Best places to see in Lijiang: old town and surroundings

Lijiang, one of Yunnan’s most beautiful villages

If you decide to visit China and come on a trip to Yunnan, a visit to the old town of Lijiang is a must. The ancient city of Lijiang is in Yunnan province (云南), 500km from Kunming and 190km north of the ancient city of Dali. The city of Lijiang is divided into two, the new area and the old town; which is what is really worth visiting.

During the 7 years I have spent in China, I was fortunate to visit this beautiful place twice. That is why here is a guide of what to see and do in Lijiang, where to stay and how to get there.

Yunnan - Lijiang Viewpoint
Yunnan – Lijiang Viewpoint

How to get to the old town of Lijiang?

Until a couple of years ago, it took 9 hours to get from Kunming to Lijiang by train. Today (26-12-2019), thanks to the high speed train, it only takes 3h 30m to arrive. Here I leave you a link with the train schedules. Once you arrive at Lijiang station the easiest way is to take a bus or a taxi to the old town.

If you are going on Chinese holidays, the best thing to do is to book the hostel in advance, as it gets very crowded on those dates. When you arrive in the old part of Lijiang, you can ask the place where you are staying to come and pick you up. Although the village is small, the alleys and the badly made maps will create more than one problem and it may take you a long time to find it.

Where to stay in the old town of Lijiang?

Getting to know the Naxi minority

I stayed at Mama Naxi Guest House, located in the center of the old town. I had heard good things about this hostel and was curious about the Naxi culture.

The Naxis are one of the 56 ethnic minorities in China. The history, culture and architecture of Lijiang, which is over 800 years old, has been linked to the Naxis and is still the largest ethnic group in the area today. They come from Tibet and have their own culture called Dongba. Of course, they also have their own customs, religion, language and even their own clothing.

What to see in the old town of Lijiang?

1. A walk through the streets of Lijiang

The old town of Lijiang was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. It is famous for its architecture, the water canals that run through the city and its many stone bridges. Lijiang is one of the most beautiful villages in Yunnan, although too exploited by tourism.

Currently, in my view, it has lost some of its charm because of tourism and the total commercialization of it. Although all the houses maintain their architecture on the outside, inside they have been transformed into clothing, music, souvenir and restaurant shops. 

Even so, walking through its narrow stone streets and among its typical houses full of tiles and Chinese lamps allows you to imagine how extremely beautiful and peaceful this city must have been in the past.

China - Yunnan - Old Town of Lijiang
China – Yunnan – Lijiang Old Town

2. The Mu Palace

In the Mu family residence lived the Tusi Mu family, of the Naxi ethnic group. This family was the ruler of the Lijiang region for over 400 years, from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). This palace managed the politics, power and wealth of the entire region.

3. Black Dragon Pool

The Black Dragon Pool is a beautiful park with several lakes located right on the northern edge of Ljiang Old Town. It is famous for its stone bridge that leads to a temple in the middle of the lake and for being an ideal place to capture a good image of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.

Yunnan - Black Dragon Pool - Lijiang
Yunnan – Black Dragon Pool – Lijiang

4. Viewpoints of the old town of Lijiang

It is also highly recommended to go up to a couple of viewpoints to see the old town from above. They are easy to find, you just have to get lost in the narrow streets and go up.

Yunnan - Old Town of Lijiang
Yunnan – Lijiang

What to see around Lijiang?

1. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is a mountain of more than 4000 meters high that rises far from Lijiang. It can be climbed by cable car. The highest cable car costs 180¥ and the entrance to the park is 120¥, in total about 35 euro. Surely the views from the top are impressive, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t become a tourist attraction full of Chinese people making selfies.

2. Shu He Village

You can also visit the village of Shu He, a mini Lijiang but not so commercialized (yet). It is on the outskirts of Lijiang, 4km northwest of the old town. It is a village with a lot of history for being an important point in the commerce of the area. The old tea and horse trade route used to pass through here.

3. Lake La Shi Hai

Lake La Shi Hai is located 10 km from the old town of Lijiang. It is an important tourist spot, especially for the Chinese. Once there, everybody chooses one of the different horse tours around the lake (if you want to go on a horse tour, remember that it is important to negotiate the price).

Horseback riding on Lake La Shi Hai is so widespread among the Chinese that they find it strange that anyone would want to walk on their own. If you go in a group and they give you a good price the ride may be worth it. But in my case, I was going alone, I preferred to ride around the area quietly on my own and the truth is that I loved it.

Old Town of Lijiang - Lago La Shi Hai
Old Town of Lijiang – Lago La Shi Hai

If you just want to see the old part of Lijiang in one or two days is enough. If you also want to see the surroundings, I recommend a couple more days. After seeing the old part of Lijiang you can, like almost everybody does, take the opportunity to visit the Tiger Leaping Gorge. They say it is one of the most impressive natural areas in China. In the next article I will relate that experience.

If you want to come on a trip to Yunnan and visit Lijiang you can have a look at our organized trip through Yunnan. You can also take a look at my list of Practical Tips for travelling in China. Finally, comment, evaluate and/or share to help us keep growing.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.

– Mark Twain –
Yunnan - Lijiang - Wangu Pavilion Temple
Yunnan – Lijiang – Wangu Pavilion Temple

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