Amdo-Tibetan Plateau – Sichuan / Gansu
Northern Sichuan / Southern Gansu - Amdo-Tibetan Plateau
This itinerary describes a tour route that explores Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou national park, the Amdo-Tibetan plateau region of Northern Sichuan / Southern Gansu, and finishes in Lanzhou.
This route is only recommended during the warmer months of the year, as during winter temperatures drop below freezing in Liangmusi and Xiahe.
The big attractions of this route are as follows:
- Visit the panda research base. (Chengdu)
- Hike Emeishan mountain (Chengdu)
- View the worlds largest Buddha carved out of a mountainside in Leshan. (Chengdu)
- Experience pristine natural landscapes as you explore China’s most famous national park. (Jiuzhaigou)
- Take a horse trek and camp in the Amdo-Tebetian plateau outside of Liangmusi. (Liangmusi)
- See one of China’s most ornate and best preserved Buddhist temples in Liangmusi.(Liangmusi)
- Witness Buddhists from all over China making their pilgrimage as you explore the Labrang monastery; the most important Buddhist temple outside of Lhasa. (Xiahe)
- Start your journey on the Silk Road by train or book your plane / train ticket to any major city. (Lanzhou)
Destinations along the route have a very different feel to the traveler:
- Chengdu － 成都– A large city that is considered to be one of the most laid-back in China. Chengdu has more bars, restaurants, majong dens, and tea houses per square kilometer than any other city. Chengdu also is world famous for its Sichuan culinary style.
- Jiuzhaigou － 九寨沟– The small town outside offers little to do other than sleep. The park and surrounding areas offer a glimpse of nature which are rarely found elsewhere in the world.
- Langmusi － 郎木寺This town is nestled high up on the Tibetan plateau on the border of Sichuan and Gansu province. It’s surrounded by higher groups of mountains, which make it perfect for horse trekking and hiking. The town is home to two famous monasteries. The population of the town is mostly Amdo-tibetan.
- Xiahe － 夏河– Much larger than Langmusi, but still small in terms of China. Here you can find Buddhists making a pilgrimage to Labrang monastery. The monastery draws people from all over China.
- Lanzhou － 兰州 – The industrial provincial capital of Gansu provence. Lanzhou is polluted and offers little more than shelter for the traveler.
Getting to Chengdu
- Flights and trains are available from most major cities in China.
- Neighboring Chongqing has a high-speed train that take less than two hours.
Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou （成都到九寨沟）
- Busses are available from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen bus station（新南门汽车站） located in the south of the city. The trip takes between 8-11 hours, and will take you through winding mountain roads. Tickets should cost between 110-145RMB.
- Jiuzhaigou can also be reached by air from Chengdu international airport. The flight takes just 45 minutes. From the airport you can hire a private taxi for 200RMB which will take 1.5 hours to reach Jiuzhaigou. You can also hire the shuttle for 45RMB per person, however the shuttle does not run late into the evenings.
- Jiuzhaigou is also accessible from Xian and Chongqing.
Jiuzhaigou to Liangmusi （九寨沟到郎木寺）
- You can ask your hostel in Jiuzhaigou to purchase the bus tickets ahead of time for your trip. Buses leave early in the morning and take 4 – 5 hours to reach Langmusi. Make sure you take advantage of each restroom stop along the way as drivers do not make frequent stops.
Langmusi to Xiahe （郎木寺到夏河）
- The bus to Xiahe leaves at 2pm and will take around 4.5 hours. You can find the bus waiting in the center of the town. Just purchse your tickets from the bus station and show up 30 minutes before the time on the ticket. The bus will stop in Hezuo for a break along the way. The bus will terminate in the Xiahe bus station which is a few kilometers from the Labrang monistary and where hostels and hotels are. Catch a cab and let them know you want to go the labrang monastery.
Xiahe to Lanzhou （夏河到兰州）
- Upong arrival in Xiahe, purchase your tickets from Xiahe to Lanzhou. The bus will leave from the same bus station where you arrived in Xiahe and should take about 3.5 hours to reach Lanzhou.
