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“Exploring Three Parallel Rivers” 8N/9D

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The Yunnan to Tibet Tea Horse Road Expedition 11N/12D

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Plant Magic

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Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike

“Lhasa” in Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street

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Travel to Shangri-La: An Alluring and Ancient Paradise

A travel guide to the beautiful Shangri-La in Yunnan, China, where breathtaking mountains and Tibetan culture can be experienced.

Nov 15 2021

Perhaps you have heard of the fantastical and mythical paradise “Shangri-La,” from James Hilton's book, Lost Horizon, and other grand tales written in the 1900s. As a result, many were left with an illusory idea of an isolated and untouched place - unaffected by globalization, aging and the woes of the world. Although not quite the utopian ideal, the real Shangri-La has much to offer: in reality, it is rich with history, a plethora of interesting sites and much to see. Formerly called Zhongdian, the county was renamed in an effort to boost tourism, as it was once an ironically bustling trade town. For centuries, Shangri-La prospered as a frontier town, a hub for activity between different spheres of China due to its prime location. Nowadays, it's commonly used as a staging point for adventures into Tibet or with some stunning scenic spots suitable for short trips.

The majority of the Shangri-La is Tibetan, so you will have the opportunity to enjoy various Tibetan dishes, gaze at the brilliant clothes donned by locals, and marvel at exquisite jewelry. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg - this region will spark the adventure in you, and there is something for everyone: from Buddhist monasteries, traditional markets, colorful festivals, and parks. 

Colorful Golden Temple with lighting at night in Shangri-La Colorful Golden Temple with lighting at night in Shangri-La

Where is Shangri-La Located?

Shangri-La is a county-level city (it earned the title in 2014) situated in northwestern Yunnan Province, China. Located in the Himalayas, there are topographic and geographic parallels between the fictional and real Shangri-La, from mountain top villages to breathtaking views. The idyllic paradise exists, and here you can enjoy stunning landscapes and panoramic views abound.

Mountain top villages in Himalayas Mountain top villages in Himalayas

A Little on Yunnan History

Yunnan province was founded in 1274, and borders the provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, and autonomous regions like Guangxi. It also borders the Southeast Asian countries - Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos. Yunnan boasts some of China's most rugged and spectacular scenery: snow-capped mountains, deep rivers, ravines, and gorges. The history of Yunnan can be traced back to the Paleolithic Age. It has emerged over the centuries owing to its natural, geographical features. Many ethnic tribes originally inhabited Yunnan. The quality that is mainly associated with it is its diverse population and rich cultures, the city of Shangri-La being one of the most desired.

Shangri-La Weather, Elevation and the Best Time for Travel 

In Shangri-La, 70% of the annual rain is delivered from June-September, during summer to fall, so if you wish to avoid this, visit outside those months. Flowers such as the Shangri-La sage (salvia moorcroftiana spread throughout the landscape during the Spring and Summer, you can surely appreciate their beauty! From May through October, the galsang flowers bloom, and the fields and meadows are a vibrant green, which is perfect for photography. To view the wild flowers blooming, you can visit Pudacuo National Park. Be sure to dress in layers, as even the summer days in Shangri-La can be quite chilly. Temperatures range from 66°F to 84°F (19°C - 28C). If you come during the rainy season, you will need to check the weather on a daily basis, and the wet roads can be challenging. Be sure to bring an umbrella! However, the rainy season is also the best time to see Tiger Leaping Gorge, a spectacular hiking spot. The winters in Shangri-La are cold and dry, so please bring appropriate clothing - temperatures can drop to -10 degrees Celsius. However, this is the best time to see the Black Necked Crane for the snowy scenery and visit the Songzanlin monastery.

Shangri-La is at an elevation 11,318 feet above the sea. Some people may be prone to altitude sickness, while others are not. If you take it slowly, the altitude won't be an issue when traveling here. To stay hydrated, avoid drinking alcohol and drink a lot of water. When doing activities like stair climbing and trekking, you may find yourself breathless, but it's nothing to be concerned about. Spending a few days in Shangri-La will be enough to adapt your body to the altitude.

When deciding when to travel to Shangri La, you would have to consider what it is you want to do most.

Black Necked Crane Black Necked Crane

Ancient Civilizations Expeditions

Shangri-la is a destination that's known for its natural beauty, history, diverse culture, and breathtaking landscapes. It is also one of China's most remote yet striking provinces. There are many attractions to visit in this captivating place including

  • Sumtsaling Monastery – Located 5 kilometers from Shangri-La at 3,380 meters elevation is the Monastery of Sungtseling (also known as Sungtseling and Guihua Si), a Tibetan Buddhist place of worship. The monastery, which was built in 1679 and is the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in Yunnan as well as southwestern China's most significant temple, is also known as the "Little Potala Palace."

