetan villages. (One day)
- Visit Little Zhongdian. (One and two days, rent a car)
- Go to Niru. You can either reach there by car from Luoji, or hike to Niru from Shudu Lake.(One or two days)
- Baishuitai: Y30. A popular site. High season. One bus service between Zhongdian and Baishuitai.
- Birang Gorge (Shangri-la Gorge). Y20. (One or two days trip, rent a car)

I gave Zhongdian a two-star rating based on my short two-day journey in September 2003. I would like to return to Zhongdian once again either in May or in later October to discover more undeveloped areas around Zhongdian, such as Little Zhongdian, Niru, or other Tibetan villages as well as Haba Snow Mountain. Maybe these areas are worth a higher rating.

Old town and local museum

The local government intends to transform the old town of Zhongdian to a Lijiang style site, filling it with souvenir shops, hostels and restaurants. For the moment, it is still a local people's residential area. Many beautiful Tibetan houses and monuments have been protected from demolition. (see left photo 5 and 6). The museum displays local costumes, botanic specimens and photos of the region.

Comments received from Haiwei Trails (March 2004):

"We're based in the old town in Zhongdian and I'd have to say over the last couple of years since the issue of it's development has been mooted, I'm (happily) surprised at just how much resistance there is at all levels of govt to turning it into going down the Lijiang disneyfication road, might be kinder to characterize it as in the midst of a battle for it's soul rather than, subject to local govt plans for souvenir shops etc. Ironically, the photo number 6 may indeed be demolished because it was constructed precisely with these motives and many locals (govt included) find it kind of tasteless (apart from being religiously worthless)."

Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (Songzanlin Si) 松赞林寺

The monastery is located 5 km north of Zhongdian.(see left photo 2). It costs Y10 to visit the main gombas. Other gombas are free. However there is one gomba confined to men, women are not allowed to enter.
Take the bus no.3 for Y1 which passes in front of Yongsheng Hotel and Youth Hotel, and terminates in front of the monastery. It costs Y10 by taking a taxi.
My first impression of the monastery was not a favorable one. Shops, tourists, peddlers, vehicles as well as constructions make the area in front of the monastery terribly chaotic, contrary to those peaceful, and more colorful monasteries I had visited in Sichuan which had not been touched by tourism.
Walk along the kora path, you will find a white chorten and mani piles (see left photo 3) at the east end of the monastery. From there you can admire the beautiful Tibetan farm houses (see left photo 1) scattered in a golden valley dotted with sheep and yaks, as well as the amazing blue sky. Such a blue can only be found at an altitude higher than 3000m.

Bita Lake 碧塔海: Y30

- Located 25km northeast of Zhongdian, at an elevation of 3500m, surrounded by dense forests.
- Best time to visit is in late October to admire the amazing autumn colors.

The lake has three entrances: Most tourists go to the south entrance, located only 2 km to the lake and 200 meters higher than the lake. The second choice is the west entrance, 8 km to the lake. It is heard that the undeveloped trail accessing the lake from the east is 15 km long. I don't have any information for east entrance and shall appreciate it if anybody who has hiked this trail writes us about his experience.

The best way to enjoy the lake is to walk down to the lake from the south entrance, take a boat to the ferry near the west entrance, and hike 8 km (easy walk, around 2 hours) to the west entrance. Follow the main trail which is 2 to 3 meters wide, you would not get lost. I happened to walk the opposite way. The 200-meter-high ascent from the lake to the south entrance was fairly tough, especially after having walked for two hours from the west entrance at such a high altitude. I suffered from a terrible headache.
1) Official price for the boat trip to the ferry near the west entrance: A motorboat: Y50 per person, takes 10 minutes. Rowing boat: Y30 per person, takes 45 minutes. (Negotiate the price, we paid Y100 for five persons.)
2) The whole journey takes 4 hours, excluding lunch time. So when you rent a car in Zhongdian, tell the driver to send you to the south entrance and ask him to wait for you at the west entrance. The driver might charge Y20 more than if you enter and exit from the same entrance which costs from Y150 to Y180, including a further trip to Shudu Lake.
3) Horse trek: There are horses for rent at both west entrance and south entrance. I don't think it's necessary. From the west entrance to the lake: round trip costs Y65, single trip costs Y45. From the lake to the south entrance: Y25.

