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Lijiang : Labyrinths and lanterns

Lijiang Travel Blog

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The traditional slanted, tiled roofs of the 'Old Town'.

After arriving in Lijiang yesterday and having made my way through the dizzying labyrinth of the ‘Old Town’ (only asking for directions 3,072 times) I was fortunate to meet a whole bunch of familiar faces at my chosen guest house. Some expected ( Vanesha, Emmy & Nick from Dali) and some not (Doug whom I’d last whiled away an evening with in Hoi An, Vietnam). I can’t deny familiar faces are a comfort whilst travelling in China.

Lijiang is a pretty sizeable Chinese city sprawling ever onwards, outwards and upwards through the valley area it finds itself. Its historical heart though is a more compact, though no-less blossoming, area of ’traditional’ slate tile roofed houses, shops, guesthouses and restaurants known as the Old Town.

This area has claimed UNESCO World Heritage City status for Lijiang and, as with Dali, it is a super-huge 21st Century tourist destination hit with both the Chinese and their guests.

The Old Town’s composition is that of a seemingly endless labyrinthine network of cobbled streets that twist, turn, start and end just as suddenly as they started, and forever bend both your feet and your mind in their complexity. The at first seeming helpful wood-carved civic authority ‘You Are Here’ maps ( “Thank God a map, I‘m saved!” your soul exclaims) often more a hindrance than a help in their liberal and inventive use of compass points. Walking through the Old Town is great fun. It could take you a long while. Depending on how lost you get.

The Yulong Waterwheels on the periphery of Old Town Lijiang, UNESCO World Heritage City.
Part of the fun. Occasionally frustration if you have somewhere definite to be gettin’ to. The whole place is like some giant geographical Mobius Strip that has the feel of forever folding back in upon itself. Ineluctable topography. You’re trapped in the labyrinth. So you’d better enjoy yourself until Hoggle comes to guide you out.

Fellow travellers you meet and chat to in China fall into two camps of those who either prefer Dali or Lijiang. As fruitless as such comparisons are, for my money, Lijiang has a little more of what I like although there is no denying that it struggles genuinely to come across as much more than yet another quaintly presented tourist playground in its current incarnation. The streets absolutely pulsate with the human rush of tourism that is a key signifier of China’s current economic success and the reawakening of national pride that this has swelled.

Happy crowds in 'Old Town' SiFang Square

If you want to avoid a positive tidal wave of foreign and Chinese tourists choking the streets and alleys of Lijiang you and your camera are gonna have to get up and get walking about early doors. Like 7.00am. At this time the paved streets are empty all but for a few ladies preparing fresh vegetables in doorways, street sweepers and satchel bearing school children on their way to study. Lijiang at this time can slip back in the mind of the observer to a softer, sepia-toned and red lantern-spotted portrait of itself that harkens back to an Old China of a more romantic inclination. In the post-dawn light the rust-colour shuttered shop fronts stretch long distances undisturbed by the twitch of tacky commerce that their closed lids conceal. The waters of the many, many rivulets and streams that thread their way besides, through and under the streets of the Old Town (occasionally rolling an ‘old’ waterwheel into life) will accompany your silent, undisturbed exploration of this rather charming townscape.

Again, just avert your thoughts from the rather obvious fact that so very, very little of the architecture here is of any particularly aged provenance. Particularly the ubiquitous plaster walls with grey breeze blocks painted onto them. “Yuk!”.

Outside of the Old Town is Lijiang City. Probably not worth your time to explore on top of everything else although the old, many chambered market area that forms a kind of natural border between the Old Town and the new to the west must not be missed for market-addicts like myself. It’s a cracker!

The guys and I venture to the city and north of the Old Town enclave to the park area which contains ‘Black Dragon Pool’ and several reconstituted temples sat at the base of large Elephant Hill that once ascended does afford some impressive views of the valley, city and mountains about.

Kids play together in the streets of Lijiang's Old Town
This area commands yet another offensively high entrance fee (80RMB / $11.75) but if you turn west from the main South Gate entrance as you approach and roughly follow the park perimeter fence north-west for about 10-15mins you will reach a bridge that will afford you a safe, entrance fee free ingress into the park. I wouldn’t normally condone such skulduggery but China smacks you in the wallet in a big, big way every which way you turn with such fees, often very undeservingly so I am happy to announce that V, Emmy, Doug, Nick and I snuck behind the ticket checking booth at the foot of the hill to make our free ascent saving nearly $60 collectively in the process. The actual ‘sights’ within the Black Dragon Pool park area are pretty lacklustre and again arguably very undeserving of your money.
Hanging out the washing.
But that’s only one man’s opinion of course.

