Lijiang, a small city by Chinese standards, is located in south-west China and close to the Tibet border. The city is an extremely popular tourist destination due to its well preserved ancient buildings and its ancient local culture, in particular, that of the Naxi ethnic minority.
After several days in Chengdu, It was time to fly to Lijiang and meet up with a couple of students who would show me around their wonderful ‘old town’ and local cultures.
The main attraction in Lijiang is the area they refer to as ‘The Old Town’ or Lijiang Ancient City, and it’s exactly that, an old town still with its original narrow cobblestone streets and fascinating traditional Chinese architecture. Many streams run through the old city adding to its charm with the water originating from the nearby mountains.
I was really fortunate to be in Lijiang in the slow season, as at other times of the year this place can apparently be a pretty busy place, and a local told me that, so by western standards, it must be insanely busy. But in early March I found it to be OK, and most of the time you could have a relaxing and enjoyable walk around the town and soak up the wonder of this characterful place.
I can suggest, you most definitely would not want to visit here during public holidays due to the massive crowds. It’s without a doubt a place that only displays its beauty through serenity.
The Must Visit Places in Lijiang
Lijiang Old Town (Ancient City) 丽江古城
At one end of the Old Town is Yuhe Square which features an old water wheel and bridge over the crystal clear stream that winds its way through the town. The streets surrounding the square are packed with restaurants, souvenir stalls, cafes and more. The buildings may be old but modern-day commercial reality marches on.
There is also a ‘bar street’ which lives up to its name being packed with bars, maybe I’m too old and just wanted to relax but these bars really like it loud. So loud it’s near impossible to order a drink and when you do you may have to order a minimum of 200 RMB worth of drinks to sit at a table, even though they’re not busy! Whats really odd, is that these bars just don’t match the location, they’re located on the ancient cobblestone streets with a calm and peacefully flowing stream running between either side, ….and there are the bars, pumping out music at an ear-shattering level, anyway.
Past the souvenir stalls and bars, there are plenty of Inns and hostels within the old city making use of the traditional buildings, and it really becomes a wonderful place to just stroll around and soak up the culture.
The place really starts to instill a uniquely peaceful feeling, walking along the old streets that people have been walking on for hundreds of years, admiring the clear water streams and magnificent old bridges, and wondering what life was like here all those years ago.
Key attractions in the “old city” area include Wenchang Palace, Three Wells, Bar Street,
Lion Hill and Wangu Tower, Dashiqiao Bridge, Square Market, Mu’s Mansion, The Giant Water Wheels, Guanmenkou Entrance, The Former Residence of Fang Guoyu, Lijiang Great Mosque.
Mu’s Mansion 木王府驿栈
The photo below is of Mu’s Mansion, Mu was once the leader of the Naxi people and this palace was originally constructed during the Ming Dynasty making it somewhere around 600 years old, although what we see today is a rebuild as the original was destroyed in a war.
Black Dragon Pool 黑龙潭
The Black Dragon Pool, located in the Jade Spring Park at the foot of Elephant Hill is one of the must-visit places in Lijiang. The park contains many temples, pavilions and beautiful ancient architecture, including its bridges which lead you into the stunning pavilions. It’s an incredibly peaceful place and well worth allowing some time to relax, wander and enjoy. More: Black Dragon Pool
Jade Water Village 玉水寨
The Jade Water Village is located where a water spring exists at the base of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and this spring is scared to the local Naxi people. It is also the place where a famous American explorer, author, and botanist, Joseph Rock, lived for many years. Now, it is home to a large village including temples, traditional homes of the Naxi people, a theatre, and exhibits presenting the Naxi peoples Dongba culture. More: Jade Water Village
Shuhe Ancient Town 束河古镇
Shuhe Ancient Town (or city) is located in the city of Lijiang and less than 10 minutes by taxi from the ‘Old Town of Lijiang’ which is at the center of the city. It’s a place where you can easily find yourself forgetting what year you are in, as you walk along the original cobblestone streets and admire the old architecture and canal living. More: Shuhe Ancient Town
More Attractions and Sights in and around Lijiang
Lion Hill Park and Wangu Tower 狮子山公园
From Lion Hill Park (Lion Rock) you can get a panoramic view of the ancient traditional buildings within the city of Lijiang. Wangu Tower sits at the top and features 5 stories constructed in traditional Dougong architectural style. There is also a temple, Baima Lontangsi or White Horse Temple, which was originally built in 1754 and reconstructed in the late 1800’s.
