Lijiang, China

Lijiang is a world heritage site and is a gorgeous ancient village. It is touristy, catering to chinese tourists (really no english spoken and few english signs). I loved the town though, thought is was very beautiful.

WEATHER – 4/5 stars
The weather was mostly sunny and warm during the day, in the 50-60s. The nights though got down into the 30s.

My bus was supposed to leave at 9am and didnt leave until 9:40am. This is common in asia I find and is really annoying. Again the bus arrived at a bus station without indicating which bus station it was. The tourist information desk lady was apparently only for the chineses tourists as she didnt speak english. Someone else at the desk though was able to give me basic directions. The bad thing about taking buses is that you dont know what the stops are. Unless the hostel or someone tells you the number of stops to travel, its all a guess. I guessed when to get off when I saw a sign for the old town. I then was wondering through the narrow twisting streets trying to find the main square. I stopped to look at a map when someone said in english, can I help you? I quickly judged if I could trust him and handed him my phone saying I was lost and trying to get to this location. The hostel address was in chinese so he could understand (barely knew english) and he said he would take me to the hostel. I was at first very guarded, thinking he was going to charge me or take me somewhere else but I followed him. I quickly learned that he was with a group of friends (they didnt speak english but they were locals) and he was visiting Lijiang from somewhere near Shanghai. They helped direct him who then walked me all the way to my hostel. It was amazing! I asked a few questions but he didnt understand and Ive learned that the Chinese feel embarrassed when they cant think of the words or dont understand so to not make him feel awkward, I stopped asking questions.
Everywhere in the town you can walk to. It is bigger than Dali and has far more streets and alleyways because it isnt in a grid. You only need a bus to take you to the train station, which inconveniently stops running at 7pm. So I split a cab with some other girls on an earlier train and just waited at the train station.

LODGING – 3/5 stars
Garden Inn Hostel. The hostel is in a quiet part of the old town and has a nice courtyard with an outdoor pool table. The staff is very friendly and helpful. The beds though are very hard and the bathroom is like a converted outhouse and the shower is practically outside. Also, after from returning from the gorge, the bed I got didnt have the electric blanket, and that being the only source of heat, I was freezing at night. I slept in my wool socks and my coat and was still cold. The best thing that the hostel does is offer staff dinner. You pay 20Y and eat the local food cooked for the staff. They were great meals, authentic and very filling.

The town is not at all in a grid, its very organic just winding streets around buildings and streams. There are streams flowing through the village down from the massive jade snow mountain that makes for a dramatic backdrop. There are bridges and pretty walkways with trees and flowers. The streets are more narrow than Dali and it is overall more hilly. I loved the town, despite the touristy stuff. The town makes tourists pay 80Y as a maintenance fee which is ridiculous but it gets you into the parks.
One thing you will see all day everyday in Lijiang are dancing old ethnic woman in their outfits, especially on Saturday. They are like little dance gangs in their matching team outfits battling it out in the squares. There are so many different ethnic groups and dance groups. My favorite dances were the ones that use swords or fans. While the dances would be considered feminine by western standards, and the large majority of the dancers are woman, men join in and try to learn the dance. The old ladies by the way have gorgeous skin! Their eyes tell their age but their skin is tight and smooth like a youngen.
Despite the nice sunny days, there are plenty of umbrellas out. Im guessing there are rain umbrellas and sun umbrellas because these umbrellas are fancy with lace and frils. Ive also noticed that women posing for photos dont just look at the camera and smile, they pose! Like take a minute to fix the hair, fix the outfit and strike a pose. Makes me laugh.
There are military and police marching through the streets all day long. There a tons of small groups of about 5-10 people in different types of gear. Riot gear, big guns, long staffs, face masks, etc. Its pretty intimidating and I couldn’t tell if it was necessary for keeping peace or just drills. One drill I did watch was between the fire department and military. They built a mini-house in the square and were planning on lighting it on fire. It was funny watching them argue about how to get the fire started as they were getting mostly smoke and the wood house wasnt catching. They eventually just decided to throw lots of gasoline on it and then it went a blaze. The heat was intense and the wind almost caught the tourist booth next to it on fire. When it was almost completely burned, they put it out and cleaned up the mess. I dont know what the point was.
A big thing to do around town is dress up in I think royal attire and have your picture taken around the village. Not being asian, I was mainly approached by scammers trying to sell me trips to the mountain or elsewhere at “bargain deals”. No ticket, no fees they would tell me. I read a lot about these and not only are they illegal, they charge you far more in the end.
Overall, while I felt safe in Lijiang, I’ve read that isnt that safe. While the old town is the safest part (probably because of the police/military patrols), there are still pickpockets and you are warned to not go out at night alone.
Everything is very expensive. Food cost almost double what they should. I found it difficult to eat street food because no one spoke english and most menus were only in Chinese. For this reason, I walked to the new part of town to go to a supermarket to buy drinks and snacks. On my walk back, I watched a bus slam into the back of a taxi minvan ask people were getting out. The van was smashed up against the concrete barrier and a woman’s leg was pinned in the front door. She was screaming and crying and there was nothing I could do. The van was totaled and the bus front was dented and the window had a huge break in it. It was crazy!

