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. 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 Mountain, which could justify the six-hour bus ride from 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).
Here are ten good reasons to visit Deqin:
There are four buses leaving in the morning from Zhongdian. The journey takes about 5 hours and is through spectacular and scary mountain scenery. The awful music videos, the freezing cold, windy roads and the chain-smoking fellow-passengers can make the journey a bit unpleasant. 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. Buses to Zhongdian (Shangri-la) depart at 7:30AM, 8:30AM, 9:30AM, 10:20AM and cost ¥53 (June 2011). The schedule after 10:20AM is not fixed, but if there are passengers, there might be a bus at 12:00PM or a little bit earlier. 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).
Note: At the moment (June 2012) the buses between Zhongdian and Deqin take around 8 hours because the road is under major reconstruction. The road is apocalyptic and you have to not be affraid of collision with other buses or trucks.
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.
The town has one through road winding down from the north side.
Saffron is a choice when you go to Deqin because this is kind of quite valuable herb.
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.
Butter Tea (Pinyin: sū yóu chá; Tibetan: bod ja) - This is a main staple of the Tibetan diet made of yak butter, black tea, and salt. Mix it with barley flour and you have a meal known as tsampa.
There are not so many routes available from Deqin. There are several morning buses to Shangri-la (Zhongdian) (8-9 hours, 65 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).
There is also a road from Deqin down to Weixi but it's under construction at the moment. But once it's finished, there are some extremely nice, untouristy places along the way, so you could head down through Weixi to Lijiang instead of going back to Shangri-la.