Shangri-La, an idyllic, mythical land high in the mountains of Yunnan or a clever invention dreamed up by the tourism industry? In 1933, James Hilton described in a book he wrote an idyllic place that until today no one knows if this is the one. True or not, it didn’t stop us from paying a visit. It was our last stop in the north.

Shangri-La and the area around it proved to be a really inspiring place because it was our first contact with the ex-free Tibet. Since we were in their winter low season, we had the place almost to ourselves. The location was an idyllic valley with winding stone streets and wooden buildings, with beautiful carved eaves and tilled roofs. This small old town was surrounded by a bigger modern city, still beautiful but with the stamp of modern days China. About 17km out of town, we explored the rewarding Songzanlin temple, probably the most beautiful Tibetan palace outside of Tibet. Myth or not, Shangri-La does live up to its name.

It was time for us to descend to the warm south because the cold started getting us down, both mentally and physically. It took us a bus ride of sixteen straight hours and a second bus ride to reach Jinghong, the capital of the Xishuangbanna area, the tea centre of China. Here we did nothing but enjoy the sun in the many parks. We found out that the boat ride, that we were hoping to take down the Mekong into Laos, was suspended because of drug cartel attacks. The famous Golden Triangle, the opium centre of the world, is nearby. So we had to take the road again.

The last road out of China into Lao People’s Democratic Republic was definitely a highlight of this trip and a good beginning for future trips to Great China. I’ll be back.

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