Finally back to China and the Tibetan areas (May/June 2023)

It was January 2020, when I suddenly had to return home early from my travel in Tibet. The Corona pandemic had started in China and the country got locked. I had the last KLM flight from Chengdu to Amsterdam. Lucky me. I took more than 3 years before I could return.

In 2022 life became in many countries more or less normal again. Travelling started up again. But China remained closed for foreign tourists. And then on March 15th suddenly came the news: from the next day on China would start issuing tourist visa again. Hurrah. This news made me feel so happy. And I contacted immediately my contacts in Tibet to arrange a trip. We agreed to first make a long trip in Kham and Amdo and on a later trip I would come to Lhasa again.

The first “problem” for me was to find a flight to Chengdu. I always flew directly from Amsterdam to Chengdu with the Dutch carrier KLM. But KLM now didn’t have direct flights to Chengdu any more. I could fly with KLM to Beijing or Shanghai and then with a domestic flight to Chengdu. But the prices of these flights were not normal. One of the reasons may have been that KLM couldn’t fly over Russia. But then I saw flights with Air China from Amsterdam to Chengdu with a transit in Frankfurt (Germany) with a normal price. So I booked my flight with Air China.

After booking my flight I applied for the Chinese tourist visa. That went smoothly although I had to go myself to the Chinese Visa Application Centre to give my fingerprints. And on May 28 I started my flight to Chengdu where I arrived early in the morning on May 29 at the new Tianfu International Airport. Chengdu downtown is located 63km north-west of Tianfu international Airport. My guide and driver were at the airport to greet me and we drove off to Chengdu.


At Chengdu we stayed at Holly’s Hostel in the Wuhou district. When I came in and walked to the reception counter, the lady at the reception immediately said “Oh, you’re back”. I said “You remember me?”. “Yes of course” she answered “you came every year”. It was a warm welcome. Well, the first day in Chengdu I had to arrange several things. Most important were getting a Chinese Sim-card and exchange money. And I discovered something very handy and important: I could pay with the app AliPay (without cash but with my creditcard tight to AliPay). I had read about this on several forums at home when I was preparing my trip. I downloaded the app while I still was at home and got my credit card attached to it. And now, on my first day in Chengdu, it worked! I could pay with it in a shop. That evening it was eating hotpot in Chengdu. And we got a face changing artist in the restaurant. Lovely. My trip in China started great.

I had agreed on a rough itinerary with my guide and driver. When travelling we would see how it goes and if we wanted to add things. We also had no hotels pre-booked. When we arrived at a place, we would look for an hotel for the night.

To the south-east and east of Sichuan province

We started in the eastern part of Sichuan province. Sichuan consists of two geographically very distinct parts. The eastern part is mostly within the fertile Sichuan basin (which is shared by Sichuan with Chongqing Municipality). The western Sichuan consists of numerous mountain ranges forming the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau. The eastern part is also the “Chinese” part of Sichuan. There were some places I wanted to see there. After one day we left Chengdu and drove to Yibin, where we visited nearby Lizhuang Ancient Town. I was lucky because there weren’t many Chinese visitors. So it was more easy to get some nice pics without people. The place is also famous for it’s alcohol making. After visiting Lizhuang Ancient Town we drove to Yibin to look for an hotel. Yibin is a big city with about 5 million inhabitants. It’s at this city that the Min river and the Jinsha river merge and become the Yangtze river. We walked around in this city and visited also a big shopping mall there.

There was one destination in the east of Sichuan that was on my to do list already for years. It was the Dazu Rock Carvings, a series of Chinese religious sculptures and carvings. I had seen pics of them on the internet and they looked so beautiful and special. They were declared UNESCO World Heritage in the year 1999. The Dazu Rock Carvings comprise 5 locations. We visited the location at Baodingshan (Baoding Mountain). And lucky again: there were almost no visitors. So we had the place almost by ourselves. There are not only the rock carvings to see but also a temple, the Shengshousi Temple, and a great museum.

We were lucky to meet a local woman at the parking lot of the Dazu Rock Carving site. Se talked to my guide and driver and invited us to come with her to her restaurant for lunch. From her restaurant we could very easily go inside the site (otherwise we had to take a bus). We agreed, she helped us buy the tickets for the site and after that we followed her car to the other site of the mountain, to her restaurant with free parking. It turned out her restaurant was in a very lovely, small and still authentic village, the village of Baoding. We could also get a basic but nice hotel there, so we stayed the night there.

