Zen and the Art of Hotel Management

I recently had my first opportunity to see something of China outside of big cities. Having visited Shanghai and Tianjin, along with living in Beijing, I’ve had a fair taste of what Chinese city life is like. But China is a big country, and much of it is made up of something other than urban density and development. A quick weekend getaway to a small town seemed like a wonderful idea. Of course, in China, a “small town” can have a population of over a million. So maybe it’s not fair to call Lijiang a small town, but it’s certainly a far cry from what I’m used to. Besides, the part of Lijiang we saw was not really the city itself, but what they call Gucheng, or Ancient Town.

I’ll cover the travel details in a separate post. For now I’d like to get on to the fun stuff.

Lijiang is located in the northwest part of the southern Chinese province of Yunnan. It is a mountainous region, not far from the Tibetan border, but its latitude puts it near the tropics, so lush vegetation is mixed in with the high altitude, giving rise to an interesting assortment of plant life. The airport is located quite a distance from town, and the taxi ride into the city took use through a valley covered with fields, mostly corn and sunflowers interspersed with vegetables and fruit orchards. In the orchards, the ground under the trees was heavily cultivated with vegetables, conserving real estate. In some ways, it reminded me of the Big Island of Hawaii, with crops planted underneath a verdant green mountainside.

As you’ll see, much of Lijiang Gucheng is not accessible to cars, so the taxi took a winding path up the side of Lion Hill and stopped in a stone-cobbled lane, where a woman met us to guide us to the Zen Garden Hotel. It was a little way down a winding stone path, and as soon as we saw it we knew we had made the perfect choice of a place to stay.
This is the courtyard just inside the entrance. Living up to its name, the hotel gave us an immediate sense of peace, much needed after the hectic activity of Olympics in Beijing. After completing the required paperwork, we were shown to our room.
The furnishings were old style (I’m no expert to know if they’re real or reproductions), but it had the modern conveniences we like.
The bathroom was entirely new, and they had wireless internet. They also provided two apples, a fruit-filled pastry, a lovely tea set and some bedtime reading material.
Just outside our room was a covered walkway open to the air. From there, the view over the town was rather nice.
The “lobby” is also nice.
On a cool, rainy late summer day, they light a brazier. It’s a pleasant place to sit with a pot of tea.
I was amused by the technique used to tend the coals in the brazier.
On the lowest level is a small dining area where they serve a breakfast buffet, kind of a combination Contintental and Oriental breakfast. There are some bird cages, so during the day you can hear the birds and the sound of the running water – very relaxing. And in the afternoons, one of the staff members would play a bamboo flute in the lobby.

The only drawback we found was that the plumbing in the bathroom was very noisy. When someone is taking a shower, it’s almost like a jet engine roaring. There is also a demented rooster nearby who starts crowing about five in the morning and continues for hours. But aside from that, it’s probably the best place I’ve ever stayed. I’ll take it over a big city luxury high-rise any day.

If you’re planning a trip to Lijiang and are looking for a wonderful place to stay, you can’t do better than this. The Ancient City is full of small hotels like this one, many of them less expensive (this is about US$144 a night), but it’s hard to imagine any improving on it.

Coming up next, Lijiang Gucheng itself, as well as other Lijiang sights.

Some pictures by D, some by me.

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