Heated by the open fire flickering in the middle of the courtyard and regaining my breath after a bout of frenzied dancing with the local Yi villagers, I had a moment to reflect on what brought me back to this part of China. To this small village tucked away in the mountains of Yunnan, and at how lucky I was to be part of such celebrations.
More than a year ago, as new arrivals in the Peoples Republic, we had visited Lijiang. Principally because our overland route carried us nearby, and because the trusty (-ish) guide book insisted that this was not a place to be missed. At the time, I referred to it as the Chinese Disneyland; a place of many wonders and sights and something of a carnival atmosphere but, little originality, inescapable crowds, and overall, a distinct absence of a ‘soul’.
My second visit was to be different.
Tales we had heard of the Torch Festival, held every August in Lijiang and the surrounding areas convinced me that the town might be deserving of a second chance. But this time, changes must be made. First of all, accommodation ought not to be in the old town itself, as the crowds and nightlife are hardly conducive to a relaxing break, nor a sound nights sleep. And secondly, I wanted something that stood apart from the typical backpacker hotel/hostel that our budget previously confined us to.
A brief foray in to the internet search engines threw up the name of Bivou Hotel. Positive recommendations were plentiful, the location reassuringly (but not inconveniently) distant from the old town, and the pictures suggested something a little less run-of-the-mill than most offerings in the area. An email was hastily composed.
What makes The Bivou different?
Located in Shuhe Ancient Town, a few kilometres away from Lijiang Old Town, this small hotel is situated among the local farms, and feels comfortably tucked away from the main roads and hordes of visitors. The Bivou has a focus on ethical and sustainable tourism; food is locally sourced and many dishes are prepared by the hotels Bai (a local minority) chef. The hotel also has programmes aimed at assisting and working with many of the small minority villages in the area. Treks and homestays to some of these villages are available, allowing you to witness some of the local culture that is often overlooked by tourists.
But what about the hotel itself, its look, the rooms?
The Rooms, luxury and simplicity.
The hotel has two wings (or “yards”) known as the Garden Yard and the Farm Yard, both with their own unique charms and characteristics.
The Garden Yard, as it’s name would suggest is set around a well tended and thought out garden, and rooms in the Garden Yard have a terrace and outdoor seating overlooking the garden. These rooms feature a comfortable bed so vast one could well get lost in it, smart bathrooms with powerful rain showers and a cleverly designed sliding door system, flat screen television, and complimentary tea & coffee making facilities.
The Farm Yard rooms are quieter (depending on your neighbours) and might feel a bit more private. The beds are smaller than those in the Garden Yard, though still a very nice double bed, but the surprise here comes from the bathroom, which is at ground level and accessed via the flight of stairs in your room. These bathrooms are huge, and have a glass wall with a view to the outside (one-way glass of course, you can see out but no one can see in!) If that stresses you out a bit then don’t worry there is a curtain that will cover it up, but it’s one pretty damn cool feature for a hotel!
Picking one of the two might be down to personal choice, but they both enjoy the same little extras. Each room at The Bivou enjoys some nice little goodies: some cream and honey for you to relax after a long day of visiting. Hand drawn maps are also provided to help you find your way around the two old towns. Heated blankets and small heaters are present in the rooms, since nights in Lijiang might get a little colder, and a full guide as well as some Chinese translations of menu items are provided to you to help you pick what you might want to do or eat in the area and what to expect from the town.
Breakfast: diverse and fresh.
If you’ve been in China for a while or travelled in the area then you know that a good breakfast is difficult to come by and is, often, not included with your room. Here you’ll get a fresh breakfast every morning and it’s included in the price.
While the chef cooks a different main meal (scrambled eggs and bacon, French toasts, pancakes, etc… ) each morning, a buffet is available with fresh fruits, yogurts, cakes, jiaozis, and home-made jams and local honey. There’s little chance you will leave the table hungry!
The home made jams and the local honey made all the difference, once again. You get served something fresh and how nice it is to finally have something like this! And their mango jam is a killer!
A piece of the Bivou’s philosophy
With a staff that speaks perfect English and Chinese and that offers one of the best service, The Bivou is not only offering you a room for a night, they’re taking you into their home. Your questions will never go unanswered and your concerns will be quickly addressed. The Bivou also gives you a chance to give back to the local community by offering products for sale that come from the surrounding villages. It’s a chance to bring home souvenirs that do make a difference.
All of this is what makes this place so different from others. The people at The Bivou do care about you and take pride in making you feel at home.
We would like to thank The Bivou Lijiang for providing us a compensated stay at their hotel. Please note that, as always, all opinions expressed in this review are our own and have not been influenced in any way.