China Travel Journal - Shangri-La


The town of Shangri-La was our last stop on our tour of Yunnan province in the south-west of China.

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Shangri-La 香格里拉

After a 5 hour journey by car from Lijiang we arrived at the town of Shangri-La on very nice day. The town is higher up than all the other places we visited and the weather was windy and wet so it reminded me a bit of my childhood holidays in the hilly city of Tunja in Colombia.  The town itself has nothing to do with Colombia nor with the other places we visited in Yunnan because here the people are Tibetan and so is the architecture style and food. In 2014 a fire broke out and burned down half of the town - sparing the temple and the prayer wheel which are within the town - and because of that most of the buildings are fairly new and in very good shape. There're quite a few shops selling souvenirs but compared with Lijiang, the town felt very deserted and quiet. 


5 minutes walking from the old town's main square is the Guishan Park where you can find a couple of small temples and the (apparently) biggest prayer wheel in the world which is a cylindrical structure engraved with symbols and painted in gold that people push at the base to attract good luck. Along the stairs and the temples there're lots of colourful traditional Tibetan prayer flags which I think looked beautiful moving with the wind. You can get a very good view of the old town from there as well as of the surrounding mountains. The biggest and most impressive religious building, The Sumtsaling Monastery, however is at the outskirts of the town. We took a taxi - and were ripped off by the driver - to get there. The complex is very big and climbing the stairs was quite tiring - we had difficulty breathing because of the lack of oxygen - but once up there the experience is quite unusual. The Tibetan temples were quite different from other Buddhist temples I've seen in South-east Asia and the atmosphere, depictions of Buddha and the colour palettes inside the temples were very unique. 

Apart from visiting religious buildings you can take a tour to the countryside and enjoy the landscape. There's a beautiful scenic canyon a few hours away called The Tiger Leaping Gorge but unfortunately we didn't have time to visit it. On our last day we went to the Napa Hai Nature Reserve expecting to see some yaks and a nice lake but the night before it snowed nonstop and it transformed the landscape from nice to stunning. At every turn of the road the view got more spectacular than before, with mountains covered in white, blue sky and yaks, horses and pigs walking lazily in the snow. We also had a Yak-traffic-jam when we encounter dozens of these black woolly animals blocking the road and refusing to move. 


Obviously seeing the landscape covered with snow was my favourite bit. I hope my pictures do justice to the beauty of what we saw. I joked that every picture I took looked like one of those images people use to put quotes on Pinterest. It was so peaceful to step out of the car and to listen to the sound of the bells of the yaks while they walked in the snow, the ducks splashing the water in the lake and the stillness of the air. It was without a doubt one of the best experiences I've had in my life.


We had amazing food in Shangri-La. We were craving some cake and we found it at Compass cafe . Not only that but we also found a delicious selection of sandwiches and hot drinks in a cozy atmosphere, with heating and good service. For traditional Tibetan food we went to the Three Brother's cafe and we ordered fried vegetable balls, Tibetan bread, sautéed spinach, and broad beans. Obviously we had to try the yak milk tea, but honestly, it just tastes like salty melted butter. From the cafe you can also get a great view of the square where people gather to dance in the evenings. For our last meal we had pizza in Helen's Pizza which is run by an Italian man and his family. The pizza was extremely good and we had a chat with the Italian man who told us about his travels around the world and how he ended up living in Shangri-La about 10 years ago.

I hope you enjoyed this travel journal series from China. I'm curious to know if you have been to Yunnan or any other part of China before and what were your experiences. Let me know in the comments below.

All images © Gina Maldonado

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