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Lijiang and lost paradise

Lijiang is certainly the best known and most touristy site in Yunnan and for good reasons: the enormous old town was once a stage on the Tea-Horse Road and is really well preserved. After a devastating earth quake in 1996, which flattened a large part of the town, Lijiang was declared a World Heritage Site and completely renovated...to make it a unique site...

Picture postcard Lijiang: a utopia?

I have to admit that I could already see myself wandering about in the calm and tranquil streets of this magnificent town, so imagine my amazement when I arrived... Lijiang, lovely Lijiang so long imagined thanks to the photos, had been transformed into a tourist supermarket, invaded by souvenir shops, restaurants, and karaoke bars. In fact, since the airport opened, a myriad Chinese tourists have arrived. Imagine little streets that are so crowded you can't walk, tourists shouting into karaoke microphones in the open air, long haired imitation folk dancers bopping to re-mixed hits in clubs opening right on the street in the middle of the day... The situation is so bad that UNESCO is threatening to take Lijiang off the World Heritage List if nothing is done about it...

Anti-disappointment plan in action

Faced with the disappointment waiting to happen, I put in place an "anti crowd plan" which I am going to share with you today.

  • Get up very early in the morning: as soon as it was dawn I went for a walk in the town. My objective was to take some photos. I was surprised to find myself wandering about in a Lijiang that was almost empty and bathed in a beautiful early morning light. So much so that I forgot to take any photos. It was at that moment that I understood why Lijiang is still a must-see.
  • In the eastern part of the town: The crowds were already arriving after breakfast, so we went to hide in the part that is on the eastern side of the river which crosses Lijiang. This area is a lot less touristy, not as well renovated, but so much quieter...
  • Travel outside Lijiang: After we had seen everything in Lijiang, we went off to Shuhe, which was a disappointment as it was already crowded with tourists. On the other hand we made a good choice in Baisha, the first capital of Naxi, where we found peace and frescoes which date from the Ming era and were worth the journey (you need your Lijiang pass to get in)
  • In the evening go to the top of the town: when we got back to Lijiang, we went up to the top of the town. From there we admired the town's roofs, enjoyed the calm, and had a drink while we watched the sun go down. We thought Blossom Hill Inn was just perfect and I hope you do too.

My "anti-crowd" plan saved the day but I regret that Lijiang is no longer like the lovely Shaxi, another stop on the Tea-Horse Road that we loved and that I recommend to anyone looking for a bit of authenticity.

Amelie Voyagista
10 contributions
Updated 29 July 2015