Posted - 12th August 2018
I was lucky to have the chance to go on an amazing road rip to China. It was actually trip of two weeks, so I’ve split the blog into two parts, writing about one week at a time. We used a travel agency to show us around China, so luckily we had someone to guide us through every step of the way, which helped us so much during our travels, especially for translating in some really remote areas. The first part to my week in China is about our road trip through the Sichuan and Yunnan areas of China. If you’d like to read about our city breaks in China, read our A Week in: China (Part II) blog.
Day 1 – Chengdu
The first day we arrived there, it hit us hard, the temperature, the humidity, the amount of people and the traffic! It’s so different there, that we really needed to get used to it. So on the first day, we decided to spend the day in the most famous panda sanctuary in Chengdu. As the panda species has a high risk of getting extinct, this sanctuary was built to take care of the pandas and breed them.
The pandas in the sanctuary looked so happy, we saw baby pandas and red pandas, some were very playful, some were very lazy.
In the evening, we walked into the old town to find some traditional dinner. The Chinese hotpot was delicious and felt so healthy.
After dinner, we finally arrived to the entrance to the old town. We were pleasantly surprised to see hundreds of people dancing. It is traditional for the residents of Chengdu to have their stretch of the day. Old, young, men and women, were all there doing their exercises. We decided to join them and realised that it does tire you out, and isn’t as simple as it looks!
To end our night, we walked through the old city, saw the beautiful old houses with the traditional architecture.
Day 2 – Chengdu to Xinduqiao
Early in the morning, we got into our Jeeps with our local drivers, and drove towards Xinduqiao. It was a very long drive, and the roads in China are terrible, so along the way, we had a few heart attack moments, where we thought we would turnover, but we had to trust our driver.
We stopped for lunch in the mountains and realised that we were getting further away from the city and population, as every single person that saw us, wanted to take a photo with us. We looked foreign to them, we were different, and they have never seen Europeans before us.
Then we drove for a long while, reaching the highest point at around 4100 meters. We spent most of the day just driving, as getting to Xinduqiao and the next locations is quite complicated. We arrived to a small hotel in the middle of nowhere in the mountains as a stopover, for the next leg of our journey.
Day 3 – Xinduqiao to Riwa
The hotel where we spent was at a very high altitude, which meant some of the people in our group struggled to sleep and felt ill. We didn’t know about this, but the altitude and the air may have this affect on people, so beware.
Again, we spent another day of driving around the mountains. We were told that soon they will be building tunnels through the mountains which would mean the journey could be seriously shorter, but we felt that this was part of the trip, driving and feeling like we were on a rollercoaster.
The highest point we reached was around 4700 meters. We could feel that we actually struggled to breathe.
Our first tourist stop on this road trip was at the Li-Tyang temple. The area we were driving in was actually the Tibet region of China, and this particular temple was based in the highest city in the area.
The Li-Tyang temple was gorgeous, in such a small city, but it felt so rich and colourful. We met a monk that was kind enough to show us around. As soon as we entered the front of the temple, the first thing that we could see was a huge statue of a Buddha, surrounded by many offerings and other little Buddhas.
That night we stayed in the most beautiful hotel in Tibet, that also felt very luxurious. Unfortunately, as the hotel was based in the middle of nowhere, we didn’t have any signal, so we did feel as one with nature.
Day 4 – Pearl Lake & Holy Mountain | Yading (Sichuan District)
We started our day bright an early to arrive at Yading. From there, our 8km hike up the mountain would start to the Holy Mountain. 8km may not seem as much normally, but this was at an altitude of 4500 meters, which meant that the oxygen level was really low and we felt that we had to breathe in twice as much just to get enough air.
One of the most noticeable things about this place was that there were barely any tourists. It was as if this location was unknown to anyone, and we were the first to discover it.
After the 8km hike, and as I like to call it “our adventure”, we finally reached the temple by the Holy Mountain. We met a nice monk that explained to us about their day to day life. He said that they do this hike every single day, as they do not live in the temple. That really struck us as it’s quite a challenge to do every day!
The traditional and quite typical delicacy from Tibet is the butter tea that is made by the yack cows. The kind monk offered some to us, and even though it is a delicacy and we were honoured to be offered it, it wasn’t to my taste.
