Destination: Lijiang, China
Number of Days Spent: 3 days
Where we stayed: Mu’s Garden Guesthouse – 90-100 RMB (we arrived and negotiated this on the spot, advance bookings are a bit more in price, I think 120 RMB) – This place is a cute little find, an old house in the traditional Chinese style! The rates were reasonable, rooms clean and centrally located on a quiet lane but near the main shops of the old city. The family that ran the hotel was quite friendly. It comes with wireless Internet and the family is happy to whip you up some yummy Yunnan tea to relax in the courtyard. They are also very willing to give you maps and recommendations for hiking the nearby Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Best restaurant: We found everything in the Lonely Planet to be waaaay overpriced and of low quality. We have three places of note. In the “Selling Grass Square” on the 2nd floor look for N’s Kitchen for delicious pizzas (also free Wifi)! After weeks of Chinese only food we were delighted to find a bit of western deliciousness! If you are looking for something more local don’t miss the yak yogurt place, An Yogurt or Am Yogurt (2 locations in Lijiang). Look for the multi-colored post-its with love notes written on them. Try it with fresh papaya or mango, it is DELICIOUS! Tracy had it every single day we were in Lijiang (and once she had it twice)! Oh and there is a little steamed bun place (sorry, it was only in Chinese so I don’t have a name) that was on the outskirts of the old city away from the tourists We had them for breakfast every morning and brought them on the road to Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Best of: The Jade Dragon Mountain was beautiful. Bike riding along the highway was a bit over-rated but the towns along the route were quite cute and we enjoyed seeing people at their daily tasks as we biked along. We met “world famous” Dr. Ho and sampled some of his “healthy tea.” He was quite a character.
Worst of: Lijiang is an overly touristy made up little city. It’s beautiful but somehow it’s so fake that it takes away from its beauty. It’s one of the most touristy places in China, it’s not just international tourists, Chinese tourists descend upon the city in droves and in in matching red hats usually following a tour guide with an umbrella for a flag poll.
Most Memorable: This was our first real experience with Chinglish signs which delighted us:
“WIne & dine quietly and healthily. Do not waste food!”
“Don’t forget to keep civilized behavior during outing and also shopping should be rational.”
“Selling grass Place”
“No Naked fire here, please"
Having spent the past couple of weeks in some of the poorest parts of China, we both felt we needed a little break from the ‘real’ China. Lijiang is about as far from that moniker as they come.
In what has become a growing trend all over China, the once quaint and charming village of Lijiang known mostly as being a jumping off point for the Tiger Leaping Gorge has been transformed into one of the most visited tourist attractions. The government has dumped millions of dollars into several of these beautification projects all over the country in the hopes of increasing tourism. The efforts seem to be working as most nights the streets were packed with hoards of people filing in and out of the numerous souvenir shops.
So sure the town is kitschy, but what in China isn’t? Besides if you were to make an old place new, and then make the new look old I don’t think anyone could argue that the results are not visually stunning. Cobblestone streets, brooks and streams running beneath stone bridges, and vibrantly colored lanterns hang all over the town. Add to that the absence of cars and its all a little too much to resist.
Buildings and streets may fit into the Chinese Government cookie cutter machine, but not all culture and tradition are lost. The Naxi tribe have called Lijiang home for nearly 1500 years and still are alive and well today. Existing as one of the few matriarchal societies, the women seem to run the affairs of the house, in particular, ‘flexible’ arrangements for love affairs.
Mandarin is widely spoken, but the Naxi still use a form of hieroglyphics – one of the few still in use in the world.
Nestled on the northern edge of town rests the stunningly beautiful Black Dragon Pool Park. Sure there’s an entrance fee and a few cultural exhibits but everyone comes here for the same reason – the view. Pond still waters, the year around snow-capped Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, pagodas and stone bridges come together for one of the quintessential shots in China.
From the park, we headed north of town on a couple of bikes. The surrounding villages are an easy bike ride away and while some of them are just as ‘beautified’ as Lijiang, the ride is flat and easy and passes through some of the prettiest countryside in China.
In the unassuming town of Baisha lives one of the legends of the area. He goes simply by the name of Dr. Ho and has been administering to the sick in this village for over 50 years and to many a traveller who have passed through. We checked in on the good doc who managed to wrangle us into his shop for some tea and a stroll down memory lane compliments of the hundreds of newspaper clippings and testimonials he has collected over the years. He was even featured in an article on MSNBC once, a testament to either his tea’s healing powers, or his charming personality. . . or perhaps a good mix of both!
Finishing our tea, we headed back to Lijiang and began to rest up for the next adventure – the two day hike of Tiger Leaping Gorge!