Asia,  China

unexpected weekend trips: kunming to shangri la

Located 3160 m above sea level, Shangri La (also known as Zhongdian) is the Himalayan paradise of the 1933 James Hilton novel Lost Horizons (or so they say, although other towns also claim to be THE Shangri La). My friends and I decided to do a weekend trip here to see the mountains and Tibetan culture.

G E T T I N G   T H E R E 

We bought our tickets at Kunming West Passenger Bus Station (Xi Bu Ke Yun Zhan). It’s best to take a taxi here (¥25), as it’s quite far away.

The tickets were about ¥208 one way. You can only buy one way here. We took the 8pm bus. While it was supposed to take 12 hours, it took 16. This was because the two drivers were chatting all night and then pulled over for 3 hours to nap, instead of taking shifts (???). I’m not sure if this is a regular occurrence.

The night bus was actually quite comfortable, although my taller friends (aka all of my friends) were too tall for the beds, so their legs had to be propped up.

We stopped 2 or 3 times for bathroom breaks. The views are supposed to be wonderful when you wake up, although it’s a bit hard to see in a sleeper bus.


We stayed at Tavern 47, an adorable Tibetan-teahouse inspired hostel. Our room was incredibly clean and we had electric blankets to keep us warm at night. If you’re there, definitely get the lemon ginger honey tea.

W H A T   W E   D I D

We had planned for one day to hike up a mountain, but due to the bus ride being longer than anticipated, we didn’t have time to do so. I think that would have been wonderful, but it is what it is. If you’re planning on going to Shangri La and are interested in climbing the mountain, email me and I will give you the information.

Instead, we wandered around the city and peeped into a few temples. We climbed up to the top of 100 Chicken Temple, and the prayer flags lining the entire path up was beautiful.

Also we tried these yak meat walnut balls! Although there is no yak meat in them, they are really worth a try! We liked them so much, we bought bags for the bus ride home!

About half of the old town was destroyed in a 2014 fire, so there’s a lot of reconstruction going on. We enjoyed the old town nonetheless.

Make sure to check out the huge prayer wheel. It took about 10 people to get it spinning!

If you want to go to the bigger monasteries, they’ll come with a hefty price tag. We decided to skip those, as there are beautiful ones all around the town just waiting to be discovered (and they’re free!). Wander around and see what you stumble upon!

G O I N G   A W A Y

Because of our 16 hour bus ride surprise, we decided to take an early bus in order to get to our Monday 8:30am classes. When we arrived in ShangriLa, we bought our train tickets back to Kunming. We got the 2pm bus.

This was actually a WONDERFUL move. Although we didn’t have sleeper seats, we were able to see the scenery that we had missed on the way up. The winding roads reminded me of buses in Nepal. That, mixed with the Tibetan culture we had just seen, made my heart ache for my heart home!

Shangri La wasn’t the Himalayan hidden gem I was hoping to stumble upon, however, it was a really nice weekend trip. It was just enough of a taste of the Himalayan culture I have grown to love, and it was a fantastic way to spend the weekend.


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