Shangri-La, the famous mystical paradise mentioned in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, is actually a real place you can find in the Yunnan Province of China!
The Myth of Shangri-La
The paradise city called Shangri-La is similar to other mystical places like El Dorado and Atlantis. The people of Shangri-La are said to have lived for hundreds of years, practiced traditional Buddhism ways, and existed in harmony with nature.
Shangri-La is often called the “Eden in dream.” It has been a legend for a long time and known by many other names in different languages, but became part of English myth when British novelist James Hilton wrote about it in his book the Lost Horizon in 1939.
How To Get To Shangri-La, Yunnan
It is said that the mythical Shangri-La had no precise location, so in 2001 the Chinese government challenged four contenders to put forward a case for being the true Shangrila location. Zhongdian in northern Yunnan was the most persuasive and was renamed Shangri-La in 2003.
Located at point where Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan all meet, Shangri-La County is administered by Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.
There is no train station in Shangri-La: to reach it you need to go by bus from Lijiang, or you can fly to the Shangri-La airport nearby. There are daily buses to and from Lijiang, and you can easily reach Tiger Leaping Gorge from Shangri-La as well.
How Much Time To Spend in Shangri-La
Shangri-La is a great destination to visit if you want to experience Tibetan culture but don’t have time to visit Tibet. I would recommend at least one day and one night here at the minimum, but if you have extra time, there is plenty to explore in the surrounding Shangri-La area.
Watch my Instagram Stories from Shangri-La to see more of my trip here, from dancing in the square with the local people to exploring the monastery here!
Things To Do In Shangri-La
1. Dukesong Ancient Town
The Dukezong Ancient Town is more than 1300-years-old and is the largest and best-preserved Tibetan city among China’s 147 Tibetan counties. It is also site of the largest ancient Tibetan community.
There was a terrible fire here in 2014 and many beautiful and ancient building burned down, but they have been in the process of rebuilding things since then.
This is the area most visitors will stay in when they visit Shangri-La (similar to what Lijiang Old Town is for the city of Lijiang). I booked a hotel here for one night, and it was a great location for all the other things I wanted to see and do.
2. Tortoise Hill & Golden Prayer Wheel
At the very center of Dekezong Ancient Town you’ll find Tortoise Hill and the Golden Prayer Wheel. It offers a great view to see all of the old city of Shangri-La County. After climbing the stairs to the top, you’ll see the Golden Prayer Wheel. You can grab some people to help you spin the giant heavy wheel in a clockwise direction.
3. Join the Dancing In the Square
Every evening if there’s no rain, the local people come to the square to dance. Anyone can join, so don’t be afraid to jump in! There was a smaller group in front of Tortoise Hill, and later I found a larger group dancing in another town square nearby.
4. Try All the Yak Products
The people in Yunnan and Tibet rely on the yak for many products – you’ll find yak meat, yak yogurt, and yak milk everywhere, as well as yak clothes. Here is some yak yogurt and milk being sold – I tried the yak milk and it was actually quite good!
5. Songzanlin Monastary 松赞林寺
The Songzanlin Monastary is the largest Tibetan Buddhism monastery in Yunnan Province Built in the style of Potala Palace in Lhasa. You can spend some time walking around the Monastery itself, and also walk around the nearby Lamuyangcuo Lake for more great views. It costs 90 RMB for a ticket inside.
I love the spirit of the people and the atmosphere of the people here. It’s vibrant and lovely. There’s more western influence here than I expected, with lots of western foods and cafes. There’s a distinct non-Chinese feeling here, which is the complete opposite of Lijiang – the Tibetan culture is so prevalent and makes you feel like you’re outside of traditional Chinese culture…but there’s a large statue of Mao in the middle of the city that reminds you you’re still in China.
I highly recommend you add Shangri-La to your list if you’re visiting the Yunnan Province! It will definitely amaze you and leave you more curious about Tibetan culture…I really want to see Tibet now! Have you been to Shangri-La or Tibet?
Check out my other travels from this past summer:
- A Guide to Visiting Lijiang in the Yunnan Province
- The Xijiang Qianhu Miao Village in the Guizhou Province of China
- Furong Ancient Town: The Magical Waterfall Village of Hunan, China