Tongren (铜仁; Tóngrén; Tibetan: Rebkong) is a city in Huangnan Prefecture, Qinghai Province.
Tongren can only be reached road but, given the geography, the drive navigates zig-zaging mountain roads, descends into precipitous valley floors alongside raging rivers and passes though undulating verdant grasslands. Certainly one of the more beautiful journeys of the region and sure keep you looking out the window.
Though only a little more that 100km away from Tongren the journey takes around 3hrs. One bus per day leaves Xiahe at 7.15AM from the main bus station (¥25).
Buses from Xining leave all day long, about every 30mins, from the south bus station, opposite the train station. (¥32.5)
Tongren is small and flat enough to walk between Longwu Si and the market area. Wutun Si is about a one hour walk away or you can take one of the numerous green taxis plying the route for ¥5 per seat.
- Wutong Monastery (五屯寺), (In Sangkeshan Village 10km outside town). The main reason to visit Tongren is to see thangkas painted. These elaborate Buddhist works of art have been created here for centuries, and the town is still considered the best place in the Tibetan world to buy one. Studios are concentrated in and around the monastery. There is an upper （上寺） and lower （下寺） monastery, of which the upper is far more impressive. They both charge 30RMB, and the monks at both will offer to take you to a studio. There is no pressure to buy anything, and you can watch as long as you like.NB: During the summer (Late July to ealy September), women are not allowed to enter the monestary.
- Longwu Monastery (隆务寺), Dehelong Nan Lu. 8AM-7PM. This active Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) monastery sprawls around the foot of Xishan Mountain on the south-west edge of town. Behind the exterior walls, embedded with squeaking prayer wheels, is a jumble of Chinese and Tibetan style halls and monks residences that are easy to get lost in for a few hours. The monastery was established in 1301 and greatly expanded during the Ming Dynasty. Though some of the halls and their resident Buddhas have been rebuilt multiple times over their 700 year history, everything that stands today dates from the late 1980's after the ruination of the Cultural Revolution. Don't let the lack of age put you off as the general lack of upkeep lends it a crumbling aesthetic that has its own charm. The Future Buddha Hall holds an ominously large Shamba idol-god in an elaborately decorated 3 storey hall. The fortress like Hall of Bodhisattva Manjusri is said to hold a Avalokiteshvara from 1644 that survived the recent destruction, possibly because the door is rarely open for anyone to see it. ¥50.
Tongren is more of a make your own fun kind of place, if the idle looking locals are any indication.
- Gamble, Corner DehelongNan Lu and MaiXiu Lu. A rotating cast of sketchy looking characters play a 3-card Monty style game with a trio of oversize dice decorated with tiger, yak and cow pictures. Lay your money down, give them a shake and you might win back your money - or a Yak. Remember: The only way to win is not to play.
- Hike. The western hills rising up next to town look steep from the bottom but the ChinFanLing on peaks of various elevations prove it's climbable and give you something to aim for as you blaze your own path up the more mild inclinations. A network of trails leading off from the Thangka sunning terrace behind the Monastery is a good place to start and leads to some reasonably mellow slopes that will get you high enough to see lofty snow peaked mountains in the distance.
- Performance Arts Theatre, (South end of the main market). Generally only has shows during the summer tourist season and festivals.
- Thangkas. The best deals are straight from the artist at Wutong. Your main options are to buy a pre-made thangka or to commission one. Not all artists will have pre-made goods to sell, and the most popular ones may have years worth of reservations. It takes one month to create a small painting and up to eight for a large one, but thankfully the artists all have e-mails, phones and fax machines, so it is possible to ship your work of art overseas whenever it is completed. These paintings run anywhere from ¥500 to ¥10,000, depending on size, quality and reputation of the artist. Shop around.
The main market has a couple of shockingly fashionable botiques, including a clothing store owned by a Tibetan with excellent English on the center of the main street. China's heavy army presence in these parts also means there is plenty of second-hand military stores in town.
While the dining options aren't particularly diverse or inspiring, the numerous restaurants offer warmth, large portions and interesting people watching opportunities. Hui noodles and Tibetan Momo/Jiaozi places are hidden in small alleys, look for the people eating on couches instead of tables.
Dried sheep's head is one of the curious delicacies favoured by locals to nibble with a few drinks. It's mostly bone on the outside necessitating a probe of the cavities. Numerous roadside vendors sell them for ¥20 and all will assure you it's delicious.
