Touching Tibet: Songstam, Meili

As close as you can get to Tibet without a separate visa, Meili snow mountains feels like a piece of the heavens. Though we traveled three days deep into Deqin to get here, Meili’s beauty is so accessible it felt too good to be true. Mountains like this usually don’t come without porters and oxygen tanks and they definitely don’t come with luxury hotels at their base… unless they are Songtsam Meili. Sitting at 12,000 feet in a rural Tibetan village, the hotel (that dot in the valley above) faces the virgin Meili mountain range, slashing through the sky at heights as high as 22,110 feet. Our time at Songtsam Meili let us into the remote world of Tibetan life and snow-capped beauty that no other hotel could.


The roads seemed to twist into knots all the way from great Buddhist monastery town of Benzilan to the five-family village of Gujiunong. Curving around towering mountains and waiting to see what beauty was around the bend added to the excitement.


On the small road leading up to the hotel, we passed the neighboring Tibetan farmhouses, trimmed in a rainbow of color. With huge racks of drying wheat and yaks milling about the yard, each home looked storybook charming.


Built with local stones and inspiration from the Tibetan dwellings, the hotel blended beautifully into the surroundings. From the cliff-side location, huge patios, and bounty of windows, the Songtsam Meili was built to let the brilliance of the mountains shrine through.


Not wanting to waste a moment of daylight, we dropped off our bags and we quickly went back out to explore the neighborhood. We didn’t have to walk far before a farmer and father of one of the Meili staff invited us over. He was milking his dzo, a cattle-yak hybrid, and before you know it Mike was too.


After tending to the animals, we were invited inside for a pot of yak butter tea and traditional flatbread. Unlike any house we’d ever been in, the ground floor was actually the barn for the animals and the second a huge open kitchen and simple living space. Watching the lady of the house cook in her wood-powered kitchen, lined with copper pots and hand-thrown ceramics, felt like a window into another world.


We made it back to our luxurious room just before sunset and it took our breath away. The sky was getting dark but the snowy peaks stood brightly on the horizon. With two walls of windows, the peaks felt like they were inside with us.


The dining room was aglow with candles and the fire burners of Tibetan hot pot. These bronze cauldrons bring a delicious broth to a boil then couples cook their own vegetables and meat at the table. Not only was it scrumptious to eat, it was such fun to make!


None of the mountains in the Meili range have ever been summited do to their sheer verticality and holy status…so we opted to hike the foothills. Views to the snowy mountains were bound to be incredible but the colors and textures of the trail impressed us just as much. Traces of landslides from the rocky peaks cut through the red and yellow shrubs of fall keeping us in awe and on our toes.


In Tibetan Buddhism it seems that the hardest-to-reach cliffs with the most jaw-dropping views are the best places for worship. At the top of the one of our steepest climbs we stumbled upon this stupa in a tangled mess of prayer flags whipping in the breeze from the snowy pass.


We made it to the top for lunch at this old farmers cabin and soaked up the pure peace of this place.


The next morning we were exhausted from our 25-kilometer hike and decided to take in the mountain from the comforts of our window seat. (We’ve hiked for hours to get to great views during our trip but for this one we just had to roll out of bed.)


Before driving back to Shangri-la, we motivated to leave the glorious Songtsam Meili to check out the nearby (and only) town of Dechin. You know you’re getting close when white stupas line the road over the valley.


Between the Tibetan culture and the 20,000 foot mountains, Songtsam Meili was quite possibly our favorite hotel during our five-weeks in China. It’s as far-flung as it gets but for a setting this romantic, it’s worth the winding road to get there.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Glamping on the Rise: Travel + Leisure Lists 20 Glamping Properties Among 70 Best New Hotels in the World

It’s official: glamping has arrived, landing on the 2014 Travel + Leisure “It List” in no small fashion. With only the “coolest new hotels that are changing the travel landscape” making the list, glamping makes its mark with 20 properties (nearly 30%) that feature glamping as their primary accommodation, nestled among urban trendsetters, scene makers, and Next-Gen business hotels. The best glamping spots easily keep pace with the “hip,” “swank,” and “luxurious” newcomers, bringing with them “experiential travel” to round out a list that prides itself on recognizing the most exciting changes in the travel landscape.

1000-7_000 Mahali Mzuri

From jungle to savanna, and snow-topped mountains to tropical islands, choices are what is cool about glamping. Glamping accommodations that made the T+L list were safari lodges, beach resorts, and “remote outposts.”  It List safari lodge choices range from the traditional, such as Chinzombo in Zambia that offers “stylish austerity and unforgettable wildlife encounters”  to Richard Branson’s Mahali Mzuri in Kenya that T+L refers to as a “futuristic riff on the classic East African lodge,” with tents resembling  “spaceships.”

022_Villa Three At Night_original Chinzombo Camp

Beach resorts on the list span the globe from great escapes in the Caribbean like Eden Roc in Dominican Republic and The Cove Eleuthera Resort and Spa to sublime island resorts like Australia’s Bedarra Island Resort, Hawaii’s modern, renovated Andaz Maui Villas, and the decadent Cheval Blanc Randheli in the Maldives.

Not surprisingly, several “remote outposts” are listed, such as Cresto Ranch and Outlook Lodge, both in Colorado.  What may initially come as a surprise however is a property in the United Arab Emirates, Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel Villa Resort, until you learn that it is set amid “savanna-like grasslands of Sir Bani Yas Island’s famed Arabian Wildlife Park,” a welcome surprise indeed.

Bathhouse_at_duskDunton Hot Springs and Cresto Ranch

What may not come as a surprise are the price tags. To be the best in the world often means the most expensive, and glamping by Travel + Leisure standards can be pretty pricey, with 14 of their glamping choices (70%) costing guests $500 or more a night. Five properties in the more reasonable range of $350-500 were Ion Luxury Adventure Hotel, Selfoss, Iceland, the culturally rich Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort and Spa in China, and It List five time winner Hotel Escondido in Mexico. One bargain made the list Outlook Lodge of Colorado Springs, Colorado, costing less than $200 a night. Regardless of price however, a discerning traveler on the lookout for a new experience will find that it really is no surprise that glamping is on the rise.