Sichuan Province's

SONGPAN

Global Mark : 14.67 (up)    Top Ten : No9

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
4 5 1 2 5 2 5 2

4

13.33

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend Range AVER.
23 91%  (21) 74%  (17) 96% (22) 5 to 20 16.00


Description :
A small minority town used as a base for beautiful horse trekking.

Comments : Whether or not the weather is good might make a big difference in your appreciation of the trek

What to do : Test the resistance of your bottom / Get sensations by taking small path up and down with your horse / Check traditional Tibetan's villages (with or without satellite TV) and meet Tibetan people (with or without traditional costumes) / Dress like Tibetan to stand the cold / Sit by the fire / Start snowballs fights at above 5,000 meters / Be amazed by the scenery / Watch eagles, goats, muttons or yaks /

What you may not like : Being assaulted by touts on the bus / The cold weather & limited availability of hot shower / The lack of hygiene during the trek / The basic food (if you do not like potato, bring your own) / The sometimes  uncomfortable nights / Spending 4 days doing a trek that should require 3 days / Doing the trek with too many people (summer) or not enough people (other time) / The "two faces" of some of those friendly guys (see warnings) / The trekking problems (see updates)

How long ? The night before the trek and the night after plus 2 to 4 days on the paths in between


Where to stay ?

  • Songpan Fandian (7232531), orange gate, South of the town on Zhong Jie, before the river / Dorm 15 (2) in basic  rooms or 30 (2) in correct room with attached bath / "Chinese style" toilets / OK bath / HW 20 to 21 // Go there for the best value in town for dormitory and Dbl room with bath.

  • Zhaodaisuo, near the east-gate, blue sign / Sgl occupancy 20 / Dble occupancy 40 / Dirty but isolated toilets / Individual shower / HW in the evening // Go there for the best value in town for single occupancy

  • Songzhou Hotel, near main bus station / Sgl occupancy 30 / Dble occupancy 40 / "Chinese style" toilets / Bath outside with 24 hrs HW // Go there only if the other two are  full, to follow the touts, to get really hot water 24 hours a day, for the convenient location / What you may not like : the bad quality-price ratio for the rooms, the additional 2Y charge for the hot shower outside

  • Songpan County Gvt Hostel /Go there to check the new rooms and the new price policy.

 

Songpan Hotel songpan fandian

Songzhou Hotel

songzhou binguan

Songpan County Government Hotel

xianzhengfu zhaodaisuo

 

Backpacker's Tips : Alice, Australia (Nov 07)
Ice Mountain hostel, just down below Emma's kitchen, is a great place to stay. 


The Horse Treks ?

Two companies :

  • Shun Jiang's, the "original" one which formed the guys from the other company.

  • Happy Trail, the young and aggressive one, which now seems to get most of the business pie, on the left of the previous one

Six basic treks (variations are possible) :

Name See what ? D B L Rain ? Best time Cost Tourism
Ice Mountain Snow peaks, Lush valleys, Monastery 3/4 4 Hard !!! summer but clouds free no
Hot   spring A lot of lakes 3 3 Easy OK summer 30Y little
Mineral Water 2 big lakes 3/4 1 Hard OK summer free little
Waterfall Monastery 3 2 Easy OK yearly 30Y a lot (10 buses a day)
Huanlong Mountains, Lakes, waterfalls 3 5 Hard !!! April to Oct 80Y a lot (5000 people a day)
Zoige Grassland, Monastery 10 to 12 6 Hard OK Aug & Sept free little

Abbreviations : D = Duration in days / B = Best of (classification) / L = Level of difficulties / !!! = could be hazardous when raining / Cost = additional entrance fees

Remarks : The above information were nicely supplied by our guide. The rating in term of beauty is off course subjective. "Ice mountain", the highest trek at more than 5000 meters, is supposed to be the most beautiful by summer if there are no clouds hiding the snow summits (this, unfortunately,  is a matter of luck)


One basic price
:
60Y per day incl. food, water, tents, blankets, Tibetan clothes and attentive guides. A day started is to be fully paid. A dinner is normally included when you come back.

