The Best 10 Things to do in Lijiang, Yunnan, China
If you’re traveling around Yunnan, there’s little doubt that you’ll be stopping by Lijiang at some point on your travels. The city is relatively large, enclosing a charming, cobbled ancient town, and, with so many things to do in Lijiang and the areas surrounding it, you will probably find it difficult to leave!
Our original China plan included a few days in Shangri-La, but by mid-December, the temperatures in this high-altitude region had plummeted to below 0°C, a condition we were absolutely not well-equipped to deal with. With so any things to do in Lijiang, we decided to head back to a slightly warmer climate after completing the Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike.
Here’s a list of the best 10 things to do in Lijiang, China!
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1. Lijiang Old Town
Walking around the spotless ancient town is by far one of the best things to do in Lijiang, and even if you’re not actually staying within this walled part of the city, be sure to dedicate enough time to visiting as much of it as you can. Depending on the time of year you go, there can be quite a few tourists walking around the UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the more popular places getting a little crammed.
Little shops selling local products line the cobbled streets. We felt that the little town, with its little bridges and picturesque canals, beautiful boutiques and flower-lined paths was one of the prettiest places we visited in Yunnan, despite finding it to be very touristic and more expensive than other places.
Since we stayed in Lijiang old town for about a week, we would take a long walk along the narrow streets every evening, spotting different traditional-style houses and buildings on our every outing. In fact, the ancient town is compact, yet large enough to give you the opportunity of walking through a maze of different little roads every day, so that there’s always something new to see and to inspire you!
A (maintenance) fee to enter Lijiang ancient town of 80 RMB (about €10.25) is nowadays rarely collected, but you will need to pay it if you intend visiting the Black Dragon Pool Park.
2. Eat your heart out in Lijiang
As you’re walking around the quaint streets of Lijiang ancient town, you’ll notice that one of every two or three shops is selling some kind of edible produce. Employees stand outside the shops handing passers-by samples of cakes, yak-milk yogurt, yak-milk candy, dried yak meat, tea and more. Here’s an idea of what traditional items you can expect to savour in Lijiang ancient town. They make great souvenirs!
As the name implies. these little cakes are literally stuffed with roses. You’re going to want to get some (or many) of these morsels, especially when their sweet-smelling aroma wafts gently down the narrow roads as they’re being brought out of the ovens. We gave in to temptation so many times during our time there that I’m sure those flower cakes were responsible for at least some of the weight we put on in China!
Dried Yak Meat
If you like beef jerky, then you will love dried yak meat, sold sweet or spicy. The product is not cheap though, and you might have to limit how much you purchase, especially if you’re traveling on a budget like we were, but we can assure that you will want to try dried yak meat at least once in your life (or make sure to get enough samples)!
Yak Milk Products
If you’re wondering what yak milk tastes like, well, it’s a lot like cow’s milk except that it’s a little more “milky” and rich in taste. You can get yak milk ice-cream, yogurt and candy in Lijiang or just plain yak milk. Yak milk and related products (butter rather than candy, the latter being mostly produced for tourists) are staples in high altitude regions where yaks survive better than cows.
3. Take a trip to the Jade Dragon Stone Mountain
Different parts of the pretty mountain can be accessed without much effort, so if you’re traveling across Yunnan, this should definitely feature on your bucket list, since it is easily considered to be one of the best things to do in Lijiang, China. All the information necessary for a successful trip up the mountain from Lijiang can be found on a separate blog post (click this link!).
4. Meet Dr. Ho in Baisha Village
Although we thought that Lijiang Ancient Town was prettier than Baisha village, the latter is surely more authentic and less crowded with tourists. Baisha is smaller than Lijiang with no more than two or three main streets, home to some restaurants and cafes serving traditional Naxi fare which, by the way, is very good!
One of the biggest attractions in Baisha is Dr. Ho, and after having read a little about his fame, we were excited about meeting him. The elderly Dr. Ho Shi Xiu specialises in traditional Chinese medicine and we’re not quite sure why he is more famous than other traditional Chinese doctors, but people around these parts swear by his remedies, and accordingly treat him like a celebrity.
Whilst we were looking forward to having a chat with Dr. Ho, we found ourselves speaking to Mr. Ho, his son and apparent marketing manager, who practically pounced upon us as soon as we approached the wooden building where his father held office. Truth be said, Dr. Ho was surrounded by a bunch of medical students who were visiting his clinic, so he was rather busy. Mr. Ho was about to take them to his medicinal plants garden, and enthusiastically asked us whether we would like to join the tour.
This sounded like a great opportunity to learn about traditional Chinese medicinal plants and as a pharmacist, I was more than interested. Unfortunately, our tour consisted more of a lecture regarding the great achievements of Dr. Ho and his appearance in various programs and magazines, rather than the actual medicinal plants, although we could see that there were lots of those around.
Initially we were very amused at Mr. Ho with the experience feeling altogether very surreal, but after about an hour of hearing about Dr Ho’s great successes, we got a little tired, quite frankly, and sneaked out of the garden to try our luck with speaking to the traditional doctor once again. Alas, he had closed shop so we never got to meet him! Pity, we were sporting quite a few ailments that we would have loved to ask him about!
The public bus from Lijiang to Baisha Village, Bus No. 6, cost 2 RMB (about €0.25) each. Same price for the ride back.
5. Visit the Black Dragon Pond Park
If you’ve been planning a trip to Yunnan, you will surely be familiar with the picturesque scene of this lake, the bridge and the pavilion adorned with a snow-capped mountain in the distance. You can enjoy that spectacular view from Black Dragon Pond Park, about 30 minutes’ walk away from Lijiang ancient town.
