Daocheng Travel Guide - How to Plan a Trip to Daocheng
In Tibetan, Daocheng means “the open land in the mouth of a valley”. Daocheng is located in the south of Garze Tibetan Prefecture, around 800 kilometers from Chengdu.
Daocheng has long enjoyed great fame as the "last Shangri-La" due to its breathtaking natural scenery. It is also the home of many endangered species such as long-tailed leaf monkeys, golden monkeys, white-lipped deer, red deer, water deer, argali, and antelope. These animals all enjoy their lives in this vast beautiful land, untouched by humans.
What to see in Daocheng
Daocheng, sitting at an average elevation of 3800 meters, is full of alpine views of expansive blue sky, cold rivers and lakes, broad grasslands, and snowcapped mountains.
Yading National Reserve is one of the most famous places near Daocheng and is great for eco-travel. This reserve is famously known as the “last pure land on our blue planet”. Yading National Reserve is about a 2-hour drive from Daocheng county.
Yading National Reserve—The Last Shangri-La
Yading National Reserve, located at the southern edge of Daocheng County, is considered to be the most sacred place in western Sichuan by Tibetan people. It is famous for its unique ecological environment and spiritual significance.
The Three Mountains of God, Gongga Chonggu Temple, Luorong Pasture, the pure lakes, and Yading Tibetan Village are the must-see highlights of Yading. You can learn more about Yading here.
Usually, it takes around 2 days to visit the reserve. On the first day, you can take the longer route tour and then take the short-route tour on the other. Shuttle buses and electric cars are available in the reserve for convenient transportation.
During the long-route tour of Yading, you will see two sacred snow-clad mountains (Mt. Jambeyang and Mt. Chanadorje), the Luorong Cattle Farm at an altitude of 4100 m (13450 ft), the Five Color Lake, and the Milk Lake located at an altitude of 4300 m（14110 ft).
During the short-route tour, you will see the Pearl Lake, which sits at an altitude of 4060 m (13450ft), and the holy mountain Chenrezig.
Rewu Temple—the Oldest Sakya Sect Temple
The Rewu Temple is located about 10 kilometers from Daocheng County. Built in the Ming Dynasty, it is the oldest Sakya sect temple. Sakya is one of the important sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Rewu Temple is home to precious cultural relics such as Gold Thangka Paintings, Buddha statues, and Tibetan scriptures.
Haizi Mountain Scenic Area--The Largest Relic of the Ancient Ice Age
The Haizi Mountain Scenic Area is situated between Daocheng and Litang County and sits at an average elevation of 4500 meters. It is the largest ancient ice cap in the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau. The most unique part of the landscape of this area is the thousands of lakes containing a number of big and small stones that glittering in the translucent waters. Xingyicuo Lake is the largest mountain lake in the Haizi Mountain Scenic Area and it is considered to be a holy lake in Tibetan culture.
Best Time to Go
The best months to visit Daocheng are from April to May and September to October. Daocheng County is in the subtropical climate zone. Affected by the complex terrain of the Qinghai Tibetan Plateau, it has the characteristics of a high elevation plateau type climate and continental climate.
Autumn (September and October) is the most strikingly beautiful season of the year in Daocheng. The red grasslands and yellow poplar forests make people feel like they are surrounded by the sea of color. The snowcapped mountains are also more unpredictable under the blue sky and white clouds.
Tips: The temperature during autumn is between 5℃ and 20℃. The temperature difference between day and night is often quite big and you should expect nights to be cold. Please bring warm clothes like down jackets, gloves, and a hat with you.
Spring is always late in Daocheng and doesn’t start until April. During this time, flowers bloom all over the mountains and along the roads. The holy mountains look more spectacular and brighter in this season.
How to get to Daocheng
Daocheng is a small culturally Tibetan county and transportation in this area is not as convenient as it is in big cities like Chengdu. However, Daocheng does have an airport and it is the highest altitude civil airport in China. You can also travel to Daocheng by long distance bus or you can take our private transfer.
Daocheng Yading Airport
Opened in 2013, Daocheng Yading Airport is 49 kilometers away from Daocheng county, 122 kilometers from Riwa (Shangri La town), and 159 kilometers from Yading National Reserve. With an altitude of 4410 meters, it is the highest civil airport in the world and was built to accommodate the nearby tourist area.
An airport shuttle bus is available from the airport to Yading National Reserve. It takes about 2.5 hours and the cost is around CNY 50.
There are direct flights from Chengdu, Xian, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Guangzhou, and Luzhou to Daocheng.
How to get to Daocheng from Chengdu
Chengdu is a popular starting point for journeys to Daocheng. You can travel from Chengdu to Daocheng by private car, air, or long-distance bus.
By Private Car
Traveling by private car is a common way to get from Chengdu to Daocheng. We always recommend that our guests travel in this way. The distance between Chengdu and Daocheng is about 760km and takes about 13-14 hours.
We suggest you stop at Xinduqiao on your way there. Xinduqiao, which is a renowned paradise for photographers, is about 410 kilometers from Chengdu. Here you can see the beautiful countryside scenery along the highway. You will also get incredible sweeping views of Erlang Mountain and go through the Erlangshan Tunnel. This mountain tunnel is the longest one in China with a length of 4,176 meters.
Then, you will visit the Luding Bridge in Luding County and pass by Zheduo Mountain and the city of Kangding.
The journey from Xinduqiao to Daocheng is about 350km and takes 7 hours. You can also visit the Haizi Mountain Scenic Area, Litang Grassland, and Litang Temple on the way.
