Yunnan Travel Guide


Maize drying
Maize drying

Set in a picturesque valley with a stunning mountain backdrop, Lijiang's Old Town, Dayan, is a labyrinth of cobbled alleys lined with wooden houses, cafes, and the workshops of traditional craftsmen. Home to the Naxi people, Dayan is one of the most pleasant urban scenes in China. Lijiang came to international attention in 1996 when an earthquake killed over 300 people and devastated the city. Money poured into Dayan's relatively sensitive reconstruction, and numerous hotels as well as an airport were built. In 1999, Lijiang was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lijiang Area Map

Visitors' checklist

  • 316 miles (527 km) NW of Kunming
  • 1,140,000
  • South Bus Station and North Bus Station
  • Bangbang Festival (15th day of 1st lunar month), Sanduo Festival (8th day of 2nd & 8th lunar month), Horse Fair (7th lunar month)
  • CITS, Xianggeli Dadao, Lifang Plaza, 3rd Floor, 0888 516 0371
  • to Dayan
A typical narrow street in the center of the Old Town
A typical narrow street
in the center of the Old Town

Old Town Center
The old town is a cobweb of narrow cobbled alleyways, criss-crossed with canals, and free of traffic. It's extremely pretty, and very popular. If you want to escape the crowds head off into the alleys away from the major tourist routes, where local people still live.

Joseph Rock
An eccentric Austrian botanist, Joseph Rock lived in Lijiang between 1922 and 1949. He gathered over 80,000 plant specimens, pioneered the use of photography in the field, and wrote reports for National Geographic. He was a defender of Naxi culture and compiled the first dictionary of the language. His entourage was huge, and included cooks, hundreds of mercenaries, and servants to carry such dubious necessities as his gramophone, gold dinner service, and collapsible bathtub.

Exploring Lijiang and Beyond
Shizi Shan (Lion Hill) divides the Old Town (Dayan) from the New Town, where most hotels and other amenities can be found. There are a few sights just south of Dayan, on Shizi Shan, and clustered around Heilong Tan (Black Dragon Pool), north of Dayan. The countryside surrounding Lijiang is dotted with Naxi hamlets, many of which have interesting temples. Some of these can be reached by bicycle; otherwise by a short bus trip.

View of the rooftops of Dayan from Wangu Lou
View of the rooftops of Dayan
from Wangu Lou
Wangu Lou, a perfect vantage point for viewing Dayan
Wangu Lou, a perfect vantage point
for viewing Dayan

Wangu Lou

  • Shizi Shan
  • 7:30am–7pm daily

    Standing at the highest point in Lijiang, this 108-ft (33-m) pavilion is accessible from either the old town or from Minzu Lu on the west side of the hill. A recently-built, four-story edifice with huge wooden pillars, it offers superb views overlooking the old town.

    Mu Fu

  • SW of the Old Town
  • daily

    The Mu were Lijiang's ruling family up to 1723 and the mansion they built for themselves at the south end of the Old Town contained over 100 buildings. Destroyed by the Qing, the residence was built after the earthquake on the ruins of traditional housing in Han, Naxi, Bai, and Tibetan architectural styles.

    Heilong Tan Gongyuan

    • Xin Dajie
    • 7:30am–6pm daily

    On the northern edge of town, Black Dragon Pool Park is stunningly picturesque with the elegant Deyue Lou placed at the center of a carp-filled pool, and backdropped by the peak of Yulong Xue Shan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). The Dongba Research Institute, in the southwest corner of the park, is an academic institution for the preservation of Naxi culture – there are about thirty dongba shamans here, studying and translating Naxi religious texts. In the north of the park stands a set of halls transported during the 1970s from what was once Lijiang's biggest monastery, Fuguo Si. The grandest is the 66-ft (20-m), triple-roofed Wufeng Lou (Five Phoenix Hall), built in 1601. The Museum of Naxi Culture, by the park's north gate, holds exhibitions on Naxi dress and customs.

    Red chilies drying
    Red chilies drying
    The jagged peaks of Yulong Xue Shan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain)
    The jagged peaks of Yulong Xue Shan
    (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain)

    Baisha, a sleepy village 6 miles (10 km) north of Lijiang, was, until Kublai Khan's invasion, the capital of the Naxi Kingdom. Today there's little evidence of its past importance except for two grand temples. The first, at the village entrance, stands neglected, but the second, the Liuli, just north of it, holds some well-preserved 14th-century frescoes that exhibit a promiscuous pantheism. Baisha is home to the Daoist physician Dr Ho, made famous by travel writer Bruce Chatwin. He will doubtless track you down and offer his tonic herb tea in exchange for a small donation.

    Beiyue Si in the village of Yulong a couple of miles north of Baisha is dedicated to the protector deity Sanduo, depicted with a white hat and spear. The temple has been managed by the same family for almost 1,000 years.

    Pavilion in the midst of Black Dragon Pool backed by majestic Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang
    Pavilion in the midst of Black Dragon Pool
    backed by majestic Jade Dragon Snow
    Mountain, Lijiang

    Built in 1756, the small lamasery Yufeng Si is 8 miles (13 km) northwest of Lijiang at the foot of Snow Mountain. A huge ancient camellia tree produces thousands of flowers each spring and is cared for with impressive dedication by the monks. A Naxi orchestra often practice here in the afternoon.

    The magnificent mountain range Yulong Xue Shan dominates the countryside surrounding Lijiang. To access this mountain that was first scaled in the 1960s, you'll need to either join an organized tour or hire a taxi. From the entrance of the main scenic area there are two chairlifts to points above the snow line. The first takes you to the gruesomely named Love Suicide Hill; the second, Asia's highest, takes you 14,750 ft (4,506 m) up to a ridge with amazing views of glaciers. Watch out for altitude sickness, and don't bother if it's foggy.

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