As part of our Yunnan tour, we considered a visit to Shangri-La. We knew about the old town which had recently gone up in flames and had read about the marketing strategy surrounding the “Shangri-La” re-naming in 2001. Our decision to make the trip there was actually heavily influenced by the presence of an Accor group’s MGallery hotel, keeping in mind that we could benefit from Platinum member privileges. As of July 2014, the MGallery Songtsam Retreat and Banyan Tree Ringha are the only international hotel chain presence in Shangri-La country.
Airport transfers are included in all room rates. Since we arrived by coach from Lijiang, the hotel arranged for a driver to wait for us at the bus station. After a van ride of 15 minutes or so, we reached the MGallery Songtsam Retreat.
The Welcome Center
We were welcomed by a Management Trainee from New Zealand who invited us to sit down and have some welcome drink
Ginger tea and some yummy cookies (bonus point to the staff for offering a tea refill)
We did not have to walk to the reception counter, since we did the check-in procedures while enjoying our tea. In the mean time the General Manager Ms.YeaPing Kiing came to welcome us and wished us an enjoyable stay.
The check-in did not take long, and we were accompanied by the Management Trainee to a buddy for a 30 seconds ride to our room. Since the hotel is terraced on a hillside, the idea was to avoid unnecessary effort climbing stairs, since we had just reached such a high altitude. The Management Trainee also informed us that they had an oxygen machine available that can be brought to our room if necessary.
As Accor Platinum members, we were upgraded to a Junior Suite. Here’s the entrance to room 302:
Let’s enter our junior suite, one big Tibetan themed open-plan room with no separation between the bedroom, living room and bathroom
There was a functioning fireplace. We could call Reception to have someone light a fire for us, but there was no need in summertime.
The sleeping area, which was a raised wooden frame with a futon. That was such a comfortable mattress!
View of the living room from the bed
Now let’s have a closer look at the coffee table:
There was a personalized welcome note from the General Manager on top of an envelope. I was expecting the usual drink vouchers inside the envelope, but sadly all it contained was a survey form.
Here’s the bathroom area
Since we wanted to use the tub for a relaxing bubble-bath, we searched everywhere for the bath product but could not find any. We checked with Reception and the idea must be so foreign in this part of China; the gentleman on duty could not understand what we were looking for, so I used all sorts of description (bath foam, bubble bath, bath salts…). He finally called Housekeeping but they did not have any such product, then he called the Spa which gave a negative reply (interestingly they do have baths soaks in their menu). We ultimately tried using the shower gel, which would barely foam. All this to say that the big tub was a nice concept…
There were some slippers available, both disposable ones and pool slip-on. For the latter, it was useful to have bigger sizes for men.
The hotel grounds
The hotel itself is quite small, with three levels of building on a hillside. Less than 500 meters away, on the opposite hill, lies the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery. In between there is a small village and some rapeseed fields which were in full bloom.
Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery
Yaks grazing by the village
Hotel at night under the rain. Besides the visual beauty, the cool air had such a soothing scent of wet soil, flowers and grass.
The hotel has two restaurants, a Tibetan and a European, both in the same building but on separate floors. Since one can order from both menus irrespective of restaurant and the staff is the same, choosing one of the other is just a matter of preference for the setting.
We had dinners and breakfasts in the Tibetan restaurant
Unfortunately they did not offer any desserts in the Tibetan menu so they only had European desserts which we did not bother trying. Some Chinese or Asian desserts would have been nice.
During dinner, there was some traditional Tibetan singing. Over dinner, they would come twice with 2-3 songs each time, and the same is repeated every evening. We spotted the lead singer and musician manning the main hotel entrance gate, so we assume all four were actually hotel staff.
Walking back to our room, we saw that most lights in the rooms were turned off. The restaurant was also rather empty, which made us think that the hotel was operating at around one third of its maximum occupancy. We seemed to be the only guests in a suite on our first night there.
Upon returning to our room, the turndown service staff had already taken care of our room. The bed/futon had been prepared, ginger tea left on the coffee table, water bottle on each side of the futon, and aromatic oil burner turned on by the bathtub. We were hoping for a refill of the cookies container, but that did not materialize.
This hotel is a retreat and organizes a few activities for guests. A time table with free activities is provided in each room:
On the Sunday we were there, there was nothing but the Monastery tour. It was an OK tour with the hotel’s in-house Tibetan Buddhism instructor who had studied for several years in Dharamsala, India. He also leads the other activities, such as the Intro to Tibetan Buddhism talk and the early morning Five Tibetan rites (which lasts around 20 minutes)
Since we were a mixed group of Chinese and foreigners, the tour was bilingual. Somehow the English explanations were a third of the length of Chinese ones. The hotel should perhaps consider organizing two separate tours, one in Chinese and the other in English.
Here’s our tour guide with the hotel in the background
If it is serious about being are a real “retreat” then the MGallery Songtsam needs to improve the activities on offer. For example, yoga sessions in the open air would be great or short guided hikes in the neighboring hills.
For those wishing to see the Old Town, the hotel offers two shuttles per day. However, as we found out, the service was not quite reliable. We used it on Sunday afternoon, and instead of the scheduled 5pm departure, the pick-up was late by 42 minutes!
For tours outside the hotel, there is an “Information Center” by the Reception (pictured below) where tours can be booked. Rates for a hotel car with driver for up to 4 passengers start at 500 CNY for Napa Lake or Shika Snow Mountain and reach 1100 CNY for Bigu Heavenly Lake or Balgezong Grand Canyon.
There’s a small shop called “Linka Corner” where foodstuff (including their cookies and superb Yunnan coffee), local products and Tibetan music CDs are sold.
There was a spa (Linka Spa by L’Occitane) that we did not try. Besides the usual treatments, it is worth noting the two Songtsam Signature Treatments: Linka warm roseroot oil massage and Tibetan butter massage, both priced at 800/1100 CNY for 60/90 minutes.
There were not so many English books in the library. There were some National Geographic magazines from 10 years ago but for some local literature while sipping imported drinks, one can always read poems by Chairman Mao.
Overview of Accor Platinum benefits
Room upgrade: Yes
Welcome drinks voucher: No
Lounge: N/A (no existing lounge)
Late check-out: N/A (we did not request)
MGallery Songtsam Retreat at Shangri-La
Yunnan Province, China