Black Dragon Pool: 4/5 stars
This is the iconic image of the town and is a stunning view from the park. My ticket got me into the park for “free” and I walked through the entire thing, even going further north to other ponds. Elephant hill is a large hill in the park that is surrounded by barb wire all around the bottom. They dont let you enter alone because there have been so many robberies on the trail (so I didnt do it).

Tiger Leaping Gorge: 3/5 stars
The gorge area is very gorgeous and the mountains are some of the tallest, steepest mountains I’ve ever seen. It is supposed to be the deepest gorge in the world with the tallest mountain being I think at 5000 meters. The starting elevation level is about 3000 meters. It gets 3 stars though for the scams and lack of government upkeep of the roads and trails.
I did a two day trip (3 hours outside of Lijiang in Shangrila area). It is a very pretty drive through the mountains. The hike to the middle gorge is about 7hrs and from reading reviews, a bit dangerous. So since I was by myself, I decided to just take the bus to the middle gorge and hike around that area (3hr hikes). That bus ride was the scariest road I have ever been on! It is a windy mountain road with no guard rails and a straight mile drop down to the river. Parts of the road had broken off and fell down that cliff making it a one lane road at times. I even saw a crumpled van at the bottom in one spot. I dont have much faith in drivers in China from what I’ve seen so I was very relieved to arrive safely.
I ignored people telling me that it is a 3 hr hike to Walnut Garden (the next village where my hostel was) and just followed the road. It only took me about a half hour. The check in was the weirdest check in I’ve ever had. First, the email confirming the reservation was in Chinese so that was my first clue. I arrived with a cute old couple sitting on the deck. They called for I think their grandson who came out to meet me. I said that I had a reservation and he looked clueless. I said, “I book room”. He said “how much”. I told him 30Y and he pointed to a room, opened the door and left. I changed to warmer clothes and then had to track him down again to ask for a key and a map of the gorge.
I hiked down, wanting to go to the tiger leaping stone (the gorge gets its name from legend of a tiger leaping the river at a narrow point). I practically surfed my way down the steep “path” that was barely marked. I hike for about 1.5 hours before a chinese girl on the path stepped in front of me saying things in chinese. I shook my head saying I dont want any and tried to pass her. She put her hands out and started trying to push me back. I got pretty upset that she was touching me so I grabbed both her wrists, twisting them as I said, dont touch me. She made a motion of, ok I wont touch you and she ran ahead pulling something up on her phone. She then started blocking me again, shoving her phone in my face. It was a picture of a hand written note in english basically saying that she maintains the trail, not the government and to pay her 10Y. Now, I had already paid 65Y to the government for the ticket to enter the park and I know these are illegal scams. I was tired from already hiking 1.5hrs, I had my daypack on and the only way to get past her would have been to throw her to the ground. Since I was alone, and there would probably be more “tolls” up ahead, I just let it go and turned around. I was so mad. I wanted to take her phone and say “10Y!”. That or throw it somewhere so I could pass. I later learned from other travelers that they had to pay tolls to 4 people to get onto the rock.
I went back to the hostel, laid in the soft bed with the electric blanket and watched a movie on my phone. It started to drizzle so I was glad I wasnt still hiking because rain would make that trail so dangerous and slippery.
Checking out was just as awkward and I walked against some crazy strong winds following a goat heard to the hostel that I needed to catch the bus from. I decided not to hike anymore since the trail was pretty dangerous, my sneakers had no grip and I didnt want to pay any “tolls”.

I didnt do any of the other tourist visits in the town because I didnt want to spend the money. I might have gone to the restored mansion but it was a little to pricey, 50Y. I also decided to not go further to Shangrila because first of all, the town changed its name to Shangrila so tourists would visit. It is also further away and I would have to backtrack even further than I already have to (also more north into mountains would be freezing). The town also had a massive fire in Jan that burned a lot of the wood houses. Overall, I didnt want to spend more money to see more of the same.

BUDGET: March 3 – March 9
Lodging: $25
Transportation: $51 (including train back to Kunming)
Food: $38
Tours/Activities: $25
TOTAL: $139