I am sooooo ecstatically thrilled to be traveling to Kangding tomorrow, for our Chinese “Labor Day” holiday! I am essentially visiting Tibet! Kangding was a border trading town between Tibet and China until the 18th century; currently it is part of the “Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze”, lies at 2560m (8500ft), and has the second highest airport in the world (4280m, the highest is also in Tibet)! From my cursory reading, Kangding is similar to a county with several towns or cities within its bounds.
I will be staying at a lovely little inn called the Jia Mu Zun Resort Hotel, west of the main city in Kangding and less than 40km south of the airport. The prefecture, city, towns, counties and all the various levels are slightly confusing, as google maps and Chinese maps offer differing city names (?). Additionally, different sources offer different explanations of whether Kangding is an area with cities and towns, or the actual city itself. Hmmm. Not only that, but since this was originally a Tibetan area known as Kham, the town and prefecture have a few Tibetan names as well (Darda, Dartsedo). It seems Kangding may be the largest city in Girze (Garze), with various urban centers and suburban centers, all uniquely named and perhaps analogous to suburbs in the US.
All that aside, as I mentioned, I am traveling to 2560m, into an area of mountains, grasslands, and plateaus, where just last night, there was “heavy snowfall”. In Chengdu, the temps today will be in low 80s, and humid, plus I’m only at 500m. After some research on the area, I learnt this is kind of a gateway area to high altitude alpining and climbing, with mountains of 8000 or so meters (yeah, think Everest), and towns above Kangding that serve as places where alpiners go to adjust to the altitude before moving higher. OMG! The temps will be in the 30s and perhaps 40s during my 4 day stay!
This trip was VERY last minute; I was going to stay home and explore Chengdu, but was encouraged by a friends at school to get out and explore—so here I go! It is rather incredible that you can make last minute travel plans like this in China. Of course, the less-expensive hotel rooms were gone, but there were still plenty of choices on Tuesday and Wednesday when I made and finalized reservations. Air fare is similar, unlike flights out of the USA, the prices don’t increase as departure nears. I fly out Saturday morning and made reservations Tuesday night.
My options were an 8-hr bus ride one way for less than 100Y ($16) or a nice, quick trip of 55 minutes via air for 1524Y ($245 RT). With only a four day break, I decided flying is a better option. If I return during the summer break, I can bus it, as I’ve heard the scenery is breath-taking on the way to Tibet! Since I made plans last-minute, I was unable to gain a room at one of the highly-recommended spots, but I am happy with my choice, even at 1285Y ($205 total for 3 nights).
Next time you hear from me, I will be writing from the mountains of Girze, 2000m higher, hopefully altitude-headache free, sipping a hot cup of “cha” (Mandarin for tea), or flying upward 3700m toward that sky high airport!
Zaijien for now! (Bye!)