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Yunnan Province - Lijiang

11 days of hot warm sun, great food and many surprisesLijiang China - 1

Dec 2009; This trip was to Dali and also Lijiang, and if you wish to look at the Dali visit review, please click here.

Lijiang is somewhat similar to Dali with an urban cluster of two different cities running side by side; the Old Town and the new modern city that has sprung up around the old town.

Most of Lijiang was destroyed in 1996 by a large earthquake; however, the local government has made great efforts to place this town back onto the main tourist trail, with over 7 million tourists visiting each year with numbers growing.

They have done a great job in making the old town look “Real-China old”; confusing lanes and canals etc all making for a great experience exploring…and getting lost.

We drove up from Dali to Lijiang. The drive takes about 3hrs and all drivers are told to stop at a halfway point where there is a huge Jade factory shop (no avoiding it, even for me), so in we went.

Lijiang China - 2It was quite an experience; such a massive place in the middle of nowhere, with hundreds of tourists and busses coming and going. It is a good place for a toilet stop and we had no pressure to buy anything.

The hotel we had chosen was located near the south gate of the old town. It looked a hundred years old - lovely old Chinese wooden hotel - however it was built in 2005! The timber work and skill of the workmen is excellent, with most of the old town actually quite new’ish, and you can see hotels and buildings being built as you explore the lanes.

Lijiang old town is a maze of small, narrow lanes and alleys, with water canals flowing every-which-way. The lanes are lined with shops, restaurants, hotels and hostels, so it soon starts to look all much the same; you could get quite lost so it’s probably best to buy a local map, which would help a lot with exploring.

Brief overview about the hotelsLijiang China - 4

What is important to know about Lijiang, especially the old town, is that most of the hotels do not have air-conditioning. This is due to only a few months in a year when it’s really cold and needed (e.g. January & February). The bigger hotels that do have a/c usually have an air-ducting system which is turned on in the evening and off again in the morning - usually 8pm on, 8am off.  As the late afternoons are cold this can make for some temperature discomfort. When you arrive, try to establish the heating system the hotel has, and its timing, and if you can get a bar heater sent to the room, and maybe some extra blankets, you will be more comfortable in the cooler season.

During our visit I did a lot of research and have now located a very good Chinese 4/5 star hotel set up for all my clients, as I did not believe the standard of the bigger Chinese 4 star (claimed) hotels was very good; I felt these were really low-end 3 star hotels selling themselves as 4 star.

Lijiang China - 3There is also a new “Crown Plaza” situated on the south-western edge of the old town and we were lucky to stay there for a couple of nights - just wonderful. All the buildings have been constructed in the old minority style to blend in with the old town and the rooms and service were excellent. We have organised a special deal for this hotel so it’s on my list as a preferred lodging for my clients.

If you are on a budget there are hundreds of 3-star Chinese hotels (which sell themselves as 4-star) and also many western-run hostels, most of which are in the old courtyard style and have just 4 or 5 rooms.

These western-run hostels usually have lovely rooms and bathrooms and can be a great way to stay in the old town. If you are going to stay this way I suggest you try to arrive into Lijiang in the morning, have one night booked somewhere, then spend some time exploring for a more permanent place to bed down; there are many to choose from, all with their own special character. Prices range from RMB 150 to 400 per/night.

Lijiang Markets

There are many, but we just visited a couple of the more established ones.

Within the old town down at the south-western corner, there is a good local “wet market”. It is called “Zhong Yi Market” and to get there you just follow the water that flows through the narrow canals.Lijiang China - 5

This market has a great selection of fruits, veggies, herbs and spices (Yunnan locals love hot spicy food) and household odds-and-ends; it’s good fun and is where the regular residents buy their local foodstuffs for the hotels and restaurants.

The other market we visited is called “Xiang Shan” (Elephant Mountain) market; this is another local market about three times the size of “Zhong Yi” and is famous for its pork rib hotpot.

Small-seat-style eateries are inside this market where the walls are lined with pork ribs specially cured for the hotpot dishes and if you get a chance to try, it is really good food. 

We went there using an RMB 1 taxi-bus which are small vans travelling the bus routes, and which charge RMB 1 to get on and off - very convenient and very cheap.