Shudu Lake 属都湖: Y30. A newly developed site. Easy to visit as the parking is close to the lake.
Too many tourists. Worth a visit in late October.
(see left photo 4, a photo copied from the entrance ticket).

Hot spring: Few hot springs in China have reliable sanitary conditions. I prefer to recommend you to discover one more beautiful Tibetan village instead of taking a bath in the local hot spring, which is not accessible by public bus.

Napa Lake 纳帕海: Y10. Located 7 km from the town. Worth a visit in May and June when the plain is covered by wild flowers. Take a Benzilan or Deqin bus to go to this lake, or go there by bike or taxi. For the return, wait for a bus along the main road. On your way to Deqin, you can get a better view on this lake while the bus climbs higer along the slope.

Hiking and Cycling
Hiking: There are a lot of hiking possibilities around Zhongdian:
- Shangba-la Folk environment Association organizes trek or visit in the Shangba-la Farm Nature Reserve. Contact Mr. Zhaxi Duoji at Tibet Cafe for detailed information. Tel. 0887-8230282. E-mail: kangbaren@hotmail.com. Website: http://www.shangba-la.org/.
- Bitahai: an easy hike from its south entrance to the west entrance. Admire well-preserved forests around the lake, wildflowers and green meadows.
- Gyalthang Dzong Hotel organizes nature walks, botanical tours, tour guide arrangements.
- More aggressive trek: Start from a village in Little Zhongdian, hike to Baishuitai, Haba Village, and Tiger Leaping Gorge. (5 - 7 days). This route is reserved for experienced hikers.
A hiker from Taiwan posted the following itineraries at Naxi Family Guesthouse:
- Shudu Lake - > Niru 尼汝 (6 hours) -> Luoji 洛吉 (10 hours). A good adventure for those who want to explore the real country, less influenced by modern society and tourism. Niru is a beautiful, isolated place. I don't have information for local accommodations.
- Trek to Yading in Sichuan: Langdu 浪都 -> Geka 各卡 (6 hours) -> Yading 亚丁 (2 days). (see local map for location.)
Who can help you rent a car, horses or find a guide and lodgings:
- Wandou at Youth Hostel , Zhaxi Duoji at Tibet Cafe, Gyalthang Dzong Hotel, Haiwei Trails.
How can you find other travelers to join your hike in order to share the expenses of a guide and a car:
- Post your itinerary on the notice board of Youth Hostel. There are few bus services between Zhongdian and the above mentioned region.

Cycling : Yongsheng Hotel, Youth Hostel and Gyalthang Dzong Hotel have bikes for rent.
- Suggested routes : 1. Napa Lake and nearby Tibetan villages.
2. Ride to the west entrance of Bita Lake by bike (two to three hours) and further to Shudu Lake (45 minutes). This journey is quite tough, including a four-hour hike and a six-hour ride.
Getting there and away

Two daily flights from Kunming to Zhongdian (Y640). During high season, two flights are added from Zhongdian to Chengdu (Y890) and one to Lhasa (Y1270).
The airport is located 6km from Zhongdian. Taxi to the airport costs Y10.

