Lijiang has got to be one of China’s most visited cities, and for good reasons: cultural diversity, amazing food, ancient architecture, and jaw-dropping landscapes… it’s the perfect get-away. For all these reasons, most of the tourism you will find in town is domestic. Millions of Chinese tourists visit Lijiang, and in the narrow alleys of the ancient town this it makes for some very busy streets. And while we did call this place a Chinese Disneyland in the past, it doesn’t make it a place to avoid during your trip in Yunnan, on the contrary: I’ve been returning to Lijiang every year for the past three years and can’t seem to get enough of it. But as with any places there are some tricks that might help you get a better experience.
Lijiang Ancient Town is not the only city you’re going to want to visit in the area which means you’ll have to find somewhere to stay (don’t forget those few factors to help you find the perfect accommodation ). Nearby Shuhe and Baisha also contain some unique charms that appeal to everyone, but are a lot less crowded than Lijiang itself. I wouldn’t be able to recommend any one more than the others because they each have their own upsides, so instead I’ll tell you why any of them would be the perfect fit for your next trip.
What to do and where to stay in Lijiang: Lijiang Ancient Town.
We’ll start with the obvious: Lijiang Ancient Town. Most buses will drop you not too far from the entrance of the old town. A protection fee of 80 CNY will be asked of you when entering. Make sure you do keep this receipt, as police and city officials regularly ask to see them and if you can’t produce it, you’ll be made to pay again. The narrow alleys might seem like a labyrinth at first, and you will probably get lost but don’t worry you’ll quickly get the hang of it and enjoy the many detours you will be able to take.
So why should you stay in Lijiang Ancient Town?
I guess the main reason to stay in Lijiang would be that it’s the centre of it all. Day and night, the streets are busy, shops and restaurants will try to sell you a few local specialities. If you are staying in town you will be able to witness Lijiang turn into a whole different place when the lanterns in the streets are lit after the sun goes down.
And then you have the views… On a sunny day the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain will appear as a background and you could be enjoying the view from the rooftop of your hotel, hard to find a better argument than this!
What can you do in Lijiang Ancient Town?
As I’ve previously mentioned a few times, visit the town itself, it’s worth it and will take you a few hours or maybe a day if you decide to stop in a restaurant or have a coffee.
The Black Dragon Pool is also located near the town (a 15 minute walk). With a beautiful view of the mountain, it’s probably worth a visit, sadly we’ve never took the time to visit as we considered that this is really weather dependant and used to be quite pricey (it is now free if you bring your receipt for the town entry).
The Mu Palace is also a nice place to visit. It often reminds people of a scaled-down Forbidden City, and while it is only a replica it holds still quite a lot of history.
It’s difficult to be bored in Lijiang but be aware that things can get expensive and if you are on a budget the town could quickly get annoying.
Where can you stay:
If you are looking into suggestions on where to stay in Lijiang Ancient Town we’ve got you covered with different price ranges. Be aware that off-season you can also simply show up in a small guesthouse in town and ask for a room, booking isn’t an obligation.
With a great little courtyard and right in the old town, that’s the perfect spot for a budget stay in Lijiang. Rooms are nice enough for the price and, as most hotels in Lijiang, the architecture fits in perfectly. For around 30USD the room is big enough and you’ll get a heated blanket in the cold winter nights.
(From 50USD to 100USD)
In the middle of Lijiang Ancient Town but far from the noise, tucked in a quiet little street, this might be the perfect place to explore your surroundings. Breakfast is lovely and you can also enjoy some tea on the patio in the afternoon if you’re a bit tired of your visits. Rooms are a little small.
(From 100USD upwards)
A village itself just on the outskirts of the Ancient town, you can easily join Lijiang by a door at the back of the resort. The rooms are big, well decorated and at the image of the area. This is pure luxury but if you do want to add to the feeling then try the spa as well! We wouldn’t recommend room service though, prices are high but quality sadly isn’t, bring something out from town instead.
What to do and where to stay in Lijiang: Shuhe Ancient Town.
Located only a few kilometres away from Lijiang Ancient Town, Shuhe is a city that has nothing to envy to its neighbour. With a very similar architecture it is a part of the Unesco site and while a lot quieter, holds a lot of the local culture. Tourists usually come in the area to take wedding photos of to visit for the day and at night the streets seem almost empty.
Why should you stay in Shuhe Ancient Town?
If you’re not into the crowds then it’s definitely the place to be! Tour buses come for a little while but leave quickly. It’s easy to navigate through the town and it’s also a lot smaller than Lijiang itself.
Shuhe is also perfect if you like street food. Some of the best fried tofu in the area can be found there and you’ll also find quite a queue to get to that tender yet crispy piece of heaven. Add to this a big tea culture… If you want to discover Pu’Er and try the real thing then that’s the place to be!
What is there to do in Shuhe Ancient Town?
