Lijiang: Venice meets traditional China


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Asia » China » Yunnan » Lijiang
July 9th 2015
Published: September 15th 2015
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How was our 60+ hour journey you ask. From Beijing to Kunming (one side of the country to the other) took 44hrs with a 5hr stopover before hopping onto another train for a further 9 hours to reach Lijiang. After all we had been through on the great wall, this journey was surprisingly relaxing.

Arriving in Lijiang train station at 6am still blurry eyed we made our way to the bus stop. The sun slowly rising, many people already stood at the bus stop waiting for a bus that seemed like it was never going to come at all. Eventually after nearly an hour, our bus pulled up. We had to brace ourselves and get in position. Everybody wanted to board the bus complete with backpacks, pull alongs and large sacks of food. Everybody squeezed, nudged and elbowed their way on.

Shamefully we managed to find a space to fit into and joined the crowd squeezing our way through(when in China and all). Somehow everybody seemed to fit on the bus. Just about. We were packed like sardines in a can.

After getting off the bus in the new town we made our way to our hostel based in the old town of Lijiang. The difference between the 2 is that the new town is more modern cement block buildings with main roads whereas the old town has been preserved and restored. With a history of over 1000 years it still retains that old chinese village feel with the old style rooftops and wooden shop fronts. The old town actually reminded us of Pingyao but seemed more quaint with narrower cobbled walkways. The walkways here are like a maze, with small bridges crossing a tiny ancient stream that ran through the town. Some people even refer to it as the Venice of Asia. A very underwhelming version of Venice.

We zig zagged our way through, noting that the most of the streets here are car free and bend and curve far more than the grid street pattern of Pingyao. Many of the shops were just opening but it seemed most sold the usual old town tourist trinkets as well as hippie type garments i.e psychedelic patterned clothing and head jewellery.

Annoyingly just like Yangshuo, Xian and Pingyao, there were the drum shops. These drum shops all seem to play the same infectious song from a CD as the seller bangs on a hand drum, most of the time in rhythm to the music.

In all of the above mentioned places we've only seen 2 people purchase drums from these shops yet there are so many of them.

It takes days to get that song out of your head! We can now sing it ((very badly) after a month of being there. But to save us the embarrasment here is a link -
The Lijiang drummers' song:


As we were still pretty early, we stopped at a local food place near our hostel and sampled some local breakfast foods. We ordered some tasty steamed buns "Bao zi" and also a Naxi (ethnic minority community in Lijiang) speciality called "Baba". Baba was like an eggy pancake with a fried egg on top with a mixture of green steamed veg rolled in it. It was very tasty and filling albeit a bit greasy - much like many naxi foods here.

Just like Yangshuo it can get quite busy in the evening, mainly around the food market. The selection of food here was huge. So much to choose from. Chris spent 10minutes just walking back and forth before deciding on a meal. As we walked past the stalls with their well presented food, all the servers would start yelling names and prices at us, ready to start dishing it out before we'd even agreed anything. The food ranged from local food to hotdogs with proper sausages, massive rib pieces, meat skewers and huge bowls of noodle soup to name a small few. All at tourist prices but could still be negotiated a little. P went for one of the big bowls of noodle soup whereas Chris, after much deliberation settled on some good old egg fried rice with a portion of seasoned diced potatoes. We love Chinese food.

Walking around, we came across a small square in between the narrow streets. Here there were many locals and some tourists taking part in a local dance. They were all stood in a circle following simple routine with an animated guy dressed in 'traditional' clothing skipping around the centre keeping the routine going. It was really fascinating and made a difference from the usual line dancing style you usually see in China. Plus it was mainly people of an older generation. Arms all linked appearing happy to be carrying out their kicking cross legged routine.

One thing we noticed being in the square was that this was really the only time we seen people stare in Lijiang, which for us was quite refreshing. Maybe they're used to seeing foreigners or possibly they're just too shy in the south, surprisingly only one person asked for our photo!

2 main sights within the old town iteslf are Lion Hill and the Black Dragon pool. We started with Lion Hill first, walking a short trek up to the red 5 tiered pagoda at the top. Outside of it there was a drum and a bell pavillion as well as a small fenced off area containing a few peacocks who were happy to show off their beautiful feathers for a few photos. We then ventured into the pagoda itself and climbed the several flights of stairs to the top passing many golden intricate paintings depicting Buddha and other Buddhist deities. The top floor was like a viewing deck with windows all around. Looking out we could see the contrast between the old and new towns and just the sheer size of them both.

For certain sites within any walled city in China, you have to pay a fee. Lion hill was free whereas Black Dragon pool came at a price of ¥80 each, we thought this to be a little on the expensive side as its really only a park with a lake. The Summer palace in Beijing was bigger and cheaper. As we mulled it over outside of the entrance we were approached by a Chinese lady who said she could get us in the site for ¥40 each via a back entrance (all in mandarin obviously). Cheekily we haggled her down to ¥60 for 2 people and her friend then led us up and around a small hill on the outskirts of the park. It took about 20mins through a sparsely wooded area along a brick wall with barb wire at the top. We swung around a fence and down some steps and before we knew it we were inside the park. We were really surprised that there was no security or anything in place, the authorities must be aware of this path and these women. Either way we were in and set about to explore. Black dragon lake is nothing special, its really just a lake with a bridge. Dont get us wrong it is very picturesque with its pavillions and pagodas (one of which was covered up for renovations) and its green scenery. Locals seem to come here to fish or just relax on one of the many benches. We walked round a full circuit before stopping at a pavillion to take a few quick pictures and to our surprise, we looked up just as the clouds began to clear revealing the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. A towering mountain range reaching 5500m, we were a good few miles away and it still seemed impressive. Queue next adventure..

