Xiangcheng (乡城; Xiāng chéng - Tibetan: Chaktreng), is in Sichuan Province in south-west China. It also belongs to the ancient Tibetan province of Kham. Being a necessary overnight-stop on the 'Backdoor'-route to Yunnan, the town is a pleasant place to linger or to serve as starting point for excursions into the surrounding mountain areas. Coming over the mountain passes from either direction, you will at once spot the beautiful villages scattered amongst wheat-field-paddies in the valley ground. The large, cubicle houses look like little castles and with their white-chalked exterior walls give the whole valley a north-african air. Xiangcheng itself consists of an old village paired with a modern Chinese downtown.
Roads to the north are sealed, while the southern part to Shangrila is rubble and dirt, currently under reconstruction.
The Bus Station is at the southern end of town. The ticket-office is through the side-entrance of the building on your right hand side when facing uphill. Be sure to buy your advance-ticket on arrival, because buses can get crowded in summer. In low season it's ok to buy your ticket just before you leave, but the ticket office opens very shirt time before the bus leaves, especially in the morning. Buses arrive from Shangrila (6-9 hours, 85 yuan, departs daily at 8:00), Kangding (12-14 hours, ~160 yuan, departs daily at 6:00).
Departure times are as of November 2007 and both buses tend to leave earlier and fill up quickly! It is not possible to buy tickets to Litang currently (though the Kangding bus will pass through). If you want to go to Litang you have to share a minivan or taxi for about 400 yuan per vehicle. It's a scenic 4-5 hour ride. You'll find them near the central square on the main road through town. Alternatively position yourself at the main road near the bus station, you should be able to find a car to join. Locals travel early though, be around when the buses are leaving - 6am!
Update 04/04/2012: Shangri-la bus station is currently not selling tickets to foreigners for Xiangcheng, due to a ban on foreigners in the region. Apparently there are road blocks where police will turn away foreigners trying to get in to Ganzi province.
You can easily visit the town on foot.
- Bsampeling Monastery. Newly built, the structure nevertheless conveys the typical Tibetan flair, with monks lingering around the ground and ravens flying over the bell-fitted tiers of the main temple. Perching to the slope at the foot of the temple are the housings of the monks, little cubicles beautifully decorated. Inside the temple there are some beautiful murals depicting the Buddhist way. You are not allowed to take photographs of holy relics. Behind the temple there is a small cemetery with prayer-flags and white ribbons adorning every bush. Admission-fee is 15 Yuan per person, though the surroundings of the temple are free of charge. To go there, follow the main road north out of the new city. After you passed a filling station, turn left to the trail leading uphill. You should reach there within 30 minutes. To return to the town, you can alternatively take a path just below the walls of the signal tower. Following the water-canal you have more nice views of the town and can descend to it whenever you feel like. ¥15.
- In 2000 there were still the remains of a monastery in the centre of town - covering most of the town, with people perambulating with prayer wheels around the perimeter wall.
- Hike to the villages north of Xiangcheng
- [dead link]Hike to Bamu-Mountain.
- Join the locals for a night of kareoke!
- There is an internet coffee in a restaurant/hotel on top of the main street. It must be on the third floor. Looks like the place belongs to the local Police force so don't be surprised to see many of them playing games, drinking and smoking. They won't bother you.
Small shops downtown provide typical Tibetan clothing and jewelery.
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 main road. Look out for Muslim-specialties where the restaurant sign bears Arabic writing, green color and dried meat and yak carcasses are displayed in front of the shop.
There is not much nightlife in town. To have a beer, simply visit a restaurant.
(Update October 2016) Bamu Tibetan Guesthouse is a bit harder to get into now, the gate to the bus station seems to be permanently locked. If you go out of the bus station and turn left at the first road, there is a sign over a driveway on the left in colourful Chinese. This driveway will take you to an apartment building and the guesthouse. The woman there wouldn't do cheaper than 35-40yuan a night for a dorm bed.
The cheapest I found was 25yuan for a dorm bed at a place on the same road as the bus station. Lamu, the woman who owns it, will probably try to advertise it at the bus station as you arrive. If you turn left and continue up the street for about 100m, past the large hotel on the right, there is a concrete stairway in the middle of the building on the left. This will take you to Lamu's place. She speaks very limited English but is exceptionally goodhearted and will help you find a place to eat as well as buy cheap (cheaper than quoted at the ticket office) bus tickets if you ask.
- Bamu Tibetan Guesthouse (just behind the bus station: do not leave the bus station through one of the gates but walk 100m straight uphill between the buildings passing by the ticket-office and some single-storey buildings. Go through a small gate in the compound's wall and enter through another one into the guesthouse's court.). The Bamu is in a terrific old cubicle-style building with lavishly decorated interior. There is access to the roof terrace providing lovely views of the town and the valley. The usual no-water squat-toilets are found in a small building at the back of the house. There is one shower for everybody, with warm water from 7PM until it is used up, so queue early. In the evening after dark the door of Bamu looks closed, but it can be opened from outside - it isn't necessary to yell or knock. On the righthand side of the door, not on the door, is a tiny iron 'thing' that can be moved to the right. Very basic English is spoken or no English at all. (Last Update - May 2011) Dormitory - 20Rmb , doubles 50Rmb.
- Some more hotels are to be found in the new town on the main street. Just leave the bus-station and head straight on. Among those, Xiang Bal Seven Lakes Hotel charges 60-80 Y for a standard double with bathroom (hot water 24 hrs, quite clean).
- As of Nov 2008, the city experiences some electric cuts. Most of the guest houses don't have their own generator so expect "very" cold room and no hot water.
People around Xiangcheng supposedly still own firearms left over from the guerrilla war against the Chinese invasion in the 1950s. In July 2007 a dispute about mushroom-collecting grounds between two villages in the district turned into a gunfight with more than 10 persons killed (story read on South China Morning Post).
Going south to Yunnan and Shangri La, if you are on your own (car, bike) try the S217, a rough piste through the mountains. Nearly no traffic but fantastic landscape. This road is sometimes closed few kilometers after Xiangchang at the end of the asphalt portion. If so you'll have to take the main road.
Buses for Shangri La depart daily from 6am at the Bus Station. The ticket office is open in the morning before the bus leaves but in Summer it is probably better to buy your ticket the day before (after 2pm). Don't expect any help from the ticket ladies!