Old Town of Dali :: Travel Tip

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Get in

By plane
There are many flights to Lijiang, mainly from Kunming, Chengdu and Chongqing, but also flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou (which may or may not stop enroute at Kunming airport). The Kunming-Lijiang route has flights from early morning to late at night, at around US100 one way + 100 yuan tax. The flight is only 50 minutes. But the day or night train between Lijiang and Kunming is the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly way to arrive or depart Lijiang. The Lijiang airport will have international flights from mid-2011. The airport is 35 minutes from the city. You can take a taxi – 80-100 yuan – or outside the arrivals hall you will find the airport bus, which leaves regularly when full, for 15yuan,to the Blue Skies Hotel near the Guangfung hotel and 1km from the old town. A taxi to the old town will be 7-10yuan from the Blue Skies carpark. Buses to the airport leave about 100 minutes before flights, giving you enough time to check-in one hour before your flight.

By train
Rail service from Kunming to Lijiang and Dali is available. A hard sleeper berth from Kunming to Lijiang costs ¥130 and runs from 10PM to 7AM. The soft sleeper car would cost you about ¥205 on the same train. If you travel by a small family, parents and a kid, consider the VIP chamber which is at the price of ¥614, one less than purchasing three individual tickets in a four bed standard room. You may feel a bit tight for luggage storage space, but you gain more valuable privacy, with your own family. Lijiang’s East train station is in Jinsha Town, Gucheng District. It is still a temporary facility with no separate waiting area for soft sleeper ticket holders, which kind of crowded. You can take Bus #13 from the train station to downtown Lijiang. Its a lovely town.

By bus
The bus station is located south of the old city. Regular services to/from Shangrila and overnight service from Kunming stop here. You can take the bus 8 in front of the bus station to the old town or take a taxi.

Get around

Walking is the only option in the old town, while taxis are often the easiest way around the rest of town for ¥7 (June 2008). Make sure you have the exact location info or address for the cab driver. Some of them do not know whole lot more than you do.

Fracture alert: watch where you are walking. It is easy to trip on the cobblestones or fall into the canals from the walkways or bridges, many of which do not have handrails. The cobblestones can be very slippery when wet.

To see the sights outside the old town, the options are walking, biking, public bus, private mini-bus, or taxi. The public bus mainly stays within the city and stops 8PM. The mini-buses are the same price as the public bus within the city. They will have the number of the bus on the front windshield. The price of a mini-bus to a nearby village is 2-5 RMB, but the starting location within the city is different for most villages. If you do not know where you want to go and are limited on time, the best option is to rent a taxi or mini-bus for the day, but the price can vary wildly from about 100 RMB all the way up to 300 RMB. The price mainly depends on whether you can speak Chinese or not, and how comfortable you are looked when you try to bargain the deal.

See

Old Town. Walk around, watch people, shop, drink and eat. There is bonfire at around 7PM at the Si Fang Jie, the central plaza. Many local folks dance there, apparently entertain themselves. Tourists are welcomed to join.