We then had one more kilometre to walk to reach the Pear Lake. The road to the lake was very steep, so it felt like it took us longer than the 8km hike! Once we reached the lake, we couldn’t believe our eyes how stunning it was. The nature just felt so untouched, and the lake had the nicest colour.
We had our picnic by the lake, and just relaxed to gather some energy for the hike down to the car.
Tip: The air at that altitude is so thin, that you may get burned very quickly if it is sunny, so beware and use a lot of sun lotion!
Day 5 – Riwa to Xiangcheng (Sichuan District)
We started another day of driving towards Xiangcheng. We drove through lots of stunning scenery. The houses around looked massive and they all looked alike, but then we were told that in the winter, in one house, an entire family as well as their farm animals would live in that house. The heat from the animals would keep the families warm during the winter, when the cold struck.
We arrived at our next temple called the Bsampeling Monastery. These parts of China are really rarely visited, and mostly just visited by locals. The monks at this temple were very kind towards us, and let us see all of the temple, as well as the parts that were not normally shown to visitors. That is where the monks would eat, and pray and funnily enough make cheese! The cheese they would make was out of yack milk, and it had a very smokey tasty.
We set off again, and one thing that struck us was that the closer we got to Xiangcheng, the scenery and the people’s looks really changed.
Day 6 – Xiangcheng to Dequin (Sichuan District to Yunnan District)
Today was the day we would cross to next district, called the Yunnan District. We were getting close and closer to our final destination which was Shangri-la.
Again, we had a road trip with lots of beautiful scenery, however to cross to the next district, we had to cross a tiny little bridge, which was under survey. They were testing how much the bridge could hold, by getting heavy trucks to cross it. It was a funny moment to experience, and everyone around the bridge was staring at us and taking photos of us Europeans.
Once we arrived to Dequin, we walked around the town and found some traditional yack meat for dinner, which we feasted on.
We walked around the city for a little longer, as there was a traditional market, and found some beautiful jewellery and souvenirs.
Day 7 – Dequin to Shangri-La
We arrived to Shangri-La at around lunch time. This is the first civilised city we have seen since leaving Chengdu about 6 days ago! The city was beautiful, and luckily when we visited, there was a festival as it has been 10 years since the city was named Shangri-La.
There was music everywhere, people we dressed in traditional clothing, and everyone was just enjoying the atmosphere.
The city was stunning. That is how I would picture traditional, old Chinese cities to look like. There were no skyscrapers. The houses were all decorated beautifully, and had their own style.
We decided to dress up in traditional Tibetan dresses, and it stunned us how intricate and stunning these were.
And as you can imagine, everyone around us wanted to take a piccy with us.
One of the most epic things we saw in Shangri-La was the giant wish wheel overlooking the city, by a stunning little temple.
We had to climb some very steep stairs to get to the wish wheel, but once we got there, we realised how many local people go there (and apparently they go every day), to cast a wish while spinning this giant, golden wheel.
We joined in, and surprise surprise, it was so heavy!! And it was some good exercise for us too. Traditionally, you have to spin the wheel 3 times clockwise for the wish to be made, and it took 20 people to do this.
To relax after the lovely day, we found a snug little cafe with a beautiful view of the city, and enjoyed some delicious coffee.
Day 8 – Shangri-La
We spent the morning visiting the temple named Ganden Sumtseling Monastery. This temple is an exact copy of the largest sister temple in Tibet. This particular temple was not as big as the original, however it was still the biggest one we’ve seen.
This temple is home to some young trainee monks. This is where they learn the skills to become a monk. We saw them learning the skills of debating and praying.
The main part of the temple had one of the largest Buddha we’ve seen of 18 meters tall! We did question how they got such a massive statue up all those stairs and into this temple.
As a final stop on our road trip was the gorge of the Leaping Tiger. This is a canyon on the Jinsha and it is the deepest gorge on the planet!!
Walking down the gorge to the water, you can see the fast flowing water, as if a waterfall. Unlucky for us, the weather on that day wasn’t great, so the water actually looked scary, and felt like the place we were would overflow any minute.
But it is definitely a place that is worth the visit, just be ready for the all the stairs back up!! 🙂
Hope you enjoyed the first part of our road trip through China’s Sichuan and Yunnan areas, and how you also give our A Week in: China (Part II) a read.
Xoxo Ani and Sam