Lijiang’s on-going road constructions make the 45m drive in a little bumpy. If you arrive at night, and have come from a large city in China, take the opportunity to look up and enjoy stars for the first time in ages…
Many of the hotels in Lijiang will offer an airport transfer, but for smaller hotels you will need to be able to phone ahead in Mandarin. Otherwise, just take a taxi.
Note that cars aren’t allowed into the centre of Lijiang Old Town, so you’ll need to be able to carry or noisily wheel your own luggage over the cobbled streets from the drop off point to your hotel. It’s helpful to get a map before you arrive as many places can be hard to find in the barely lit streets.
For budget accommodation, try one of the towns Youth Hostels, usually towards the edge of the Old Town. For a more luxurious hotel, you’ll need to be in Lijiang New Town.
To stay in a beautiful carved wooden townhouse, you’ll want to be in the Old Town. This comes with a few drawbacks, and many benefits.
- The ancient wooden houses are really quite draughty, and have no insulation whatsoever. To counter this they come with very powerful electric blankets.
- There’s also zero noise insulation, so if you’re a light sleeper be prepared to get up at the same time as the cockerels, delivery vans and schoolchildren, then not go to sleep until the last of the nights revellers have passed out. Unless they pass out with the TV on…
- Where we stayed, the owners lived in part of the townhouse, and were happy to put up with my Mandarin whilst teaching me the tea ceremony, or will share some home cooking and excellent sightseeing advice.
- The courtyard design makes it easy to meet other guests, but is small enough to get away quickly if you prefer.
- Our hoteliers organised tours at much lower prices than the hostels or larger hotels.
Lijiang Old Town has many mid-range restaurants, mostly aimed at tourists. The closer you eat to a canal, the higher the likelihood of the restaurant having an English menu, and the higher the price. In the evening Chinese tour groups are encouraged to sing traditional songs, and try to outdo neighbouring restaurants. Fun, but if you’re hoping for a quiet meal try somewhere on the edge of the Old Town.
In the southern area of the new town, and behind the central snack street there are long rows of restaurants, marked by too many Chinese lanterns and flashing lights. These are very overpriced and judging by the looks of the patrons, not too appetising either.
For more authentic local food head to the outskirts of the Old Town, where there are many hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The food here is tastier and cheaper, and they’re geared to winning return business from the town’s workers. They may look less appealing, but with the smaller menus and high turnover, there’s far less chance of being poisoned.
If you need a Western food fix there are numerous coffee shops, a burger place and the ever present KFC and Pizza Hut, mostly near the youth hostel area in the north east of town.
For the best restaurants, we were told to go into the new town, where the wealthy locals eat. We tried to do this on Christmas Day, but got distracted by a Brazilian restaurant at the Crowne Plaza with Chinese characteristics. It turned out to be a match made in heaven – large hunks of meat on skewers cooked with a mixture of Brazilian marinades and Chinese attention to detail.
General sightseeing tips
Pick up a free map at one of the numerous tourist offices dotted about the town. It’s hand-drawn on what looks like brown wrapping paper, and invaluable for finding your way round the warren of streets – Google or Baidu Maps are useless here.Being a popular tourist destination, the usual scams abound. Be wary for pickpockets and stay out of some of the smaller, darker streets at night. It’s quite easy to take a wrong turning whilst exploring and the streets back from the main areas are often unlit and have very little foot traffic. These are also good places to fall in a canal on a moonless light.
If (When) you do get lost, just walk upstream and you’ll end up back near the centre.
The city is at 2400m, which isn’t high enough to worry about altitude sickness, but is high enough to get out breath. Take the first day reasonably easy and drink a lot of water.
Keep the receipt: To visit any of the town’s attractions you’re required to buy a ticket for Y80, valid for 7 days. This money goes towards conserving the ancient city.
It’s worth noting that many day trips to nearby attractions include the preservation ticket price, even if you already have one, so it’s a good idea to visit somewhere like the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on the first day and therefore not need to buy a ticket when you go to the Black Dragon Pool or Shuhe Ancient Town.
Mind where you’re walking – all the streets are cobbled and the small bridges are made of smooth stone. Both can get slippery when wet. More seriously, mind the canals in the dark, or if you’re blinded by sun glare. They’re deep enough that it would hurt if you fell in!
At least one evening, head to Si Fang Jie which is the big square with the water wheels. By day there’s a very angry llama (probably homesick) and in the evening at around 7pm there’s a bonfire and lots of genuine looking music and dancing.
If you’d rather pay there’s a well-regarded show called Lijiang Impressions, directed by Zhang Yimou (who also directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony).