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Some Thoughts After Our Lijiang Visit

Old Nov 30th, 2008, 03:12 PM
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Some Thoughts After Our Lijiang Visit

We really enjoyed our Lijiang visit earlier this month, not only the old town but also the surrounding area has lots to offer, and the local Naxi people are very hospitable and laid-back. Here are some of our thoughts.

Weather -- Spring is a wonderful time to visit and so is fall, summer is not sweaty hot but does gets rainy, winter months get quite cold. Since it is not an industrial city, there isn't much pollution.

Transit -- You can fly from most large cities, some with a stopover in Kunming; there are also buses, no trains.

Lodging -- Banyan Tree Resort offers all the luxury you want, the local style villas are in a self-countained compound near Baisha Village, the resort can arrange transportation to Lijiang.

The new part of the city offers many chinese-brand hotels that cater to groups of chinese and southeast asian tourists.

To experience the charm of old town, there are more than a hundred inns/guesthouses/hostels, some have a couple of rooms, larger ones have up to 16-20 rooms. The Naxi people are not business-oriented, many of the larger old-town lodgings are now run by non locals. Hostels are geared more towards backpackers, expect to share a bathroom. The rooms in the inns/guesthouses are not big and kind of rustic, some of them offer a couple of larger rooms with sitting area or suites. During cooler nights, do inquire if they provide heater and electric blanket and pad, there is no central heating. The en-suite bathrooms are small too, the fixtures are modern altho the plumbing is not. To enjoy the local lifestyle for a few nights, do not get your expectations too high.

Sights -- The old town is the attraction, the Sifang Square in the middle can be crowded, take a map and venture into the side streets. Note the stream water flows from the north to the south, so if you are lost, follow the flow of the water. We didn't find Suhe Village interesting, full of shoppers seeking better bargains than old town Lijiang. Baisha was a more interesting village with the small temples/monastries/palaces. The Impressions Show with the snow mountains as the background is a must, you should check the weather before taking the cable car up to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains, there is nothing to see if it's shrouded in mist and clouds. Every site charges fees so be prepared to pay as you go. English is seldom spoken, if you read some guidebooks before you go, you can take get by with taxis or a car/driver, no need for a guide.

Food -- There are local dishes that should be sampled but don't expect a large variety like in Beijing or Shanghai, learn to savor the simple dishes like the following one our guesthouse served with soy beans, chicken, tomato egg flower soup and rice.

1. Heat vegetable oil,
2. when hot add minced garlic & ginger, stir for 2-3 seconds,
3. add shredded purple cabbage and continue to stir,
4. add a tablespoon of water, pinch of 5-spice powder and salt to taste, stir till cabbage is wilted.


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Old Dec 1st, 2008, 09:53 AM
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Thanks for the post. I'm still keeping an eye on Lijiang.
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Old Dec 1st, 2008, 11:03 AM
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Thanks for your report. We continue to look for interesting places to visit in CHina, and Lijiang is on our list.
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Old Dec 1st, 2008, 12:50 PM
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An alternative view of Lijiang, and a little more detail on the actual state of play there:

The Naxi minority are far from 'not business orientated' (surely a regrettable observation) but they are often pushed out by Han immigrants, and pushed around by Han tourism officials.

The town has been severely compromised by the misfortune of gaining UNESCO World Heritage listing. It was badly damaged in an earthquake just before that, and rather than reconstruct the demolished buildings, the authorities went on to improve on them by replacing some of the ethnic minority housing with buildings in a more mainstream Han style, scoring the herringbone pattern of traditional brickwork into cement rather than replacing it, and driving some residents away in order to construct a previously non-existent palace.

Even the traditional costume of the minority Naxi people was redesigned by the Han tourism authorities according to their own views of what would seem attractive to visitors, and wearing it made compulsory for those working in the hospitality industry, regardless of their ethnicity. Many of the Naxi you see in Lijiang are in fact Han.

Jing Feng, UNESCO’s Programme Specialist for Asia Pacific personally campaigned for the 1997 accession of Lijiang to the list. 'I worked on the documentation and succeeded in getting the nomination,' he told me.

But as a result visitor volumes leapt from between 3000 and 5000 people in 1996 to 4.3 million in 2005.

“I visited in June 2006 and my experience was really too bad,” he said. I last visited around the same time, and I'd have to agree.

Recently, even the authorities have recognised that the old town’s capacity to absorb tourists has been greatly exceeded, and their response has been not to reduce the immense crowds but to begin work on constructing more 'old town' so yet more money can be made and to hell with conservation, authenticity, or dignity.

But the already existing Lijiang is a Disneytown, and as authentic as something at the Epcot Center. While most of the crowds are of Chinese tourists there are enough foreigners to have created a string of pizza restaurants along what the locals refer to as 'Yangren Jie' or Foreigner Street, whose clientele become part of the attraction to Chinese tour groups, and who are pointed out by megaphone wielding guides in the 'improved' Naxi minority clothing.

It can be bedlam.

