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Just returned. If all goes well, the high speed rail (HSR) from Kunming to Shangri-La is scheduled to run next year.

In the second to last paragraph, it's difficult to imagine any trains would run through Deqen ["Deqin"] given its challenging mountain terrains and its "godly mountain" (神山) reputation given by locals. Townsfolk are wary of the environmental degradation caused by over-tourism in the event of a HSR station perched along their sacred Deqen mountain range. Although Shangri-La to Tibet HSR is planned which seemingly passes through that NW direction. An update on that would be appreciated.

Between Shangri-La and Deqen is Balagezong Shangri-La Grand Canyon National Park, This 4-starred attraction opened to public just last year with deeper mountainous road accessibility than ever before. The grand canyon view near the summit is spectacularly surreal. FIY, for 70 bucks more per day, local guides will take you further than park shuttles normally traverse by hiking special paths.

GoKunming (or affiliates) should definitely do a piece on Balagezong. The local hero/entrepreneur who spent a decade depleting his entire fortune (~40M) and borrowing hundreds of millions to connect his remote mountainous village to the world ought to be featured.

Can't use a debit card, for Zuche it had to be a credit card. Not sure if it is still possible for foreigners to get one as it seems like things have changed a little but I got mine from Bank of Communication a few years ago. Definitely worth a try.

In my experience the main problem I ran into besides having the driver's license for renting a car from someone like zuche was needing a Chinese credit card for the deposit. There didn't seem to be a way around it. Eventually I got a credit card and it was fine.

I used an app called "laowai drive' (in addition to the other site mentioned in the article) - it's not free but the questions were exact copies of the test questions. The app also has a mode to target your mistakes and you can take practice tests until you're ready - combine these two and you'll be good to go.