The Songpan area was part of greater Tibet in the old days and is said to be an area of the most fearsome fighting with the People's Liberation Army during 1950.
A horseback trek is an excellent way to experience the Tibetan culture without all the required permit(s) or possible political problems of going to Tibet. However, I definitely recommend still going to Tibet, at least the Lhasa area.
You can arrange horseback trekking for the Songpan area while you are in Chengdu. Most of the back packer places will be happy to arrange a tour for foreigners. You can also arrange horseback trekking in Songpan.
Price- Y100-Y200/day incl. a horse, 3 meals, tents, beddings, Tibetan clothes, rain gear and an attentive guide. The guide takes care of everything for you.
I was in Songpan during 2006 as a stop on my way to Jiuzhaigou , before the 2008 earthquake. I understand Songpan is open to travel again after the earthquake.
The below link is one of the many places you can arrange a Songpan tour while you are in Chengdu.
Please rate this and my other tips when you find then interesting, useful, or like the photos. Note, I did not take the horse trekking photos, but the other photos I posted are mine.
Just about everyone stops at Princess WenCheng statues, even some of the buses going to Jiuzhaigou . So get out and take a photo with the famous Chinese Princess. Maybe it will help bring lasting peace to the Tibetan area like she did for many years.
See my Songpan page for the Princess WenSheng story.
Please rate this and my other tips when you find then interesting, useful, or like the photos.
Some people might put this under Tourist traps, but further on you will read why I put it under Things to do. When we came down from the Zhaga waterfall, there were some local Tibetan women walking around there. One woman came to talk to my wife in a very friendly manner. Of course we knew that sooner or later she would ask money, but she was really friendly. We took some pictures with her, and then she asked some money without saying how much she wanted. So we just gave the amount we wanted, and afterwards she kept talking with us for a while. Really friendly, so for me it's not really a tourist trap. It was quite interesting to talk with her for a while. She wasn't pushy at all.
The layered Zhaga waterfall is quite impressive to see. Especially because it's suddenly there as you come out of the woods. It's 104 meters high and about 35 to 40 meters wide. It's the biggest calcified waterfall in China. The nice thing is that you can go all the way up and come down right next to the waterfall. As I said before, when we visited it, we were the only people there. This gave an incredibly peaceful feeling.
When you go all the way to the top you have a nice view of the surroundings. And we went in March, so we had a snowball fight at the top of the waterfall.
Munigou valley is about an hour driving from Songpan city. We came here the day after we visited Jiuzhaigou. Of course Jiuzhaigou is a lot bigger, but this area is not less nice. Actually there are two scenic spots in this area, Zhaga waterfall and Er'daohai, but we only visited the first one.
We visited Jiuzhaigou and Munigou only with the both of us and a guide and a driver. The big advantage is that we could decide our own schedule and the guide advised us to go to Munigou early in the day. That was very good advice. We arrived shortly after noon, and there was nobody there!! We had the whole area for ourselves. Just when we came down from the waterfall again the big groups started to arrive.
The walk from the parking lot to Zhaga waterfall is really nice. There's water and trees everywhere, which gives a very special atmosphere. It's like some troll or lepricon could pop up any moment. :-)
The horse treks out of Songpan are the highlight of Sichuan travels. The price is modest at Y65-80 per day, including meals, tents, bedding, cold water gear, and lovable guides. Even though you might feel somewhat less than satisfied with a short trek to Munigou Hot Springs, you definitely get your money's worth trekking to Ice Mountain. Treks to the isolated Falling Stone Mountain also come highly recommended. The two competing companies, Happy Trails Horse Treks and Shun Jiang Horse Treks are right next to each other and offer the same tours with the same high quality. Treks to Munigou and the Hot Springs at Er Dao Hai take two days; a detour to the Zhaya waterfall takes an extra day. The Hot Springs are actually rather cold (21°C), and the mineral pools that form the area's main attraction don't compare in the least to Huanglong's or Jiuzhaigou's, even if the 100m Zhaya Waterfall is quite beautiful. (Entrance fees to both parks Y33. Riding time to Muigou about 4hr.)
Treks to Ice Mountain take four days of hard riding (7-8hr. per day), but are the most awesome of the available treks. You can also trek to Huanglong (2 long 7-8hr. days of riding, 1 day hiking in the park), passing close to the snowline, but since bus service is convenient and several hours of riding must be done on the public highway, this trek is not very popular.