One warning : Trekking in Songpan is a big business but, unfortunately, some people still have a very un-business like attitude. They seem to accept nothing but praise and compliments (usually deserved) and if you are unfortunate enough to raise a "money issue", then you might see the other face of those smiling people : ten angry guys shouting and insulting the "bad and dishonest foreigner" in a room. A scary experience that I personally tested with "Happy Trails". The adventure finished happily at the table of a restaurant with one of the manager (with a visit to the Police Station at my initiative between and also probably because they knew I was writing a guide) but it could also have finished in the hospital... A day later, a mature New Zealand girl was physically dragged out of her bus by the same two young managers and insulted  until she agreed to pay the full price of her disappointing two days trek (she did not get lunch nor dinner the second day). My advice is therefore to agree precisely to everything beforehand and to avoid such dangerous formula like "I pay more if I am very satisfied". Being very happy and enthusiastic about the trek, the guide, the horse and the potatoes served is also recommended... If you are not sure to be entirely satisfied, you might want to try the older company as they seem to have less complaints from unhappy trekkers.


Backpacker's Tips : Cherry, Taiwan (July 06)
Now the cost of the horse trekking in Songpan is 150rmb for one person each day. 

Backpacker's Tips : Blaise Fiedler, France (July 05)
We did the 3-day horsetrek to Ice Mountain (y400 incl everything) and found the whole experience rather boring - you're walking the horses all day long rather than running on them. you go as fast on foot (which I did most of the time when I was bored). Scenary is Ok but nothing to write home about - for instance we do not go through any Tibetan villages - it looks like a walk in the Alps.
The camp is Ok but food was less than average: no lunch on day 1, just some tomato and sugars thrown on the floor as though we were horses. Dinners are the plainest vegetables. Fortunately my companions were fun so all in all it was OK. Only really recommend it if you have never been on a
horse. Otherwise it's so much better to just walk!
Another myth I want to break is Emma's kitchen. The food is also very average and Emma the owner is very aggressive when you start telling her that. She accused me also of breaking her computer (I had nothing to do with it). It's really a shoot first and ask questions later attitude. Yet the place is always full of tourists - I do not understand.Much better is the Song in the Mountain - great food,esp. the veggie pizza and a genuine welcome feeling.
 

Backpacker's Tips : Ali, Pakistan (July 05)
Well lets just say we fell for it... Price now is 100 Y/person/day, only one company and so no competition. The food and facilities offered are not standard. You may end up eating raw tomatoes with sugar or boiled cabbage for 3 days. We took the ice mountain tour.
Plus: reasonable scenery, but still nothing you couldnt see elswhere for a fraction of the cost.
Negatives: here goes... not good value for money, if you have ever seen any mountain covered in snow then DONT take the trip at least not the ice mountain one. pretty indifferent service I mean its not that the guides are illiterate or dont know any better, Ive been with guides and porters all my life while trekking in Pakistan and the guys in Songpan are just downright rude and ill mannered. not a full days riding maximum of 4 hrs. the ice mountain tour is for 4 days but the guides will try to convince you to cut it to 3 days as soon as you leave town. Oh and most important... I was enlightened to the fact that horse trekking means that you have to do all the descents on foot... which is something you absolutely dont want to do if you have climbed Emei shan with a heavy pack and your legs are totally cramped and wobbly.
 

Backpacker's Tips :  Franck (Nov 04)
 We did the ice mountain trek with the oldest company, happy trails was nowhere to find. Prices are 100 per day now. But we didnt go to the ice mountain itself, the guides just went in the first day to a village where we slept in a school. Next day we did nothing, because we said we paid 4 days and dont want now only 3 days. Next day we rode 1 hour to the resting place for the second night and then back to the village. Last day we rode to songpan. The whole time the Guides behaved like we were cows and have to be driven from place a to another. That we want to see the scenery and dont want to make the trek in 3 hrs they ignored. When i said on the 4th day to my guide he schould stop trashing my horse he said i should walk. When i refused the before so friendly guide put me down from the horse with my feet in the holder and attacked me. Fazit: No Icemountain seen, attacked, could not enjoy the very beatiful scenery, paid doutful 10 yuan entrance but never got a ticket.... Not recommended!  
Note from Passplanet:
as expected, monopoly did not improve the trekking service. Why would they care now about making backpackers' happy ? The latest comments may be an exception but, since a similar service exists in nicer Langmusi, it might be worth going there and give those guys a lesson.

