For me, one of the most beautiful and authentic region in China is Sichuan province. Located in the southern- west part of China and very famous for its capital city Chengdu where you can visit pandas!
Chengdu is a very accessible city. But if you want to visit something more than pandas and Leshan or Emei Shan, then you have to take long buses and be prepared to spend lots of time on transportation…The first place that is worth visiting from Chengdu is the city called Kangding. Why Kangding?
- first place from Chengdu where you can admire real, authentic tibetan culture and tibetan people
- it has a huge and amazing tibetan temple (lama si 喇嘛寺) about 30 minutes from the city centre
- it’s like a hub from where you can start discovering sichuan off the beaten path
- you can buy here very beautiful tibetan jewelry
- it’s a first place to have a good acclimatization (2500m) before going to the upper parts of Sichuan
This time my desired place was Yading Natural Reserve Park. To go there I flew from Beijing to Chengdu. Then I spent a few days in Chengu obviously to visit pandas! I have a friend in this city so I could stay at her place for a few days. She took me to one of those spicy hot-pots in the town, where for me it was the spiciest food I’ve ever eaten but for her, it was not spicy at all…
So let’s start from pandas! I visited Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. It’s quite far from Chengdu’s center. You need to take a metro line 3 to Chengdu ZOO and later a local bus (station written only in chinese). I spent there about 3 hours, pandas were so cute that you could stay there forever <3 You can have a look at some photos below:
Then I went to Leshan, but it didn’t surprised me that much. Full of tourists, fog all the time etc…But I got this photo:
Let’s move on to Yading…
Finally, I bought my bus ticket to Kangding! You can buy it in Xinanmen 西南门 station in Chengdu. The journey takes about 7 hours and the ticket costs you about 114 yuan. I stayed one night in Kangding and visit a lama monastery. I visited it already two years ago, but I really like this one so I went there again. When you arrive in Kangding, you should buy a bus ticket to Daocheng. Daocheng is like a capital city of Yading. You can have a direct ticket from Chengdu to Daocheng, but it stops in Kangding, where you have to sleepover. So, either you buy a ticket Chengdu- Kangding; Kangding – Daocheng or Chengu- Daocheng. I prefer the first option as you can stay in Kangding two nights and visit this place. Then maybe from Kangding you can go to different places before going to Daocheng. The bus from Kangding to Daocheng takes you about 11 hours…so be prepared for a long journey in a bus. I arrive to Daocheng about 5pm and I took directly a pingche 平车 (shared mini-van) to go to Shangri-la (Riwa) which is the starting place of Yading Reserve. Do not make a mistake, this is not the famous Shangri-la town from Yunnan! This is Shangri-la (second name: Riwa) from Sichuan. From Daocheng to Riwa takes you about 2 hours and the shared car costs you 50 yuan. You can’t bargain. It is a fixed price. I arrived to Riwa at about 7pm so I stayed there for a night in an International Youth Hostel (very popular in China). There I met a few Chinese with whom I visited Yading reserve later. I spent two days in Yading reserve but if you would like to do the real trek with the tent, then you may think about staying there a bit longer! As I was alone, I didn’t do the trek…I did a casual visit of this park which contains of walking a lot!
The first day I took a bus from Riwa to Yading (about 30 minutes). You have to buy the entrance and inside bus tickets which cost you a lot! I pais 270 yuan for that. In my opinion, it’s very expensive to pay 270 yuan to see the natural park…but hello, it’s C H I N A! You have to pay for everything. After you buy the tickets, you can take an inside park bus which takes you to the heart of Yading Reserve.
My first part of visit was going to the Milk Lake (niunaihu-牛奶湖) and 5- color- lake (wusehai 五色海). Don’t think that it is an easy walk. The whole day took me about 9 hours with the breaks. This place is not known for foreigners. Expect that you gonna see thousands of Chinese people (especially in October as it is one of the best season to go there) with their oxygen bottles…It would be good if you have a few days for an acclimatization because the Yading Reserved is situated on 4000m above the sea level, and the highest point you reach is 4600m – 5-color lake. You don’t need a guide. You can easily go there alone, as there is a special path to go to all the lakes that you want to visit – Milk Lake- 5 color lake and the Pearl Lake. From the starting point (where the bus drops you off) it takes you about 2 hours to get to Luorong Grassland (amazing place to enjoy the grassland) or you can take an electric cab to go there for 50 yuan one way or 80 yuan both ways. Then it takes you about 3 hours (from Luorong Grassland) to get to Milk Lake and 20 more minutes to get to 5- color lake. You go back the same path. What’s more, as probably you will be one of only few foreigners there, Chinese people would like to talk to you and take pics with you. For my whole journey, I was never alone. I met some Chinese in the bus and then we went together to Yading & even Lijiang. If you think that Chinese people are not backpackers, you are in a huge mistake. On my way, I met so many Chinese backpackers. It’s quite famous now to travel like this in China for Chinese people. They are keen on visiting their own country and they are very open to meet new people. For two weeks, I have been only with Chinese people, improving my Chinese (a lot of them didn’t speak English) and getting to know them!
The second day was very easy because I just went to the Pearl Lake and the Chung-un Monastery which are situated very close to the starting point of Yading Reserve. You need like 3 hours to do this.
Where to stay in Yading?
I slept in a hostel in Yading Village. There is no problem to book it, there are a lot of hostels there.
To sum up, the atmosphere there is pretty much touristic. The hostels are built in a Tibetan way, but you won’t see any tibetans. It is all made for tourists so don’t expect too much. However, the Yading Natural Reserve is extraordinary! It is like a treasure for Chinese. The lakes, snow capped mountains, colors…all of it does a real beautiful place to visit. For sure, you won’t regret many hours of spending in a bus to get here. I had a perfect weather and it was October so the colors of the trees were incredible. I would recommend you to do the trek there (after the Milk Lake). But you need to have your own stuff. If I was there with Nicolas, for sure I would do it. Then, you can see all of these beauties without any tourists.
My trip to Yading in a shortcut:
- Take the bus from Chengdu to Kangding (7 hours, 114 yuan)
- Sleep in Kangding and visit Kangding the other day
- Take a morning bus (there is only one at 6am) from Kangding to Daocheng (10-12 hours, 155 yuan), arrive in Daocheng at 5pm and take a pingche (shared-car) to to Riwa (Shangri-la in Sichuan), 2 hours, costs you 50 yuan, arrive in Riwa, sleep in a hostel
- Wake up in the morning and take a 5 yuan bus to the entrance of Yading Reserve, buy an entrance ticket and inside bus ticket (270 yuan). Get off in Yading Village to put your bags in a hotel room, take an inside bus (that you have already paid) and go to the starting point of the visit. Visit Milk Lake and 5-color lake or the Pearl Lake. Go back to your hotel in Yading Village.
- Visit Milk Lake/5 color lake or the Pearl Lake with the monastery
- If you are a trekker then trek for a few days
- After Yading you can go from Daocheng to Shangri-la (but Shangri-la in Yunnan!), it takes about 12 hours by bus.
If you would like to travel with me to China, let me know! Contact on firstname.lastname@example.org 🙂