Langmusi (郎木寺), Gansu Province
Nestled in the mountains along the border between Gansu and Sichuan Provinces, the small town of Langmusi is a popular destination for those interested in Tibetan culture, hiking and the combination of the two. We stopped here for three days in August 2009 as part of our tour of Gansu and Qinghai provinces. We actually spent most of our time outside of the town itself on a hiking trek through the grasslands, an experience that I highly recommend. That said, if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, there are enough short hikes and monasteries to fill up a couple of days in town.
Trekking around Langmusi
Our hiking trek outside Langmusi was indisputably one of the best experiences of a two-and-a-half week exploration of western China. Hiking through the grasslands and spending the night in a nomad family’s tent allowed us to see and experience a side of Tibetan culture aside from the monasteries. We watched the women weave yak-hair tents, make rope and milk the family’s herd of yaks; around 8 p.m., we heard the men roar into camp on their motorcycles. It is clear that Tibetan culture has changed somewhat with the arrival of modern conveniences — every tent we saw had its own solar panel to provide electricity. But many features of life on the grasslands, from the dung stoves to the guard dogs, must be the same as they were 100, 200, even 500 years ago.
The trek itself was not too difficult, though it was made harder by the altitude. As we hiked out of town, we were surrounded by bright-green mountains that contrasted spectacularly with the nearly cloudless blue sky. Higher up, the grasslands turned brown and were dotted with black yaks and white sheep. We encountered a few other groups of hikers and riders, but otherwise the trek offered a solitude uncommon in China. Our second day of hiking took us through the Ocean of Flowers, a field of wildflowers that, while beautiful, was somewhat overhyped by the trekking agency. (This shouldn’t deter you from the hike! Just don’t get your expectations too high.)
Our only serious problem with the entire trekking experience was that our guide encouraged us to take many breaks early in the day, which left little time for rest in the afternoons when we were more tired. Everything else about the trek — from the advance planning to accommodating a vegetarian to tucking us in at night — was fantastic.
The Langmusi Tibetan Horse Trekking Agency organizes both horse treks and guided hiking in the Langmusi area. Trips from two to five days are available. If you are in a group of two or more, horse trekking costs about 160 RMB per day, while hiking costs 90 RMB per day. Hiring a horse to carry your belongings costs an additional 50 RMB per day.
Liyi only organizes trips within a week of the departure date. To reserve a trip, you need to deposit a partial payment into her bank account. This is a fairly straightforward process, and can be done from bank branches anywhere in China. More booking details are available on her website.
Things to do
We didn’t have much time in Langmusi outside of our trek. The town boasts a couple of monasteries that you can explore, one on each side of the Gansu-Sichuan border. There is also a sky burial site just a short walk outside of town. The Langmusi Binguan and some of the western cafes sell hiking maps of the area for 5 RMB.
If you only have an hour or so, it is worthwhile to walk up to the monastery on the hill (to the right as you walk out of town). For 10 RMB, you can wander around the monastery and get a great view of the town.
The main street in Langmusi has a large number of small restaurants that serve delicious, basic Chinese dishes and noodles for low prices. The town is on the Gansu-Sichuan border, and we definitely noticed a bias toward the spicy flavors of Sichuan cuisine. I don’t have specific recommendations, but we enjoyed all of the places we tried. There are also a number of cafes catering to the backpacker trade, with English menus and some western foods. Our favorite was the Amdo Cafe, below.
A pair of British women we ran into on our trip tipped us off to the existence of the Amdo Cafe, and boy were we grateful. Real hot chocolate (15 RMB) and homemade cinnamon rolls (8 RMB) were the perfect post-trekking snack. We even came back the next morning for breakfast (a latte, yogurt and a huge piece of banana bread cost 33 RMB). There is another branch of the cafe in Xining.
The cafe also sells an array of souvenirs, including postcards, jewelry and a selection of wool crafts. The woolen goods (small bags, Christmas ornaments, etc.) are made by local craftspeople, and the owner of the cafe claimed that 90 percent of the price goes back to them. However, she said the same thing about the jewelry, but we saw many of the same pieces at a huge, generic tourist-souvenirs market in Xiahe. After visiting the Amdo Cafe in Xining, we concluded that she was probably telling the truth about the wool crafts — which were also for sale in Xining — but not about the jewelry. If you want to support local craftspeople, stick to the wool products.
The cafe is located a couple doors down from the Langmusi Binguan, away from the main street.
Weather and Altitude
No matter when you visit, nights in Langmusi are going to be cold, cold, cold. Even if you are planning to go in the summer, bring a fleece and long underwear to wear at night. There are a few small clothing shops in town for small things like wool hats and gloves. You may also be able to rent Tibetan cloaks from the trekking agency. For winter visits, check with the trekking agency to find out what you should bring — and follow their advice!
During the day, it can be quite hot. Sunburn is a real concern because of the altitude. Sunscreen is hard to find in China, and the quality of what is available is questionable. Bring it from home!
Langmusi is more than 3000m, and a trek around the area make take you up to 3800m or higher. We came directly from Lanzhou and found this to be a noticeable change, one that made the next day’s hiking a bit more difficult. If you have the time, it would be a good idea to spend a day in Langmusi acclimating to the altitude before beginning your trek. The trekking agency also recommends bringing cold medicine to ensure that you get a good night’s sleep.
As of summer 2009, getting to Langmusi is a bit of a challenge. After the Tibet protests in 2008, Langmusi and Xiahe were closed to foreign travelers. Although both cities are now reopened, the Lanzhou bus station is still refusing to sell direct bus tickets to foreigners. This meant that we ended up having to take four separate buses to reach Langmusi — you can read about that saga here.
If you want to avoid the four-bus extravaganza, the easiest way to get to Langmusi is to take a direct bus to Hezuo (4-5 hours, 45 RMB) and then to take a second bus from Hezuo to Langmusi (3-4 hours, 30 RMB). Buses from Lanzhou to Hezuo depart every half hour beginning at 7 a.m., but the last bus from Hezuo to Langmusi leaves at 12:20 p.m. Note: To buy bus tickets in Lanzhou, you may need to have two copies each of your passport and Chinese visa and residence permit.
The transportation situation has been changing frequently in recent months, so check with the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum or the trekking agency for the most up-to-date information. It is also possible to reach Langmusi from northern Sichuan Province.
In a small town in a remote, mountainous area of China, you can’t expect four-star accommodations. Given the constraints of its location, the Langmusi Binguan is a fine hotel. Our unheated triple room was clean and large enough to allow for full-scale unpacking and repacking before and after the trek, something we really only appreciated after the fact, when we got to Xiahe. Hot water is available in the evenings and mornings. The common squat toilets were occasionally dirty, thanks to some sort of design flaw, but the staff did their best to clean them regularly. Even in the summer, the room was quite cold at night — bring plenty of sweaters and a hat!
A triple room (with a common bathroom) at the Langmusi Binguan cost a total of 90 RMB. The hotel is located just off the main road, across the street from the Langmusi Trekking Agency.