This will no doubt sound attractive to some much as (inexplicably) does Yangshuo, to which this is the mountainous equivalent. But those wanting real China would perhaps be wise to keep an eye on something else. Lijiang's heyday is long past and the current state of the town is enough to make you weep.

Peter N-H
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Old Dec 1st, 2008, 01:26 PM
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As usual,great report Shanghainese & thanks again for your most helpful tips re Shanghai. My Yunnan travel experience would suggest that the beauty of the Lijiang area is best appreciated in early morning or later in the day after the crowds of tour groups have disappeared.Since it was declared a UNESCO Heritage town,Chinese come from all over the country to visit.We saw far fewer western tourists than in Beijing, Xian,Yangshuo & Shanghai & wonder why Yunnan Province isn't generally included in our China itineraries.We made the decision to tour Yunnan over the Yangtze cruise & now feel that we definitely made the right choice.The Naxi & Tibetan people are warm & inviting.They are proud of their heritage.We visited Dr.Ho in Baisha & thoroughly enjoyed our time with this world renowned natural healer.We also were taken aback by the superb Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Impression Show but the gondola ride up the mountain wasn't a highlight for our Canadian group of 6 as we are used to snow & mountains. No wonder Bradt Yunnan Guidebook chose Black Dragon Pond for its cover photo, it's indeed as lovely as portrayed.Not to forget the beauty of the Tiger Leaping Gorge 1 1/2 hours north(our niece & nephew took fantastic pics on their climb as we chose to drive from Qiatou to Sean's Guesthouse for lunch),the scenic vistas as our driver ascended 12,000 feet to Shangrila & its magnificent monastery.The lack of pollution in the mountains was also welcoming after coming from smoggy Xian.I would return to Yunnan in a heartbeat!!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2008, 10:55 AM
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You are very welcome, Femi and Kathie, hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Syl -- thanks to you too, we help each other with travel info as we followed your tip and stayed at the Lijiang Minimal Lounge guesthouse. We only wish we had more time to explore Shangrila, Dali, etc., and we were happy to spend 2 nights in Kunming so we had time to visit the Stone Forest, the not yet open to the public smaller Black Stone Forest, red earth terraced fields and a local Sani minority village.
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Old Dec 2nd, 2008, 11:27 AM
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Mahalo Shanghainese for this report! Yours are the only trusted words for me on this thread.

Love the veggie stir fry recipe.....seems so simple!

Aloha!
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Old Dec 3rd, 2008, 08:34 AM
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HT -- your support is greatly appreciated. Yes, the purple caggabe recipe is simple and tasty ... Aloha!
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Old Dec 4th, 2008, 07:10 AM
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Oh, I meant purple cabbage!
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Old Dec 4th, 2008, 10:42 AM
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Great report, Shanghainese!

You've put Lijiang on my list of places to visit in China!

"Naxi" brings back a flood of memories - all of them about Joseph Rock and the "Bird"[Naxi] people, because their language is written with "birds".

The flora of the region is astounding as witness the wealth of material that Joseph Rock gathered - believe he did most of his work for the National Geographic Magazine.

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/intldl/naxihtml/rock.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Rock

Thanks again!
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Old Dec 4th, 2008, 03:15 PM
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ET -- Well, we did make it to Joseph Rock's former home in tiny Yuhu Chun (Jade Lake Village) a few miles from Baisha, his simple living quarters are well preserved and there is a small exhibit hall. He mentioned when he was on his deathbed in Hawaii he'd rather be in Lijiang!
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Old Dec 4th, 2008, 07:33 PM
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The West of China is Holiday destination in itself - and Lijiang represents just a tiny - very tourist developed - spot in this exciting part of the world.
I first got to Lijiang in 1987 - I was there again this summer - earthquake aside, what a difference!!!!!!!!!
In the old days genuine local people really did live in the old town – they made those old streets into a vibrant, fantastic destination. Shame all that’s gone and been replaced with so many souvenir stands, bars/restaurants and hotels!!!!! It also doesn’t seem to be the locals who have profited much from these new developments - but at least it gives a value to preservation.
But in Yunnan and Sichuan there are still spots where the tourism hasn't altered things to such an extent that - official tourist committees aren’t remodeling ethnic dress and rebuilding local architecture because they think it'll look better and sell more admission tickets. You just have to look a little further off the beaten track.
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Old Dec 4th, 2008, 11:06 PM
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Sighhh. Thankyou Shanghainese. Lijiang sounds bliss I can see another itinerary shuffle coming up for us.
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Old Dec 5th, 2008, 09:44 AM
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Here's a website detailing some of the "out-of-the way" places in China:

http://chinabackpacker.com/pn/index.php

One has to be able to do without and travel "rough". Witness, e.g., the circumnabulation of Mt. Chenresig where water may be a problem during the latter part of the walk.

So many beautiful places to go, so little time!
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Old Dec 15th, 2008, 05:52 AM
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For those of you who are going to Lijiang in winter and plan to stay in an old town guesthouse, please make sure you inquire about heating in the room. Majority of them have electric blankets and heating pads you sleep on, but not all have a heater, a portable one. The locals are used to it, you may not like sleeping on a warm bed in a chilly room.
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