The (way too popular) old town of Lijiang

Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
Trip End Aug 20, 2013

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Flag of China  , Yunnan,
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A short stop in the old town of Lijiang - a UNESCO world cultural heritage site

After our hike through the Tiger Leaping Gorge we headed back south in the Yunnan provence and decided to make a short stop in the old town of Lijiang before going to the city of Kunming for our Vietnam Visa application.

Since 1997 the old town of Lijiang is listed as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site due to its 800 years of history, ancient architecture, its beautiful location around some great mountain ranges and its cultural mix of different ethnical groups. Unfortunately in 1996 a major earthquake destroyed a lot of the city, but thanks to the regular tourist invasions (and related money flow), the town has been rebuilt (although in a Chinese fashion, i.e. not everywhere in an authentic way).

The city is surely beautiful, containing countless water channels running through the little cobblestone alleys, making it another Venice in China :-). From my point of view I would actually call Lijiang the Venice of China rather than Suzhou, as Lijiang is much bigger and has much more and more beautiful channels. Oh well both towns are about 2.800km apart so let's not argue about it too much ;-). Anyway with all the little cobblestone alleys, the old-looking houses and water channels the city is surely beautiful - if there wasn't as many tourists...

What a touristy town

The first line in our Lonely Plant article on Lijiang summarizes it quite well as follows: "How popular is this forgotten place, that it is so overcrowded?". The little city is visited by about five million!! tourists each year. Even during our visit in late November (i.e. off-season), hundreds of tourists (western as well as many Chinese) streamed through the little alleys. Fortunately most of them crowded around the central place of the old town and never seemed to get out into the remote little alleys, which we enjoyed the most as a matter of fact.

Unfortunately due to the tourist masses, all houses are dedicated entirely to tourism by either containing a souvenir shop, a tourist accomodation or a tourist cafe or bar. So all the real inhabitants live outside of the old town, making Lijiang in my eyes a very artificial tourist-attraction-city. Also at night-time the central market place and surrounding streets offer a weird and somehow uninviting party-atmosphere with drunk and loud Chinese (and also western, but those seem to be better accustomed to partying and the consequences).

Nonetheless we enjoyed our one day stay in Lijiang, as we got eventually lost in the remote little alleys when walking off the main tourist roads. This was really a nice "We-are-lost-in-the-old-town" situation, one that was also recommended in our travelbook :-). Furthermore I have to say that we "finally" saw our first Mao Ze Dong statue in China. It's a bit weird that this did not happen any earlier since Mao Ze Dong is so often quoted and shown on posters in China, and since we have already travelled through China for about 3.5 weeks now. In Russia there was a Lenin statue in every town with more than 50.000 people it seemed ;-).

Off to Kunming to get our visa for Vietnam

As Lijiang is too busy and not that huge, we are now heading after one day in town to Kunming, the biggest city and capital of Yunnan provence to acquire our visa for Vietnam. Let's hope that we can get the visa within one day so we do not have to spend much time in this (according to our travel book and other traveler's word of mouth) not really interesting city :-).
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