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Lijiang, North Yunnan


Lijiang is one of the most popular travel destinations in China. It's not for nothing, the old town, even though nowadays a big new city is build next to the old town, is still a spectacular sight. The old town is rebuild in the 1990's after an earthquake and with a few spectacular sights this is the major tourist destination in Yunnan.

Black Dragon Lake Lijiang

Probably my favorite picture I made in China, the Black Dragon Lake in Lijiang,
on the back Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Mt. Yulong)

The name "Lijiang" means "beautiful river", the city lies near the Jinsha River in a huge valley with the Yulong Snow Mountain overseeing the valley and is the center of the naxi culture.

History of Lijiang

The history of Lijiang dates back to the late Song dynasty. It has always been a center of learning with an important cultural and political role. To the north of the valley lies the Yulong Snow Mountain.

Naxi people in Lijiang

Naxi people in Lijiang

The town is build on an altitude of 2400 meter but you wouldn't see it that way as the surrounding mountains are much higher.

In the vicinity of Lijiang you can find a Red Hat Tibetan monastery, a sign that the Naxi culture is related to the Tibetan culture, further north and west of the area.

Things to do in Lijiang

The first time I was in Lijiang the new city was still being build. It consisted of only 3 streets and the old town was still being rebuild after an earthquake in the mid 80's. Nowadays the new city has over a million people while the old town is part of Historical and Cultural Heritage in China and it has been included in the World Cultural Heritage.

Black Dragon Lake in Lijiang
Black Dragon Lake in Lijiang

The old town is centered along Square Street (Sifang Street) and forma network of small streets leading to little squares. Nowadays the old town is much larger than it originally was. In the previous years the Chinese have for tourism reasons build an extension of the original old town.

Wandering through the small streets is one of the must things. The Naxi people keep their culture in many ways. The Dongba culture is an integral part of Naxi culture. It is called so because it is mostly found in the Dongba religion, which is believed to be one thousand years old. It mainly consists of scriptures, paintings, music, dances, ritual implements and religious services.

The Red Hat Monastery in the vicinity of Lijiang
The Red Hat Monastery in the vicinity of Lijiang

And it is that music which is one of the other things to do. Every night you can visit a musical show of traditional Naxi music, unique in China.

Naxi Culture in Lijiang Lijiang, womens day

A few years ago I visited Lijiang at Womens day. People from many surrounding villages came to People's Square to celebrate this with singing, dancing, eating and, of course shopping.

The old town contains guesthouses in traditional Naxi style and they are worth to check out. Food is plentiful and most of the restaurants in the old town serve western and Naxi food. There is no need to stay or eat in the new town.

Around Lijiang

We cyclists have an advantage, we have already our bicycles, and in the valley of Lijiang there is plenty to cycle. If you don't have a bike, you can easily hire on for a few yuen per day.

Naxi lady in Lijiang Lijiang 1996

Cycling to Baisha is what many people do. Baisha is an obvious choice. It's not far and you will cycle through a beautiful flat lands, seeing the local farmers at work. Baisha is probably what Lijiang used to be.

A popular daytrip goes to Mount Yulong, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The top of this mountain is at 5600 meters altitude and covered in snow the whole year around. The area has many gems, not in the last place in terms of nature. One fourth of all plant species in China can be found here and 20 primeval forest communities shelter a big family of 400 types of trees and 30 kinds of animals which are protected by the state.

Christmas in Lijiang in 1999
Christmas in Lijiang 1999

It's a popular spot for sightseeing and there is a cable car running. Entrance charge Y80, worth the visit but bring warm clothes.

Celebration of Womens Day, Lijiang

Celebration of Womens Day, Lijiang 1996

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Another very popular destination and a great hike. Read more about Tiger Leaping Gorge here.

Central square in the old town of Lijiang Yunnan

Central square in the old town in 1995

Lugu lake

Further North East, 200 km, lies Lugu Lake. This area is less visited. The lake is the center of the Mosuo culture, a matriarchal society. There is no marriage. Men and women live together as mates (called Axia) as long as they like it. Women are responsible for the name of the bloodline so it is in effect a matrilineal society, a women's kingdom.

The countryside of Lijiang
The countryside of Lijiang 2001

To explore Lugu Lake, I would suggest you stay at least two nights here. There's an entrance fee for Lugu Lake: Y78.

After rebuilding Lijiang in the 1990's, the old town became a hot tourist spot. It soon overshadowed Dali as the main place to visit in this part of Yunnan. And even though Lijiang is now such a tourist attraction, you even have to pay an entrance fee for the old town (Protection Fare of the Old Town), it is still worth the effort to come here.

Washing your parrot in Lijiang
Washing your parrot, at Central Square

I spend several times here, including the New Years Eve of 2000 which was cold but joyful. I can recommend Lijiang as one of the best sights in China.

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