Lugu Lake 泸沽湖
Lugu Lake is a pristine environmental area and a wonderful place to explore nature. The three villages to visit are Luoshui, Lige, and/or Daluoshui. It’s also home to the Mosuo (摩梭) ethnic minority, who are famed for their very unique culture. The Mosuo are a very small group of around 40,000 in total. More about the Mosuo at Wikipedia.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain 玉龙雪山
The beautiful mountain whose summit can be seen from the Lijiang has a peak reaching almost 6,000 metres. You can hike the mountain and there are also three cable cars that operate on the mountain taking you up to the Glacier Park, Yak Meadow, and Spruce Meadow. Open: 7am–6pm. Entrance fee: 130 RMB.
Dongba Museum 东巴文化博物馆
Located in the Jade Water Village, the museum provides a worthy insight into the Naxi culture and Dongba belief system.
Dongba Valley 东巴谷
Near to Jade Water Village, it’s a trekking path that leads you deeper into Naxi culture.
Baoshan Stone Village 宝山石头城
Located in a beautiful and picturesque area this is one very unique village. Built on top of cliff-edged rock form the village consists of only 100 or so homes. Very difficult to get to.
Baishi Village 白沙村
A small ancient village believed to be the first settlement of the Naxi people. Here you can visit the Baishi Murals, Dabaoji Palace, Fuguo Temple, and wander the old streets. Take bus 6 from Qixing Street for 2 RMB and about 30 min travel time.
Jiu Zhai Village and Lakes 九子海村
At the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain lies a small village known for its idyllic beauty and meadows.
Destinations and Attractions Near Lijiang
Shangri La – very near to Lijiang and famed for it’s Tibetan culture.
Tiger Leaping Gorge – Large natural gorge, one of the deepest in the world, offering river overlooks & trails. Near to Shangri La.
Dali – another ancient city known for it’s Ming Dynasty style Bai architecture.
Erhai Lake – at Dali, famed for its fishing villages and lakeside scenery and views.
Kunming – the capital of Yunnan.
Xishuangbanna – Known for its Dai culture, temples and tropical rainforests. On the border with Laos and Myanmar.
Lijiang Map with the top ten hotels and guesthouses
More posts on Lijiang
- Shuhe Ancient Town of Lijiang China
- Jade Water Village in Lijiang
- Black Dragon Pool – Jade Spring Park in Lijiang
- Accommodation in Lijiang: Sleepy Inn Lijiang
Places to Stay in Lijiang
The city has a diverse range of accommodation suitable for backpackers through to those seeking world-class luxury, and unique escape experiences. The accommodation options are generally all of a high standard and there is a general tendency of providers to follow an “old town” theme making for many charming places to stay.
While there is now a staggering 80+ 5-star hotels and resorts in the city, Banyan Tree is still my pick.
Transport in Lijiang
Lijiang Sanyi International Airport (IATA: LJG, ICAO: ZPLJ) is located in Qihe Township, Gucheng District, Lijiang City, Yunnan Province, China.
It is the second largest airport in Yunnan and the regional airport for tourism in Yunnan. It is the third international airport in Yunnan Province after Kunming Changshui International Airport and Xishuangbanna Gassing International Airport.
The airport is about 30 km from Lijiang Old Town. You can catch a bus the airport (it’s a small airport you won’t get lost) which takes 40 minutes to the central area and costs 20 RMB. A taxi will cost around 80 RMB.