Backpacker's Tips : Mikaela & Charlie, Australia (Oct 04)
Horse treks - After initially booking a 3 day horse trek we cut it back to 2 for the following reasons - You only ride (well a better description is sit on a horse) for a couple of hours in the morning, the rest of the day is meant to be spent enjoying such things as the hot springs that cost 75 yuan to enter and are not even hot. The food is very basic and one can't help but think that the management could spend some of the money you are paying them on buying the guides a couple of new pots to cook in. All rubbish is just left around the campsite or in the once beautiful river and the fire wood is cut off the surrounding trees, making for a very smoky fire, not to mention the environmental issues. Also one of our horses had two red saddle sores on its back. The guides were lovely, however, and were just doing exactly what they have been instructed to do. The management returned our 100 yuan for the extra day with no problems but found our complaints about the environment and the condition of the animals quite amusing and even initially tried to put all the blame on the poor guides. Having said all this we met several people who enjoyed their horse trek experience and I think it is the kind of bad experience that could be fun if in a large group with a good sense of homour, however, some of the things mentioned don't really have a funny side.
Also their is no water in Songpan for the month of Oct 2004, but there are public showers that cost 4 yuan that you can use. Compared to Langmusi, Songpan seemed to be one huge construction site that had lost much of its charm but if you get of the main streets there are still some nice patches.

Backpacker's Tips :   David Bowen, Wales (May 04)
Horse trekking in Songpan now costs 100RMB per day!! The Happy trails company has been 'absorbed; by the older company. There was some discontent within our trekking group. Firstly the company denied the existence of an ATM (which can be found on the left hand side 100m before the Agricultural Bank and accepts western cards) and charged three members an obscene commission on changing dollars (7.6/1). Secondly we only got about 2 1/2 hours of riding each day. The guides however were wonderfull and even tucked us in at night!! Horse trekking is now availible at similar cost in Langmusi.
It is possible to stay in private houses in Songpan (15rmb) although a little chinese is required for negotiation. Currently there is NO WATER hot or cold in either the traffic hotel (20rmb dorm) or the guesthouse above the trekking agency (15/20rmb) a public shower is located with 24hr hot water down the street.
Emmas cafe 150m south of the trekking companies is a good up to date source of information concerning bus times etc (emmachina@hotmail.com).
There is also a book swap and a good place to adopt some Guanxi from emma's brother if you sweet talk her a little. Currently the nearest place for visa extensions is Chengdu (3 working days)
Bus to Songpan takes 9hours and costs 50rmb.
Bus to Zoige costs 44rmb and takes a similar time. The trip to/from zoige involves a steep mountain climb on a mud road which is treacharous when wet. This should get better in the next year or so.
Finally - head to songpan ASAP. It is undergoing massive reconstruction i.e. Hordes of tourgroups will be decending in the near future - flag waving chinese guides on horseback - nice!!

Note from Mike Li (Li Gui Quan), China (June 02) :
Dear Ben, my name is Mike Li. I used to be the manager of Happy Trails but when I moved to the UK my good friend, whose English name is also Mike, took over the horse trek business from me. I have read the complaint on your website and am very upset by this - I did this business for many years and never had such problems, so I have spoken to the two guys who are running the business now and hope that this will never happen again. I can only think that perhaps there were some language problems but this is no excuse.
I would like to send an apology to the people involved.
One thing that is not correct on your website is the description of the two companies. Regardless of what you may have been told, the two companies were registered at the same time so there is no question of one being more "original" than the other. You also say that we used to work with the managers of the Shunjiang company - this is not true, I learned the business from my cousin, who opened the first horse trek office in Songpan. Later on I opened my own office which became Happy Trails. So it would be good if you could update your website with the correct information. If you have any more questions about Songpan please send me an email and I will be happy to help.

Backpacker's Tips : Mike Li (Li Gui Quan), China (June 02)
 Bus tickets from Songpan to Chengdu should now cost 35-40 yuan, as foreigners now pay the same price as locals. The bus times can also change so it is best to check the day before you leave. 
Horse trekking will cost between 70-90 per day, although it should now be 80 yuan as the local authorities have set the price. Both companies offer the same service and use the same routes for their treks, although of course things like the weather might mean that the route is changed. 
This year Songpan has changed a lot, the hotels are being improved and so the prices are going up. The local authorities are building a new bus station at the end of this year, to replace the three current bus stations - the new bus station will not be so central, but I guess the guides from the horse trek companies will still come to meet the buses. 
I was a bit surprised when I went to Songpan as the guides from Shunjiang company have printed out the page from your website with the bad story about the Happy Trails company and try to give it to every traveller that comes to Songpan. I think both companies can make mistakes sometimes, and it is unfortunate that the Shunjiang company are using what is printed on your website to make things difficult for the other company. When I was in Songpan an American man chose to go trekking with Happy Trails. When he returned from his trek, the manager from the other company (the man with the bad eye) started a fight with him because he didn't go with them. On the other hand, I was really happy with my trek with the Happy Trails company, the managers and guides couldn't have been nicer and I find it hard to believe some of the stories on your website. 
Generally, I think the guides from both companies do their best to provide a good service - this is their livelihood after all, if this doesn't go well for them they have no other way to support their families - and sometimes it isn't easy to please foreigners, or communication difficulties mean that people misunderstand each other.   
Note from Passplanet : I certainly disagree about having Shunjiang using my material to promote their company over their competitor and request them to kindly remove it. Indeed, things will hopefully improve from this point, thanks to the intervention of Mike (see above). I will however maintain my stories (and those received), as a testimony and warning about things that can go wrong. I wish that both companies can settle things down and share the business in a peaceful atmosphere... Time will tell if this is the case... 

