We’ve just received a travel update on the amazing teahouse village Luocheng 罗城镇 in Sichuan province. Many years ago we had a long and bumpy ride to Luocheng from Leshan. It now seems the trip can be done in around 3 ½ hours by bus directly from Chengdu along a good road. We’ve had a detailed comment from Wayne on our previous post. The bus timetables are below but click here to read the rest of the comment and more about Luocheng.
Buses to Luocheng leave from Chengdu’s Shiyangchang Bus Station 石羊场汽车客运站 at 8.20 / 9.20 and 12.20 and return to Chengdu at 12.30/ 13.30 and 14.30. Tickets cost 67 Yuan. Bus number 28 goes to Shiyangchang Bus Station from downtown Chengdu.
Location: Sichuan Province, China, in the vicinity of Leshan (2-3 hours)
The ancient town of Luocheng is a gem for those looking for traditional teahouse culture. Luocheng is renowned for its boat architecture: the two sides of its main street narrow down at both ends and widen gradually towards the middle, thus creating the oval shape of a boat.
Straddling the street and forming, as it were, the prow to complete the boat- like appearance of the town, stands a beautifully restored theatre. It is covered in traditional grey tiles and flamboyantly decorated with historic scenes and smiling Buddhas.
However, the absolute highlight of Luocheng is the swell of teahouses lining the main street, sheltered by the overhanging wooden porticos of the buildings. Overlooking this sea of bamboo tables and chairs, occupied by querulous old men in faded Mao jackets, arguing over heated games of cards or Mah-jong, while smoking small stubby pipes carved out of roots, visitors can truly imagine themselves in a time warp.
Joining the regulars over a cup of tea, you can really get an impression of what village life must have been like in the old days. The whole place still oozes authenticity and atmosphere; two elements that are often lacking in many of China’s more popular historical places. In fact, Continue reading “Luocheng: Is This The World’s Best Teahouse Town?”
CITS (China’s official travel agency’s description of an L Train 临客)
“L – Temporary Train In Chinese: LinKe (临客) L trains operate only during the peak travel season, such as the Chinese Spring Festival and the National Holiday. These trains are not listed in the official fixed train schedule. It is not advised to take L-trains if you have other options as they are known to be relatively slow and regularly subject to delays”.
“46 hours”. I doubted my Chinese at that moment, but the ticket seller repeated the departure and arrival times, there was no mistake. Bagging next day hard sleeper tickets from Beijing to Chengdu can be a taxing experience at the best of times, but in early August, you’ve got about as much chance as winning the lottery. Unless … unless, of course, you are willing to take the slow train 临客 , or L Train as it is known in China!
We got two middle berths, which are the best, as during the day you can escape the crowded lower berths, where everyone sits, and they have more space than the often claustrophobic upper berths.
Pandemonium broke out when the gates were opened at Beijing West Station 北京西站 to allow the passengers on. Those without reservation ran frantically, pushing and shoving the old and weak out of the way, to grab one of those precious seats. It was a simple case of survival of the fittest; get a seat or stand for 46 hours.
The Songpan Festival was a marvellous spectacle. The spectators were spellbound by a riot of colour as Chinese dragons, Tibetan Qiang minority dancers, and Muslim Hui singers took over the town, paraded through the streets and usurped the public squares.
The real fun began after the Communist Party leaders had made their speeches, sped off to lunch in their limousines and left everyone to an afternoon of spontaneous revelry. Here are some photos of what they were enjoying.
Songpan’s amazing festival takes place in the walled town of Songpan. The town is the gateway to the scenic heaven of Jiuzhaigou 九寨沟 and wild horse treks to Ice Mountain雪玉顶. Songpan is also a destination in itself. It`s a pleasant town with plenty of old architecture, local life and some fantastic tea houses.
Songpan’s Amazing Festival Passing Through
When we passed through in 2004 we were lucky enough to stumble upon a huge festival where the local Muslim Hui and Tibetan Qiang minorities were celebrating their local culture and dressed in their finest clothes. Joining them were a host of Chinese Communist Party Bigwigs, including the then vice-president, Zeng Qinghong.
