Travel Guide Asia China Yunnan Shangri-La



Sompasteling Monastery, near Zhongdian

Sompasteling Monastery, near Zhongdian

© magykal1

Shangri-La County (香格里拉县 Xiānggélǐlā Xiàn) is the new Chinese name for this ancient Tibetan county, previously known as Zhongdian County (中甸县 Zhōngdiàn Xiàn) to the Chinese, and Gyalthang to the Tibetans. In a wide, sweeping valley ringed by vast mountains, the town is the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Deqin - the largest self-governing Tibetan area outside of the province of Tibet itself.

The renaming, inspired by the possibility that Zhongdian/Gyalthang could be the valley discovered in James Hilton's 1933 novel Lost Horizon, is part of a drive to put the area on the tourist map - also evidenced by the rate of development in the town centre. "Shangri-La" or "Zhongdian" may also refer to Jiantang Town (建塘镇 Jiàntáng Zhèn), the capital of the county.

The town still retains a distinctly Tibetan feel, however - the trip from Lijiang takes you past huge traditional Tibetan farmsteads and windswept meadows grazed by Yak - and sights near to town include huge, remote mountains and lakes as well as the enchanting Ganden Sumtseling Monastery (松赞林寺 Sōngzànlín Sì).



Sights and Activities

  • The Old Town - including hefty Tibetan wooden buildings (some old, and many that look rather older than they are), and several temples built onto a hill in the centre of town.
  • The Ganden Sumtseling Monastery - one of the holiest monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism, and a fascinating structure in an awe-inspiring setting.
  • Explore the surrounding countryside, including Napa Lake - more of a sodden bog, really, but an interesting wildlife sanctuary grazed by Yak and visited by rare birds - a good place for a stroll at the foot of some glorious mountains.



Events and Festivals

China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.

Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.

Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.

The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.

Local Festivals

  • Tibetan New Year - From the 1st day to 3rd day of the first month in lunar year
  • Horse Racing festival - From the fifth day of fifth month in lunar year



Getting There

By Plane

Diqing Airport (DIG) is located just a few kilometres from the capital, Jiantang Town. Airlines flying into DIG are China Eastern Airlines (from Kunming, Lhasa, Shanghai), China Southern Airlines (Guangzhou), and Shanghai Airlines (Kunming). There are daily flights from Kunming. Some flights to Lhasa are available, though not officially available to foreign tourists at the time of writing.

By Car

In 2007, the road to Lijiang via Hutiaoxia Town was still poor, however construction on improvements continues and it won't be long before Shangri-La is connected to the fast highway network.

By Bus

Buses run to Lijiang, Dali and Kunming via Hutiaoxia Town. It is possible to (legally) organise trips to Tibet from here.



Getting Around

By Public Transport

Buses run frequently across town, including particularly on the bumpy road to the Monastery.

By Foot

The Old Town is explorable on foot, including the pleasant stroll up the central hills overlooking the town.




There is a wide selection of Western, Chinese and Tibetan restaurants available here. The Western food is actually very good. Sometimes you have western food in China, and it's not so flash!! Western recommendations are:

  • N's Kitchen
  • The Compass - excellent coffee, breakfasts and burgers!

Tibetan recommendations are:

  • Lhasa Cafe - momo's (like xiaolongbao, except a bit drier)
  • Soyala
  • Shangri-La Cheese Shop - yak cheese!

In the Dancing Square during the day there are also loads of little stalls selling BBQ sticks and some dumplings.





You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)



Keep Connected


Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.

Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.


See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.

When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.

If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.


China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.


Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 42.1446
  • Longitude: -75.400459

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