Deqin (德欽; Déqīn) is a town located in the Hengduanshan Mountains in Yunnan province. 80% of its 55,000 inhabitants are Tibetan. If you can deal with the altitude (3550m) it makes a great place to hike from, and if you can not then just hanging out in town is also very rewarding. A small piece of Tibet, accessible without expensive permits.
Deqin town itself is a terrible manifestation of the worst kind of modern Chinese architecture: dirty, white-tiled, and soulless with not a whole lot to see but a quick glance at the market maybe. However, if you love hiking Deqin is a superb base. If you are not a hiker you might be disappointed, though a short ride out of town does provide a great view of Meilixue Shan located on the border to Tibet, which could justify the nail-biting, yet breathtaking six-hour bus ride from Shangri-la (Zhongdian).
Deqin prefecture is where the big mountains are to be found with impossibly steep valleys, mind-blowing vistas, remote monasteries and class A trekking, for all levels, available all year round. In fact the best time to trek is during the winter months as summer is the rainy season. March is the worst month as the rains start but it's still cold enough so it comes down as snow. This is the month to get snowed in.
So, if Deqin is so great, why is it not better known? The main reason for this is that there is not a lot of information available on the area, so the average traveller is left guessing whether it is worth visiting or not. The fact that most travellers will have to return the way they came also puts them off visiting (Deqin is the last town before Tibet proper in Yunnan province).
There are four buses leaving in the morning from Shangri-la Zhongdian. The journey takes about 5 hours and is through spectacular and insanely scary mountain roads that take you through multiple ecosystems of of superb alpine scenery. The awful music videos, the freezing cold, windy roads and the potential for chain-smoking fellow-passengers can make the journey a bit unpleasant. Always bring ear plugs and a face mask. The town of Benzilan, which lies about midway from Zhongdian is worth stopping off at in its own right, and breaks the journey up nicely. The bus drops people throughout the town, ending at the bus station next to a T junction. It might be possible to continue with the same bus to the Temple FelaiSi, for an additional ¥5 - ask the driver (or ask an English speaking local to ask the driver) at the Deqin bus station. FelaiSi is located about 30 km outside of town and well worth the visit even though it is quite small. Buses to Zhongdian (Shangri-la) depart at 8:20AM, 9:20AM, 12:00PM, 14:20PM and cost ¥68. The earlier buses make a lunch stop at a restaurant but be sure to check prices before taking your food (about ¥10-15 for a vegetable dish and ¥20 for a meat dish).
Buses to/from Lhasa use the main bus terminal in Deqin. There should be no problems buying tickets which are ¥500. The ride takes 3-4 days and the bus may or may not stop at hotels during the night. There is one military check point where a soldier may come on board, but they seem not to care if there are foreigners on the bus. However, the drivers will not let you roam far during restaurant stops in towns. This trip is risky if you are not in good health because the bus drives over 5,000m at least three times.
Note: The land route from Shangri-la to Lhasa is closed for foreigners. They will not sell you a ticket even if you have the Tibet travel permit.
Feilai Temple (飞来寺; Fēiláisì), (10km away, ¥30 by taxi). Amazing view of Meilixue Mountain worth seeing at sunrise weather permitting as the peaks are often hid in the clouds, thus the name of the temple. Feilai Temple also has a growing number of hostels and guest houses. Consider staying there instead of Deqin. The owner of "Once Upon a Time in FeiLaiSi" speaks English and can give advice on hiking in the area. (2014 - Temple charges an outrages ¥150 to see the view, they have helpfully put up a very large wall to block it and make you pay. You can get round this by walking down the hill with the temple compound wall at your left, once the wall ends turn left and admire the view. Also if you now walk up the hill on the other side of the wall you can ever the temple compound for free)edit (2015- No entry fee requested, arrival was quite early in the morning, but 20 Yuan suggested as an offering in the temple itself.)
