Just like Lijiang, the main attraction of Shangri-la is it’s old town. Or I should say: it was the main attraction, because there is a sad story here. In 2014 a big part of the wooden houses was burned down because of an inattentive tourist. A hair straightener made the curtains catch fire, and eventually over 250 houses burned down because water wasn’t available in time. A disaster. Many locals lost their home, their shop, and their income – just overnight.

But as anywhere in China nowadays, rebuilding goes very fast. When we visited in 2016 you could still see they are rebuilding, but they got an amazing amount of walls standing again, only within 2,5 years. Note that tourists are still not coming in big groups, which makes this town definitely less busy than Lijiang.

Nature surrounding Shangri-La, China

Good to know

In the title you see ‘Shangri-La’ followed by ‘Zongdian’. The story behind this is that this place is actually called Zongdian, but it was renamed early 21th century to Shangri-La. The paradise land from James Hiltons novel. All to get more tourists to the area.
Two names, referring to the same location!

Things to do, Shangri-La

Main attractions in the old part of town are the worlds largest paying wheel and the accompanying monastery. Definitely worth a few minutes of your time.

World largest praying wheel
World largest praying wheel

What I enjoyed the most though is the local dancing ritual. Every night, around 8 o’clock, the squares of the old town are taken back from the tourists by locals. They do their circulair dancing, it is so fun to see! Check the video up above to get an idea of what it all looks like 🙂

An other famous spot is the Songzanlin Monastery. It’s not in the old town itself, but busline 3 will easily take you here. We only saw it from a distance because we were definitely short in time here.

Hike around Shangri-La, China
Hike around Shangri-La, China

Our hike to the yakfields and homestay at a Tibetan family was definitely a highlight of our stay. On day 1 we just simply walked out of town with our guide, into the mountains. Passing by a small temple on top of the hill, and crossing many different landscapes. It is quite a hike, so bring good shoes.

Arriving in the village in the afternoon, I must honestly say I was disappointed at first. It didn’t look like the romantic, picturesque place I had in mind. But adapting to the situation, it really became a dear memory. Mainly because I feel we really got an insight in the life of a Tibetan family. Sitting at the stove together at night, drinking the yak butter tea, going for your toilet in the middle of the field. It’s an adventurous spot for sure, but if you’re up for that, really go for it!

On day 2 we hikes through the forests to the yakfields. They call it the wetlands for a reason, so if you’re in raining season, be prepared for wet feet! But to see the yaks here in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, is so beautiful.
Remember many Chinese tourists won’t go for a hike, they just visit the town and leave again. Which means you’ll have the surrounding mountains probably for yourself.
You can also go for a 1 day hike with a lunch at the Tibetan village, just as you prefer.

We arranged our hike at Khampa Caravan.

The flowerfields, in summer. Also in spring and autumn the colors are beautiful!
The flowerfields, in summer. Also in spring and autumn the colors are beautiful!

Where to sleep in Shangri-La?

I’m not sure if there’s a whole lot of choice in this town. At least not as much as in Lijiang.
We stayed at Kevin’s Trekkers Inn, which is definitely recommended! Friendly staff, good room, good price. I’d go for it again.

We visited this place, making videos for our Youtube channel.
Watch the whole playlist, right here!