Kangding (康定; Kāngdìng; Tibetan:དར་མདོ།, Dardo), is the largest city and capital of Ganzi (Garzê) Tibetan Prefecture, in western Sichuan Province, China.
This small mountain city is at an altitude of 2600m (8,530 ft) and offers a welcome relief from the pollution and overcrowding of the larger cities of the Sichuan plain. By far the largest city in Western Sichuan it is mainly ethnically Han Chinese with a notable Tibetan presence and flair, particular in its shops, restaurants and the lama local temple. For centuries it has been the meeting place of many cultures and therefore is home to memorial to the Tea Horse Road. It serves as kind of last outpost before the wild Tibetan mountains and passes of the Chengdu-Lhasa highway and the historical Tibetan region of Khamba. The views of the neighboring alpine peaks down the river are spectacular. Outdoor activity opportunities abound with particular focus on hiking and growing influx of bikers in the summer. There also is an authentic "hot springs" nearby and a cable car in the city that takes you up the mountainside. While cold in the winter months, the drier and sunny winter climate provides a great respite to those who must spend most of their time in large Chinese cities further to the east.
Buses travel from Chengdu*成都 (6 to 9 hours, ¥127), Leshan (7-8 hours, ¥122, 9:30am), Luding (4 hours, ¥40), Tagong (4 hours, ¥40), and Litang (9 hours, ¥102). Buses between Kangding and Chengdu run through early afternoon; other routes generally leave only at 6-6:30 am. Private and shared minivans can also be hired outside the bus station.
*Majority of buses depart from Xinnamen Bus Station (aka Chengdu Travel Center 成都旅游客运中心). A few departs from Chadianzi 成都市北门汽车站. Same goes for Chengdu North Railway Station 成都市北门汽车站 and Shiyangchang station 成都石羊场车站.
The airport is one of the highest the world at 4,000 meters with flights to Chengdu. Flights in the winter are not available. It is about 30 km outside the city over a modern asphalt mountain pass (national highway G318) which takes just over an hour to travel. A bus will depart from outside the station after your flight lands (most flights are timetabled to land at around the same time).
Flights are regularly delayed or cancelled, so do check before leaving your accommodation - in this case, it should be possible to organise a driver to the city, where you can catch a bus, or even a driver to Chengdu.
Taxis start at ¥5, while the size of the city makes walking feasible.
- Anjue Temple安觉寺 (Anjuesi). A small, central temple belonging to the Gelugpa sect near Yongzhu Hotel. A lamp lighting ceremony on the 25th of the tenth month of the Tibetan calendar is held there
- Nawu Temple南无寺 (Namw si), (A short taxi ride or twenty minute walk, 1.6 km, south from the Anjue Si). This Gelugpa monastery operates a shop that sells prayer flags and other Buddhist goods near the main gate. At lunch time it is also possible to ask if you may eat in the temple kitchen located at the back of the compound for a small fee.
- Jinggang Temple (Jinggangsi). This monastery belonging to the Nyingma sect is located next to the Nawu Temple. As of May 2016, the monastery is undergoing extensive reconstruction on the living quarters. The main hall remains open for worship as is the small building with prayer wheels downhill from the main compound
- Paoma Mountain跑马山 (Paomashan), (Cable car from Jinggang Temple or you can walk up in thirty minutes). This is the mountain under which the city lies, famous for being referenced to a popular love song and horse races in the past. The Circling the Mountain festival is held here on the eight day of the fourth lunar month every year. Guide books have cautioned about incidents of muggings in the past, so going in groups may be advisable.
- New Tibetan Museum. located in the new Kangding downtown. It’s free to enter and really worth a visit! You have to take the local bus #1 or #2 till the end of the line (takes a bit less than an hour). From there, you should see a Christian church, keep going straight to the roundabout and turn right. You will see the museum further down on the left side at the bottom of the hill.
- Mosque, (City centre). Entry inside may be limited.
- Roman Catholic Church天主教堂, (City centre). As of May 2016 the church appears to have been converted to a hotel and shops.
- Old Town Spring, (City centre). English signboards that give an interesting background to the history of the spring and horse races on Paoma Shan/Mountain.
- People's Square. From 7PM most evenings. Witness droves of locals dance to traditional music at the town square. They all mimic one leader through the steps, can you spot who she is?
- Yak Bridge, (Near the end of the middle of town going towards the bus station at the local farmer's market). (During Spring Festival) Serves as a marketplace for all things yak. Culturally relevant to the local Tibetans, it is a one of a kind site to see. Warning, not for traveler with a weak stomach!