The third place we visited in this part op Sichuan was the big city of Chongqing, where we visited Ciqukou Ancient Town. It’s lovely but very touristic. And everywhere shops, shops, shops. Did we have the last two days luck as seeing almost no tourists, well today we saw a lot. From the Ancient Town you have a good view on all the big building blocks of Chongqing. And of course the Yangtze River goes through Chongqing.

To the west, to the mountains

After one day we have left Chongqing. We had breakfast at a service area along the highway. The service areas are very large. Many shops and restaurants. And of course you can refuel there. We drove west. Towards the mountains and the Tibetan areas. It was a long drive. We did have to travel the necessary kilometres.

In the late afternoon we arrived at the town of Kangding, the port to the Tibetan areas in Sichuan province. It’s a lovely town. We had to search for a hotel but found one in the centre of Kangding. We walked around in the city a bit and had a delicious dinner.

Our second destination was the city of Garze. We entered real Tibetan areas and de landscapes and views were so beautiful. We drove over high passes above the 4.000 meters. When I saw the prayer flags on the passes, I felt I really was in Tibetan areas now. At the end of the afternoon we arrived in the town Garze, found a hotel and we had a walk around the town. The street life this evening at Garze was colourful. And many Tibetans greeted me enthusiastic. I think it was a long time ago that they saw a western traveller.

The next morning we visited the big Garze Monastery at Garze. The monks were praying when we arrived. Unfortunately it wasn’t allowed to make pictures inside. But it became better. There would be a delivery of a new statue to the Monastery. So after the prayers were done, all the monks gathered at the square of the Monastery to wait for the statue to arrive. Of course we waited too. I hadn’t seen anything like this before, so I counted myself lucky. And after about a half hour waiting, the statue arrived on a truck.

After visiting Garze Monastery we drove more west, to the city of Dêgê (Derge). On the way we saw a lot of monasteries. Everywhere, there were monasteries.

We visited a second monastery on the way: Dargyé Monastery. I had seen this monastery before when driving along on previous trips. But today I asked, can we stop en visit this monastery? And I was lucky. In the prayer hall the lama gave a teaching not only for the monks but also for the normal Tibetan people. He did that because it was the last day of the Tibetan Saga Dawa Festival. It was so very crowded in the prayer hall. And making pics was no problem here.

We also met a hermit, who was sitting on the top of a hill. From this top you had a great view on the surrounding landscape. The hermit is quite a kind of famous. Especially on Chinese media you see a lot of video’s of him. For already many years he is sitting there on the hill along the road. I had read about him and saw lots of pics/videos about him. But I never saw him myself. Till today.

It took some time to arrive at Dêgê. We had to stop two times on the way before Dêgê because of road construction works. Both time we stood still for about 1,5 hour. And when we finally arrived at Dêgê, we couldn’t drive into the town with the car. The reason was that the 11th Panchen Lama was on a visit to Dêgê this day. It could take 2 hours before we could go in and to an hotel. So we left the car and went walking into Dêgê to have dinner first. After finishing our dinner the car still wasn’t allowed to go into Dêgê. But we found an hotel and we walked to the hotel. The car and the luggage came later.

Visiting two remote monasteries

On my wish list was a visit to two remote monasteries in the mountains south west of Dêgê: Dzongsar Monastery and Katog Monastery.

After a night in Dêgê we drove to Dzongsar Monastery. It was a beautiful drive to this monastery through a long, narrow gorge. Dzongsar Monastery is located in a remote valley. But it’s a big Monastery of the Sakya sect with also a Buddhist college. At the college there was the day we visited a teaching and it was so crowded inside that pilgrims had to sit outside. It’s a lovely place that isn’t often visited by tourists. We stayed the night at a guesthouse in the village.

The next morning we drove further south to Katog Monastery. Katog Monastery is a very big monastery of the Nyingma sect. The monastery is situated high on a mountain ridge. It was unbelievable! It’s a hidden gem. The monks were very friendly and opened up the locked doors to the halls for us. It was really unbelievable!

I knew there were many monasteries in this area. But it still really amazes me.