Mu Palace (木府; Mùfǔ). The palace where the Mu Clan of the Naxi people ruled for over 400 years. It is a large complex that extends part way up the hill behind it. At the top is a Daoist temple, with a few Daoists ready to give fortunes to visitors for a donation. A taste of Mulaoye Wine (木老爷酒; Mùlǎoyejiǔ), a kind of local alcohol, is available for ¥5 (in a shot glass), and there is also a free tea tasting area. Allow at least 2 hours to walk explore this expansive complex and do wander off into the side courtyards as it will take you back to the main courtyards. If you are visiting Wangulou, exit the Lion Hill Park from the south exit which leads you right into the back entrance of Mu Palace. Entry fee is ¥45 (May 200909), and the non-posted student price is ¥20.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (玉龙雪山; Yùlóngxuě Shān), (25km from Lijiang. Mules can be rented from the nearby Baisha Village or you can take a cable car to the top. Prices vary for the mules depending on what elevation you want to go to. ¥180 to ride to 3800 meters plus ¥5 for insurance. ¥300 to 4200 meters. ¥350 to 4600 meters. If you pay for the lowest elevation you might be able to bargain with the handlers when you reach the end and continue to the higher elevations for a lower price. Passengers over 100 kg might have to pay a surcharge. Tickets for the cable car cost ¥170 round-trip). A mountain massif (also identified as a small mountain range) visible from Lijiang and capped all year round. Its highest peak is Shanzidou (扇子陡; Shānzidǒu) at 5,596m. The view of the massif from the gardens at the Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang is noted as one of China’s finest views. The far side of the mountain forms one side of Tiger Leaping Gorge (虎跳峡; Hǔtiàoxiá). You might be asked to purchase tickets for electrical car, which they call it as “Little Green frog”. It’s not worth it. You would miss the 20 minute walk on a wood trail which was very enjoyable. Also, renting a coat is not necessary during the late spring and summer season. You would find it a big burden later. On you way to Yu Long Snow Mountain, you may stop by at the Dong Ba Valley culture center. Though sounds copied from US, Lijiang did good job to present this traditional village to all visitors. They moved some families from other places to this village and let them live their normal lives. I have seen the husband in a family counting changes while the wife was comforting the baby. In another house, two youth siblings were baking their cookies and selling to visitors. This is way more alive. (I have visited the Indian center in Cherokee, North Carolina back in 1998. Villagers there behaved like they were working for boring jobs). There are live singing and instrument performing at different corners. You would see some singers are actually pretty and sin well. Entrance to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain ¥190, which only seems to be collected when entering from the Lijiang end.

Black Dragon Pool (黑龙潭; Hēilóngtán), (About 1 km from Square Street). 8AM-9PM. Quite large place with some nice natural scenery together with traditional building styles. Don’t forget to take pictures on the center bridge where the Yu Long Xue Shan (The Jade Dragon Snow Mountain) can be a perfect background. Popular with locals, whom you can find dancing or playing games such as mahjongg or Chinese chess. You can also hike up Elephant Hill if you’re feeling energetic. Walk north along the canals from the waterwheels just to the north of the old town. It is about 10 minutes walk up-river, and if you cross over to the left side (western pathway) you will pass the “Through the Window Cafe”.. a cool place run by an affable New Zealander that serves great coffee and western food. Ask him nicely and he may even show you where is the free entrance, if you don’t already have the Old Town Preservation receipt which costs ¥80.

Do

Naxi Concert Hall. 8PM-10PM. Enjoy the traditional Naxi music Culture Show performed by the Naxi Orchestra, which includes some 70-90 year old men. The music itself is a combination of traditional Chinese music dating back to the Tang dynasty and local instruments and flavours. The music is well performed, however be prepared for long explanations of its musical history in Mandarin between each piece and the sometimes self-serving comments of Xuan Ke the Director. While the Naxi Ancient Music group of Lijiang is famous and well promoted, there are other excellent classical Chinese music groups playing in Lijiang’s parks (for ¥10) or at weddings or house-warmings all over Yunnan. ¥ 120-160.

Float styrofoam boats. Along the main streams are girls selling candles that float on delicate flower-shaped styrofoam boats. Tourists can purchase one, make a wish, and send their candle down the waterways. Late in the evening after groups have had significant amounts of alcohol you can see many floating candles sailing down the waterways. If you are environmentally conscious and have reservations about sending styrofoam downstream do not worry. There is a net, far down the waterway, that catches the boats. The girls just go down, pick the boats up, and re-sell them the next night. ¥10 (September 2010).

Biking. Rent a bike downtown, eg at Ali Baba’s near Mao Zedong’s statue, and see the sights. Ali Baba’s will give you a handmade map of smaller surrounding towns that capture the quaint styles of Lijiang without the heavy tourism and the tacky souvenir shops. There are at least three towns, ranging from converted hippy communes to remote farming villages. There is a beautiful remote Buddhist monastery at Puji Mountain which is worth the 30 minute hike. There is also a Tibetan village labeled on the map but is hard to find, so ask Ali Baba for directions. Most of the terrain around Lijiang is level and the roads have only light traffic. These small, non-touristy towns and other sightseeing destinations can be reached within a 20 minute ride. About ¥15 per day including a bottle of water and a lock.

