Pronounced as Xiang Ge Li la (香格里拉) in Mandarin or known fondly as Zhongdian (中甸) among the locals, Shangri-La is one of earth’s best kept secret and paradise located in the Yunnan province of southern China. Almost like it’s God’s well thought out plan, this restful town is embedded in the seam of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet - areas brimming with religions and spiritual traditions, azure lakes, eminent alps and verdant grasslands.

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Shangri-La China Travel Guide: Location, Attractions & Tips

Shangri-La China Travel Guide: Location, Attractions & Tips

Meaning of Shangri-La

Shangri-La was described in James Hilton's Lost Horizon as an other-worldly place of mystique, while the Tibetans refer to it as "sun and moon in heart", which makes it a divine and ideal home in heaven. Here, the locals walk tall and proudly, their skin bearing an enduring shade of bronze due to the unabating exposure to UV radiation.

In the past, it was known as Jiantang. Together with Batang in Tibet and Litang in Sichuan, these areas were ruled by the three sons of a Tibetan King. It wasn’t until 2002 that it received the name Shangri-La.

Shangri-La is a dreamy village located in Yunnan, China

Land of Wonder As unique as its name, Shangri-La is home to earth’s rawest, most bountiful resources. Plants grow freely and animals such as musk deer, golden monkeys and yaks roam unrestrictedly across the plateaus. Mineral deposits are rich and inexhaustible, and its ethnic inhabitants - mostly Tibetans, live ever harmoniously in accordance to the values and traditions passed down to them for centuries.

Best Time to Visit Shangri-La, China

The ideal period to visit Shangri-La is between March to August, where flowers are in full bloom in perfect spring weather.

Tibetans living in Shangri-La, China
You will find many stupas erected across Shangri-La or Xianggelila inYunnan, China
Temple in Shangri-La, China
The streets of Shangri-La, decorated with colorful prayer flags.

Tips for Traveling in Shangri-La, Yunnan

Prepare to be exposed to strong UV radiation and the ever-changing weather. Even if you are not hiking, be sure to pack along sunscreen and long-sleeve shirts for protection. Altitude sickness is common, and its symptoms are shortness of breath, lightheadedness and tightness in the chest area. Make sure to get enough rest once you arrive and bring along medication if necessary.

A resting yak in Shangri-la, China

Yak Butter Tea: A Must-Try Traditional Tibetan Drink

A drink loved across the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India, butter tea or Pho Cha is traditionally brewed using fragrant tea leaves, rich yak butter, water and salt. The consumption of butter tea has become a necessity in this part of the world due to colder climate and higher altitudes, as it is able to provide high caloric energy while keeping the body warm for a longer period of time.

The taste? It literally felt like I was sipping melted butter that has been diluted with hot water. Oily, possibly rancid and carrying the perfect concentration, I would say the drink is practical rather than tasty. Nevertheless, sampling this exotic tea passed down from the 7th century is a must, because it can rarely be found outside of the region and it does a fantastic job warming both bodies and souls.
Yak Butter Tea in Shangri-la, China
Photo by Ashok Ramprasad

Yak Momo: A Must-Try Traditional Food in Shangri-La

Let’s me just start by saying that I love dumplings, and momo definitely ranks among the top in my list of favorites.

Momo is a traditional delicacy native to South Asia, notably Tibet, Nepal, North India, and Bhutan. Although highly similar to the dumplings from East Asia, they are distinguished through the embodiment of Indian influences, such as the use of herbs and spices. It is believed to have originated from Tibet, and was spread to Nepal thanks to the merchants of the Newar community. Momos in Shangri-La and Tibet are unique because they are stuffed with yak meat. Chicken and pork momo varieties are more commonly found outside of this region.
Yak momo in Yunnan, China
Photo by Tibetpedia

Top Attractions in Shangri-La, China

Be ready to be swept off your feet, as you are invited to a feast for your senses with unique, unfamiliar architectures and a landscape too beautiful and surreal.

Spin the Giant Prayer Wheel, Guishan Park

Closely located to the old town, the 10-meter giant Tibetan prayer wheel is a sight not to be missed (technically you won't be able to miss it either, because it's huuuuge). To get there, you'd need to climb the stairs and be sure to join in the fun and spin the wheel (clockwise and in odd numbers) for an unforgettable experience! In the evening, the park will come to life with music and dances by a merry crowd made up mostly of beautiful, pink-cheeked women and children.

Giant Prayer Wheel, Guishan Park
Photo by by Benoit Demers

Visit the Songzanlin Monastery at Shangri-La, Yunnan

Songzanlin is the biggest Tibetan Buddhism monastery in Yunnan, spanning across 30 hectares and located on a mountain 5km from the town centre. Similar to the architecture of Lhasa's famed Potala Palace, this breathtaking complex consists of Tibetan watchtowers soaring five levels above ground storey and is home to over 700 lamas and monks. Visitors need to climb 146 steps at 3,300m above sea level before arriving at the main prayer hall - the very same pilgrimage route taken by generations of pious Buddhists.

Songzanlin Monastery, Yunnan
Songzanlin Monastery at Shangri-La, China
Unique architecture of Songzanlin Monastery at Shangri-La, China
Songzanlin Monastery is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located in Shangri-La, China
Songzanlin Monastery, Yunnan, China

Other noteworthy attractions in Shangri-La include Lake Bita, Baishuitai, Yubeng Village and the sacred Meili Snow Mountains, but getting to them might take some time and effort and they are scattered faraway from another.

Heading to Yunnan? Read this article to help you plan your journey!