A bit like Lijiang, my main advice would be to stroll through the town and see for yourself what makes its charms. If you’re like me you can also stop to pet the big dogs that guard a few of the shops, the higher up you go in altitude, the bigger the dogs seem to get.
I’d highly recommend entering a tea shop and going for a taste of the local Pu’Er. Pu’Er is a fermented tea that comes from Yunnan. Legend has it that the altitude makes the tea even better and that people that purchase it might be disappointed when returning home. While I’m not sure that’s true (I did taste some beautiful Pu’Er in pretty low places), the pleasure of learning and tasting this very special tea shouldn’t be missed, tea lover or not. Don’t be shy and simply enter a shop, ask if you can try a tea or two and see how it goes. I can tell you the last time I did this in Shuhe I got pretty tea high so beware!
It’s something I’d happily recommend in Shuhe and maybe not so much in Lijiang. Tea shops there might not have the time to care as much for their customers and that would be missing out on the proper Chinese tea culture.
Where can you stay?
In Shuhe you’ll find some of the best boutique hotels of the area and also some good small and friendly ones. With easy access to the town, quiet surroundings, it’s the perfect retreat.
With a lovely host, a great breakfast and beautiful surroundings, the Bruce Chalet is a very friendly option for small budgets. Located a bit away from Shuhe old town you will have to walk a few minutes to get to the centre of the action but it’s a small price to pay for staying in such a nice spot. In winter you’ll get a heated blanket but no heating the rooms.
(From 50USD to 100USD)
A nice hotel decorated in more of an American style, the Pushu is a bit different from the other places you might find around here but the host will do everything he can to help you. With a view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain from your room, it almost feels like luxury.
(From 100USD upwards)
This is probably our favourite of them all. Located just behind an alley, you’ll find the Bivou surrounded by local gardens. The decoration of the rooms is simple and modern but carefully includes bits of the local Naxi culture. The owner supports the local minorities and is a perfect host (you can read our review to get a bit more about this place)
What to do and where to stay in Lijiang: Baisha Old Town.
Baisha is a bit further away from Lijiang but if you seek a quiet village, that’s the one! Often visited by tour groups for an hour or two, it’s the perfect place to experience the Naxi culture. With a colourful local crowd, tourists disappear quickly come the end of the day and you’ll get the village all to yourself.
Why should you stay in Baisha Old Town?
If you are interested in the Naxi (a local minority) then you should stay in Baisha. A smaller town with a different architecture, this is the place to go if you want to do a bit of “people watching” when visiting the wet market.
Prices are also a lot cheaper and while hotels might not offer the same luxury as Shuhe and Lijiang you will, for sure, find good mid-range accommodation. If you are also interested in visiting Blue Moon Valley or the surrounding small villages then it’s the perfect starting point.
What can you do in Baisha Old Town?
Baisha itself is fairly small but visiting the towns murals is worth the detour. Those painted drawings took 300 years to finish and are a symbol of the Naxi culture.
It’s also worth renting bicycle and visiting a few nearby villages or go for near the lake. This village is the perfect starting point to understanding the surviving culture of the local minorities of which there are still many in the Yunnan province.
You could also try to get to the Blue Moon Valley as mentioned above if visiting during the winter months or, if you are lucky, on a sunny day in Summer.
Where can you stay?
In Baisha luxury is not an option but many budget and mid-range hotels are available. They are excellent options in town and on the outskirts, just make sure you will be able to get around.
Located in a small alley in the village of Baisha, this hotel might not be easy to find but offers great rooms under 30 USD. Heaters and heated blankets are included in the rooms that are also pretty spacious. In the style of an old Chinese house, you’ll also be able to relax in the courtyard.
(From 50USD to 100USD)
A little out of town this hotel offers the perfect place to get a feel for the nature surrounding you without going too far from Baisha itself. With rooms including a tasteful modern decoration and a large bathroom, you’ll be in for a treat after a long day trekking. The courtyard also has a lovely pond and a few tables.
(From 100USD upwards)
If opting for the hotel then go for the room with Mountain View, what makes this place so special are its surroundings. Now be aware that this hotel is targeting local Chinese tourists so breakfast will be adapted to this. The staff also only speak a little bit of English. Really this is the only 4 star hotel you will find in the area but we’d recommend the Dream Mount instead or the other luxury options in Lijiang and Shuhe.
How to get to Lijiang?
Lijiang is fairly easy to get to. Trains, Buses and Flights all get to the city itself. Be aware that the train station and the airport are a bit out of town and you will need to grab a bus to get to the city. If taking a taxi the same rule always applies: make sure the metre is on and queue in the proper line if you don’t want to get charged with stupidly high prices.
When is the best time to visit Lijiang?
Autumn is probably the best time to visit Lijiang as the weather will not be too cold yet. It’s worth noting that the Yi Torch Festival takes place every year in Summer there (you can read more about it here) but the weather might not always be on your side: July and August in Lijiang means rainy season.
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