Before that however, we would say we happily enjoyed our time in Lijiang - strolling the town, relaxing, sampling local foods and drinking free green tea at our hostel. There's not much else to do here but we found 2 days was enough. However once you've seen an 'old' village you've seen them all. We did however like watching the older naxi women in traditional dress. Chatting expressively to one another. The men looking all cool with their cowboy hats.

We actually liked this town more than Pingyao as Lijiang had its own identity and culture and somehow maintained its charm despite there being a Mcdonalds, KFC and a Pizza Hut just on the outskirts.


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16th September 2015

Gorgeous photos as usual!
I've been smiling to myself thinking about how you will be able to use your new found Asian-bus-catching skills when you get home... you will surely have reverse culture shock when people around you form an orderly queue :)
17th September 2015

Gorgeous photos
Thanks Ren. Your post also made me smile as that culture shock already happened yesterday arriving in New York City. As the train pulled in I built myself up ready to get on, pushing myself forward as the doors opened. When I looked around, everyone else was waiting for the other passagers to get off looking at me like I had no manners. I was soo embarrassed. Cannot believe how quickly I learnt such behaviour. I blame both China and India, getting on and off those trains. If you didnt push you would't get off. 😶
16th September 2015

Given your tight schedule I'm curious as to why you didn't fly from Beijing to Kunming?
Although on my last trip to China I took night trains between cities (no more than 12 hours per leg) to save on the cost of hotels and make forward progress in a tight schedule, my previous trip I flew from Shanghai to Lanzhou and it was very affordable. You can book flights through CTRIP. I just checked and that flight costs between $115 and $130. Just a thought.
17th September 2015

flying vs train
C TRIP was certainly the way to go to check flights and trains. We relied on it although opted to book trains at the stations due to the added fees and charges if we cancelled. Despite it being affordable for the flight we paid around 80 dollars for the train. Not quite half but close to half the cost of the flight. Plus we figured we needed to relax after Bejing and so even if we did catch the flight we would have most likely spent a day in a hotel anyway so figured it would save us money for 2 nights of accomadation and give us the time we needed to put our feet up. We were shattered from the great wall alone and really enjoy the scenic train rides so it wasn't even a challenge. Any other country and it may have been. Think it did the job as when we eventually reached Lijiang 2 days later we were able to explore easily enough.😊 Sounds strange but it did make sense at the time.
16th September 2015

Lijiang
So behind with blogs! Slowly catching up and only finished your Philippines adventures, but when I saw Lijiang popping up I just couldn't resist reading through it. I absolutely loved Lijiang! It is slightly overcrowded with tourists, still I loved the vibe of the old town. Charming streets, lots of people dressed in traditional clothes and some strange characters around, I do remember the cowboys also! So odd! :) I even enjoyed the drum songs, think the dong is still stuck in my head ;) Really enjoyed the dancing performance also, actually the square was a great place for people watching in general. I paid the 80 yuan to get to the lake, but they forgot to tell me there was not even a drop of water in it at the time! Ah well... What can you do? ;) Very curious to see if you made it to Tiger Leaping Gorge, can't wait for the next blog! Thanks for bringing back some memories guys. Happy travels :)
17th September 2015

Lijiang
Thanks for your comment Anna. Reading your post made me smile also as it brought back happy memories for us. We loved the squares where they danced and still can recall the drummers song without any thought 😆. Lijiang was very atmospheric. We doubt that apart from on here we will get opportunities to share such feelings/experiences about travelling through China. Happy you enjoyed it as much as us. Thinking about China as I continue to travel, it really stands out to me as a great place. Will certainly be going back. Couldn't help but laugh at the lack of consideration in allowing you to pay the ticket and failing to inform you the water had dryed out. Going the back route definately added a bit of adventure to the lake area. Although saying that I actually enjoyed the lake area far more than Chris (who wrote the above) so would say its worth visiting with water present if you go lijiang again.
17th September 2015

Lijiang
Thanks for your comment Anna. Reading your post made me smile also as it brought back happy memories for us. We loved the squares where they danced and still can recall the drummers song without any thought 😆. Lijiang was very atmospheric. We doubt that apart from on here we will get opportunities to share such feelings/experiences about travelling through China. Happy you enjoyed it as much as us. Thinking about China as I continue to travel, it really stands out to me as a great place. Will certainly be going back. Couldn't help but laugh at the lack of consideration in allowing you to pay the ticket and failing to inform you the water had dryed out. Going the back route definately added a bit of adventure to the lake area. Although saying that I actually enjoyed the lake area far more than Chris (who wrote the above) so would say its worth visiting with water present if you go lijiang again.
16th September 2015

Lijiang
As I've said before I'm impressed you are picking some of the best places to visit in China. Lijiang is where lovers go. One of the first things we noticed is...no pollution! Yep...you can see the stars at night. Cannot agree 2 days is enough. The hinterland has many amazing areas as does Yunnan generally. Looking forward to where you go next...you don't travel 60 hours from Beijing for just Lijiang I reckon.
17th September 2015

Lijiang
Yes, you are right. We didn't travel all that way for Lijiang only.. although the next stop was unfortunately the last stop for us in China. Definately a highlight for us though. Thanks for your comment about the places we visited. When speaking to other travellers in China many people opted to focus on one province even of it was their first time. For us travelling to China we had many places that we very excited about and could not just miss and so made it a plan to visit all these places despite the cost implication of travelling across country. We could have always extended but we didnt want to sacrifice another country. Looking back I do wish we would have done so as we just loved China.

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