- Er Dao Qiao, (Located 4 kilometre and ¥10 taxi ride away). A hot spring resort. A private room with a pool may entail a wait of up to a few hours, while a public pool is available immediately. A bit rough on the edges with very questionable cleanliness but this place is very affordable and its the real deal offering great medicinal benefits. Bring your own towel. A private room with a pool is ¥10 per hour; a public pool is ¥48.
- Mugecuo (3200m), (feasible as a day trip, the entrance is roughly 21 km from Kangding, along the same road as the hot springs). 8AM-5PM. National park containing lakes, forests, mountains, hikes, hot springs, Tibetan Buddhist rock paintings, and grasslands. The entrance price is rather high by Chinese standards but it still well worth the (literally) breathtaking views. This is wild man's lake in Tibetan and you will be going up high to see the glory of the unspoiled alpine world. If you venture up in winter via taxi (¥200 one way) you most likely will be the one and only guests in the park with it all to yourself add a few wild yaks that cross the road in front of the tour bus. You can practice your Mandarin and/or Tibetan with the local staff who just love visitors at this time of year essentially giving you a private tour of the whole park. Bring sunscreen and warm clothing! You may have to arrange a pick up time for your taxi beforehand. Get the taxi driver's mobile number just in case. This place is too far from Kangding to walk. An internal bus circuits the park from the lake down to the valley every 30 min in full operation. ¥120 + ¥100 internal bus ticket.
- Also in Kanding you can go to the illustrious club 88 where you can party with all the local "celebreties" you want.
- Black Yak Adventure Travel, Tagong, Main Square (3 Hours on the S215 from Kangding to Tagong by shared Minivan or Bus.), ☎ 0086 131 7077 1450, . 9am - 9pm. East Tibet Adventure Travel Company specialising in authentic, undiluted, off the beaten track adventures out of Kangding. Born from exploring Asia's most remote and geographically demanding regions the team at Black Yak fell in love with the remote corners of East Tibet. Operating private adventures from Kangding to remote areas of Yunnan and Sichuan including multiday trekking, off-road and cultural adventures in remote areas well off the tourist track. High altitude mountain expeditions, summit logistics and world first adventures. "East Tibet is a modern day explorer’s paradise, an adventure playground where the spirit of Tibet remains strong. Vast, remote, stunningly beautiful and still untouched by modern tourism. Explore of one of the last true wildernesses on the planet, find new inspirations, immerse yourself in culture and discover the undiscovered. Go explore. Be more Yak." Black Yak is run by an Englishman "Mark" with support from local Tibetan guides. Mark lived in Tagong and has built adventures which bring the very best of these remote areas to life. https://www.facebook.com/bemoreyak and www.travelblackyak.com. Call Mark 008613170771450 as advanced planning is required for all adventures.
ATM's of major Chinese banks make shopping possible. There are many shops along Xinshi Dian Jie (the street en route from the bus station to the town square/centre) that specialise in Tibetan jewelery, accessories, clothing, artwork, silverware, and religious paraphernalia and clothing.
Note that most ATMs don't accept international credit cards. There are 2 ICBC Banks that work. One is in the Center on the River, across the Dicos. You can also change money at the Agriculture Bank of China on the main road in the town center.
- Bala Boutique, Guangdong Lu. Traditional and modern Tibetan clothing, Pashima shawls, jewelry and accessories. English speaking owner tells about Tibetan customs and culture. Located in the Anjue Monastery across from the Kangding Hotel. Mary designs these authentic Tibetan chubas from custom brocade fabrics which are sewed by her Tibetan tailors.
- A're Tibetan restaurant, Xinshi Dian Jie. Venue for both good food and ambience. The restaurant is decorated in a traditional style, with adjacent private rooms and waitresses in traditional dress. Waitresses and local customers have a habit of dancing to the local music playing in the cafe. The food is varied and delicious. Westerners may appreciate the potato fried in Yak butter. Service is prompt. Prices are not excessive.
- Sonam Tso, (From the Black Tent Hotel cross the river and then turn hard right along the street on the south riverbank, walk about 60 feet). Small cafe serving drinks and - perhaps - western breakfast. Check out the unusual Tibetan handicraft prototypes that adorn the cafe walls.
- Kalakar Hotel, (On the south bank directly facing the river, about 10 minutes walk down from the Black Tent). Restaurant on the second floor that serves up french fries, bobo shakes, and other East-West-blend fast foods.
- Tangsubao, (From the Black Tent hotel doorway turn right and walk to the front steps of the large Kangding Hotel, then turn left to follow the alley; after about 40 feet you will find the restaurant on your left. There is no English sign, but you will see a doorway leading to the kitchen on the right and microscopic dining room on the left). Open for breakfast only. a tiny hole-in-the-wall, serves up the best meat dumpings in Kangding, maybe anywhere. They do take-away, or you can ask them to set up a table in the street.