Getting there by bus: see Tiger Leaping Gorge, Deqin.
Getting away by bus:
Timetables for buses leaving from Zhongdian to
Departure time
Southeast direction:
Kunming   11:00, 13:00, 14:00, 16:00, 18:00, 19:00, 19:30 660 km, 15 hours, around Y140
Lijiang from 7:00 to 17:00 11 departures
Dali (Xiaguan) from 7:00 to 19:30 15 departures
Qiaotou       15.30 You can also take any Kunming, Lijiang or Dali bus
and get off at Qiaotou.
Jinjiang     15.00, 17:00 470 km. also called Panzhihua, located in Sichuan Province.
Jianchuan 14:50  
North direction to Sichuan:
Daocheng, Xiangcheng 7:00 300 km, Y100, 8 hours to Xiangcheng, 12 hours to Daocheng.
Bus can be canceled at any time due to rockslides or not enough passengers.
Derong 9:00 Y40, 5 hours.
Northwest direction:
Deqin 德钦 7:20, 8.20, 9:20, 12:00 180 km, 6 hours. Y35. Lunch at Benzilan, further climb a path more than 4000 meters high with a splendid view on the Baimang Snow Mountain and its glaciers. In Deqin you can find a bus to Tibet.
Benzilan 奔子栏 13:00, 14:00 or take the Deqin bus.
Southwest direction:
Tacheng 塔城 9:30  
Weixi 维西 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 10:00  
Around Zhongdian:
Haba 哈巴 14:00 Y22.5
Baishuitai 7:30 Y22.5
Luoji 洛吉 15.00 Near Sichuan border.
Zhongdian has only one bus station: phone 0887-3501822.

Diqing Tibetan Area International Youth Hostel is no doubt your first choice if you want to spend several days in Zhongdian.
Bunk beds: Y15 per person. Double room: Y50 per room. Tel: 0887-8228671. Fax: 0887-8228451.
A cute two-floor Tibetan style hostel. Clean, hot shower, washing machine, restaurant-bar, Internet service, bikes for rent. Location: near the old town, 30 meters to Yongsheng Hotel, 100 m to the Tibet Cafe. Taxi to the bus station: Y5. Travel books available at the bar. Good travel service and advice. A home for backpackers.

I stayed first at Yongsheng Hotel (Tibet Hotel) which was recommended by many guidebooks. Their double rooms (Y30 on the second floor and Y40 on the first floor with TV) are less expensive than doubles in the Youth Hostel. However, the bathroom and WC are all on the ground floor. Going back to my second floor room from there takes too much energy, due to the altitude of 3300m. The beds are clean. But water for the shower is not hot enough even at a night in September.
Forget about their standard double rooms (Y150 - Y200), with a terrible bathroom.

There are many midrange hotels in the town, with the price for a double room starting from Y100. I can't give any recommendation because such hotels deteriorate quickly mostly due to poor management. Always check your room first and try those newly opened hotels.

There are many upmarket hotels springing up in the past two years. Among them, Gyalthang Dzong Hotel is worth a recommendation. This hotel makes a comfortable western style holiday possible in addition to the discovery of local Tibetan culture as well as one of the most wonderful natural treasures in a remote, undeveloped region. The hotel offers ecotourism programs: such as hiking, botanical tours. From November, the hotel gives a discount up to 50%. In the beginning of November, the region is still covered by amazing autumn colors, much more beautiful than the summer high season. Visit their website, you will find more information about the region and this hotel. http://coloursofangsana.com/gyalthang/facilities.htm. I haven't been to this hotel. I appreciate very much if anybody having stayed at this hotel and joined their tour provides us a comment.

Tibet Cafe: nice location. Good travel advice. Contact for Shangri-La Folk Environment Protection Association.
There is a restaurant offering noodles, delicious dumplings at the opposite side of Youth Hostel with reasonable price.


Before Zhongdian: Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge.
After Zhongdian:
1) Northwest direction : Deqin, Meili Snow Mountains, and the route to*Tibet.
2) North direction to Sichuan : Daocheng, Yading Nature Reserve, Litang, and the route to Tibet.
3) Southwest direction : Weixi, Liuku, Nujiang Valley, and Dulongjiang Valley.
*Visa to Tibet. Tibet Cafe can help you obtain the visa for Tibet.

If you fly from lower plain to Northwest Yunnan, you'd better start your circuit from Lijiang instead of Zhongdian due to Zhongdian's high altitude.

Traveled to Zhongdian in September 2003
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