Chiangrai – Shangri-La
The Great Adventure
Story & Phoros by Chaton Chokpattara
The name Shangri La may sound familiar if you have read the legendary novel, “The Lost Horizon”. It pictures the utopia hidden amidst the steep mountains where people live peacefully for eternity. Such place is yet to be discovered and it still remains the Tibetan mystery of the lost utopia ‘til this day.
Learning of the legend, Chinese government renamed Zhongdian, a county in the province of Yunnan, into Shangri-La in 2001. Zhongdian fits into many descriptions of Shangri-La. It is a part of a snowy mountain ranges, it’s home of native Tibetan people with Vajrayana/Tibetan Buddhism, and it is surrounded by vibrant colours of breathtaking forest, lakes, and flowery plains. This Chinese “marketing scheme” turned out to be more successful than originally expected with the name Zhongdian slowly fade away and millions of people now travel to the land called Shangri-La.
It’s not impossible to travel from Thailand to Shangri-La, but you need to be well-prepared. If flying is your choice, then it’s a breeze to fly to a city in Yunnan and ride a bus to the mystical city. However, a long journey is much more memorable and a 5,500 kilometers return trip along the R3A highway across Thailand, Laos, and China will surely be marked as unforgettable.
The journey begins at Chiangkong, Chiangrai, cross Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge 4 into Huaysai, Kwang Bor Kaew, Laos, then through Jinghong, Xishuangbanna, Kunming, Dali, Lijiang, and finally Shangri-La by the eastern border of Tibet where snowy mountains and colourful forest await.
Driving through Laos on the first leg of the journey reveals vast panoramas of golden rice paddies and lush mountains surrounding small villages in Huay Sai and Luang Nam Tha. Luang Nam Tha sits on the border of Laos and China and you can drive across from Boten, Laos, into Mohan, China. Unlike the road through Laos, the journey from Mohan to Jinghong and Xishuangbanna is full of steep valleys, wild jungles, and over 40 tunnels and daring bridges. The nature around Jinghong is amazing, but what’s more fascinating is its unique culture and history. If time permit, you should definitely spend a couple of days here to enjoy the attractions and food here.
The terrain slowly changes as we continue up R3A highway pass Kunming, Dali, and Lijiang. Notable landmark includes the First Bend of the Yangtze River, Honghe Bridge (one of the tallest bridge in the world with the height of 180 meters), Dinosaurus Valley in Chuxiong, Mushroom Village in Nanhua, Tiger Leaping Gorge (one of the deepest gorge in the world), the city of Dali by Erhai Lake which has over 800 years of history, and the millennia old Lijiang city.
You might not have noticed it, but with the altitude of 3,500 – 4,000 meters, reaching Lijiang is already like reaching the roof of the world. The atmosphere on the way to Shangri-La could be quite thin, but considering the vistas, you are on your way to the heaven on earth! Shangri-La during October is exceptionally beautiful with most of the trees turning red, orange, and yellow as winter creeps in. It’s impossible not to visit Blue Moon Valley for more spectacular views from the cable car, and visit Songzanlin Monastery, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in China and one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
The 14 day journey along 5,500 kilometers of amazing terrains and views from Thailand to Shangri-La will always be one of our greatest and longest trip and we hope you will find an opportunity to plan and make this amazing trip as we have done.