I spent two full days in Zhongdian. It's a pleasant place. But to my surprise it's really more of a city containing an old town sector. On arrival in the North side bus station the breeze-block-cement revolution of China is clear to see. Taking the 1¥, 1, 2 or 3 bus down the main street toward the Old town in the south, the size of the place is evident- 120,000 people live here now and immediately I was a little disappointed.
Despite this, the first thing that struck me about the old town is how empty and devoid of tourists it is. For all the efforts of the locals who have setup nearly every building to sell "rare" Tibetan trinkets and also notably the name change- Zhongdian became Shangrila- the boom that has struck neighbouring Dali and Lijiang has yet to arrive here and the streets feel like a ghost town in waiting.
All the same the old town does retain some charm. The cobbled streets are lined with wooden houses, with a few traditionally built Tibetan buildings on display. Roughly off the back of the old town is the monastery which sits proudly over the maze of cobbled streets. Its certainly worth a visit and is probably the best bit of the old town.
Aside from this you can visit the Shangzelin Monastery. At 85¥ its a little steep. But apparently you can walk through the ticket area quite easily, from there its a 10-min walk up to the monastery. Sadly I only saw it from a distance. But the building looks amazing and it seems to be enclosed within its own little town.
Over my two days here, I have come to the conclusion that the best bits of this and future towns I visit will be in the surrounding landscape which is nothing short of phenomenal. On the second day we took a ride to the Napa Lake, which sadly costs 30¥ per person to visit. This seemed like a totally unreasonable fee and we decided better of it. But on the 10km walk back the environ really struck me. The plaines are so vast, the colours so rich and earthy, yak and horses roam the plains, Gompa's top the hills and the clouds- reminiscent of a wild west film really set the scene. I felt truly content on that walk!
Where I stayed:
Kevin's Trekkers Inn, Dorm 25¥
Run by Kevin and his wife, who speak excellent English and can provide lots of information about the area. With a good choice of coffee, some tasty food and free Wi-Fi. Highly recommended.