The residents of the entire town and surrounding villages turned out to see the festival. This small group of photos captures them enjoying the moment. Next week’s Photo of the Week will show what they were watching.
This is our first holachina slideshow video. The photos were taken during the preparations for the Danba 丹巴Festival August 2004. Danba is a small town in Western Sichuan about a 3 hour Bus ride from Kanding 康定. The town itself is small and scruffy but its setting, nestled in a deep valley at the confluence of two rushing rivers and surrounded by traditional Qiang (a Tibetan minority) villages, makes it quite idyllic. The highlights include stunning villages, such as Jiaju 甲居藏寨 and Badi (not Baidi as I have written in the video) and the Qiang watchtowers peppered on the slopes of the steep valleys.
The year we visited Danba there were very few other foreigners and no domestic tourists. The following year, 2005, the Chinese National Geographic claimed that Jiaju village 甲居藏寨 (7kms from Danba) was the most beautiful village in China. Since then its popularity among travelers, foreign and Chinese alike, has grown rapidly.
We hope you enjoy the slideshow. Some people may find the music a bit painful. It’s the same music that was being played on the VCD’s on all the buses we sat on during our trip around Western Sichuan in 2004 and it brings back great memories.
This small town, with a big history, is situated on the banks of the Jialing River, some 225 kilometres from Chengdu (Sichuan Province). It is all at once the burial place of the Three Kingdoms general, Zhang Fei, birthplace of the Han dynasty inventor of the Chinese Calendar, Luo Xiahong, and home to a wealth of traditional Sichuan architecture.
In short, Langzhong has plenty of things to see and do to keep a visitor busy for two days.
As you approach Zigong, sculptures and posters of dinosaurs announce that you’re arriving in “Dinosaur City”, as the city is known by the Chinese.
Dinosaur Cake Shop In Zigong
Zigong is a pleasant modern city, built along the banks of the Fuxi River that has so far managed to maintain large areas of traditional and interesting architecture, despite its recent development and prosperity.
Besides Dinosaurs, Zigong has an abundance of sites, and is definitely worth spending a couple of days. The city owes its prosperity not so much to dinosaurs, as to salt and, in particular, the important role this product played during Imperial times.
Luodai Hakka Guildhalls and Teahouses. The ancient town of Luodai near the teeming Sichuan capital of Chengdu is a curious place. When one thinks of the Hakka people (Kejia in Chinese, or ‘guests’, also known as China’s gypsies) the first thing that comes to mind are the amazing round or square earth buildings, the Tulou, of Fujian and Jiangxi. Other Hakka claims to fame are the Taiping rebellion, or the Hokien cuisine, which is found in many South East Asian countries.
What doesn’t normally spring to mind is an impressive collection of Hakka guildhalls in a far- off small town in Sichuan! But that is exactly what Luodai is all about and why I had always wanted to go there.
Kangding’s Mind-blowing Summer Festival was one event not to miss if you were travelling in Western Sichuan in 2004. Having just returned to Kangding from Danba, we were lucky enough to stumble upon a one-off festival aimed at celebrating Tibetan Kham culture and promoting tourism in Western-Sichuan.
The streets of Kangding were jammed packed with proud-swaggering Khampas, dressed up to the hilt in their finest clothes. One could easily have imagined that the entire population of these once warrior nomads, had rolled into town off the grasslands. And like in the wild-west of old, many had come in on horseback.
With so much going on, nobody paid much attention to me as I used up roll after roll of film. Kangding has changed and modernised radically since these photos were taken, so I hope you enjoy them. It was a magic moment.
Kangding’s Mind-blowing Summer Festival: About Kangding
On arrival at Kangding bus station, you are first struck by the ugliness of the surrounding buildings, mostly square apartment blocks.
Very little of the old city remains, except for a couple of leaning half-timbered shops and food stalls, and most of the new buildings, including the hotels, look rather ramshackle.
The concrete central square is rather kitch and decorated with the ubiquitous inflatable rubber arches.
It looks staunchly Communist and reinforces the impression of the town being predominantly Chinese.
