Kangding, saddled between the mountains, and an important gateway between Sichuan and Tibet. Most people stop by here just for a day or 2, so here’s how to make the most of your short stop!
Had to squeeze in one more trip for the year before it got too cold for hiking, and that was how I found myself with 2 friends in Sichuan, China, somewhere in September 2018. I had wanted to check out Yading Nature Reserve for some time, and grabbed the opportunity to check this off the list. Taking the altitude into account, I decided to do the overland route between Chengdu and Yading to acclimatise. First stop from Chengdu, Kangding, where the Tibetan highlands begin.
Getting bus tickets from Chengdu to Kangding
Buses from Chengdu to Kangding depart from Xinnanmen Bus Station, also the Chengdu Tourism Passenger Transport Service Center on Google Maps. To get to there, take the Metro Line 3 to Xin Nan Men station. The bus station is at Exit C. Tickets are on the 2nd floor with centralised sales, so there is no need to haggle/ compare prices. Should be better to pre-book tickets as buses seem to fill up. Buses to Kangding cost 114 CNY and run from early in the morning till early in the afternoon, at least for when we were there.
As we arrived late in Chengdu in the afternoon, we purchased our tickets for the next morning and stayed the night at Traffic Hotel, which is conveniently next to the bus station. If you booked Mrs Panda Hostel via Booking.com for a 3 person room you will be transferred to Traffic Hotel, and at least from experience you can get a better deal reserving directly at Traffic Hotel on Booking.com instead (couple of CNY cheaper, with breakfast).
On the road from Chengdu to Kangding
Early the next morning we dragged our drowsy selves up the bus. Took awhile to get out of the city, but not long after we were in the mountains. Chinese engineering showed its might here, as we passed towering viaducts, massive suspension bridges, couple of hydroelectric dams, and sped down tunnels through the mountains.
We arrived in Kangding early in the afternoon, had lunch just outside the bus station. We decided to spend 2 nights in Kangding (2,600m) to acclimatise before heading higher to Daocheng. Getting to Zhilam hostel in Kangding was tough though, as the road leading there was narrow and steep. No taxi wanted to bring us there. We took a bus to get closer, but the walk to the hostel was as good as a hike itself as one of us had luggage. I’d definitely advise against luggage bags if you’re thinking of staying at Zhilam, probably the most popular among foreign tourists.
Kangding by Night
The ‘hike’ to the guesthouse killed us, and when we were finally rested and ready to explore, it was already dark. More of ready for food than ready to explore though. Either way, Kangding was surprisingly a colourful and lively city for an evening walk.
The communal dances were interesting to observe, especially the larger ones. Everyone stood in a circle and everyone seemed to know the dance. Or maybe they were playing spot the leader with someone secretly leading the moves. Occasionally you’d spot someone who’s awfully out of pace/step.
For some reason the city decided it would be a good idea to light up the entire mountain with little lamps that look like stars from afar. Some may love that sight of a million ‘stars’ lighting up the mountains on either side. It was hard to appreciate it while looking for real stars though.
Mugecuo Scenic Area
The next day, we decided to make a trip to Mugecuo Scenic Area. There didn’t seem to be much public transport to Mugecuo so we booked the roundtrip car ride from our guesthouse for 150 CNY (per car). The drive is about an hour each way. It should be cheaper down by the main road in Kangding where there are lots of drivers touting for business. At the park, its 105 CNY for entrance and 90 CNY for the bus in. Not sure if anyone in their right might would skip the bus as it is a really long way in to the main attraction, Mugecuo lake, at the end of the park.
While we were looking forward to stunning scenery as seen on tourist brochures all around, the September weather wasn’t cooperative and it looked closer to a scene from a horror movie, the best bits coming later.
After an hour drive from Kangding and another half hour bus ride in, we arrived Mugecuo lake. Where the bus stops there’s a building where you can get food at steep prices, though any hot food is perfect on a cold and miserable day.
I wouldn’t say the trip was in vain though. Scenery was still beautiful, just not as expected.
Further beyond the prayer wheels, you can get horse rides apparently to spectacular scenery of snow capped peaks and large open fields slightly further away. Doubt in this weather though. The guys were pushing a hard bargain that day as weather was bad and crowds were thin.
From the lake, we planned to walk down as far as we could towards the entrance before it was time, then hop back on the park bus.
This is where it started looking exactly like a setting of a horror movie. Could almost see zombies/ werewolves/ I don’t know what else lumbering over from behind the fog.
And when we arrived at the second biggest attraction of Mugecuo Scenic Area, the Seven-color Sea, all that greeted us was a blanket of white. We couldn’t even make out where the water was. I’ve never seen fog like this magically hanging over a lake.
The fog and perfectly still waters created a fantasy-like illusion.
The cold weather and rain made our pace slightly laboured, and by the time we reached the Seven-color Sea it was about time to leave. We got to the next bus stop and hopped on the next bus to the exit. The park road runs near and parallel to the walking route. Bus stops are nicely spaced out along the route and there are stops at the key sights in the park, but off peak they may not run frequently.
Our driver was already waiting for us at the carpark by the time we reached. We got on and soon we were back in Kangding.
Few more shots
We arrived back in Kangding late in the afternoon. Cold and wet, we weren’t in the mood for more exploring. We got our tickets to Daocheng for the next morning, got some food, and ducked into bed at the guesthouse.
Just a quick visit to Kangding. Wasn’t the most enjoyable with dreary weather, but definitely still a good one with that visit to Mugecuo and for the time spent acclimatising. Up next, another step closer to Yading, at Daocheng!
Other possible destinations from Kangding
If you have more time at Kangding, there are a few more recommended places to check out. These are best done with hired drivers. First of the recommendation is a day trip to Xinduqiao then Tagong. It is also possible to stay at Tagong. Next is a day trip to Hailuogou Glacier Park. I didn’t make it to either but it seems that all who have been to them have only raving reviews, so I’ll definitely be interested to check these out if I ever make it back to Kangding.