After visiting Katog Monastery we returned to Dêgê, where we briefly (because it was closing time) visited the famous Parkhang Printing Press, where Buddhist scripture books are printed with traditional wooden blocks. I had been here a few times before, so it wasn’t that bad we couldn’t have a good view inside. That evening we enjoyed again a delicious hotpot meal.

Going further west, to the city of Yushu and Sershul Monastery

We drove further west, to the city of Yushu. I’ve been to Yushu already more times and I know the road to Yushu. So my guide and driver thought to offer me something new and we drove over another, very smaller road with next to it the Jingsha River. It offered beautiful sceneries. And I enjoyed it. We were very lucky this day because, while we were driving, we saw a big group of vultures just next to the road. We stopped and I got out of the car to make pics. The vultures just stayed put and I made some lovely photos. And later we were again lucky. A wolf showed up just in front of our driving car. Quickly we could pick up our phone and make a short video of the running wolf before it turned of into the mountain. So special!

We had a bit of trouble to find a hotel at Yushu that accepted a foreigner and was not too expensive but good. Ee succeeded at the end. It rained all night that night. But when we arrived the next morning at the Ganyak Mani Stone Wall near Yushu, fortunately the rain stopped. If you’re ever at Yushu, you sure need to visit this place. It’s a magical place with millions of mani stones. It was the third time I visited here and I’m still amazed about the place.

After visiting the Ganyak Mani Stone Wall we drove east, on to Sershul Monastery. I had a visit to this Monastery already a long time on my to do list. I would have visited this monastery 3.5 years ago. But when we arrived at that time a high lama of this monastery had passed away and we couldn’t visit. But today we could. And the monks were very friendly and opened all halls for us and showed us everything. So we had to climb all up to the 5th floor of the main temple. And it was allowed to make photos at all halls except one. There was do much to see. It was so big. It really was unbelievable again. Sershul is the biggest Gelug sect monastery in Kham.

And then you are staying in a hotel in the nearby small town of Shêrshü on the plateau at an altitude of 4,200 meters. I don’t think they have much experience with foreign guests there. Apparently the young hotel receptionist was unable to enter my details into the police computer system. So I had to come back down to the reception a while later with my passport. And yes, there was a police officer behind the computer. It was quite a bit of work, also for the police officer. But then I was registered. And we could stay the night at this hotel.

Going north to the city of Golog and the vast grasslands

The next day we drove north to the city of Golog. We drove through vast grasslands that is the home for the nomads and their yaks. We drove into one big group of nomads who were moving to a new place in the grasslands. I loved to have made more and better pictures but the dogs of the nomads are very dangerous. So I took pics from the car.

When we were driving this morning I saw on the map on my phone, that we we would come very close to a place I had seen and read about many times on the internet. And it was a place I really wanted to visit. It was a place near the road. We only had to take a side way to reach it. The place was the Songge Mani Stone Mound. The Songge Mani Stone Mound is a mani stone pile piled up by local Tibetan Buddhists. This mani stone pile is one of its kind in Tibet. It is a thousand year old relics of Buddhist practice by the Sershul people on Zhakaxi Grassland. The pile resembles a fortress. It is a 10 meter tall wall piled up by the carved mani stones. Songge Mani Stone Mound is 66 meters long and 48 meters wide, a unique mani stone pile in Tibet. And it truly is an amazing place. I made a lot of pics and videos there. And there was a big group of nomads who did the kora around the mound with their kids on horseback and with their yaks several times. I of course also walked some koras. We spent the night in a hotel in the city of Golog.

The next day wasn’t our lucky day. We drove over the vast grasslands with lots of yaks. But the weather was grey and a bit rainy. We wanted to visit a beautiful lake but when we got there, it was closed for visitors. Nice was that we drank tea in the winter house of a nomad family. They hadn’t gone with their yaks to the summer pastures yet because the weather had been cold and rainy till now.

That night we slept in an hotel in the small town of Chucqênsumdo. It was the most luxurious hotel room I had till now. And that in a small town in the Tibetan highlands. But it’s also the only hotel here that could accommodate foreigners.

The following day we were sure travelling in yak country. I love these animals. And they have such a good life here in the Tibetan grasslands. It’s the first time I travel here in spring. And so it’s the first time I saw baby yaks. They are so very sweet. We stayed the night in the town of Tangke, where we had a hotpot dinner with a monk friend of my guide.

