South-central China : Sichuan : Ganzi (prefecture) : Garzê
Ganzi (དཀར་མཛེས་ Garzê; 甘孜: Gānzī), is the capital of Ganzi county in Sichuan Province in south-west China. It is an important city in what is still seen as the indigenous Tibetan population as the historical region of Kham. Situated in a large valley with grassy hills at an elevation of 3400 meters (11,155 ft), Ganzi lies tucked north-east of the gorgeous snow-peaked mountains of the Gongga Shan range. Tibetan culture is abundant and vibrant here, and the friendly people won't let you go by without offering you the Tibetan greeting 'Tashi Dele'! The town is set along the main road passing from east to west towards Dege or Kangding, (technically south). Visitors are unheard of in the cold winter months making it very cold, but you the guest of the entire town!
Buses from Kangding leave for Ganzi at 6:00 a.m. for around ¥120. The ride takes 12-14 hours, depending on the condition of your bus and or the number of times it breaks down. Currently the road is in various states of disrepair (winter 2011) however it is slated to be paved and is being renovated. Try not to book a seat in the back of the bus, especially on smaller buses, as you'll be thrown around violently do the bumps through much of the trip. Masks are useful for the endlesssmoking and the massive amounts of dust encountered along the way.
The Bus Station is in the center of town just south of the main road. You can hire a private van/car too.
The main street is Chuanzang Road (川藏路). You can easily visit the town on foot. For longer distances, you can use taxis. The fare should not exceed ¥6 to any place in town.
Small shops downtown provide typical Tibetan clothing and jewelery and accessories bought by the herdsmen and nomads frequenting the town. Look out for stores selling antiques. On the road leading north from the bus station, you'll find several shops catering for monk's outfits and religious artifacts, as well as selling the beautiful curtains adorning windows and doors in that region. There are even shops selling traditional Tibetan hand-carved furniture.
Supermarkets on main-street sell food and toiletries, you can also buy bottles of beer and decent Chinese wine to make up your own nightlife.
Plenty of small restaurants are to be found on the road next to the bus station.
There is not much nightlife in town. To have a beer, simply visit a restaurant. If all you want is a tea or lemon drink, head to a tibetan teahouse. A fantastic one (with WIFI) is located on the first floor on the building of your right, when you are standing on the main road cross with the river, looking towards the direction of the water. You can get in using the carpeted stairs and then first door to the right. A tea is 10/15RMB, with constant hot water refills.
For those looking to avoid the high foreigner charges mentioned below, walk one street east of the bus station on Chuangzang Rd to the corner on the south (right) side of the street. There are a bunch of locals hanging out there (as of May 2017) who will approach you for a not-totally-official bed or room in the nearby buildings (usually by making the hands-pressed-together-to-head 'sleeping sign'). Beds offered at 30Y, or bare-bones rooms with attached bathroom (hot water) but no wifi for 60Y.
Update: As of August 2011, rooms in the Golden Yak Hotel were renting at 150 RMB/night. This seems to be a citywide policy as the few hotels licensed for foreigners in the town all rent at the same rate. Customer service at the Golden Yak is dour and unfriendly and the showers do not work, even in summer.
Update: Himalay Hotel seems closed (July 2016). Sign is still there but no entrance, at least not on the street side. Tried to call but person picking up did not seem to speak English. However, there is other (Chinese-speaking) hotels on the same road. All around ¥150/night, which confirms the speculations above.
Beware of altitude sickness if traveling here straight from the Sichuan lowlands. As in most of West Sichuan and other Tibetan regions stray dogs are everywhere and totally unpredictable. Throwing Rocks are your best bet, if you have to time to react. Wearing study boots and thick pants and socks are another way to protect yourself from injures. The area gets a lot of sunshine due to its high location in a long broad valley. Sunglasses and sunblock are a must.
There have been isolated protests against Chinese rule calling for the return of the Dali Lama including violence towards locals on behalf of the authorities and vice versa. There is a very large Chinese military and police presence in the city. Being sympathic to the local cause is one thing but bear in mind you are putting locals and not yourself at risk. Best to stay neutral and change the topic.
There is an Internet place with decent connection speed (though no printer). It may rank as the biggest smoke den in all of China. Walk to the road bridge crossing the river in the middle of town and follow the stream north (away from the big river towards the monastery). After 300m, you will pass a pedestrian bridge on your right hand side. Shortly after that, there is a small concrete 'picnic' sitting area on the right. The entrance to the second floor Internet cafe is up the private looking staircase just opposite that place. There are no signs advertising the service, so if in doubt just ask the neighborhood.
As of last visit in July 2012, Internet for Westeners is no longer allowed. You will be greeted with a tough note written in (almost) English stating that the local authorities have forbidden use of the internet for visiting westeners. If you can find a helpful local, they will log on using their ID. Be very quick and extremely mindful of the sites you visit as they are tracked to the ID. Remember that you are putting people in serious risk if you even mention the Tibetan independence movement on or offline. Try other ways to help if you are sympathetic to their cause when you are outside Tibet and its accompanying areas.
Although some online discussions suggest otherwise, as of 27 May, 2011, it is NOT POSSIBLE to extend a Chinese visa in Ganzi. Reportedly, the nearest locations for visas are Kangding and Xinning.
The Agricultural Bank of China has an ATM that accepts foreign bank and credit cards. From the bus stop, take it first left, cross thus the main road, and then after passing ABC offices on the left, take the first to the right on a narrower street. Follow it, cross the river, and reach a square with a strange stage. Then just climb up the only big obvious stairs, and when you reach the first road cross, the ABC office will be on your immediate right.
There are small laundry shops located at at numbers 223, 239 and 239 on the main strip, Changzang Road, that will wash clothes. They are easily identified by the clothes hanging from the ceiling. It generally costs ¥2-5 per article/pair of clothing and you can pick up your clothes the next day. If you're in a hurry the clothes can be dropped off in the afternoon and picked up in the evening, but they will still be moist.