Lijiang, China, is a charming city in the heart of Yunnan province, a region notable for its ethnic minorities. Lily Zhang, a local Naxi woman who grew up in a beautiful Naxi village about 15 kilometres from Lijiang City, is the whl.travel local connection in Lijiang. She works at the Xintuo Ecotourism Company, a business partly owned by the Nature Conservancy that offers responsible and sustainable tours in Lijiang.
As a Lijiang local, Lily shares the top 5 things to do in Lijiang while on a Lijiang holiday.
1. Hike around Tiger Leaping Gorge and Baoshan Stone Town
Tiger Leaping Gorge is about 50 kilometres from the World Heritage site of Lijiang’s Old Town. Roughly 15 kilometres in length, the gorge was carved by a river passing between the massive Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (which reaches up to 5,596 metres) on the Lijiang side and Haba Snow Mountain (5,396 metres) on the Shangri-La side. The stunning result is a series of rapids at the foot of steep 4,000-metre cliffs, making it a contender for the world’s deepest river canyon.
Legend says that in order to escape from a hunter, a tiger jumped across the river at the narrowest point (still 25 metres wide), hence the name of the gorge. There is nothing I like better than hiking in Tiger Leaping Gorge.
Baoshan, also known as Stone Town, is located about 110 kilometres north of Lijiang. It was built in the late 13th century, when the Naxi Yu Clan (ancestors of the Mu families) first lived and flourished here, before migrating down into the Lijiang plain.
Stone Town is a truly special place, where 108 Naxi families live on huge rocks that look like mushrooms. There are only two entrances into the Stone Town, front and back gates set in a surrounding 1.7-metre-high stone wall. Throughout history, when these two doors were firmly shut, attacking armies could not enter because the town was easily guarded.
Strikingly, like the area around Stone Town, which is a landscape of steep cliffs and high mountains, the town itself has an elevation variation of 3,000 metres between its highest point (4,600 metres) and its lowest (1,600 metres). Scattered at the foot of the mountains lie small villages and terraced fields with different crops. Stone Town is bordered to the east by the Golden Sand River, which feeds into the mighty Yangt-ze River.
On a tour of Baoshan, travellers can stay with local families, listen to the stories and legends about this old town, watch the stars and fireflies shining in the sky, drink beer and chat with everyone until it gets cool, and then have sweet dreams in the quiet night.
2. Take a Nature and Culture Tour in Lashi Lake Nature Reserve and Wehai Lake
Lashi Lake lies at the centre of the Lashihai Watersheld Nature Reserve. Covering a land area of 265.6 square metres, it is a haven for 30,000 migratory birds (70 species) that come here to escape winter from the end of October to early April. It is therefore a superb place for birdwatching in Lijiang. As an abundant nature and culture resource, Lashi Lake boldly proves that nature and humanity can come together in harmony.
Nearby Wenhai is a village that lies at an elevation of 3,100 metres in the area northwest of Lijiang City. It is located on the southern slope of Yulong (another name for Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) and is a part of the Lashihai provincial Alpine Wetlands Nature Reserve. The unique climate and soil in the area nourish a unique variety of plant species, including century-old forests, shrubs and meadows. There are also unique wildflowers that bloom throughout the year, including over 20 species of rhododendrons, as well as a variety of economically viable mushrooms and precious medicinal herbs.
In the Lashihai and Wenhai area, in addition to animals, plants, forests and water resources, there is a wide variety of indigenous cultures. About 30 village tribes reside here, like the Naxi, Yi, Han and a few Tibetans. The Tibetans mostly live in one of the largest Tibetan Buddhism temples in Lijiang – the Zhiyun Temple. Although the lives of these locals have been affected by the outside world, they hold tight to their traditional customs and culture.
3. Experience the Matriarchal Way of Life of the Mosuo People in Lugu Lake
Lugu Lake lies 200 kilometres from the centre of Lijiang City, on the border between Ninglang County in Yunnan Province and Yanyuan County in Sichuan Province. Mystery and charm surround the lake, partly because it was once an unspoiled place and still retains much of its totally natural beauty, but mostly because of the unique culture of the resident Mosuo people.
Mosuo society is matriarchal and marriage doesn’t exist. Men stay in the women’s homes as mates called Axia and the intimate relationships last only as long as they like. Children are brought up by the women, use the surnames of their mothers and are part of families composed of matrilineal kin. Women are in charge of production and management, and hold the principal position in the society, forming a modern day ‘woman’s kingdom.’
Experience this cultural awakening on a tour of Lugu Lake. Ladies will love this place because the women are in charge, and men will like this place because there is no marriage. As for me, I like this place because of the clear blue water and the beautiful songs sung by Mosuo girls when boating on the lake.
4. Go Bar-hopping in Lijiang Old Town
Bars in Lijiang Old Town are famous around China. Bar-hopping has always been a part of my life. My friends and I usually start after 9 p.m. and I always choose to go first to Sakura bar, which is the biggest bar in Lijiang. No matter what you like, be it dancing or watching shows, there’s a bar for everyone in Lijiang. There are even Thai “lady-man” shows and cultural performances by local minorities.
Of course, drinking is always an option. Cocktails, brandy, whisky, vodka, rum – you name it, Lijiang bars probably have it! Personally I like Sakura Bar the most because the DJ is amazing. Other famous bars are Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles and A Meter Sunshine.
Another famous type of bar in Lijiang Old Town is the huotang. These bars are a little quieter, where you normally find folk singers playing guitars. In winter there are braziers inside the bars, so people can keep warm while they drink and talk. These bars are in Wuyi street, where beer is generally cheaper. Usually I like to go there after a loud bar to enjoy quietly singing along and whispering with my friends. A great end to a perfect bar night.
5. Enjoy a Cultural Show in Lijiang City
Impression Lijiang is a cultural show of the traditions and lifestyles of the area’s Naxi, Yi and Bai people. It takes place inside Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Park in an outdoor theatre specifically designed to showcase the mist-shrouded mountain, a breathtaking natural backdrop. The show aims to provide insight into the lives of the region’s ethnic groups through song and dance. Five hundred locals wearing the costumes of 10 ethnic groups, as well as 100 horses, have been selected from 16 towns and villages in Lijiang for the daily performances of folk songs, dances and rituals for tourists. I’ve seen many people moved to tears when watching the show.
The Mountains & Rivers Show is another ethnic dancing and singing show. The Yi people’s Fire Touch Festival, Naxi People’s Stick Festival, the Bai boy’s handsome dance and the Tibetan waving girls all interpret the art of the ethnic people who have resided in these mountains for centuries. The performance is very bright and colourful, with dancing and fancy ethnic costumes. The atmosphere is very happy and light. It is my favourite show.