Tucked beneath the gorgeous Yulong Snow Mountains of Yunnan sits the ancient heritage old town of Lijiang. Trapped in its timeless serenity and eternal spring, the crisp and cool mountain breeze gently sweeps down into the town, uplifting the scents of its ever blooming colourful daffodils, chrysanthemums and pink roses that dance along the streets. As the morning sun rays breach the morning fog, the golden drops of light gently embrace the tiled roof tops bringing colour to the rows of taverns igniting life again each day. With the warming of the quiet morning air comes the clarity of little streams racing through the canals of this quaint little town like the chirping of birds to a bright morning day. All its reminiscent beauty and atmosphere all trapped in an everlasting mid-spring day for centuries. This is the beauty of Lijiang – a timeless destination in the present world.
Having travelled most of the ancient cities around Asia and Europe, I suddenly developed a longing to re-trace the heritage of Lijiang which I first visited back in the early 2016. This time round, I decided to dedicate this trip to treat my dad for his birthday! So this will be my first blog to share about elderly friendly or those young-at-heart travel destinations and tips.
Lijiang is part of the Yunnan county and has recently reopened its direct international flights from certain major airports such as Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia. The weather here is a moderate 19 to 23°C during the day and drops lower during the night to about 10 to 16°C. The weather can be mainly wet or cloudy and slightly arid depending on seasons. The temperature is positively comfortable for old folks of all ages.
The architecture of the entire old town is perennial and is in its original state for centuries. The roads are generally wheelchair friendly. However, due to the old uneven surfaces of the cobbled streets, it can be pretty bumpy. The roads within the old town are cordoned off from vehicles and hence the only way around within the old town is by foot. The rustic old beauty of its ambience only makes the young at heart feel younger.
Lijiang is meant to be enjoyed a footstep at a time and should no means be rushed. The view, the angles, the roads, the alleys, the architecture, the food and even the little canals and bridges are a sight to behold and reminds you of the ancient simple times. The maximum distances from end to end of the old town is only a few hundred meters, dotted with trees, flowers and shops that delude distance and time.
What To Bring
When travelling with elderly or young-at-heart, do bring a waterproof windbreaker or jacket just in case the mountain winds or small squalls come. For those planning to experience a little snow on the mountains, do bring along adequate winter wear. As the Yulong Snow Mountain is at an elevation of over 4,000 feet, the air is thinner and has less oxygen. Oxygen canisters are available at most provision shops along the streets but for those who have altitude sickness, it is advisable to abstain altogether. There are tours that will pick you up from your hotel or nearest possible pick up point. Tour packages usually cost approximately 580 RMB per person which will include lunch, entrance tickets, cable car ride, winter jacket, oxygen canister and hotel transfer. There are two cable car stations at the Yulong Snow Mountain. The highest station sets you near the peak.
The centuries old cobbled streets in Lijiang’s old town can be bumpy or even slippery when wet. Thus, it is advisable to wear a comfortable pair of walking shoes with good traction. The old town area and Lijiang as a whole are filled with colourful flowers and willows. So, do be careful of pollen and bring a mask if needed.
As there aren’t much street lights when night falls, do keep a little flashlight with you when you’re out and about to help illuminate the grounds.
For packing, backpacks and haversacks is the best choice as the uneven cobbled streets aren’t exactly stroller-bag friendly. In case you choose to pull your luggage along, keep it to the lightest weight possible. As vehicles aren’t allowed inside of the old town, you will need to carry your bags and walk inside the old town on foot from the old town entrances. Most of the taverns or hotels are situated in ancient buildings and thus, no elevators. But fret not. The hotel staffs are generally helpful and will assist you in carrying your luggages up to your room.
With lots of special broods of tea, wine, snacks, fashion and trinkets only available here in Lijiang, deciding on souvenirs can be a real challenge. Do bring an extra empty foldable bag to help with your shopping in case your bags are overloaded.