However, you won’t find the charm and interest of Kangding in its ugly centre. You have to look a little further out of town.
Lamaseries in and around Kangding
There are several lamaseries in and around Kangding. The largest and perhaps most attractive of these is the Nanwu monastery. You will find the monastery set on a hill on the outskirts of town; surrounded by beautiful gardens and inhabited by a bustling and friendly community of monks.
At the time of our visit, they were busy creating large circular “paintings” on the floor and on low tables. Only, they weren’t paintings, they were made of coloured powder (Mandalas).
It seemed a very delicate and transient art, given that the decorations were not meant to last.
Nanwu Monastery and Kham Traders
At the monastery gates, we came across a group of Kham traders who had hitched their ponies to some nearby posts and were about to visit the monastery.
The presence of the flamboyant Kham, as well as other ethnic groups of Tibetans, is what makes Kangding such a fascinating place.
All over town you can see these tall proud people, dressed in traditional Tibetan gear. Men wear oversized greatcoats with knives strapped to their belts, and the women in wrap-around woollen skirts or pinafores. Both sexes deck out in elaborate headgear and heavy jewellery.
Markets and shops are bustling with Tibetan as well as Chinese traders, and you can see large wads of banknotes changing hands ( not so much these days; even Khampa nomads are paying with their mobiles!)
Thousands of prayer flags blowing in the wind
Dominated by the mighty peak of Gonggha Shan the scenery surrounding Kangding (7556m) is impressive, and famous throughout China, due to a popular love song: The Love Song of Kangding.
An easy one-and-a-half hour hike through forests and flower strewn meadows, or an even easier cable car ride, up Paoma Shan will provide great views of Kangding and the nearby snow-capped mountains.
Thousands of prayer flags blowing in the wind, as well as small Buddhist temples and shrines, make for a slightly mystic atmosphere all the way to the top, which is crowned by a white stupa. The scenery is breath-taking.
In 2004 we stayed at the “Sally´s Café”, otherwise known as the “Knapsack Inn”; one of those classic Chinese backpacker hostels that we usually avoid but ended up really enjoying.
It offers / offered (see below) clean and friendly budget accommodation, right next to the Jinggang monastery and about 5 minutes away from the Nanwu monastery.
Beds here are normally 25 Yuan in three-people dormitories, with shared bathrooms: During the Kanding Festival, end of August- beginning of September, rates go up to 50 Yuan.
The owners, who speak excellent English, can provide tourist information and arrange transport. For example to Danba or Mugecuo Lake, bus tickets and accommodation for onwards travel. Somebody from the hostel might meet you at the bus station when you get in. It’s up to you whether you want to take up the offer.
Update: Not sure Sally’s exists anymore. Last reference we found was 2017. Pity; it had a great location
During the Festival, room rates in Kangding shoot up to astronomical levels.
In Kangding we stayed at the comfortable Tibetan- run Ka-Sa hotel right opposite the bus station for 140 Yuan. There are many cheaper options if you are staying longer – or more expensive ones if you fancy a bit of luxury.
The restaurant scene in Kangding has improved. Only a few hundred meters from the bus station there are now lots of small family restaurants serving cheap and delicious Sichuan dishes.
Kangding – Chengdu, 4 buses a day, about 7 hours.
Kangding – Litang, at least one bus a day, leaving at 7.00 in the morning, arriving at 15.30.
Kangding – Danba, one or two early morning buses, but not daily, see Danba section.
Kangding – Ganzi, leaving at 6.00 in the morning, arriving at 18.00 in the evening.
Kangding – Dege, leaving at 7.15 in the morning, arriving at 13.15 the next day, overnighting at Luhuo.
Other destinations include Daochen and Zigong.
The Kangding Festival takes place at the end of August or the beginning of September and attracts huge crowds of Tibetans to the town, to do their shopping, watch the shows, and generally eat, drink, and be merry. While the Festival itself is nothing special: some rather bland folk dancing and singing, often performed by Han-Chinese rather than Tibetans, the crowds make it a worthwhile experience. There is an incredible mix of people, wearing the most variegated costumes.