Words and Images by Thuc Anh Cao Xuan–
When I was in grade 7th, I first heard the name Shangri La in a Wang Lee Hom’s song. He was my friend’s favorite Chinese singer, and she kept listening to the song that I can’t help wondering about the meaning of the word. Then I asked her what it meant and she told me Shangri La kinda means ‘heaven’. It stuck on my head ever since and I just kept dreaming of being in Shangri La, being in heaven.
Then somewhere in my high school life, I discovered that Shangri La wasn’t just a name. It was an actual place on Earth, and better, in China! The ancient town is in Kunming and it gets heavy influence of Tibetan architect.
This summer my boyfriend and I booked a couple of China Eastern Airlines tickets from Hanoi to Kunming, and then from Kunming to Shangri La, and then off we went.
We arrived at Shangri La airport at midnight and the air was really cold though it was mid-summer. We had to wear sweaters and jackets, and we got on a taxi taking us to Dukezong Ancient Town in Shangri La. We stayed at a boutique hotel just a few steps from the town square.
In Shangri La, the heavy influence of Tibet is easily spotted. Colorful Buddhist flags are hung everywhere. Tibetan mastiffs and yak can be seen at the square, and tourists can pay to take photos with them. People here have pink cheeks and dry skin because of the cold, and their clothes also have a hint of Tibet.
Here are the four things you can do in Shangri La:
We spent our first day going around the ancient town and visit the temple where the Tibetan prayer wheel is. It is a rotating tower inside the temple. By holding on to it and following its rotation, your wish might be granted after you finish several rounds.
Around town, the shops sell local souvenirs and local drums. They have a particular song that keeps playing everywhere we went. At first it was quite annoying but then it started to get addictive. You can also try dried yak meat and rose petal stuffed pastry while walking around the old quarter.
3.) Visit the Songzanlin Monastery
The next day we went to Songzanlin Monastery by bus. It is located on top of a hill about 15 minutes from the ancient town. Its architecture is like Potala Palace in Tibet, with white wall and crimson and gold roof. The monks of the Yellow Hat sect live in the monastery and you can see them walking by in their crimson rope. If you come when the place isn’t crowded you may understand why James Hilton took this place as an inspiration for this book Lost Horizon.
4.) Try some local dishes
Must try dishes in Shangri La include very sour yogurt (which did not make us happy but anyway, give it a try) and yak hotpot. Try having a hotpot at night when the temperature is low and you will see why Shangri La is called heaven.