What To See
Lijiang is famous for its quintessential old town and its ancient elements; classic streets, canals, meandering alleyways and wooden houses. All of these have been remarkably maintained in its original condition since even before the Yuan dynasty. As Lijiang was enclaved beneath the mountains to the north and south, this little gem was spared from many wars over the dynastic periods and have managed to sustain their culture, heritage and lifestyles till today.
In fact, the town was so well conserved in all its originality and historic works that it was used by many cinematographers and soap-opera choreographers to beset the ancient scenes of China. With the mighty Yulong mountains as the backdrop, the scenes are more than enigmatic.
Check out the Mu’s Residence or Mr Wood’s mansion (literal translation) near the north end of the city. The estate which the mansion sits is huge and can rival that of the old Nanjing Summer Palace. Most importantly, the building and its interior compound is in its perfect condition where its intricate painting and colours are still intact. The entrance ticket costs 60 RMB per person and includes some freebies and a tour guide but does not include entrance ticket to the pagoda on top of Lion’s hill at the north side of Mu’s Mansion. The Lion’s hill pagoda costs another 60 RMB and the ticket can only be purchased once you’ve climbed half way up the hill.
From Mu’s Mansion, head east toward Sifang Street, otherwise colloquially known as Square Street. There is an old city gate with placards of ancient Chinese cuneiforms and poetry to reminiscent and decipher. The ancient province of Lijiang emphasised heavily on education giving rise to many academicians, scholars and government servants who ended up working in the royal palace of China.
Sifang Street has a large open aired public square where residents meet and socialise. This square is essentially the central square of Lijiang where most roads and alleyways would lead to from the different directions. The main water canal runs westwards across the top of the square.
The infamous Dan-Zi and Wu-Zi bridges aren’t large bridges like the London bridge and are often left unnoticed by visitors. However, they are the widest bridges in Lijiang that allows larger carriages to cross the canals along the main roads. Postcard shots from these bridges are classic and insta-worthy, relishing all new ancient discoveries.
These two bridges can be busy with lots of people going to and fro during the day. So be patient if you want a picture perfect shot.
To the south of Lijiang is a huge local marketplace where the people buy their fresh produce and supplies. The street markets are opened during the day and can stretch all the way out of the old town boundaries. You can find all kinds of roots, fungi, fruits, vegetables, crops and much more at local wholesale prices.
Walk along the marketplace and observe what the stalls are selling with curiosity. You will be amazed at the type of local produce they have. Some of it you may have never ever seen before.
Follow the canal upriver to see the Big Water Wheel, a centuries old multipurpose water wheel used to collect water as well as power sesame mill grinders. The water that runs in all of Lijiang’s canals come from the Black Dragon Pool which essentially comes from the melted snow of the Yulong mountains. The wheel is situated at the north entrance of the old town of Lijiang with a big modern underground shopping mall beneath the main roads. For those who can’t get used to Lijiang local delicacies, the only McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC outlet is situated around this corner. There is a small park near the entrance where locals do their morning ‘tai-chi’ exercises and traditional folk dances which tourists can take snapshots. The wide open space here allows a perfect view of the snow capped mountains of Yulong to feature as your backdrop.
Continue the journey further upriver and you will get to the Black Dragon Pool. Admission is 80 RMB per pax and the grounds within is enormous. The Black Dragon Pool is merely a large lake that offers a splendid backdrop of the Yulong mountains reflecting against the serene clear waters of the lake. There are myths and legends behind its origin and name awaiting to be discovered.
Famous for its stunning stepped tea terraces along the mountain slopes of Yulong, Lijiang is one of the finest tea producing regions of China in the Yunnan province. They have all kinds of broods including assorted flower bud teas, root teas and Arabica coffee beans and grounds. Visit one of the souvenir super marts to check out the wide range of teas and coffee. They even have free tea tasting sessions for you to try their products and satisfy your taste buds.