Getting out of Lanzhou
- Trains are available to take you to any major city in China. To Beijing takes about 18 hours by train. Flights are available to any major city in China.
- Travelers can also choose to continue on to Jiayuguan, heading west along the silk road to Xinjiang.
Personals notes from the editor:
Nestled in China’s fertile mid-west region, Chengdu has been a historic and cultural capital of Sichuan province for 1000’s of years. Chengdu has loads of historical sites to visit and offers travelers a great opportunity to experience different culture than Chinas Eastern behemoth cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Chengdu offers a slower-paced alternative to the Western inspired “work culture” of Beijing and Shanghai.
Travelers should come to Chengdu prepared to try as much food as possible. The region is world famous for Sichuan culinary style, which encompasses famous Chinese dishes such as MaPo DouFu（麻婆豆腐) and kung pao chicken（宫保鸡丁). The food here is simply ridiculous offering explosions of flavor to satisfy the taste buds.
Chengdu easily wins the title as China’s relaxation capital, offering more bars, ma jong dens, and teahouses per square kilometer than any other city in China. Be sure to take a few days to capitalize on cheap massages, hone your ma jong skills, and cleanse your body with tea.
We stayed in the Traffic Inn hostel located directly behind Xinnanmen bus station. We found the hostel to be clean and inexpensive. If you plan on hiking Emeishan and seeing the Leshan buddha, you can take a bus directly from the bus station in front of the hostel.
A fast 9-hour bus ride from Chengdu around winding mountain roads is the most famous national park in all of China; Jiuzhaigou. Amazing natural beauty, rivaled by few places in the world, is the reputation this place has developed in China. Having spent a few days there, waiting out the rain, I did some research with locals and found out some crucial information on the park and how to maximize your experience there.
Check out this article from my blog on how to sleep inside the park, saving you time and money.
Alternatively you can sleep outside of the park in one of many different hostels located outside of the main gate in the town. Most of these hostels are a short walking distance from the Jiuzhaigou entrance gate. Arrive at the gate to purchase tickets 30 minutes before the park opens. Head all the way into the park to the back, and hike your way out following the trails. The trail will intersect with bus stops along the way, and you will easily avoid hordes of tourists.
Way up in the mountains of Northern Sichuan is the small Amdo-Tibetan town of LiangMuSi. Horse trekking, hiking, and exploring the surrounding areas are the main attraction of this town. This town is also home to two rival monasteries. One is spectacular, and allows visitors to enter the main temple. The natural beauty in this area is stunning and can easily eat up a few days of time especially if you consider a multi-day horse trek / camp.
There are several places in the town that organize the horse treks around Liangmusi.
It is a good idea to spend a few days in Jiuzhaigou (especially if you fly to Jiuzhaigou from Chengdu) getting adjusted to the altitude before heading up to Liangmusi. If you feel like you have the flu several hours after arriving in Liangmusi, its probably altitude sickness. The local pharmacy offers Tibetan medicine that helps sooth elevation sickness. The stuff really works. It may take a day or two to get adjusted to the elevation, and if its intense enough, you may have to head back down to a lower elevation. Here is a picture of the tibetan medicine:
Xiahe is home to the Labrang monastery; the most important "yellow-hat" buddhist temple outside of Tibet. You can hire an english speaking tour guide which will take you through the temple complex. On most mornings the guide will also take you through the temple as the monks are chanting. This was one of my favorite experiences on this trip.
There are a few hostels outside of the monastery. Any of them are suitable for a night or two stay in Xiahe. There are also some short day trips outside of the town which are worth checking on. They can all be arranged by the hostel.
Lanzhou is a huge industrial city. Theres not too much to see here, but Lanzhou has a airport which is very accessible to the rest of China. You can stay in one of several hotels across from the train station, or you can book a hostel online with hostel bookers and have them pick you up from the train or bus station.
Lanzhou makes a great starting point if you plan on continuing on to explore the silk road heading out towards western China.