The tranquil park is a pleasure to walk through, and a far cry from the bustle of busy Lijiang. We recommend it as one of the best things to do in Lijiang if you’re looking for a peaceful walk, a great view and a break from the crowds sauntering through Lijiang ancient town.
If you haven’t purchased the Lijiang Protection Fee ticket already, you will need to buy it before entering the park for 80 RMB (about €10.25). Keep this permit as it is a one-time fee and can be used several times during your stay.
6. Watch traditional Naxi dancing in Lijiang Ancient Town
At certain times of the day, it is possible to observe traditional dancing at Lijiang’s old town square, right beside the large water wheels. We didn’t figure out whether dance timings are announced somewhere, or whether they are common knowledge, but we noticed that the dances took place quite often, so if you hang around the square, there’s quite a chance that you get to experience one of the best things to do in Lijiang.
7. Trek the Tiger Leaping Gorge
Even if you’re not incredibly fit, we highly recommend that you attempt to hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge, home to some of the best views in the area, and one of the best things to do in Lijiang, although technically it’s a couple of hours away from the old town.
We’ve written a detailed guide to hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge in three days – we highly recommend that you check it out!
8. Buy fine Pu’er Tea
Health aficionados will have heard of the wonders of Pu’er Tea, a special type of fermented and aged tea from the Yunnan province. Originally Pu’er tea was reserved for royalty, being one of the finest around, but nowadays, it is well-known around the world for its health benefits.
Pu’er tea is sold in pressed cake form which is broken apart when brewing. Several beautiful shops sell different types and grades of tea for connoisseurs, and there are few better places to buy the highly sought-for tea than in Yunnan itself!
9. Fall in love with Shaxi…
…just like we did! If there’s one ancient town you should visit from Lijiang, it’s is Shaxi, located about a couple of hours’ drive away. You can easily find a taxi to take you straight to the ancient town or use public transport in order to experience one of the best things to do in Lijiang, China.
We felt that the beautiful ancient village is far more authentic than Lijiang old town and walking through the quaint cobbled streets, past traditional wooden buildings to reach a picturesque bridge at the edge of the old village, was exactly the kind of experiences we wanted to have in Yunnan.
Shaxi is also home to various street foods and we found it difficult to choose which to sample! Sellers seemed to be offering slices of loaves made out of a sweet dough and plenty of nuts, as well as dried fruit. We snacked on those as we kept marvelling around the pretty lanes in which sausages and meats were left out to dry in the sun. Later we got carton bowls filled with flat noodles, potatoes, some vegetables and chili – traditional food around these parts, although sadly we failed to understand what it was called.
If you’re in Lijiang, be sure to visit Shaxi, one of Yunnan’s highlights! To get to Shaxi, we caught a bus headed to Jianchuan from the main bus station, 23 RMB (about €3) each. As soon as we got off the bus, we found a minivan waiting to take people to Shaxi. It cost 13 RMB (about €1.70) and left when full. We enjoyed our time in Shaxi so much, that unfortunately once we got back to Jianchuan (by taking another minibus from Shaxi to Jianchuan), the last public bus to Lijiang had departed already (that was about 5pm). We had no option but to take a shared taxi to Lijiang for a price of 80 RMB (about €10.25) each. Do check public bus timings properly when traveling in Yunnan!
10. Mu’s Mansion
Visiting the massive Mu’s mansion is one of the best things to do in Lijiang, being highly elaborate and a fantastic example of Chinese architecture. It is popular with several guided tour groups, but you can visit independently unless of course you want to hear all about the building’s history, in which case a local guide is highly recommended.
Set aside a few hours for visiting the mansion since it is rather large! The entrance fee is of 80 RMB (about €10.25) each and the mansion is located right within Lijiang Ancient Town.
Tips for traveling to Lijiang
• Do not wear high-heeled shoes. The roads in the ancient towns are cobbled and it would be quite easy to stumble over the cobbles if walking in high heels!
• Well-marked public toilets can be found very frequently around the old town.
• Many shops offer samples of whatever food they are selling which allows you to taste the local food without having to buy large portions of it (especially if you don’t quite fancy it).
• The restaurants just outside the old town gates are far cheaper than those found within the ancient old town.
• Public transportation is incredibly affordable and will take you most places. It takes some time to get used to how it works, especially if you don’t speak or read Mandarin, but if we made it so can you!
• Carry your passport around if you intend buying bus or train tickets. You will not be allowed to purchase them without your original passport (a copy won’t do either).
• Laundries can be found just outside the ancient town, but they tend to be rather expensive (we were charged at around 20 RMB or Eur 2.50 / kg)!
• Download Google Translate and use the camera app to translate menus – we found it to be pretty accurate! Do note that you need a VPN to access Google’s services in China!
Where to Stay in Lijiang
During our stay in Lijiang we chose to stay within the old city since we wanted to feel a bit of that ancient town ambience. We stayed at Lijiang Ju Xian Inn in a room with private bathroom for around 100 RMN (around €13) a night, and thoroughly enjoyed the guesthouse although the wi-fi often played up.
Where to Eat in Lijiang
We discovered that the best and most affordable places to eat in Lijiang were at a handful of local restaurants just outside the South Gate, which unfortunately had names written only in Chinese. The food was fresh and tasty with no frills but lots of flavour! We translated menus with the help of Google Translate, without which we would have been completely lost! The dishes were so affordable that we always ordered way more than we could eat! Our favourite restaurants where in this street.
We hope that we have inspired you to visit this part of Yunnan after reading about all best things to do in Lijiang, and that you enjoy your stay there as much as we did!