Our next destination was the town of Zoige. That day I felt I was in my home country Holland because, driving through the grasslands, it was a temperature of about 6 degrees and it was rainy. In Zoige we looked for an hotel and found a very nice one. After checking in we went to visit Dazha Monastery. Unfortunately there wasn’t any activity there and the halls were closed. We could however visit the oldest and most important assembly hall of the monastery because a monk opened the door for us and told us a lot on the history of this hall. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to make pics inside.

My guide and driver had a surprise for me that afternoon. We went driving outside Zoige back to the grasslands. First it was still raining a bit but later we got sunshine although the temperature stayed quite low. We stopped somewhere at the grasslands and had a picnic there. The monk friend of my guide came to join us and he had everything with him for the picnic. Tibetans enjoy having a picnic on the grasslands in spring/summer. Although the temperature was quite low, it was a lot of fun to have this unexpected picnic.

To Langmusi and Zhagana

Our trip took us next to Langmusi (or Taktsang Lhamo in Tibetan), beautifully located between mountains and with a lot of trees. It has changed a lot since I was here in 1997 on my first China/Tibet travel. In 1997 there was nothing here than except two smaller monasteries, some small houses and a dirty hotel. Now it’s a tourist destination, with many Chinese groups visiting. And on the positive side, we had a sunny day!!!

Langmusi is a small town with two big monasteries of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The first one is Serti Monastery, located on the hill side. The second monastery at Langmusi is Kirti Monastery, that is located in the valley. Of course we visited both monasteries. The border between Sichuan province and Gansu province runs right through the centre of Langmusi. Kirti Monastery is on the Sichuan side of town and Serti Monastery is in Gansu province.

Our next destination was Zhagana. I had never heard of Zhagana and it wasn’t on our itinerary. So it was a real surprise to me. My guide and driver really did their best to let me see new things. And Zhagana …. wowwww. I really liked Zhagana. It’s so beautifully located between the mountains. And the village, it’s still mostly authentic although the Chinese tourist groups already discovered this place. But it’s so peaceful there. In the evening there was a square dancing at Zhagana. So nice. Well, I can’t really dance but I joined one dance.

Jiuzhaigou National Park

Next on the itinerary was a visit to Jiuzhaigou NP. It was driving though beautiful landscapes to Jiuzhaigou. My good friend Emma in Songpan had arranged tickets for us for the park and rooms at a guesthouse near the entrance of the park. The next day we visited the park. Although you take hop on hop of buses in the park (you need to because it’s a very large park), we walked also about 15 km. I had visited Jiuzhaigou two times before, but that was both times at the end of October/beginning of November, when the park showed it’s autumn colours. Now in June it was so very green in the park. It was great to see it at another time of the year.

Songpan and Huanglong National Park

After our visit to Jiuzhaigou it was time to go to Songpan and finally see Emma and her family there again. My last visit to Songpan and Emma was end October/beginning of November 2019. Emma has a guesthouse/restaurant in Songpan and I had visited her yearly in Songpan at the end of my travels. It was so good to be back again and they were happy to see me again. So lots of laughters, fun and bringing up memories. And Emma had my Chinese wine ready. The next day I visited Huanglong NP with my guide and driver. I also love this park, that is quite different from Jiuzhaigou. Unfortunately we had some rain when we were in the park. It was the last day with my guide and driver. They went home the next day while I stayed on with Emma for another four days.

I walked around in Songpan, which has a lovely, walled ancient town. Songpan was in the past an important military post. It was also an important economic and trading centre for horse and tea exchange between Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet. During Tang rule, it was the border with the Tibetan Empire. Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo tried to invade Tang China through this gate. Emperor Taizong of Tang offered him princess Wencheng at Songpan in the year 641. A statue of the king and the princes can be found at the north gate of Songpan.

Emma also called me one afternoon to come to a new bar in Songpan, where we had a short private music performance of the owner of the bar. And this guy can really sing and play! One morning I also went with Emma to a festival at Huanglong NP. But when we arrived it had started raining terrible. We just watched some performances and decided not to go into the park because it kept raining and it was cold. It was a terrible weather that day at Songpan. On my last day in Songpan, Emma took me to a guesthouse/restaurant of a friend of her. And this friend turned out to be the leader of the horse track I did with a Dutch group in 1997, when I for the first time visited China/Tibet, and was also in Songpan. He is on the old pics I still have from that trip. He immediately recognized himself on the old pics. So I was meeting him again after 26 years. So nice!!!