- Himalayan Coffee (喜马拉雅咖啡), #13 Historical Walking Street, LiuLiu Chen, Kangding Old Town (150 m upriver from main square. Look for General Bridge (JiangJunQiao) with statutes of Tibetans. Cross river at bridge and enter into tourist shopping district behind the large yak statute. Turn left on walking street at large prayer wheels. Cafe is located up a small staircase immediately on the left.), ☎ 0836-2818887. 9:30-23:00. In addition to great coffee, Himalayan Coffee offers full Western breakfasts and light lunch and dinner options. Breakfast options include eggs, omelettes, waffles, bacon, granola and fresh Tibetan wheat toast. Lunch options include a selection of fresh wraps, sandwiches, grilled quesadillas and Italian-style personal pizzas. Dinner options include yak burgers, fresh fries, pastas, and tender yak steak. Bakery items include homemade cheesecake, cakes and pies. House specialties are the fresh tiramisu and cappuccino cheesecake. 20-50元.
- Himalayan Coffee, #13 Historical Walking Street, LiuLiu Chen, Kangding Old Town (150 m upriver from main square. Look for General Bridge (JiangJunQiao) with statutes of Tibetans. Cross river at bridge and enter into tourist shopping district behind the large yak statute. Turn left on walking street at large prayer wheels. Cafe is located up a small staircase immediately on the left.), ☎ 0836-2818887. 9:30-22:30. Serving the best Italian espresso in SW China, feating all-imported, freshly-roasted beans. Nuova Simonelli espresso machine operated by well-trained baristas. Western bakery featuring cheesecakes, tiramisu and apple pie. Himalayan Coffee offers lunch and dinner options including yak burgers, Italian-style pizza, pastas, and yak steak. Import beer and wine, as well as select Tibetan wines and microbrews. Retail items include coffee merchandise and Tibetan-themed handicrafts and tourist products. Relaxed environment featuring wood and stone Tibetan themes make it a great "base camp" for exploring the local area. Free wifi. Foreign-owned and operated. 20-50rmb.
- Konka International Youth Hostel. ¥35/night in a 8-bed dormitory, ¥40/night in a 6-bed dormitory. Very nice youth hostel. The staff is super friendly and gives very good advices on what to do around Kangding. Really close to the bus station, 15 minutes walk to town (October 2018). Hot water not always available in winter, no heating in rooms, but electric blankets are provided (January 2019).
- Yongzhu Hotel, (On a small street on the left side of the Kangding Hotel which goes uphill), ☎ +86 0836 2832381/cell of owner Dengzen: +86 159 8373 8188. A friendly Tibetan styled and owned guesthouse with very clean rooms & dorms, some with own bathroom. 24 hour hot showers, free wifi, and electric blankets provided. Once you get to Kangding, just show taxi the guesthouse's Chinese name: 拥珠驿栈. Once you arrive they can help you reserve trusted local drivers to show you around and take you to other neighboring towns. ¥30/bed.
- Zhilam Hostel, (up the path from Kangding Hotel), ☎ +86 836 2831100, . Quiet and clean hostel, overlooking Kangding. Run by two friendly and helpful Americans and (somewhat) English-speaking local staff, the only foreign run guesthouse in town. It is built in authentic Tibetan style and supports local cultural interests. Its location, a short hike above the town, boasts fantastic views of Kangding and snow-capped peaks to the south. Free wifi. Tasty Western-style breakfast, dinner, and coffee. Specialties are the homemade cakes and the hot apple toddy (with homemade cider). Lots of travel info compiled by the owners and camping equipment available for rent. Dorms, several shared bathrooms, and self-contained rooms. Very clean and cozy hostel, good to relax. They have a nice common area and lots of books. See web site for prices (website prices in terms of food and beverage were not accurate as of July 2013). Closed for winter/low season (December 15 to March 15). Dorms ¥45, private rooms ¥160 (shared bath), ¥260 (private bath).
- Black Tent Inn, (From the Anjue Temple (where the previous location used to be...they moved) cross the river go right and head up the street that follows the river about 200 meters, it will be in a big yellow building on the second floor (no enlish sign)). Dorm rooms are basic but fine. Bathrooms clean, decent atmosphere. Wifi. Dorms 25.
Along Xinshidian Street, it is possible to charter a minibus to Tagong which you can bargain down to ¥45 per person (roughly 3 hours, cuts across to Tagong and does not bypass Xinduqiao). It may entail a wait of a few hours as the driver looks for other passengers to share the cost, but will allow you to stop for pictures along this scenic mountain pass road.
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