Backpacker's Tips : Roman Krizanic, Slovenia (May 02)
 I just got back from China and I'm still thinking about all the thinks I saw in China, good ones and bad ones. And one of the best thinks was horse trek in Songpan. I took the Happy horse trail agency and I was really surprised. Everything was perfect, guides were the best, food was simple but tasty, they backed the best bread I ever ate even weather was nice. So, me personally can recommend this agency, you can not expect everything will be perfect, but for me was it one of the best experiences in my life. A lot of praising but you have to try it by your self.

Backpacker's Tips : Dawn Wenger, USA (May 02)
 There have been some stones thrown concerning the two horse trek companies in Song Pan. Many packers are encouraged to take one horse trek company or another. I have been living in Sichuan Province for over three years. I have taken the horse trek more than ten times and have actually been with both companies, Shun Jiang and Happy Trails. Although I have worked mostly with Happy Trails, I would freely recommend both Shun Jiang and Happy trails as they work hard to please their customers. I don't think the most important question is which company should I take. More importantly is the question of how do I want to view this section of God's beautiful creation? Do I want to view it from a bus that will shield me from rain, snow, wind, and sun? Or do I want to risk the weather and rough circumstances to spend time in the middle of nature on horse back and on foot? I have found the companies to be very accommodating and often very busy in an effort to take care of their customers. Even after many horse trek trips, I find the mountains of Song Pan a welcome retreat from my life here in the city and will continue to support their industry.

Backpacker's Tips : Davide Gallino, Italy (Aug 01)
 I've shared with other people your remarks on Songpan (Ice Mountain trek) and everyone agreed that you were 100% right (we took the older company, and were very lucky with the friendly and professional Tibetan guides, paid 80 Y per person per day - the basic food and the total lack of hygiene - well something could be done in this regard.
In Songpan it is possible to sleep in the ditch in front of the trekking agencies for 15 Y; if in need of a real hotel room, with HW (after 7PM) when coming back for the trekking, the white and blue building of the hotel opposite the trekking agencies will do for 200 Y (we thought we deserved that after four days of sleeping bag).

Backpacker's Tips : Petra and Jon, Germany (Sept 00)
 We returned from a 3 day trek with Happy Trail together with 3 other people and had a few queries regarding what had been promised and what actually was delivered (for example instead of the promised 5-6 hours horse trekking, we got about 2 - 3, on the last day only 1 1/2, also we did not go to one of the sites promised at all etc..). Everything could have been easily and peacefully discussed except that the two managers Rick and in particular Mike Lee became very aggressive. Mike Lee making several threats of physical violence towards members of our group. He refused to let a female member of our group collect her bag and leave the office by pushing her. We found their behavior hard to deal with as it seems so irrational and certainly at odds with the friendly face they presented to us when we booked the trip. All in all it seems your warning is a good one, we only wish we had read it before. In order to finish the argument (which lasted from our return at 1 p.m. to late in the evening) and minimize the threat of problems on our way to the bus station the next morning, we eventually paid everything, but it left a nasty taste regarding the whole trek.


Bus Schedules :

To Price Type Duration Time Nb Freq.
Chengdu 75 ordi 8 to 11 6:00 1 na
Jiuzhaigou 37-45 ordi 3 to 4 7 or 8 1 na
Zoige 56 ordi 7 6:20 1 na

Notes : To Chengdu : also a 7am private bus / To other destinations : also a bus from the East Bus Station / Prices incl. compulsory insurance


The trip to Jiuzhaigou
: Minibus / SSS / L&R / Y37 / 4 hrs

A fully packed bus which stopped all the time to become even more packed...

The trip to Zoige : Big bus / SSS / L&R / Y56 / 6 hrs /

The bus was supposed to leave at 6:20 but it left at 6:10 (better buy the ticket in advance). It was a very bad and bumpy road with an half empty old bus. But the road was relatively straight and the grassland scenery definitively worth a 6 hours ride.

See also trip from Chengdu to Songpan...