Lijiang Old Town (Dayan Town)

The Old Town, known as Dayan Town, is what draws tourists to Lijiang. It is an enchanting place of winding cobblestone streets lined with wooden houses and interlaced with a network of scenic canals crossed by stone bridges. Strolling the maze-like streets of the Old Town is the chief delight of visiting Lijiang: around every corner is another charming and photogenic vista. The center of the Old Town is Sifang Jie, also known as Market Square. There’s always a flurry of activity here: Naxi women gather to dance and shops and restaurants abound. Rising above the square, Lion Hill forms the western boundary of the Old Town. In all other directions are a warren of alleys and waterways that are a delight to wander through.

Lijiang has been the base of the Naxi people, one of China’s ethnic minorities, for more than 1000 years. The town rose to prominence after the Yuan Dynasty conquest of the area in the late 13th Century. Through the following centuries Lijiang flourished as an important trading center. Lijiang was reborn as a major tourist destination following a natural disaster. In February 1996 an earthquake struck and destroyed many of Lijiang’s modern buildings. This prompted the government to pump money into restoring the Lijiang Old Town and soon after it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

If there’s a negative side to the Old Town it’s that it has become very touristy. Some visitors complain about the incredible crowds and about how the town is losing its authenticity with souvenir stalls starting to dominate the streets. These criticisms have some merit, but they don’t take away the fact that Lijiang is an incredibly beautiful town. And while it might be touristy, you’ll be surprised by how little you are hassled by touts here compared to elsewhere in China.

Technically, visitors to the Old Town are supposed to pay a ¥80 ‘Preservation’ fee. However, this is not levied in any organized way. Hotels are supposed to charge it (but generally don’t) and if you really wanted to pay it you would need to make an effort seek out the booth you can. The only reason to pay this fee is that it is a requirement to visit places like “Black Dragon Pool Park”. Since that park is outside the Old Town, it just makes the whole thing all the more absurd. The fee should be levied consistently, or not at all.

Admission: ¥80 for the Old Town Preservation Fee (if you choose to pay it).