Orientis DMC’s Lijiang Travel Guide, Yunnan Province

Situated beside the Jade River in northern Yunnan Province, the ancient town of Lijiang nestles on a mountain slope in an area of dramatic natural beauty. A community of the Naxi people, an ethnic minority in China, Lijiang has been a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site since 1997 for its historical importance and preservation of cultural traditions.

Visitors exploring the narrow cobbled streets of Lijiang’s old town will find a wealth of ancient and beautifully-decorated wooden buildings. The streets are criss-crossed by a network of canals which originally provided Lijiang with drinking water drawn from the nearby Yuquan Spring. Here and there the canals fill square pools; traditionally these were used for washing laundry or cleaning fruit and vegetables and some of the Naxi people still make use of these pools today.

The hub of ancient Lijiang is the Old Market Square where stallholders still gather to sell souvenirs, although the town also offers many shops, tea houses and small galleries to explore. Always bustling and vibrant, this central plaza is also the place to find displays of traditional dancing and provides wonderful views of the town’s mountainous surroundings.

By night, the sight of Lijiang’s beautiful wooden buildings, hung with traditional Chinese lanterns and illuminated against the darkened sky, is simply unforgettable.

Lijiang’s seasons and when to visit

As Lijiang benefits from a mild and temperate climate throughout the year there is no particularly good or bad time to visit, although June and July are typically the rainiest months.

Spring is generally a quieter and less busy season for Lijiang, and visitors will enjoy mild weather, blue skies and the beauty of blossoming flowers and trees both in and around the town. From June to August – Lijiang’s summer – spring’s clear skies become cloudy and prolonged rain showers are more likely. Warmer temperatures, combined with the rain, can create humidity and sometimes fog which obscures the view of the town’s mountainous landscapes. Autumn is generally regarded as a favourable season in which to visit Lijiang, as rainfall is minimal, days and evenings are crisp and cool and the regions natural beauty is at its finest. Visitors in winter are few and far between but this is an excellent time to see Lijiang as snow dusts the mountains and skies are clear and deep blue. Winter days are comparatively warm, but at night time the temperature can fall several degrees below zero.

Lijiang’s Cuisine

Influences from the Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces and Tibet, combined with the ancient food traditions of the Naxi people ensure that Lijiang’s cuisine is remarkably diverse and delicious. Street foods are popular and widely available in the town but there is also a good choice of restaurants selling traditional fayre. Among the specialities that visitors to Lijiang may enjoy are Yunnan Lijiang Baba; a flour pancake filled with meat or vegetables which is deep-fried until crisp and golden, Chui Gan, a traditional Naxi dish, is fine slices of air-dried pigs liver, and Mi Guan Chang is a unique kind of rice sausage which is sliced and deep-fried or steamed before eating. Freshwater fish, and particularly salmon and the tender sanwen fish feature in many Lijiang dishes, whilst other popular ingredients include pork, mushrooms and chickpeas, from which a savoury jelly is made. Visitors with an especially adventurous palate might like to try Lijiang’s fried dragonfly.

Key activities in Lijiang

Lijiang’s beautiful location means that it is a good destination in which to enjoy outdoor pursuits such as walking, cycling and even exploring on mule-back. One of the area’s main attractions is Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, which dominates the landscape and is situated approximately twenty-five kilometres from the town. An exhilarating cable-car ride to the summit provides unforgettable views on a clear day.

Just above Lijiang’s centre, on Lion Hill, a complex of beautiful buildings and courtyards set in landscaped gardens forms the Palace of Mu, the former residence of the ruling clan of the Naxi people. Visitors to the palace can discover the four-hundred-year history of the Mu Clan, and continuing to the top of Lion Hill reveals a Daoist temple and spectacular views over the town.

A brief canal-side walk from Lijiang’s ancient wooden water-wheel brings visitors to the picturesque Black Dragon Pool Park; a place of tranquillity that is popular with locals. The Black Dragon Pool itself, which is spanned by an ornate stone bridge, has been known to become dry. When full, however, the view of the pool, the bridge and its accompanying pagoda-style buildings with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background enables visitors to take one of the most popular and beautiful photographic souvenirs of their time in Lijiang.