Walk the canal path. To get to the Black Dragon Pool you can walk the canal path north near the main water wheel. It will take you to the south entrance of the park. The north part of the park is free and you can get there by walking around the south entrance and keep heading north. You should reach a street with the main entrance to the park. Keep going north and you will see a small bridge that leads to a large white building. The white building is the Dongba Museum, everything north of that is free. If the guards bother you at the gate, just walk back to the street and keep walking north and there will be another path to get in to the free part with no gates or guards to bother you. Further north of the park is a local college, and northwest of that is a small reservoir. The reservoir is a good place to take photos of the snow mountain when it is visible. On hot sunny days in the summer there will be lots of locals swimming there in the afternoon. At the local college you can find students to help you. The English building is the large pink one just right after you enter the south entrance. There is a student run café that is open in the evening from 6:30PM-10PM in the “butterfly” building, which is opposite of the English building. As of 2007 the school has an English corner every Thursday after lunch (~1PM), and after dinner at ~5:40PM. The English corner is so-so, but it is a great chance to ask students about where to go, and cheap transportation. Many of them are from other places in Yunnan.

Visit Naxi villages. If you would like to visit some of the Naxi villages in the hills surrounding Lijiang, you can rent a small van to take you around for ¥100-300, depending on the driver and how much Chinese you speak. There are regular minivans on Shangrila Road, the main road on the west side of town, which take locals to and from the villages. Sometimes it can be difficult to find a mini-van to go back to Lijiang after 5PM if you do not make arrangements with the driver who took you there. The regular one way mini-van fee is ¥2 to Shuhe, and ¥3-5 for villages farther north (2007). It is highly recommended to ask a student at the local college on where to find the mini-buses and the prices of the village you want to go. Many drivers will try to rip you off if you do not speak Chinese, and the buses are not always easy to find as they look the same as the private “3-8” buses that travel inside the city.

Impression Lijiang. A cultural show demonstrating the traditions and lifestyles of the Naxi, Yi and Bai peoples of the area. The show takes place inside Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Park at 3500m in an outdoor theater specifically designed to showcase the mountain which is used as a backdrop. The production itself was designed by Zhang Yimou (director of Hero, House of Flying Daggers), Fan Yue and Wang Chaoge, a cast of over 500 people, and a number of horses. However, the show does not have a plot and is directed towards tourists. Tickets cost 190 yuan and can be bought from the ticket booth in the Old Town (make a right at the water wheels and walk down the main street, the booth will be on your left). The ticket price does not include transportation to and from the theater (approx 1 hour drive) or the entrance fee for the park (80 yuan). There is also an Old Town Preservation fee that the park tries to charge as well, however, this can be avoided by claiming to have already paid at you hotel (and showing your hotel key). Bus 7 will take you to the theater for ¥10 and can be caught across from the Mao Zedong statue, but be sure to find out what time the last bus leaves the park.

Dry Sea Meadow (Ganhaizi). The closest chair lift up the mountain to Lijiang. It transports visitors to a large meadow located at 3050 meters. ¥160 return.

Cloud Fir Meadow (Yunshanping). From the reception centre which is located adjacent to Impression Lijiang on the Lijiang-Daju road a fleet of buses transports visitors to a cable car which then takes visitors to 4506 metres. Both bus transfer and cable car costs a total of ¥160 for a return trip. From the upper terminus of the cable car a walkway allows visitors to climb past a glacier to 4680 metres. If you make it this far you can have your name engraved on a medallion for ¥30. Allow up to an hour wait for the transfer bus and for the cable car on the way up and down if you don’t avoid the tour groups. Allow for an hour travel time, each way, in addition to the potential wait time.

