From Dali and Lijiang you can come to Zhongdian with busses, there are many and it takes more than 8 hours from Dali and 3 or more hours from Lijiang(depending on the road conditions).
I did not have enough time to use public transports and, above all I did not like the idea that I could not stop on the road when I wanted to.
In Jeam's Tibetan hotel in Dali I asked how much could cost a private driver to go and I got a real deal, for 120 euro I got the driver, the hotel manager as english speaking guide, the hotel rooms for the 3 of us in Zhongdian and stops in Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge and anyway we wanted to on the road.
there's a #3 bus that goes from Gucheng (old town) to Songzanlin Monastery, also taxis to get around the city, but please get out of town if you want to see why they call this place Shangri-la, I had two drivers through the trip, 1st 1/2 for the Lijiang to Zhongdian drive & the 2nd one for the day trips around Zhongdian, I will definitely call the 2nd driver again, he is Tibetan (Luo Sang Dan Qu), speaks Mandarin but zero English, but a very safe and experience driver (cell # 13988765121), he works for Songtsam hotel but can arrange a fleet of SUVs/jeeps if you need more than one car through his friends
Bus from Lijiang to Zhongdian took 6-7 hours. RMB27. It was a mini bus. So, my advise is go to bus station 30 mins earlier, wait for your bus and try to get a good seat in front (more leg room). Otherwise it was ot really fun to squeeze yourself for 6-7 hours along the bumpy road.
6 hours bus ride, RMB34.50
Large bus, not mini one. Enough leg room but very bumpy though. Locals get on along the road, and became full packed with people, luggage, rice, beers, and animals!!! While it is pretty interesting when I had chance to sat besides some monks, and chat with them.
Road conditions in ZhongDian is always unexpected. Better in dry weather, worst in rainy days. This photo shows a normal scene while travelling here, passangers help moving rocks and pushing cars. A good work out!
There is only one long distance bus terminal in ZhongDian, however, funny thing that they use different names for this place: ZhongDian, Shangri-la, DiXin. Either name they call, it actually refers to the same place.
There are buses connecting Lijiang and ZhongDian, 6 hours ride, price 33 Yuan. The road was bumpy and may have landslide on rainy days. Hiring a taxi or small car is not recommended. For safty reason either take a public bus, or hire a Jeep or van with experience local driver. Don't drink too much water, toilets along the road are VERY VERY DIRTY! You know what I mean...
You have to be a bit flexible when travelling on
the mountain roads.
Here, a bridge was washed out by a slide.
We crossed the river on foot and we were then ferried 2 kilometers to our destination by the locals, via tractor. Very friendly people.
It was a great experience as we were ferried back to our bus for our return trip.
It was a public bus by the way and it was cool to watch the driver pick up locals and drop them off up and down the road.
He seemed to know all of them.
there is only one coach bus station in Zhongdian, few bus to Dali, Lijiang and Kunming everyday. Booking ticket as early as you can.