We all had good times in Lijiang.  A very soothing place to be. We stayed at the magnificent MaMa Naxi’s No.3 Guest House. A clean, smoothly run operation in the heart of the Old Town run by the hilariously charismatic, powerful, slightly zany and culinarily gifted matriarch referred to only as the eponymous MaMa. This place deserves more praise than this paragraph can contain so if I get me arse in gear a review will follow shortly. There’s plenty for the eye to feast upon here in Lijiang. The Yulong Bridge and Waterwheels (a prize to the person who can get a photo of these things without a Chinese tourist in the shot), the mild carnival atmosphere of SiFang Square with the rugged Davey Crockett style men on horseback and occasional impromptu traditional group dance performances.

Stevie & Emmy as they smuggle themselves into the Black Dragon Pool park.
Leading off of SiFang Square is Cuiwen Xinhua Street which you absolutely must walk down after dark even if you’re not in the mood for a night out. It’s lined with bars and good-humoured feeling pseudo-clubs, set within the old style wooden structures of Old Town buildings. Men and women in traditional ethnic minority dress dance and sing fabulously in the bright glare of modern neon disco spot lights and disco balls whilst you and the Chinese punters let their hair down and bang their approval with supplied wooden ‘applause blocks’ on your table tops whilst you try not to wince too much at the price of the beers. For the crew ( V, Emmy, Nick and I) we prefer our beers a friendly price and sat on one of the many terraced café bars that are situated on the hilly north reaches of the Old Town that offer fantastic views of the mountains about as they frown down moodily upon the sea of slate-grey tiled roofs before you.
The Old Town at night.
Worth the clamber.  Fab stuff.  Cheers! :)

hummingbird50 says:
Hey thanks...what a great day!
Hope you are well.....:):)
Posted on: May 05, 2009
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The traditional slanted, tiled roo…
The traditional slanted, tiled ro…
The Yulong Waterwheels on the peri…
The Yulong Waterwheels on the per…
Happy crowds in Old Town SiFang …
Happy crowds in 'Old Town' SiFang…
Kids play together in the streets …
Kids play together in the streets…
Hanging out the washing.
Hanging out the washing.
Stevie & Emmy as they smuggle them…
Stevie & Emmy as they smuggle the…
The Old Town at night.
The Old Town at night.
Tourism can be tiring.
Tourism can be tiring.
Raise the Red Lantern High : these…
Raise the Red Lantern High : thes…
Sun n clouds whilst we enjoy a b…
Sun 'n' clouds whilst we enjoy a …
Lijiang contains more tourist trin…
Lijiang contains more tourist tri…
Vanesha and Emmy by candlelight.
Vanesha and Emmy by candlelight.
Strung up Duck.
Strung up Duck.
These little piggies went to marke…
These little piggies went to mark…
All together now 1...2...3... Ahh…
All together now 1...2...3... "Ah…
Butt-propelled transport in Lijian…
Butt-propelled transport in Lijia…
Nick admires the view from Elephan…
Nick admires the view from Elepha…
Nick & Steve atop the viewing pago…
Nick & Steve atop the viewing pag…
The spread of Lijiang city seen fr…
The spread of Lijiang city seen f…
Stevie and the View : Elephant Hill
Stevie and the View : Elephant Hill
Black Dragon Pool.  What evs!
Black Dragon Pool. "What evs!"
Traditional Naxi orchestra perform…
Traditional Naxi orchestra perfor…
Dancing and crowds in SiFang Squar…
Dancing and crowds in SiFang Squa…
The waterway and bridge in SiFang …
The waterway and bridge in SiFang…
The moat-like stream that threads …
The moat-like stream that threads…
Chinese chanteuse on Cuiwen Xinhua…
Chinese chanteuse on Cuiwen Xinhu…
Singing and lights : Lijiang night…
Singing and lights : Lijiang nigh…
The morning streets of the Old Tow…
The morning streets of the Old To…
Shops shuttered up ahead of the ru…
Shops shuttered up ahead of the r…
One of the endless charming water …
One of the endless charming water…
Lijiang grafitti.
Lijiang grafitti.
The Yulong Waterwheels
The Yulong Waterwheels
Yulong Waterwheels (abstract)
Yulong Waterwheels (abstract)
Red lantern reflected (abstract)
Red lantern reflected (abstract)
Lijiang Hostels review
Let Ma Ma mother and feed you at this fab 'n' friendly guest house.
Ma Ma Naxi’s Guest House is situated within the ‘Ancient’ or ‘Old Town’ of Lijiang and is easily one of the finest guest houses I have staye… read entire review
Lijiang
photo by: Deats