tibetan monk running to monastery door

Why You Should Visit Shangri-La, Yunnan, China

You heard it right. There is a place in Yunnan, China, at the northwestern side way up in the mountains at a little over 3000 meter elevation, named Shangri-La or Xianggelila in Chinese PinYin.

tibetan writing on prayer wheel
Tibetan words written on a spinning prayer wheel

Where did the name ‘Shangri-La’ come from?

Rumor has it that the famous hotel chain’s name was inspired by a place with a Tibetan name, “Shang Mountains”, which is described as an earthly paradise, inhabited by people who are happy and content, and ageless.

The name got worldwide attention after an author used it in a 1933 fictional book, which was inspired by Tibetan materials he found at a British museum. As a result of popularizing the name, people built their own Shangri-La’s either as a small garden in their backyards, a park, or a chain of luxurious hotels that span across the globe.

man crossing river with water wheel
Ian walking across a beautiful calm river

However, historical claims state that this place is actually true. Based on materials from a thousand years ago, a Chinese poet described this heaven-like mystical valley in the same manner. After a couple of back and forth, the current Shangri-La county in Yunnan claimed the name last 2001, although it is not exactly confirmed if both places are one.


Why We Visited Shangri-La

We had around a little over a week for a short trip around Yunnan, and decided to travel up north, doing the Kunming – Shangri-La – Tiger Leaping Gorge – Lijiang – Kunming route. The funny (and scary) thing is, we had 2 attempts for this trip.

Attempt #1

For our first attempt, we took a 12 hour bus ride from Kunming to Zhongdian (main town in Shangri-La), where we met an accident that had our bus flipping a couple of times until landing on its side. There were no fatalities but had some passengers, us included, stay in the hospital for a week. More on that in our vlog posted in both Facebook and Youtube.

Attempt #2

tourist in front of diqing airport shangrila
Diqing Airport, Shangri-La

After our first attempt, we opted for a plane ride instead as it was a lesson learned the hard way. A few hours in and landing safely to Diqing airport, our trip started. In this article, we have listed our recommendations from our own first-hand experience. Read on.


Things to do in Shangri-La

shangrila buffet
our dinner buffet only costs USD $35 per head

1. Buffet at Shangri-La, Shangri-La

I mean, why not have a buffet at a 5-star hotel up at 3000 meters? Firstly, the food offered were a mix of local, international, and Chinese. Secondly, it is so worth the money and highly recommended!

songzanlin monastery with black flag
Main facade of Songzanlin Monastery, one of the most amazing and unique details we’ve seen in a monastery

2. Songzanlin Monastery

This is probably the most interesting monastery we have have ever seen. Bold graphic prints in black and white, hung up a few stories high outside the facade of a monastery are absolutely amazing! In addition, have we mentioned that this is also the largest monastery in Yunnan? Message us to ask for a map of the monastery’s whole estate.

3. Giant Prayer Wheel

Built as recent as 2002, it is one of the most visited attractions in Shangri-La and is the largest prayer wheel in the world at 21 meters high. When you come, do spin the wheel as according to Tibetan Buddhist traditions, it translates to reciting prayers.

chinese people dancing in village style dance
nightly dances where anyone is free to join
people walking in china old town
shops across each other at Dukezong Old Town

4. Dukezong Old Town

Despite being touristy, Dukezong Old Town is filled with shops and restaurants for locals and tourists alike. Everyone is welcome to join nightly dances too!

yak skull with gold hanging on a wall
a bedazzled yak skull can be seen hung anywhere in Shangri-La

5. Yak Meat and Yak Butter Tea

Noodles with yak meat are a staple and locals say that it keeps the body warm during winter.  Yak butter tea? Similarly, this drink is also something you should not miss when in town. However, we were a little bit scared to try because getting a diarrhea while traveling is definitely a no-no. Do let us know how it goes for you though.

couple hugging in front of chinese architecture
us in our cheesy selves in front of a super cool sports center

6. Tibetan Architecture

No matter where you go, there is always a new building that might be your new favorite one. We have not seen any architecture design similar with this yet ever before. It is full of geometric details with primary colors in red, blue and yellow.

man with stretched arms in front of a mountain view
Ian taking in the marvelous view at Tiger Leaping Gorge

7. Tiger Leaping Gorge

Fancy an extra something to add adventure to your trip? Explore trekking across TLG if you are heading towards Lijiang, from Shangri-La. Here’s our full trek guide / vlog.


When you pay Shangri-La a visit, do let us know how your trip went and if any of these are helpful. The last time were were there was November 2017 and things would have definitely changed. Safe travels!

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