Breathtaking sceneries aside, Lijiang also has one of the largest and oldest silver mines in the Yunnan province. The town till today, is still dotted with many highly skilled silversmiths and jewellery shops whose heritage has survived for generations. Their silversmithing craftsmanship is handed down for generations and here in Lijiang, you can see many silversmiths by their shop entrances chiselling and hammering away at pure silver pieces to craft exquisite jewellery. The silver here is rated somewhere around 99.9% due to its traditional process of extraction.
What To Eat
With a wide range of generally fresh local produce that you may have never even heard of, the food scene in Lijiang is made unique all because of its rare ingredients which are hardly found outside of Yunnan. The gastronomy in this old new world has evolved and modernised dramatically over the years. From traditional dynastic fares to eclectic cafes, you definitely have plenty of choices to fill your stomach to satisfaction at every corner or alleyway.
As Lijiang is a very well governed city with strict rules and regulations, most dining places are of good comfort and acceptably clean. Plates, bowls, cups and utensils are sanitised and hermetically seal-wrapped for hygiene purposes. Even street foods are served in quality disposable tubs and cutlery.
Try the local traditional Lijiang pancake known as ‘Lijiang baba’, a plain unleavened bread that is fried like a pancake. This is one most the most well-loved comfort food among the locals. Steamed rice cake layered with rich honey is also not to be missed. Its unique texture and sweet flavour will have you getting more.
Stinky tofu is also a common dish and can be found in most of the streets. The Yunnan version of stinky tofu isn’t as foul as the Hong Kong or Taiwan counterparts but is still popular amongst the local and the curious foreigners. Cooked freshly in front of you, it’s easy to grab and go and definitely easy to find with your nose!
Yak’s meat, milk, cheese and yogurt… Lijiang is full of yak produce stalls selling everything from bottled milk, skewers, meat loafs and even salt-baked preserved iberico meat strips made from mountain yaks. They even have deep fried yak’s milk drizzled with granulated sugar for flavour that tastes like fried mild-cheese strips. Truly a unique flavour found no where else in the world. To locate a Yak shop, simply look for the shop with a big cute Yak on display at the entrance.
Flower wines! These wines are exported no where else around the world and are aged and brewed here in Lijiang. The alcohol percentages are very low at about 9 to 12% and are purely for health purposes. Made from actual flowers, these wines are sweet and strong in their flower essences with a medium body. Truly unique and pairs greatly with the ambience in Lijiang.
Rose biscuits…a definite must try. Unique only to Lijiang and exported no where else in the world, these biscuits are made from actual rose petals stuffed and baked in a fragrant pastry flat bun. There are many shops selling these biscuits but not all taste the same. Do try samples to determine which one is your favourite.
Another really interesting street snack is the Naxi peanut pounded candy which is purely handmade. This sweet treat is a result of tireless rounds of pounding by a huge mollet, much like making Japanese mochi, only that the candy itself is harder as it is pounded till it gets really dry. In fact, they become so dry that you have to cut them with a cleaver! These candy are ingeniously innovated to have other unique flavours including organic rose buds.
Meat, fishes, and all kinds of leafy local greens are common in every restaurants’ menu and are freshly cooked, usually in their local style. Whichever is your cooking preference, be it less oil, less salt or non-spicy, do let them know upon ordering and they are always happy to prepare it accordingly for you.
From river to table, snow fishes are very popular and super fresh. You sure have to try it. Well marinated and executed with local ingredients, these fish have less bones and are sweet to taste. You can choose to either have it deep fried or steamed. My dad chose the latter as he love the gravy with its original non-MSG fish essence and collagen.
I love Lijiang for its vibrant culture and heritage colours. Among the destinations I have visited in Asia, Lijiang is by far the one and only place that leaves a vivid impression that is still alive in me. The breathing scenery, the vibrant colours, slow paced lifestyle, the cool weather, the lively streets, and its impeccable local cuisines continuously churn a reason to make me want to go back again. Definitely this is a place for both young and old to write memories that live a lifetime and enjoy the timeless atmosphere together.
And oh, my dad super enjoyed this trip and has taken a lot of selfies and stunning photos for his Facebook.