Shangri-La (Zhongdian), China Travel Guide

We went to Shangri-La, China on a bit of a whim. After hearing from countless tourists that Lijiang was tourist hell (in one case, a traveller told me he was literally pushed off the sidewalk by a herd of Chinese tourists), we decided it would be best to push to lesser a lesser travelled spot. However, what we didn’t know was that Shangri-La, formerly known as Zhongdian, recently suffered a massive fire (January 2014) and much of the old town was burn to the ground. In many ways, though, this worked in our favour as we had the city, which had been becoming increasingly popular with tourists prior to the fire, all to ourselves. In the end, Shangri-La became one of my favourite destinations in all of Southern China, certainly my favourite in Yunnan Province.

Time Needed: 3-4 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: 40-50USD
Mid-Range Budget: 60-70USD

Shangri-la China

This is the side of Old Town that was restored after the January 2014 fire in Shangri-la.

Things to Do and See in Shangri-La

Even with the old town burnt down there are plenty of things to do and see in and around town. It can be a bit of a downer to see the old town in its current state. However, after a bit of exploration you’ll be glad you made the trip.

  • Songzanlin Monastery: This is the mother of all destinations in Yunnan Province. About 5km outside of town, and accessible via the #3 bus, the Songzanlin Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery settled on the side of a hill. It makes for beautiful photos and is a stunning sight to behold.
  • Pudacuo National Park: The hostels all organize trips to the National Park which is stunning.
  • Dancing Square: Starting in the early evening before sunset, the square fills with locals and tourists dancing to the music. If you want to grab some portraits of people, this is a great spot to do so.
  • Temple on the Hill: Up from the Dancing Square sits the beautiful Buddhist temple. It’s a great spot to climb at sunset. You’ll also get some cool photos over the part of old town that still stands.
Songzanlin Monastery, Shangri-la, China

Loved the reflection and the glow on the mountains behind the temple.

Where to Eat in Shangri-La

  • Noah’s Cafe: Really nice food. They have local eats as well as Mexican food and Pizza. I’m not a fan of ginger, but Tiffany was raving about the ginger tea. They also have wifi.
  • Nepalese Restaurant: Just down from N’s, there’s a nice Nepalese/Tibetan/Indian place. The grub is a bit expensive, but it’s so worth it. Delicious food!
  • N’s Kitchen: The hostel is also a cafe and the food at the kitchen is quite nice. The breakfasts are definitely worthy. They also have wifi.

Where to Stay in Shangri-La

  • N’s Kitchen and Hostel: It’s a good place. The rooms are nice, there are heated blankets to stave off the cold nights, and the staff is extremely helpful. The wifi worked great for 2 days, and then terribly for 3, so I’m not really sure what’s going on there. Good place to stay, though.
  • Dragoncloud: It’s just down from N’s and seemed a bit more popular with the backpacker crowd. The exterior looks rough (probably because of the fire), but the inside of the building has a nice atmosphere.
Shangri-la China

Probably my favourite portrait from the city. The colours were just too perfect.

Getting out of Shangri-La

  • Bus: There are long distance buses to Lijiang (4hrs), Dali (6hrs), and Kunming (10hrs). This is also where you’d likely be catching on with a tour to take you into Tibet as the border to Tibet is only a short distance away.
  • Air: There is an airport in town with connections to some major destinations in China.
  • Train: As of now, there is no train in Shangri-La, but it’s possible this changes within a couple years.

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