Songpan (松潘; Sōngpān) is a small town in northern Sichuan. The city is mostly used as a base-camp for exploring the nearby national parks and Tibetan Villages, and is additionally visited for its existant remnants of the old city.
There's a bus station at the North end of town, a few blocks north of the North gate of the wall.
The bus station serves major locations in Sichuan, as well as locations in Qinghai, and can also connect to Xiahe in Gansu, via Tongren and Hezuo. There are also buses to/from Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve and Huanglong National Park. The place can take on a very touristic flair in the summer months overrun with bus loads of foreign and Chinese tourists arriving eager to spend their money on fake nicknacks and souveniers, give or take the odd cheesball picture.
While largely a modern touristic recreation, tiny parts of the old city walls are still standing (the gates) and can be climbed.
Guanyin Pavilion, southwest of town on a hill. Offers a good view of the town and surrounding mountains. The shrine itself is currently closed.
The West Gate - Opposite the horse trekking company, follow the stream toward the dam and take the track on the left. About 45 minutes walk. From there, you can continue in many different directions. In particular, there are paths leading to the foot of two 4000 meters summits. (32°42'4145N/103°32'361E)
Horse Treks are offered by several guest houses and agencies around town but are serviced by one horse trekking company. Treks can be from one day to as long as a week, and frequently visit Tibetan villages and famous mountains. Prices are usually around ¥200 a day, and include food and camping/village stay. Some of the guides do not get along so well with the local Tibetans, however. Currently either a three or four day trip to Ice Mountain both cost the same amount, ¥450. The second day of the 4 day trip is a filler day, where you camp in an extra place, but don't travel very far. Normally you will be riding the horse going uphill, and have to walk near half of the journey on the return downhill trip, in order to let the horse rest. The trek may be physically demanding. Quite limited time on the horse every day, sleeping in tiny tents, the guides do not speak much English. Some guides regularly beat the horses with sticks - if you don't like that, it is important to tell the owner of the horse trekking company beforehand that he should tell his guides accordingly. It also helps to tell the guide "no!" very decisively every time he tries to beat the horses - after half a day it strongly decreased.
Adventure Access is a new foreign run outdoor company specialising in 'off the beaten track' style tourism. They do mountain bike tours and treks where you are guaranteed freedom from the masses of Chinese tourists. The company is based out of Songpan with the following tour options. Contact +86-18683720550 or +86-18011506136, email@example.com. They have a desk in the Amdo Coffee House Inn inside the north gate of the walled ancient town.
National Park Visits
Mountain Biking - approximately 220 Yuan per half day
One mountain bike trip organised by Adventure Access starts with a drive to the top of a mountain. The locations are so remote that a local Tibetian family that we passed even invited us to join them for a picnic lunch.
There are dozens of shops in Songpan that sell locally made crafts including colorful textiles, silver jewelry, Tibetan hats, and fake antiques. Bargaining is a must. To get the best price on silver products go to the far southern end of the main street where a number of silver smiths are located. You might get the opportunity to see a silver smith hammering away on a new piece. The prices in these shops are dramatically cheapers than stores just up the block. One product you should not buy are the many furs for sale. The skins for sale have been poached in China or in neighboring countries. Asia's wildlife is quickly dissapeering as China's appetite for illegal animal products increases. Please don't contribute to this crisis.
No shortage of small restaurants, Tibetan and Chinese, in town.
Emmas kitchen Very good food (with the exception of the pizza!) (western and Chinese) and coffee! They provide Internet, Tour information, book swap, laundry service, car rental and booking tickets from Songpan. Ca 30 m south of the bus station. Turn left on the main road. Very friendly staff.
Note: Avoid 'Emma's Guesthouse' as there is a 10pm curfew and the owner is very unpleasant (see below), eat at local places better value and better food.
Sarah Yang. Good Chinese and Western food. Sarah is also very friendly and willing to share information about Songpan.edit
Songpan has a long history with tea. The tea culture is still a big part of the town and many people go to local tea houses in the evenings to hang out.
Amdo Coffee House Inn, Ancient Town North Street (Inside North gate). This place has a comfortable Tibetan style atmosphere blended with a coffee shop vibe. It is a good mix of tradition and modern. They serve a variety of coffees, teas, beers, and cocktails. Free wifi is also available. The Americano at 18 yuan is a good deal for coffee in Songpan. Hai Bing, the owner, and his staff are very friendly!edit
Amdo Coffee House Inn, Songpan Ancient Town, North Street (Inside North gate). Beautiful boutique type guest house in the back of the Amdo Coffee House Inn--newly opened in Songpan. The rooms are nice. The coffees in the shop are good--the Americano is mere Y18--cheap for coffee in Songpan. Adventure Access staff office out of the coffee shop. edit
Good Luck Guesthouse is near the bus station. Dorm rooms should go for ¥12-20, though the owner, Huang Xin, may be reluctant to rent them. Beware of his homemade Bai Jiu. Telephone (0837) 7231556.
Jiaotong Bingguang (交通宾馆), attached to the bus station, has single rooms without a bathroom for ¥25.
Emma's Guesthouse - loud noisy Chinese tourists, smoking in rooms, curfew at 10pm and the owner is devious, leave a deposit at your own risk, many other nicer options in Songpan.
Shun Jiang Guesthouse Just off the main road behind Shun Jiang happy trails horse trek company. Great little family run guesthouse. Twin rooms from 120, hot showers, check water pressure first. Heat lamps and electric blankets. Friendly local owner with decent English and lots of local knowledge. Often times, they do not wash sheets between guests.
There is an internet bar located just across the southern most bridge. If your heading south the internet bar is immediately on the right after crossing the bridge down a few steps along the river. It is ¥6 for one hour.
Supposedly SongPan horse trekking now has a small internet bar. Emma's Kitchen has wifi, as well as her guesthouse nearby.