Voyagista likes to sleep… at the Songstam lodges in Yunnan

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Sometimes I fall in love with a hotel: it could be the environment, the concept, the people or a combination of factors. Today, I start this a new section “Voyagista likes to sleep”, which introduces some of these places I found so wonderful. I commence with my favourite accommodation in the tibetan area of Yunnan: the Songtsam Lodges.

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Songstam was created by a locally famous Tibetan Chinese, who is a documentary maker and a Tibetan arts collector (he exhibits the art in his hotels). The Shangri-La Songstam Lodge was the original and it has been a great success. I highly recommend it: located a short stroll from Shangri-La’s monastery it’s a peaceful place in a traditional setting. Building on the success of the first lodge, Songtsam has opened other hotels (now four) in other amazing locations in Yunnan but less well known as they are (currently) off the beaten path. Here is an introduction to these hidden gems:

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Songtsam Meili

We arrived at Songtsam Meili after a long drive from Shangri-La including a mountain pass at  4,292 meters pass. Despite a bit of fatigue mainly due to the altitude (the lodge sits at 3,600 meters…), we were immediately seduced by the place, in particular by the Meili Snow Mountain that looked straight into our bedroom window. This mountain, located on the border between Yunnan and Tibet, is an important on the Tibetan pilgrimage route. What is amazing is that nobody has ever managed to conquer the summit (6,740m). Many expeditions tried and many people died trying to do so but never made it and now access is forbidden to respect its sacredness.

By the lodge, there is is a tiny Tibetan village where you can go for a walk. This village is still practicing polyandry,  which means that one woman is married to several men. The kids then have a few dads to deal with! Our guide explained to us that he unfortunately only had 2 dads and that his friends with 4 or 5 dads where much more spoiled!

Songstam Tacheng

This lodge, at only 2,020 meters, is very peaceful. Tthe swimming pool was too cold when we went so we spent a lazy afternoon on our terrace and under the magnificent village ginko tree watching the village life pass by. The main attraction of Tacheng is the monkeys that are a very rare species living close by at high altitude. There is also a scenic paddy field in front of the hotel, still cultivated traditionally and where the hotel sources it rice.

Songtsam Cizhong

Cizhong is located by the Mekong and you have to drive on a suspension bridge to get there. It was a fairly scary experience but we made it across in one piece! Swiss missionaries brought catholicism and the art of wine-making to this village and despite the missionaries being gone long time ago, there is still a very pretty catholic church, where mass is celebrated in Tibetan. When we went to Cizhong, the hotel wasn’t yet open and we instead spent the night in the village.

Despite the remoteness, each Songtsam lodge has a very high standard of comfort. The staff, mostly local, is very welcoming and you can participate in activites to discover the nature (hiking, mushroom picking….) and the local culture (village visits, mooncake making…) of the area. The route can be a bit tiring but always very scenic.

What to see in the area

  • In Shangri-La: visit the monastery early in the morning and make sure to take a walk around the wetlands in front of the hotel.

  • In Meili: admire the sunrise on the mountains from your bed or on the terrace beside a wood fire. We also liked visiting the tibetan farms but beware of the traditional local dogs. They can be really scary… and they are apparently able to take on bears!

  • In Tacheng, go and see the Baima Nature Reserve monkeys. Leave the hotel before 8am so that you are there before everybody else

  • In Cizhong, climb the church tower to see the view, have a chat with the catholic priest, look at the picture exhibition in one of the buildings around the church square, and try the local wine

  • At Benzilan, go and see Dongzhulin monastery, much older and authentic than the one in Shangri-La.

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Some good points:

  • Comfortable beds with amazing food. Most of the ingredients are fresh, organic and local
  • The lodge locations have been picked carefully to offer stunning views and local points of interest
  • A variety of activities are on offer to the whole family to discover Tibetan culture

A bad point:

  • The same breakfast everyday in all the Songtsam Lodges

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A few more things to note:

Room price (for two adults): from 760 RMB in Shangri-La. For Meili, Tacheng and Benzilan 1600 RMB full board, For Cizhong 1360 RMB full board.

You can book the hotel room online though the reservation system and to organize personnalized tours including activities contact them directly.

Have you ever been to the Songstam lodge ? Do you know other places like this to recommend?

Comments

  1. I’m looking foward to look at your post. Always, your photos are beautiful.

Trackbacks

  1. […] isolation from modern life and where mass tourism has not arrived. Muang La is for Laos what the Songstam Lodges were for me in Yunnan – enchanting accommodation offering an opportunity to be close to the locals and close to […]

  2. […] more of my photos and as I have recently presented quite a bit about Yunnan (Shaxi, Lijiang and the Songstam Lodges) I want to present some of the photos I took of different ethnic minorities you can find in […]

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