Sumtsenling Monastery Sumtsenling Monastery

  • Dukezong Ancient Town – The old town, which has a history of 1300 years, is the largest and most well-preserved Tibetan city in China's 147 Tibetan counties. It is also the site of the greatest ancient Tibetan settlement. It has witnessed both war and prosperity as a major stop on the Ancient Tea-horse Road and crossroad for Han-Tibetan interactions.

 Dukezong Ancient Town Dukezong Ancient Town

  • Tortoise Hill & Golden Prayer Wheel – Tortoise Hill, in the very center of Dukezong Ancient Town, is one of its most notable attractions for tours or expeditions. This mountain offers a fantastic viewpoint of the old city of Shangri-La County. The Golden Prayer Wheel, which is 68 feet tall and weighs 60 tons, has attracted a large number of visitors to Tortoise Hill.
  • Pudacuo National Park – The Simatai National Park, which became the first national park in China, was founded in April 1974. This national park protects many ancient characteristics of China's southwest region as well as several elements of the traditional nomadic Tibetan plateau lifestyle. Shudu Lake and Bitahai Lake are the major features.

Vast lake and rolling hills in Pudacuo National Park Vast lake and rolling hills in Pudacuo National Park

Natural Habitat Adventures

Shangri-la offers a variety of different attractions for people to explore in the area. Some of these include the following: Tiger Leaping Gorge, Erhai Lake, Yuxi Old Town, and Dali Old Town. Additionally, many natural attractions can be explored throughout the region.

Popular Tours in Shangri-La 

Cater the Tibetan area in a new way. Below you'll find some popular tours that will give you a flavor of what Shangri-La have to offer.

Explore the "Three Parallel Rivers"

The Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas are the Yangtze (Jinsha), Lancang (Mekong), and Nujiang (Salween). This place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can feel the ethnic diversity of Yunnan in this area, where snow-capped peaks tower more than 19,000 feet (6,000 meters). Glaciated gorges and terraced rice fields are also a prominent feature of the region's culture as it has been home to twenty-five different ethnicities throughout history. Discover the Three Parallel Rivers with Songtsam and let the adventure begin.

The Three Parallel Rivers Protected Area The Three Parallel Rivers Protected Area

Touring outside Meili Snow Mountain

The Meili Snow Mountain located in Deqin County in northwestern Shangri-La, is a mountain with 13 peaks, Kawagebo being its highest peak at 22,112 feet (6,740 meters). One of the best things to do when you're visiting this area is to take a tour outside Meili Snow Mountain. Explore the best scenic attractions that Yunnan has to offer. The scenery here is extremely beautiful and it feels like you're in a different world entirely.

Meili Snow mountain at sunrise Meili Snow mountain at sunrise

Yubeng Village

Yubeng, a Tibetan village in the Shangri-La Region of Yunnan Province, has been a popular tourist destination for many years. The Tibetan culture and customs which are visible on the streets make it an attractive place to visit. Yubeng is located on a forest-covered mountain with wonderful scenery. It is also near some of the most famous attractions found in the area, such as:

  • Xidang Village - 3.54 miles (5.71km) away
  • Meili Snow Mountain - 4.84 miles (7.82km) away
  • Mingyong Glacier - 5.09 miles (8.26km) away
  • Flying Temple National Forest Park - 5.24 miles (8.44km) away

You can enjoy not only the scenic beauty but also experience a little of Tibet's traditional culture along the way. The Yubeng Village attracts many travelers for hiking and other outdoor activities like camping in their natural environments because it provides a sense of wonderment from proximity to nature.

Yubeng village with forest-covered mountain Yubeng village with forest-covered mountain

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tigers Leaping Gorge, located between Lijiang and Shangri-La, is one of the deepest, most magnificent gorges in all creation. This makes it a popular hiking destination for adventurers from around the world. The gorge consists of three gorges.

  • Upper - 5.5 miles (9 km) from Hutiaoxia Town
  • Middle - 20.5 miles (33 km) from Hutiaoxia Town
  • Lower - 3.1 miles (5 km) from Daju

Tigers Leaping Gorge Tigers Leaping Gorge

What Are The Top Things To Do In The Shangri-La Region?

Shangri-la is a place of natural beauty, and the landscape is breathtaking with countless epic views and beautiful locations. If you are looking for a relaxing vacation, then Shangri-La should be your destination. Many activities can be done here, including visiting Buddhist temples, traditional Tibetan villages, hiking, enjoying local cuisine, festivals, and more.