Yak Meadow (Máoniúpíng). The furtherest from Lijiang at a distance of 60km, this cable car, costs ¥60 for a round-trip. At an elevation of 3,500 metres and the least-visited of the three chair lifts this area offers grazing yaks, a Tibetan temple and a number of hiking possibilities. On the way to the chairlift’s lower terminus the road drips down and crosses a river. A number of yaks are located here where for a fee you can sit on one. Their owners seem to have no objection to visitors taking photos for no fee of the yaks standing in the river with awesome Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background. You can also access Yak Meadow by hopping aboard bus 7 across from the Mao Zedong statue which will take you to the Impression Lijiang Theater for ¥10. At the theater there is a ticket booth to the left of the show entrance which sells tickets to both Spruce Meadow and Yak Meadow (¥80) and provides a tour bus to and from the cable cars and a cable car ticket. Be sure to find out what time the last bus passes the Impression Lijiang theater or you may find yourself calling a taxi which could be expensive. Also see “Impression Lijiang” info for entrance fees to the park itself.

Baisha Village (白沙村). A small village in Yulong Naxi Autonomous County, part of Lijiang city, well-known for its Jade Dragon Snow Mountain range. It is the original settlement of the Naxi people who came to the greater Lijiang Valley over a thousand years ago. Made up of at least 12 smaller villages, the main village is Sanyuan (三元村), which has one main stone street called of course, Baisha Street. It has a typical Chinese “old-town” tourist setup, consisting of a stone paved street with a mixture of Chinese trinket sellers-shops and several quaint cafés to stop at relax, have a drink some Yunnan coffee eat a Naxi Pie and avoid the crowded Lijiang. A great escape from Lijiang Old-town tourist trap, only 12 km north of town, you can rent a bike and get there in about 40 minutes. You should consider staying a few nights, in a Naxi family’s courtyard, no “hotel-Hostels” here. Even though almost everything costs you a ticket price to do in China these days you can do many things here for free! Like hike the local mountains through the high alpine botanical garden and search for herbs on your way to the Jade Dragon Lake, the backside of Snow Jade Dragon Mountain. Visit some of the temples or traditional Naxi houses of the area before they are gone. edit

Buy

Loads of tourist shops available in old town. Probably overpriced, but Lijiang does not have as many cases of the Westerner price being too much higher than the Chinese price as in many other parts of China.
Burned wood carvings – One of the popular local specialties. Quality varies greatly by the individual artist, and prices vary by shops. Some shops do custom etchings of your face (near photo-realism) with Lijiang in the background. Expect to have your picture taken, then come back in a few hours.

Yak horn combs – Also popular, with some combs also carved from the yak hoof (the ones with the rougher edge on the handle).
Naxi clothing – For ¥5 you can get your picture taken in them without having to buy them. Any shop that has local skirts that includes some with Ancient Egyptian designs is not recommended.

Art and writing samples (东巴; Dōngbā) – The Naxi have the only living hieroglyphic language in the world, and shops with samples of it, or of the unique Naxi style art, are abundant.

Yunnan Coffee – Coffee ground to a fine powder then added to water, although most contain milk and sugar powder already.
Warm Clothing – In the Old Town warm clothing is quite expensive if you are just looking for something cheap to keep the chill out. The road just outside the town by the waterwheel has very cheap hats, mitts, and even long johns. Just turn left at the first intersection.

Small red coconut – DO NOT BUY a small red fruit shaped like a coconut. Actually, it is just a coconut painted red and sold for a very high price. This is a scam.

Eat

There are three primary types of restaurants in Lijiang: Naxi, Tibetan, and Sichuan. Some restaurants offer more than one type of food. Much Western food is also available, but more expensive. Lots of local snack-type foods available from street vendors, including:

Baba – a flat wheatbread available; a savory version sometimes served with chili sauce and a sweeter version that tastes honey-flavored.

Naxi style fried white cheese – A soft white cheese cut into slices then fried in a non-greasy batter. Served with sugar sprinkled on top and very delicious (only seen in restaurants).

Yak’s milk yogurt – Has a bit of a different flavor than cow’s milk yogurt, but very good. Commonly served with honey, muesli, and/or fruit. Can also be made into fruit shakes.

Fried yak meat – served on skewers.