We arrived in Lijiang at 5pm and took a taxi to the old town where a nice lady showed us to a little guesthouse tucked up a side alley
. Like all the guesthouses in town (of which there are over 700!), this one is situated in a traditional Naxi house made of wood and stone and surrounds a small flower filled courtyard. The room itself is beautiful with thick wooden beams, a stone floored bathroom and four poster bed. And it only costs £8! Like every other room we have had so far in Yunnan, it also has tea making facilities which is great as the Green Yunnan tea is beautifully delicate and refreshing. There is a downside though, it is situated close to a number of Chinese karaoke bars (we didn't realise this until it was too late) and the other Chinese guests are really noisy so we are not getting much sleep.
We have now been here for two days and have spent our time exploring the vast labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets that make up the old town. Lijiang is one of the most beautiful towns we have ever visited. The twisting streets are lined with old but renovated traditional wooden buildings hung with red lanterns. Canals with little stone bridges and wooden water wheels flow alongside many of the streets and willows and blossom trees add greenery and colour. There is however a price for all this beauty and that comes in the form of hordes of Chinese tourists, many of whom are in big tour groups and can be seen following a guide waving a flag around. Lijiang is home to the Naxi people, whose society is run along matriarchal lines
. The Naxi are now engaged in the huge tourism boom that has come to Lijiang and have converted their houses into gorgeous boutique guesthouses, restaurants and shops selling all sorts of wonderful treasures from yak bone combs to Yunnan tea. Wandering around the maze of alleyways, Lijiang does feel a bit like Disney World at times but it is still a wonderful place and away from the crowded market square it is possible to find yourself alone. On our last afternoon we were walking around the outer reaches of the old town and stumbled across the local market where we were the only tourists. On sale were strange looking wild mushrooms and other vegetables, rose buds and jasmine flowers for adding to tea, pots and pans and yak milk yoghurt.
We had planned to visit nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain which soars to 5500 metres but the transport, entrance and chairlift fees were extortionate so we decided against it. We also didn't go to the Black Dragon Pool Park which is supposed to have a great view of the mountain for the same reason. While accomodation and food is very cheap in China, the cost of any kind of excursion seems surprisingly expensive.
For food, we have eaten lunch in the market where a row of stalls cook up a wide selection of Naxi snacks such as tofu and noodle wraps and fish and potato balls both of which were delicious and only cost £1 each. In the evening we have gone to N's Kitchen which is run by a sweet young local couple. Here Tom has been able to satisfy his craving for Western food by indulging in a monster burger which he claims is the best burger he has eaten since Ecuador! I have also tried some of the local Yunnan wine which is surprisngly quaffable! In fact I think we'll be going back there tonight!
From the rice terraces of Yuanyang in the far south of Yunnan we travelled north back to Kunming where we spent one night before heading further north to Lijiang. It was a ten hour bus ride but Yunnan buses are clean and comfortable and the time passed quickly. The only downside was having to endure back to back Chinese DVDs played at high volume for the entire journey. Having now used a number of roadside public toilets in China, I can say with confidence that China has by far the worst toilets in the world! They either take the form of a squat toilet (hole in the ground with ceramic edge where you place your feet) or a long trough which runs along one side of the building. In either case there are no doors, just a waist high partition, so you have virtually no privacy. Everyone just squats next to each other! But worse than this is the fact that they are absolutely filthy. The only place I have seen worse toilets is around the dance tent at Glastonbury festival on Saturday night!