South of the Clouds: Songtsam Retreat, Shangri-la

Songtsam Retreat

Set on a hillside directly overlooking the Songtsam Monastery, the Songtsam Retreat offers a taste of Tibet to the traveler in China. The collection of buildings are built in the style of Tibetan stone houses, and despite its grandeur, the quietly unassuming Retreat blends nicely with its surrounds. Heavy blankets cover thick doorways (which are locked with wooden bolts) to trap heat inside, and every room has a wood stove, all of which manages to infuse a bit of rustic and give it a “lodge” feel.

Gadling visited the Songtsam Retreat in November on a tour with WildChina. Here are our impressions.

The Check-In

The lobby of the Retreat is filled with Tibetan antiques and artifacts, as well as the requisite wood stove. Roomy chairs and couches sit in front of low tables lit with candles, and the ambiance manages to be both grand and cozy. Staff serve you a warming cup of ginger tea, and then you’re lead cross the stone walkways to your room. There you’ll find a warm fire already glowing.

%Gallery-114505%The Rooms

There are 75 rooms at the Songtsam Retreat, and even the smallest can be considered a suite. Big beds, a sitting area with a wide coffee table topped with magazines and fresh fruit, a wardrobe, large TV, and a fireplace make up the expansive rooms. Windows gaze out to farmland and the monastery, and back porches with lounge chairs offer the same view (but with a bit of a chill). Large rugs cover hand-laid wood floors.

Beds are large, set on low, wide platforms and topped with thick mountain blankets. Reading lamps and a “captain’s” headboard for storing water and books take up less space than regular nightstands. Water, fruit, and tea-making appliances are provided, and the rooms are equipped with wifi.

The Bathrooms

Our bathroom was a bit on the small side compared to the room, but still perfectly adequate. Some rooms come with deep timber bathtubs, but ours had a simple stand-up shower. Stone walls contrasted nicely with the modern facilities. Shower products were kept in ceramic pitchers – definitely one of the more unique and charming presentations we’ve seen. A small, frosted-glass window let in natural light.

The Bar and Restaurant

The drinking and dining facilities are located in a large, three-story building. High ceilings and low tables and chairs add space to the dining room, an appropriate continuation of the wide open space outside. Rooftop dining terraces also connect you with the surroundings, while the sunken bar/library lounge area creates intimacy.

A large breakfast buffet offers both Western and Chinese choices, from an omelet bar to rice porridge. Tibetan specialties such as yak hot pot are on the menu and shouldn’t be missed.

The Facilities

Spa services such as massage are offered and can be booked at the front desk. A meditation room furthers the “retreat” experience.

The Bottom Line

The Songtsam Retreat is definitely something special. Ninety percent of the lodge’s staff are from minority groups; most are Tibetan but there are also many Naxi. They receive language and skills training, and are genuinely friendly. Furthermore, the Retreat’s rural location and overall design ensure both a comfortable stay and a unique experience. There’s nothing quite like waking up and pulling back the curtains to a view of the monastery rooftops, smokey mountain air, and farmland. And while many hotels that try to create a “feeling” can come off as cheesy and chintzy, the Songtsam Retreat does a fine job of establishing a mix of Tibetan-rural and lodge-comfortable.

Read more about Gadling’s travel through Yunnan, China here.

Though our stay at the Songtsam Retreat was funded by WildChina, the opinions expressed here are all our own.