Lijiang China - 6Lijiang sites

There are a few ways to see this gorge,
1 - There is a short 2.5km walk along the edge of the gorge which is very flat and people-friendly.
2 - Walk the gorge for a day trip; within my itineraries for this area I can arrange a day hike along the easy section of the gorge (about 6hrs) and you are accommodated within the gorge for one night. A car then picks you up and takes you can back to Lijiang or on to Shangri-la.
3 - As the back packers do, trek the complete gorge, (about 16km) which can take 2 or 3 days.

Lijiang China - 7In the winter time the skies are bright and clear so you can see the mountain really well; in the summer months the mountains can be difficult to see due to it being cloudy. See here for more info.

On the way to the Yulong Mountain you will pass the show site of “Lijiang Impression”. This cultural song and dance show is directed by Zhang Yimou, the man responsible for the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. It’s a great show, full of song, dance, comedy, drama and all performed by local farmers - over 500 of them. Click here for pictures and more info.


  • Near the north gate is a lovely Chinese park called ‘Black Dragon Pool” and its free to get in, but you will need to show your Lijiang Maintenance Fee ticket (LMF, RMB80), or you will be asked to pay this fee again. Your guide will have this ticket and will be able to give it to you.

The LMF is a one-off site-fee charged by the local government to help maintain the Old Town, and everyone is required to pay this “toll”.

“Black Dragon Pool” park is lovely and has a lot of local history.  It is very easy to get there, by walking up from the north gate and following the water. Click here for more info – it’s worth checking out.


  • A great day-trip away from the maze of Lijiang Old Town is to visit another smaller version called ‘Shu He”.Lijiang China - 8

This village is about 8 km away and is a lovely place to chill out and relax away from the crowds of Lijiang old town. (I’m sure this place also gets busy in the summer.)

“Shu He” has a more local feel and there is even a large local vegetable garden growing within one section of the village, lots of boutique hotels and hostels and lunch places outside to enjoy the sun. This village feels a lot roomier than Lijiang Old Town as the lanes / streets are wider. We really enjoyed the day there and even had dinner while enjoying the local lamp and street lighting – click here for more info on Shu He.

Getting there - Despite flights saying “Shanghai to Lijiang direct” all usually go through Kunming, so it makes for a long journey to do in one go. But Lijiang is well worth the lengthy trip. These so-called “direct” flights are never usually discounted and can be expensive, so the cheapest way to get to Lijiang is to look out for two separate flights, either through Kunming/Chongqing, or Chengdu. Separate flights can be discounted and this makes for a cheaper overall flight cost with travelling time usually about the same.

We went over the Christmas break and had perfect weather; a little cold (around 5ºc in the morning) but with sunny 17ºc to 18ºc days in the afternoon.  There were no significant crowds in all the towns and villages we visited, so I would recommend this region for a great Christmas break.

There is much more to do within the area than I have mentioned here, and having enough time to look around would be your only dilemma.


Here is a small selection of Lijiang pictures we took while we were there, enjoy


Here is a nice Itinerary for the area

Day 1 – Fly to Lijinag 
Transfer from the airport to your hotel

Day 2 –Lijiang (B)
See the Lijiang Impression show in the morning then the Snow capped Glacier "Yulong Mountain", on the way down the mountian see the Baishui River and the Yushui Village
Note – in the winter months the mountain is usually easy to see, in the summer months very difficult to see
This Glacier is at 4600m, so please buy some bottled oxygen in town before you head up the mountain just for on the safe side 

Day 3 –Lijiang (B)
Free to explore

Day 4 –Lijiang (B)                           
Visit the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the Gulf at the start of the Yangtze River, dropped off at the 14km point and then walk 2 hrs to the Halfway guest house, have a nice lunch here (Not included) then continue the walk to Seans Guest house (3 to 4 hrs). Stay overnight at Sean’s guest house.
Note for client - take enough gear for the hike, the driver with the rest of your her luggage will meet yopu at Sean's guest house. In the winter months it will be cold so please prepare for this  

OR you could do the short Tiger Leaping Gorge walk then return to Lijing or to Shangri-la

Day 5 –Lijiang / Shangri-la or back to Lijiang (B)
Collected from Sean’s Guest house and transfer on to Shangri-la or return to Lijiang



If you have any questions or would like to chat about a holiday in this wonderful region of the Yunnan province, please contact me anytime.


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