- Number One Noodle, 8 MaiXiu Lu (On the corner. Look for a sign with red characters with a snowy mountain in the background.). All hyperbole aside, the proprietors are very welcoming to bumbling foreigners furtivly sticking their head inside. Helpful point-and-eat pictures on the wall mostly give prices, though its best to check before ordering the ones without a price as you might discover they are suspiciously expensive at bill paying time. Noodles/Rice ¥8-12; Mains ¥20-25.
- Name-changing Hui restaurant, Dehelong Zhong Lu (Opposite QH-Tibet Yadu Hotel). The most brightly lit place at night with multiple names, none in English, has some ordinary but huge servings of the usual capsicum laden Hui dishes. Their mianpian looks like a mess but is stomach fillingly good. Noodles/Rice ¥4-12.
- Tibetan restaurant, Dehelong Nan Lu (Near the Monastery gate). A newish looking place packed with low Tibetan style painted benches serves only three things; MoMo, Jiaozi, Baozi. While the Momo are delectable they are heavy with heart attack inducing amounts of fat that will requite an entire jug of Yak Butter tea to flush out of your digestive system. ¥8-10.
- Yak yoghurt, (Upper town. Almost in front of the 8 stupas of the Longwu monastery.). Run by a young Tibetan lady who says the Yoghurt is made from yaks raised by her family in Zekog. A 'must taste' in Tongren. ¥2.
- Beer. Qinghais beer of choice is Huang that comes is various incarnations, all hovering around the 3.3% level of potency. If sitting in your hotel drinking the shelf-temperature bottle you bought from the supermarket isn't your idea of a good night out, you could try some of the Tibetan restaurants, though your drink is unlikely to be any colder. There is no chance of a drink at the Hui places because they a strict Muslims. ¥2-3.
- Yak Butter tea. Most Tibetan places serve jugs of frothy Yak butter tea if they have some already made. If you a connoisseur it would pay to try a few different places as quality is highly variable.
Numerous cheap hotels (Binguan) in the few blocks next to the Monastery but they can be selective about accepting foreigners. Generally they charge as little as ¥10-30 per bed with basic bathroom facilities and may have early curfews. Bigger, potentially English signed and speaking hotels can be found along Zhongshan Lu and Dehelong Nan Lu that provide more comfort for a higher price.
- Xia Chang, To the right of 13 Maixi Lu (In the courtyard with a painting of a monkey riding an elephant). A super-basic place for travellers who are counting their kuai and don't mind sleeping with families of Tibetan pilgrims. The rooms are sparse, though clean, and have a shared bathroom down the hall. Don't bother asking where the shower is because there isn't one. ¥50 doubles.
- Dianxin Hotel (Dianxin Binguan). Rooms with free within-country long distance and in-room internet access. Accepts foreign guests. Doubles for ¥130.
- Huangnan Hotel (Huangnan Binguan), 19 Zhongshan Lu. Usually the first place guidebook toting travellers head when they step off the bus. Some might stay. Others will be compelled by the dirty toilets, worn furnishings and gloomy interior to look elsewhere. If you do relent to its charms you might find the soft beds, thick blankets and sultry heating will make for a comfortable sleep after you turn the lights out. Doubles without shared bathroom ¥80, with bathroom ¥100.
- School Guesthouse, 88 Zhongshan Lu. The accommodation of choice for visiting officials, though you too can sleep in one of the comfortably huge wooden beds in equally spacious and clean rooms. The bathrooms on the other hand are tiny and have the most utilitarian of washing facilities. Doubles ¥100.
- QH-Tibet Yadu Hotel, Dehelong Nan Lu (200m from Repkong Bridge). The classy gold wallpaper in the foyer continues into the big warm rooms that have soft beds and clean ensuite bathrooms with hot water showers. The friendly, though somewhat bewildered looking, staff are exceedingly helpful if you fail to get the rooms electrics to work. Doubles ¥85.
- Big Modern looking Hotel, (On the other side of the river). This place is a bit reluctant to give you a price unless you look serious about staying there. Nonetheless it does look a upmarket, if a bit antiseptic feeling, and probably costs far too much.
- Xiahe – A Tibetan town centred around the huge Labrang Monastery. Buy your ticket the day before from the Tongren bus station for the one bus per day leaving at 8AM. (¥25)
- Xining – The lively capital of Qinghai Province.