The last evening in Songpan had a surprise for me. I went with Emma and her daughter to a show at the south gate of Songpan. It was a great show. I was very lucky because it wasn’t a normal performance for public. But a special and free performance for only for a handful of people, some of them journalist who were writing about Songpan. And I was one of those people thanks to Emma. At the end of the show I did a little dancing with the performers.

To Chengdu again

The next day I took the bus from Songpan to Chengdu. My travel was almost over. After an hour of six or seven, I arrived at the bus station at Chengdu, where I took a taxi to Holly’s Hostel. I had almost 2 days to stay at Chengdu. The weather was very hot and it was very crowded in Chengdu because it was the Dragon Boat Festival in China. Many people had a short holiday. So I took it easy those two days. I didn’t do much. In the near vicinity of Holly’s there is the Wuhou Temple and ancient Jinli Street. I visited those places, that were very crowded because of the festival. I must say, I frequented a terrace in Jinli Street, drinking mostly tea and just sitting and relaxing. And enjoying the atmosphere. In the evening of my second day in Chengdu a car (arranged by Holly’s) drove me to the new Tianfu International Airport, where shortly after midnight my Air China flight took of to Frankfurt. After a transit in Frankfurt I was back in Holland. Looking back on a great trip and looking forward to my next trip.

No foreign tourist to be seen

When I did this trip, China had only just reopened to foreign tourists. I think the few foreign tourists who did visit China at that time, had mainly gone to the eastern part of China with the big cities Beijing, Shanghai and Hongkong. This trip I didn’t see any foreign tourist apart from two guys, who stayed one night at Emma’s Guesthouse in Songpan. I must say, I really liked not seeing any other foreigners.

Have also a look at the photo albums of this trip in the portfolio

China, Kham and Amdo (part 1)

China, Kham and Amdo (part 2)

China, Kham and Amdo (part 3)

This was the itinerary of my trip




Start my flight to Chengdu.


Arrive very early in the morning at Chengdu, have a day at Chengdu.


Drive from Chengdu to Yibin, visiting nearby Lizhuang Ancient Town. Stay overnight at Yibin.


Drive to and visit the Dazu Rock Carvings at Baodingshan and staying the night at the nearby village of Baoding


Driving to the big city of Chongqing and visiting Ciqukou Ancient Town there.


Driving from Chongqing west to Kangding (to the mountains and the Tibetan areas).


Driving from Kangding to Garze, stay the night at Garze.


In the morning visit to the big Garze Monastery at Gartze. After the visit driving to Dêgê and on the way visiting Dargyé Monastery. Staying the night at Dêgê.


Driving to and visiting Dzongsar Monastery. Staying overnight at a guesthouse at Dzongsar village.


Driving from Dzongsar to Katog Monastery. Visiting Katog Monastery and returning to Dêgê to stay the night there. Visit to the Parkhang Printing Press at Dêgê.


Driving from Dêgê to Yushu. Staying the night at Yushu.


In the morning visit to Ganyak Mani Stone Wall near Yushu. After the visit driving to Sershul Monastery and visit this monastery. Staying the night at a hotel in the nearby small town of Shêrshü.


Driving from Shêrshü to Golog and visiting on the way the Songge Mani Stone Mound.


Driving from Golog over the vast grasslands to the small town of Chucqênsumdo.


Driving over the vast grasslands to the town of Tangke


Driving to Zoige and visit Dazha Monastery there. Staying the night at Zoige.


Driving from Zoige to Langmusi. Visiting Kirti and Serti Monastery.


Driving to the small village of Zhagana and staying the night there.


Driving from Zhagana to Jiuzhaigou NP and staying the night in a guesthouse near the park entrance.


Visiting Jiuzhaigou NP and at the end of the afternoon driving to Songpan. Staying at Emma’s Guesthouse.


Visiting Huanglong NP from Songpan and returning to Songpan.


Staying at Songpan.


Staying at Songpan.


Staying at Songpan.


Staying at Songpan.


Going by bus to Chengdu and staying at Holly’s Hostel.


Chengdu, visiting the Wuhou Temple and Jinli Street.


Chengdu, relaxing on a terrace at Jinli Street. At the end of the afternoon going to Tianfu International airport.


Arriving back home.