Taking a flight is the most convenient way to travel from Chengdu to Daocheng. There are 4 flights between Chengdu and Daocheng every day. All the fights depart in the morning between 6:20 am and 10:50 am. It is a one-hour trip. Daocheng Yading airport is about 2.5 hour’s drive from the Yading National Reserve.
By Long Distance Bus
To save money, you can also take the long-distance bus from Chengdu to Daocheng. The bus leaves from Chengdu Tourist Bus Center and ends at Daocheng Bus Station. It takes around 14 hours from 6:30 am to 8: 15 pm with 4-5 rest stops. Only one bus is available every day.
How to get to Daocheng Yading from Lijiang
There is no direct bus or flight from Lijiang to Daocheng, but you can make this journey on China Highlight’s private transfer. On the drive, you will stop at Lugu Lake or Shangri-La.
Driving from Lijiang to Lugu Lake to Yading
From Lijiang, it is about 195 km to Lugu Lake and takes around 4 hours. Then, from Lugu Lake it is about 370 km to Yading and takes around 10 hours. The road between Lugu Lake and Yading was opened in 2019 and travelers can go directly to Yading by private transfer without passing Daocheng. Daocheng is around a 2-hour drive from Yading Scenic Area. One part of this road is so narrow that only one car can pass through at a time. You will see some amazing natural scenery on the way.
Driving from Lijiang to Shangri-La to Daocheng
From Lijiang, it is about a 4-hour drive to Shangri-la. The distance between Shangri-La and Daocheng County is about 308km and takes around 8 hours by car.
A long-distance bus is also available from Shangri-La to Daocheng. It departs at 7:30 am every day and takes around 11 hours.
Where to stay in Daocheng
Daocheng is a beautiful place to visit, but you may have trouble deciding where to stay there. There are three areas for you to choose from: Riwa, Yading Village, and Daocheng County.
Staying in Riwa
Riwa is also called Shangri-la Town and is located between Daocheng and Yading. From here it is about a 10-minute drive to Yading. We always recommend staying in Riwa over the other two choices because it is the most convenient.
- The area is located at the lowest altitude out of the three (2800 meters) and is suitable for travelers who are on the plateau for the first time!
- The accommodation condition is better than that in Yading Village
- Few places for shopping
- About 2 hours from the airport
Staying in Yading Village
Yading village is in the Yading National Reserve. From the reserve, you can take the scenic shuttle bus to the village. This area is full of youth hostels.
- About a 10-minute drive to the main attractions
- Beautiful environment
- Located at a high altitude (3700 meters) which will increase the risk of altitude sickness.
- Tibetan style houses with simple facilities
- No choice of restaurants and shopping
- Booking is difficult in the high season and the prices are always high.
Staying in Daocheng County
Daocheng County is a 2 hour’s drive from its most important attraction, Yading National Reserve.
- Hotel choices vary from star hotels to small inns and homestays
- More choices of restaurants and shopping areas
- About 50 minutes from the airport
- Located at a high altitude of around 3750 meters which will increase the chances of altitude sickness.
- Far from Yading National Reserve
What to Eat in Daocheng
Daocheng belongs to Kangba Tibetan Cultural Area and here you can try some authentic Tibetan food such as Zanba, butter tea, beef and mutton, and highland barley wine and yogurt.
Zanba is the staple daily food of Tibetan people. To make Zanba, dried and fried barley is ground into a fine flour. To eat it, you should mix some butter tea with the Zanba and make it into a little ball. This meal is very simple and does not require heat to cook.
Butter tea is a daily drink for Tibetan people. It is made from a mixture of butter and strong tea. It has many health benefits such as curing high altitude symptoms, preventing your lips from cracking due to dry weather, and warms the body. Tibetan people always welcome their guests with butter tea.
There are some cultural rules that Tibetan people have for drinking this tea. Firstly, it cannot be finished in one sip. Secondly, the host should always refill the tea for their guests so the guests’ tea bowls are always full.
Highland Barley Wine
Highland barley wine, which is called "Qiang" in Tibetan, is made from barley which is a major crop produced in Tibet. This is the favorite drink of Tibetan people and is indispensable during festivals, weddings, giving birth to children, and greeting relatives and friends. Highland barley wine is yellow and tastes sweet and acidic. Another nickname for the drink is "Tibetan beer".
How to Deal with Altitude Sickness
Daocheng is located in a high-altitude area and there is a chance that you may get altitude sickness. Here are some tips for preventing altitude sickness.
- Don't be too scared of the sickness. Most people will be ok with adequate preparation and knowledge.
- Walk and move slowly even if you feel energetic.
- Taking altitude sickness medicine before departure is recommended.
- Prepare some medicine according to your doctor's suggestions. Also, vitamin B and C can make you feel better sooner.
- Do not drink alcohol while at a high elevation
Recommended 5-Day Daocheng and Yading Tour
Day 1: Drive from Chengdu to Xinduqiao. You will enjoy the beautiful natural scenery of green valleys, clear rivers, rolling mountains, and also visit Luding Bridge.
Day 2: Xinduqiao to Daocheng to Riwa. Visit the Haizi Mountain Scenic Area and Litang Grassland.
Day 3: Stay another night in Riwa. Take the long route of the Yading Nature Reserve.
Day 4: Riwa to Daocheng. Take the short route of Yading Nature Reserve, visit the Daocheng White Monastery and Daocheng County
Day 5: Daocheng to Chengdu
For a comfortable trip and to get the most scenery while avoiding a long drive back, we always recommend taking a private car from Chengdu to Daocheng, then flying back to Chengdu from Daocheng.