Kangding is most famous for a Chinese/Tibetan love song. But as the song goes, Kangding is more about its scenery than anything else. The city itself is part of the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, which means you are essentially in one of the several Tibetan provinces. This region was once the Tibetan Kingdom of Kham, which is long lost now. You will need your passport to pass the border into this region. Several busses, vans, and cars go through this heavily used road (via Chengdu’s 新南车站), which is currently under construction.
The original use of the city was to maintain trade between Tibet and China. Due to this, one can easily see the mix of cultures. But as Chinese tourism increases, there is a growing number of sino-fied aspects as some Chinese tourists are fickle about trying new food. A fast moving river splits the town in half, while mountains maintain limited development within this small corridor. Regardless, Kangding feels like a heavily developed mountain city. Below towering mountains are just as towering buildings.
North of the city are several monasteries. The most used one lies at the top of a hill where the “Yellow Hat” sect works. A few meters below is another monastery which has a big lawn in the center. Inside is quite colorful and rich. A third monastery (Anjue) lies in the city center near Kangding Hotel. This one is surrounded by a false facade for stores, but the monastery lies inside.
There is also a mildly expensive ropeway which costs 45 RMB for both ways. At the top of the ropeway you will pleasantly find absolutely nothing. For another 50 RMB you can pay to leave the ropeway area which provides neither views nor a way out. The 50 RMB gives you “views” and more “monasteries”. It seems few bothered to pay the premium and made their way down by foot, which probably provides more entertainment than a tourist park.
Although Kangding is busy, it doesn’t feel like it. Several tourists do go, but many are just continuing to other Tibetan regions and landscapes. At night the city feels deserted and quite cold, but during the day it is far more lively and moving. It often rains and can get pretty cold in the winter. There are hot springs, but we did not have the time to go.
The bus station is very busy during the holidays and prices for private vans/cars double. Outside of the bus station you will easily be haggled. The going rate for a bus ticket is ~120 RMB to Chengdu or you can find the bus driver in an alley selling it for 100, even when it is “sold out”. 150 RMB to take a private van, but the bus is far more comfortable. Beware, the road to Kangding is under construction and very bumpy. Rainy days guarantee landslides, which is both hazardous and requires long waits.
More Info: Kangding Travel Guide