Airlines that fly in and out of Lijiang airport and destinations
|Air China||Beijing–Capital, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Tianjin|
|Beijing Capital Airlines||Beijing–Capital, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, Nanning, Shanghai–Pudong, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Wuhan, Xi’an, Xishuangbanna, Zhengzhou|
|Chengdu Airlines||Chengdu, Fuzhou|
|China Eastern Airlines||Beijing–Capital, Changsha, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, Shanghai–Hongqiao, Shenzhen, Taipei–Taoyuan, Wuxi, Xi’an, Xishuangbanna, Yantai|
|China Southern Airlines||Chongqing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Shenzhen, Nanning, Zhengzhou|
|Juneyao Airlines||Beihai, Changsha, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Shanghai–Pudong|
|Kunming Airlines||Kunming, Liuzhou, Nanning, Qingdao|
|Loong Airlines||Anshun, Bijie, Guilin, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Zunyi|
|Lucky Air||Chengdu, Chongqing, Guiyang, Haikou, Kuala Lumpur–International, Kunming, Lanzhou, Luzhou, Mianyang, Nanjing, Ningbo, Pu’er, Taipei–Taoyuan, Wuhan, Xi’an, Xingyi, Xishuangbanna, Xuzhou, Yibin, Zhengzhou|
|Sichuan Airlines||Chengdu, Chongqing, Mianyang, Nanjing, Xi’an|
|West Air||Chongqing, Hefei|
|Xiamen Airlines||Fuzhou, Guilin|
Lijiang Railway Station 丽江火车站 is located 10km from the central area and services trains to and from Dali and Kunming. Bus 4 goes to and from the station costing 1 RMB, but is slow, a taxi will take half the time and cost 30 RMB.
Local Transport Service Center Bus Station 丽江客运站 offers long-distance buses to Kunming, Dali, Shangri-La, Tiger Leaping George, Lugu Lake, Panzihua, Ninglang, and Huaping.
Lijiang Express Bus Station 高快客运站 offers long-distance buses to Kunming, Xiaguan Dali, Shangri-La, Baoshan, Lugu Lake, Lincang, and Shilin.
Taxi flag-fall is 7 RMB and includes the first 3km with every additional km adding 1.8 RMB. Long trips can be bargained with the driver.
Lijiang Airport Bus – goes from Sanyi Airport (domestic arrival at Gate 3) to Civil Aviation Blue Sky Hotel (see Baidu map)
Bus No.1 goes from Civil Aviation Station to Lijiang Ancient Town (民航站 <> 古城区政府 see Baidu map)
Bus No.3 goes from City Ethnic Secondary School to Nanmen Street (市民族中专 <> 南门街 see Baidu map)
Bus No.5 circular route around the city center from Shuhe Ancient Town. (束河庆云村 <> 束河庆云村 see Baidu map)
Bus No.6 goes from Jade Water Village to Minzhu Road (玉水寨 <>七星街 see Baidu map)
Bus No.7 goes from Lijiang Old Town and south to Lijiang People Museum (昭庆市场 <> 寿南村 see Baidu map)
Ethnic Minorities in Lijiang
Lijiang is a place where many ethnic groups live together. By the end of 2014, apart from the Han nationality, there were 12 indigenous minorities and 22 ethnic minorities, of which 233,000 people belong to the Naxi people and 214,000 were Yi people. The total population of greater Lijiang is just over 1.2 million in a region that covers 21,219 square kilometres.
Industry in Lijiang
In 2016, Lijiang achieved a total GDP of 3 trillion yuan, an increase of 7.0% from 2015. The per capita GDP of the city was 24,186 yuan, an increase of 6.6% from 2015. Agriculture is the main industry with produce including grain, pork, eggs, and milk. Coal mining is still an important industry as is tertiary education.
Tourism is also a vital contributor to the economy with over 35 million tourists visiting the region, and just over 1 million of those were overseas tourists.