East Tibet and West China (2000)

Map of West China
with thanks to Lonely Planet

Guangzhou (Canton)

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 here.

Qingping market Snakes at Qingping market

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 is burnt.
Qingyang palace

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. 

Chengdu dinnershow

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.

Kangding sateh seller Kangding market

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.

Kangding river

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. 

Kangding monastery
Please note that in September 2000 the Bank of China did not exist anymore in Kangding, so changing money, cash or traveller cheques, is impossible nowadays. You have to do this in Chengdu. This fact was not yet known by the Kangding people and everyone very friendly pointed out to us where the bank once was, but it isn't any longer!


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 houses Litang hotel

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.

Litang stupa Litang lamasery

From above you will have a great view towards the mountains surrounding Litang. 

Litang surrounding mountains
Busses to Xiangcheng (Chaktreng) are leaving on even days of the month and tickets are only sold that morning or the afternoon before. The journey takes about 8-9 hours and you will go over narrow dirt roads and again over snow covered passes.


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.

Xiangcheng Xiangcheng market

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.

Xiangcheng-Zhongdian road Mud road from Xiangcheng



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. 

Zhongdian street

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.

Zhongdian Songzanlin monastery Zhongdian mural in Songzanlin Zhongdian ladies Zhongdian monastery Zhongdian area



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.
Lijiang hotel

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 canals.

Lijiang washing vegetables Lijiang canal

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.

Lijiang street Lijiang houses

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.

Lijiang dragon pool park Lijiang dragon pool park



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.

Dali Zhongdian road Dali Bai woman

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.

Shaping market Dali town Dali pagoda

A boat trip on Erhai Lake with a visit to the Laotai temple and to the tiny Jinshuo island
Dali Laotai temple Dali Jinshuo island

or hire a bicycle and cycle to the three pagodas and see the rural area around Dali

Dali 3 pagodas Dali rural area
or go up the mountain e.g. by cable car and visit the Zhonghe temple.
Dali Zhonghe temple



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.

Kunming flower parade Kunming flower girls

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.

Kunming Marion at hotpot restaurant Kunming Jaap at hotpot restaurant

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 Fahrenfort-Nietfeld

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