This Old Town

That’s the “street” outside the Zen Garden Hotel. As I mentioned before, no cars allowed, or even really possible.
Lijiang Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of five I have visited in China (the others are the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and Great Wall, all in the Beijing area).
For the most part, the area consists of narrow stone streets winding around narrow canals, lined with little shops and restaurants. It seemed that there were really only about a dozen different stores, but each one of them had dozens of branches.

There were the shoe and slipper store and the jewelry store.
The weaving shop, sometimes with weaver at work making scarves and shawls.
The stores that sell paintings and wood carvings.
Also note the water pouring off the roofs. Gutters are not part of the traditional design.

Then there is the candy shop, where they make a tasty sweet from ginger and sugar.
And the yak jerky shop, with various kinds of dried yak meat.
And cute little yak toys.

There is the shop that sells traditional musical instruments from the area.

Yeah, that’s me buying a hulusi, with the shopkeeper showing me how to play it.

There is a calligraphy shop.
The artist is doing one for me of a famous poem I learned in my Chinese class.

And the camera shop, with batteries and memory cards, along with film for the old fashioned ones.
Note the restaurant sign above the Kodak store: OID BEIJING INSTDNT BOILED MUTTO – GUANGZHOU SIDEWALK SNACC BOOTH.

You also find a food place with various roasted animal parts.
I think this place supplied half the restaurants in the area.

There is a cultural center with displays and performances related to local ethnic minorities.
The other shops, not pictured, include the one that sells little bronze statues, the tea shop (local specialty is pu’er), the T-shirt shop, stores selling polished stones and stone carvings. Jewelry stores came in a few varieties: those that specialized in silver, some for jade and other stones, and those for cheap bangles and novelties. Take these businesses and repeat ad libitum.

Of course, there are lots of restaurants.
To escape the rain, we ducked into a place called the Rembrandt Café that sells a selection of Western dishes as well as local fare.
No, that’s not what we had. There was a guy at the table next to us doing about the same as we were: having a snack while taking pictures out the open window whenever anything interesting happened. He ordered one of the local specialties (dragonflies, I think) but didn’t eat much of it. I once saw him drop one on the floor for the dog that was hanging out, but it sniffed and walked away.

We ordered Naxi style fried potatoes, which are cut like French fries but cooked with green onions, soy sauce, vinegar, and hot peppers, and some yak meat skewers (maoniu chuanr). Both were quite tasty. And the Yunnan coffee we had was excellent. They make it very strong and serve it in small portions. As an added bonus, the café had music playing: old Bee-Gee’s hits (from the pre-disco era).

At night, the restaurants along one of the canals (helpfully named Bar Street) come to life with music and lights.
They all have employees dressed in ethnic garb trying to get you to visit their place. Inside, they have various kinds of entertainment.
Several of them had loud electronic versions of folk music, with dancers in costume, often joined by patrons interested in learning some dance moves. Other places had singers with acoustic guitars, and a couple had small bands.

Stay tuned for part two, which covers some of the less commercial sights of the town.

Photos by D & I.


  1. Glad you enjoyed Lijiang and its sights and experiences. Zen Garden hotel is one of the best in the old town, but these days, new ones appear overnight, more often than not, owned by outsiders.
    There's more info about the area at www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/happysheep/shangri-la-la/tpod.html

  2. I have also heard that many of the shops selling Naxi and Mosuo and other groups' traditional crafts are now owned by outsiders who bought out the original proprietors and moved in. Economics is a strange phenomenon, isn't it?

  3. That's right. I'd say 80% or more of the shops and guesthouses are owned by outsiders. Many are Bai from Dali, there's also Sichuan rats (that's what Chinese call them), heaps of peole from Beijing and also the Guangdong triads are doing business in Lijiang. As for traditional crafts of ethnic minorities, there are few authentic ones left. For example, the slippers are from somewhere else, the tea is from the south of Yunnan and lots from Fujian, the jade is from Burma, the ginger sweets are a new thing for Lijiang, the yak meat is from Shangrila or Sichuan, the hulu si or gourd flute is from the south of Yunnan, nearly all the scarves and clothing are from other [cheaper] places, the marble is from Dali, the wood carving shops are just copies, and those cheap pieces of jewellery and other gifts are either from outside the area, or made by someone from elsewhere.
    With the new requirement to wear ethnic clothing in the old town, some of the shopkeepers are claiming to be Naxi (but aren't).
    My favourite shops are those ones selling t-shirts with elephants and Thailand clearly written in English (China wiped out elephants a long time ago).
    Most local people are in low-end jobs helping in guesthouses and restaurants for long hours and low pay - 300 yuan a month.

  4. Happy sheep's comments confirm it I was in a Chinese Disney Land :)