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Gannan Travel Guide - How to Plan a Trip to Gannan

Gannan Travel Guide - How to Plan a Trip to Gannan

Written by Sunny XieUpdated Nov. 23, 2023

If you can't travel to Tibet, just make a trip to Gannan!

Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is located in the southwest of Gansu Province. It is the back garden of Gansu, perfectly located at the transition of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Loess Plateau, with gorgeous mountains, valleys, gorges, wetlands, and meadows.

On this holy land, Lamas' chants rise from Labrang Monastery, herds of yaks and sheep graze on the yurt-dotted grasslands, the paradise-like Langmusi stands aloof from the world, and the rocky city — Zhagana — looms in the clouds. Traveling in Gannan is refreshing as it lets you escape you from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

The Pure Land, ZhaganaThe Pure Land, Zhagana

Why Choose a Gannan Tour

Chinese National Geographic named Gannan "the Little Tibet" and chose it as one of the 50 places to visit in one's lifetime.

Joseph Rock, the National Geographic photographer, visited Zhagana in Gannan in 1922 and said: "I have never seen such a magnificent view in my life. If the author of Genesis had been to Diebu, he would have chosen it as the birthplace of Adam and Eve."

Labrang Monastery Labrang Monastery

The average altitude in Gannan is around 3,300 meters (10,800 feet) above sea level and it is the lowest of the 10 Tibetan autonomous prefectures. You will experience Tibetan culture and appreciate stunning Tibetan plateau landscapes, but with a lower risk of suffering altitude sickness. Being well prepared is also advise though.

Gannan also has another name: "Colorful Shambhala". In Tibetan Buddhism, Shambhala refers to an idyllic mythical kingdom. And it is the diverse landscapes and cultures in this colorful destination make Gannan so attractive and mysterious to tourists.

Tourism in Gannan can be summed up as nine colors:

  • Vibrant red: the red Tibetan architecture, red robes of the Gelug monks, and the local Danxia landforms
  • Wealthy orange: This place abounds with orange coral beads that represent wealth in China.
  • Noble purple: the purple bodhi tree flowers and the purple clothing of Tibetan nobles
  • Sacred yellow: the yellow hats of the monks, the golden roofs of the temples, and the yak butter
  • Deep blue: the clear blue sky and lakes of the highland areas
  • Ecological green: the green grasslands and forests
  • Bluish cyan: sacred Mt. Amne Machin and the local homemade fabrics. 
  • Mysterious black: the black yaks and black tents
  • Pure white: the white clouds, snow-capped mountains, white flocks of sheep, holy hada (ceremonial scarfs), and white pagodas

China Highlights has specially designed a unique Gannan Tour to this colorful, pure land with a perfect balance of Tibetan culture and highland sceneries. Contact us for a Gannan tour before it is fully exposed to tourists.

Top Things to Do in Gannan

Some people come for the natural beauty, some come for their beliefs, some come seeking a different life... What might attract you to Gannan?

1. Immerse Yourself in the Tibetan Culture

  • Labrang Monastery — one of the six major temples of the Gelug Sect of Tibetan Buddhism — has the world's longest corridor of prayer wheels.
  • Sertri Gompa — This monastery with a shiny golden roof has a celestial burial platform at the back that is open to tourists!
  • Milarepa Palace Buddhist Temple — This nine-story Kagyu temple is for worshipping spiritual leaders of the Kagyu Tibetan Buddhism school.

2. Discover Outstanding Tibetan Villages

  • Langmusi — Known as Oriental Switzerland, it has a mixed but mutually respectful population of Amdo Tibetans, Hui Muslims, and Han Chinese.
  • Zhagana — "The Stone Town" hidden in the mountains is a land of idyllic beauty with pure Tibetan culture.
  • Bajiao Town — This hollow-cross-shaped old military town with eight ancient walls houses a community of semi-nomadic Tibetans.

3. Explore Diverse Highland Natural Sceneries

Ruoergai Grand Prairie Ruoergai Grand Prairie
  • Ganjia Prairie — Dotted with vast herds of yaks and sheep, there you can experience the traditional culture of its semi-nomadic Tibetans.
  • Sangke Prairie — Named after the Sangke flowers that bloom there in summertime, its amazing pastures host spectacular Buddhist ceremonies.
  • Ruoergai Grand Prairie — Known for its Flower Lake, it is full of little white flowers, swamps, and vibrant wildlife in summertime.
  • Gahai Lake — An unexplored highland lake and wetland, it is an important resting place for many types of migrating birds.

Other Activities to Enrich a Gannan Tour

Langmusi Horse Trekking: Take a horse trek around the mountain areas of Langmusi to enjoy the blue sky, have a deep breath of the pure air, and fully free your soul.

Lianbaoyeze in Northern Sichuan Lianbaoyeze in Northern Sichuan

Zhagana Hiking:
Zhagana is a mountainous region filled with Tibetan villages, ancient forests, and large rocky spires. There are three hiking trails that offer a panoramic view of the villages. The blue sky, distant mountains, rolling wheat fields, and villages together make for an awesome experience.

Extension Tour to Northern Sichuan:
Gannan has a border with Northern Sichuan, and it only takes only 5 hours' driving from Langmusi to Jiuzhaigou. On the way, you may have a chance to enjoy the ribbon-like bends of the Yellow River at sunset, discover the little-known pristine land of Lianbaoyeze, and enjoy some small Tibetan temples in Aba. Extend your stay by taking our Northern Sichuan Tour and discover more. 

Gannan Weather

The beauty of Gannan is worthy of numerous visits as it presents different sceneries in different seasons.

Spring is a good time to appreciate the flowers, and to attend Tibetan Buddhist festivals. In summer, you can enjoy the green grasslands and lakes. In Autumn, come to shoot the colorful leaves. And in winter, escape to experience the white snowy world.

However, the best time weatherwise is definitely from July to August when the grasslands are the most luxuriant, full of wildflowers.

How to Get to Gannan

By Flight

If you are coming from Xi'an, Chengdu, Lhasa, Yinchuan, or Shenzhen, you may take a direct flight to Gannan Xiahe Airport. The airport is only 72 km (45 mi) from Xiahe County where Labrang Monastery is located and only 56 km (35 mi) from Hezuo, capital city of Gannan, where the Milarepa Palace Buddhist Temple is located.

By Road from Lanzhou

Gannan can be easily reached from Lanzhou by road.

As the capital city of Gansu province, Lanzhou has convenient flights from major tourist cities of China. Most tourists hire a car and driver, driving all the way from Lanzhou, south to Langmusi Town (about 400 km or 250 miles), passing two major cities of Gannan: Linxia and Xiahe.

Gannan Tour MapGannan Tour Map

Gannan Travel Tips


Hotel rooms are of basic condition and the general service standard is lower than that in less-remote cities of China. For example, breakfasts are typically Chinese style only, with limited or no Western food. Hotel staff might speak very simple English or only Chinese.


Weather in Gannan areas is changeable, with sudden wind and rain, and the temperature varies greatly between daytime and nighttime. Make sure you bring warm clothing and a raincoat. On sunny days, bring hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect you from the strong ultraviolet rays.

Customs and Traditions:

When visiting Tibetan regions, please respect their customs and traditions. Pay attention to any notices of what to do and what not to do. For example, no photos at the celestial burial platform and no flash when shooting inside a temple.

Altitude Sickness:

Some people suffer from altitude sickness at 3,000+ meters (9,800+ ft). Please follow our suggestions on how to reduce or deal with altitude sickness.

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