Visit a Buddhist Temple

A visit to a Buddhist temple can be an exciting experience for anyone. These are holy places where the Buddha's teachings are practiced and spread. You will find people chanting, meditating, or praying, depending on what they are doing at the time. Try speaking with some of the monks there to learn more about their culture and traditions.

People praying front Buddhist Temple People praying front Buddhist Temple

Attend a local Festival

A lot of festivals are held throughout Shangri-La. One example is the Shangri-la Horse Race Festival. The Horse Race Festival is a holiday in Shangri-la. It is one of the most important festivals for the people living there. It happens on the same day as when everyone celebrates Dragon Boat Festival, during which different ethnic groups get together in Caodian, at the foot of Five Phoenix Mountain, east suburb of Shangri-la. Every year, the Shangri-la Horse Race Festival is a rally for the Tibetans. It lasts for three days. The event has become a sporting competition and also a fair where people can buy things.

Riders perform for spectators at a horse race festival in Shangri-la Riders perform for spectators at a horse race festival in Shangri-la

Visit a traditional Tibetan village

You can see so many traditional Tibetan houses with their beautiful lanterns and flags. And the moment you walk in, the warm smile of the villagers presses against you like a soft yet firm welcome embrace.

Enjoy the Local Cuisine

One of the best things about traveling to Yunnan and Shangri-la is tasting all the local cuisine. From spicy to sweet, this region has a lot to offer. Some of the popular dishes that you should try include:

  • Butter-Fried Matsutake
  • Yak Hot Pot
  • Pipa Meat

Butter-Fried Matsutake Butter-Fried Matsutake

Snow mountain hike

For those looking for a beautiful snow mountain to explore, Haba Snow Mountain is one of the best places. The hike to the top of the mountain will take a couple of hours, and you can enjoy amazing views of mountains, rivers, and valleys, as well as an abundance of wildflowers. Yunnan also has two other fantastic destinations, Shibao Mountain and Balagezon Canyon. Both are great places to go hiking with incredible scenery along the way.

People hiking on snowy mountains People hiking on snowy mountains

Hiking in nature reserves

One of the best ways to get a glimpse into Yunnan's mountainous terrain and rich ecological diversity is to hike in the nature reserves. The Napa Hai Nature Reserve and Potatso National Park are two places where you can enjoy hiking.

Should I Use A Tour Company?

To explore Shangri-La, it's a good idea to hire a tour company like Songtsam. Hiring a tour company will provide you with all-inclusive travel plans including hotels, meals, transportation, and guides. The tour company will ensure that everything is taken care of so that you can focus on enjoying your trip. It also saves you time because they provide all the information for where to go and what to do in the province and/or region.

They will also be able to customize your itinerary based on your interests. For instance, if you're interested in more culture-related activities or tourist attractions, they'll make sure these are included in your plans. Tour companies know where all the great spots are for food and entertainment, so they'll be able to lead you wherever you want to go.

Shangri-La China Tour by Songtsam: Discovering the Magic of Tibet.

Lastly, tour companies are always up-to-date on the latest travel patterns and events in the area. This means that they can help with any new attractions or events that may have appeared since your last visit. They'll also know where changes and renovations have occurred and are able to guide you around them. A tour company is a must for anyone who wants to travel through Yunnan and Shangri-La.

Shangri-La Hotels & Accommodations

There are several contemporary Tibetan hotels in Shangri-La to choose from. The ideal lodge will enhance the plateau days, that's where Songtsam comes in. The accommodation you will find throughout the Songtsam properties are designed in a superior Tibetan style to immerse you with a whole Shangri-La experience.

Contact us for our Songtsam Shangri-La Linka or Shangri-La Lvgu lodge with your requirements so we can assist you with the perfect property.

 Shangri-La Lvgu lodge Shangri-La Lvgu lodge

Songtsam Shangri-La Linka Songtsam Shangri-La Linka

The Bottom Line

Shangri-La is located in Yunnan province. It is one of China's most popular travel destinations because of its diverse landscape and relatively temperate climate for traveling – a dream destination for culture enthusiasts, hikers, and adventure seekers. There are numerous ethnic minority groups that have built communities here to preserve their traditions. The city of Shangri-La has a population of over 130,000 people.

If you are looking for authentic Tibetan food or exploring rural villages, this might be your best bet in China. If you are interested in visiting the real-life counterpart to Lost Horizon, please contact Songtsam for lodges, tours & packages, activities, and occasions to help plan your travel journey today.