Yubeng Village (雨崩村; Yǔbēngcūn), (18km away). Tibetan village not accessible by any vehicles. You can ask at your hostel to book a seat for you in one of the minibuses departing every morning from FeiLaiSi to Xidang Hot Springs（西当温泉[xīdāngwēnquán]）where the hike actually starts. There are usually 6-7 seats in a bus and an overall price is ¥150 (June 2011). Talk to the other people planning to go there so you can share the price. There are a decent number of domestic Chinese tourists that make this trek, so finding a lift shouldn't be difficult. It takes 1 hour and a half to get there and you will be asked to pay ¥80 (June 2011) as a scenic area entrance fee. Make sure you bring your passport as you have to be registered. With a student card you can get a half-price ticket. The 9 km (one way) hike takes about 6-7 hours in total (6.5km uphill and 2.5km downhill) with 1284 meters vertical gain. For those who find the hike difficult there is an option of hiring a horse or mule for ¥185 to the top or ¥255 for the whole way (June 2011). There are 2 tea-houses on the way up where you can buy some water and simple snacks and a tea-house at the top of Yakou pass. Once you arrive please note that there are two villages - Upper Yubeng (you hit this first) and Lower Yubeng (15 minute walk downhill and across the river). The accomodation in Yubeng are very basic and costs about ¥20-25 for a person (June 2011). Food is very local so bring a spirit of adventure as you eat. Once there, Yubeng is one of the most picturesque villages you could hope to see. Nestled in an alpine valley, surrounded by snow peaks, multicoloured forests, and waterfalls. There are also numerous treks one can make from the village, so plan to spend at least a couple of days there.edit The most popular is to the "sacred waterfall" (actually about 10 waterfalls) and they are stunning. Another is to the ice lake. The former starts from Lower Yubeng and the latter from Upper Yubeng. Both have significant elevation gains (3000+ feet) so allow plenty of time. Also, remember that you're already at about 10,000 feet altitude at the start, so HYDRATE as much as you can. The weather can vary from minute to minute, so the key is to layer, and have something waterproof. If you need to buy gear, note the many knock-off shops in Shangri La that sell cheap jackets that are water-resistant and/or cold-resistant. Bring snacks for the hike as there are only a few tea houses and the pickings can be slim (though the Tibetan bread, instant noodles, and Tibetan tea can all be blessings on a cold day). If you see Buddhist pilgrims, offer them a Tibetan greeting of Tashi Delek (pronounced Tash-ee Dee-lay).
Meilixue Mountain Nature Reserve (梅里雪山景区; Méilǐxuěshān Jǐngqū; also known as Snow Mountain), (You can arrange transport to the reserve entrance for around ¥50 per person in a shared 4x4. Information correct (January 2008)). Hike to the Taizi Temple and Minyong Glacier. Taizi Temple has a guest house but unfortunately most of the rooms are severely damaged by a storm, there is still a few acceptable rooms, available at very low prices ¥20. Only recommended if you absolutely have to stay on the mountain, otherwise go back down to Mingyong Town (July 2009).¥60. edit
Most of the small restaurants on the main street have good food. Tibetan cured pork is worthwhile trying. All the dishes with yak meat are considered to be local and might cost 25-35 yuan. If its western food you crave head to the main tiled square with the video screen and have a wonderful meal at Tulange Cafe.
shuiyuan gongyu(水源公寓:this lodge is much clean and better than dexin tibetan hotel. dorms ¥30,Double en-suite ¥80 with very nice wifi connection and Shower room. the owner is local Tibetan speak very good english,he helps you to know about the area.He have very well knowledge of local culture and trekking route cos is was a guide.the hotel is located opposite of new kindergarten.(may 2015)
Dexin Tibetan Hotel, 86 Nanping Street (Left out of the bus station about 30m). Nice family run hotel able to have foreign tourists.Double en-suite ¥80 (July 2009), dorms ¥30 (Summer 2012). edit
Mingzhu hotel. Standard room is about 200 per night.. edit
Deqin Feilai Temple youth hostel (飞来寺觉色滇乡青年旅舍). Probably the best budget option at the Feilai Temple. Look for the Green sign near the bottom of the slope, and turn right and go up the hill. They have Dorms and private rooms with electric bankets. The rooms are quite dirty and smelly, and the bathrooms are rarely washed. There is a common room with an XBox 360 and stove. Note that the inside of the hostel is not insulated in any way, so outside of the lounge and your bed can get quite chilly! The Wifi is available in both the lounge and the rooms. The reception staff speak good english.(March 2012). Double room with bathroom is very expensive for what it is worth : ¥120. YHA China site(in Chinese)Dorm ¥30. edit
There are not so many routes available from Deqin. There are several morning buses to Shangri-la (Zhongdian) (4-5 hours (due to road development, September 2014), 67 yuan) available at the Deqin bus station. The locals may take you there in a small minibus for about 80 yuan and the trip will take a little bit less (June 2012). The same minibuses are running to Mangkang county (芒康县）of Tibet (about 2 hours, 120 km). (2015) Upon entering Deqin county your bus will stop for a police check point if you are heading towards Deqin, if you are heading back they don't seem to care. National ID cards/passports will be collected by the driver and given to the police. Be alert to when the cards/passports are handed back as they are given to the travelers in the first row of the bus and handed back to the next row! Perhaps better to get up and go ask for your passport back right away.
The road to Weixi is open, and passes through some amazing small villages down the Lancang Valley. The bus leaves at 8 from the Deqin bus station and takes around 5-6 hours. Rock slides are common, so expect delays. There is a 7:30am and 9:30am bus to Lijiang from Weixi, and a private taxi costs 500-700 yuan back to Lijang, it takes 5.5 hours.