It turned out that for us the cheapest and easiest way to travel to East Tibet was via Hong Kong. From the airport take airbus A21 to Hunghom Station and from there the express train to Guangzhou. It takes about 90-120 minutes, depending on whether the train will stop at Shenzhen City. All "through trains" to Guangzhou arrive at the rather new East Railway Station.
Shamian island is a lovely quiet little island in the middle of the
city in the Pearl river, where you will find e.g. the Victory hotel, where
we stayed, and the much more expensive White Swan Hotel, with its beautiful
lobby. If you cross one of the bridges, you will find the Qingping market.
Dead and living animals, some of which completely unknown to us, are sold
Some other interesting sights were the Yuexiu Park and the temple of
the Six Banyan Trees, which in September 2000 was being renovated. We spent
two days in Guangzhou, which is enough in our opinion. It is nice to have
been there, but we won't go back soon.
We were in Chengdu also last
year and it seemed as if the weather had not changed. Still rainy and gloomy.
But nevertheless we decided to visit the oldest Taoist temple in the Chengdu
area, the Qingyang palace. Many people hold their prayers and a lot of incense
Our hotel, the Lhasa Grand hotel, had a nice restaurant where you can watch a Tibetan dinner show performed in front of a "copy" of the Lhasa Potala palace.
To get bus tickets from Chengdu to Kangding, go to the Xinnanmen bus station
next to the Traffic hotel, show your passport at one of the desks and pay
Yuan 150 per person. The obligatory insurance is included in this price and
at the time that you leave, you will get an insurance certificate from one
of the girls in charge. The trip takes about 8 hours and leads over a new
highway till Ya'an and through the new tunnel at Mt Erlangshan, which is
still under construction (October 2000).
Kangding is a modern, Tibetan city. Coming out of the bus station go
right, direction "downtown", and after 150m you will find at the left the
brand new Taining Hotel. In the same street further to the west you can enjoy
a tasty sate dinner for a few Yuans.
A bit further down the road is a lively market and after a little while
you will reach the main street of Kangding. The sound of the river can be
heard from far.
The old Tibetan Anjue monastery is at the south end of this main street. At the moment it is being renovated, but it is still worth a short visit.
Busses from Kangding to Litang leave Kangding at 06.40 hrs and if there are no landslides the journey takes about 9-10 hours. However, you might be stuck for about 2-3 hours near Pundadrong. You will cross high passes, in September 2000 covered with about 15 cm of snow, but you will also see green valleys. Tibetans love fresh air, so most of the times the windows of the bus are open and snow is falling in. So adapt your clothing.
Having arrived in Litang, you won't recognize the bus station as such.
Look for the building with the pool tables inside and the tv watching ladies.
Most likely the bus will drop you off in front of it. Walk straight ahead
for about 10-15 minutes and at the right you will find a nice hostel. You
won't find a sign, but the entrance is just before the little stairs commence.
Before you reach the hostel you can see some nice Tibetan houses in the streets
at the right.
Litang has a beautiful lamasery a bit more to the north west of the
town with a nice little stupa. You have to climb the hill, but above you will
find a couple of fine temple buildings.
From above you will have a great view towards the mountains surrounding Litang.
There is nothing special in Xiangcheng, but most likely you have to
spend at least one night here on the way to Zhongdian. Just outside the muddy
bus station you will find the new Ba Mu Shan hotel, most likely the only
hotel in town that is allowed to lodge foreigners. Xiangcheng is situated
in a narrow valley. It has a friendly market and a new lamasery.
We tried to get bus tickets for the journey to Zhongdian, but all we
got during the 1 1/2 days we were in Xiangcheng, was a "meiyou". Finally we,
together with three Englishmen, decided to hire a minibus. During that eight
hour trip we understood why no bus had arrived from Zhongdian in Xiangcheng.
What you see below are only the "better" parts of the road. Sometimes the
road had become so narrow that even our very small and tight minibus could
hardly pass. Landslides had sometimes devastated a large part of the path
and only about four hours after we left Xiangcheng we finally saw some cars
and people again. However, the scenery was wonderful and apart from some
horrifying moments we loved every minute of this trip.
Zhongdian is like a different world; English is spoken, bus tickets can easily be obtained and even come out of the computer and most important of all, there is a Bank of China where you can change money! People are sometimes dressed in traditional colourful clothes while others wear modern western suits.
Bus 3 will bring you to the 300-year-old Tibetan Songzanlin Monastery to the north of Zhongdian. Climbing the stairs is hard work, but it is worth the trouble. You will have a beautiful view on the mountains and the rural area around Zhongdian.
The next town we visited was Lijiang, by bus about 5-6 hours south of
Zhongdian. Lijiang has a very fine old town, criss-crossed by little canals
and narrow streets. Be careful when it is raining hard; the water in the
canals can rise and the streets and even hotel court-yards might be flooded.
The fast running water in the canals is used for many purposes and is
also the music during a nice dinner in one of the many restaurants along the
Lijiang is the centre of the Naxi minority and you can still see many
Naxi women in their traditional blue and grey clothes. After the earthquakes
in 1996 and 1997 many houses in the old centre were restored in the original
style in which much wood is used.
To the north of the old town is the Black Dragon Pool park. If the weather
is clear you can see the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain across the pond. However,
when we were there, it was cloudy and we couldn't see the mountain at all.
The journey to Dali is easy, only takes 3 hours and the landscape is
very nice. If you arrive in the old town of Dali, you won't understand why
most travellers stay here a couple of days longer than planned. Nothing is
very spectacular, but all things together make that Dali is a great place
to relax after the hectic journey from the north or before you begin this
trip. The old city is a lovely little town partly surrounded by a wall. The
Dali region is the centre of the Bai minority and you will see many women
dressed in their traditional clothes and hair dress and not only for making
a nice picture.
Every Monday you can go to the colourful market in Shaping, 30 km to
the north of Dali. Another option is a visit to the one pagoda from where
you have a nice view on Dali and Erhai Lake in the distance.
A boat trip on Erhai Lake with a visit to the Laotai temple and to the
tiny Jinshuo island
or hire a bicycle and cycle to the three pagodas and see the rural area
Kunming was our last stop in West China. Since 1993, when we were
here before, much had changed. No more men in Mao suits, huge new buildings
and less wooden houses.
We were in Kunming on 1st October, National Day, and a huge flower parade passed our hotel. For young and old it was an important and colourful event.
One thing had not changed and that was the food. Near the Yuantong temple
down the bridge at Taoyuan Jie you can find a great hotpot restaurant where
we had a wonderful meal.
From Kunming to Guangzhou by train takes "only" about 32-33 hours. It's
a long journey, two nights and one day in the train, but during daytime you
will see a beautiful scenery like around Yangshuo, rice paddies and little
villages. Arrival in Guangzhou is at about 05.00 hrs and if you, like we
did, like to travel directly to Hongkong, you will have to wait till 08.30
hrs before the express train leaves Guangzhou from the East Railway Station.
last revision: 15 July 2004
Jaap & Marion