Lijiang     丽江

Tucked away in north-west Yunnan Province, not too far from the border with Tibet, is the magical little town of Lijiang. Home to the Naxi people, the old town of Lijiang is a well-preserved microcosm of bygone times, a relic of the past. Here traditional wooden houses line cobblestone streets, and stone bridges traverse the town’s extensive network of canals. Lijiang’s old town is a miniature fairytale land.

But it’s not just the UNESCO listed old town that attracts. The Lijiang area is also blessed with natural splendor. In the distance above the old town is another magical sight: Yulong Snow Mountain stands majestically to the north, gleaming beneath deep blue skies, while white plumes swirl around its snow-capped peaks. And on the other side of this great mountain the Yangtze River gushes through the world famous Tiger Leaping Gorge.

The town of Lijiang and the Naxi people were brought to the attention of the world by early western travelers. Botanist Joseph Rock was a prominent resident of the region while Peter Goullart’s novel The Forgotten Kingdom provided a fascinating and insightful look at Lijiang in the 1940s. Today, as one of the most visited small towns in the world, tourism has had a major impact on Lijiang.

Indeed, not everyone falls for Lijiang’s charms. Some are turned off by the swarms of tourists and the swathes of souvenir stalls, and feel that the modern Lijiang has no soul. But such people are simply not looking hard enough. Even at its most crowded and most tacky, it would be an overly contemptuous person who wasn’t captivated by Lijiang’s beauty. Head out onto the streets at dawn, walk just ten minutes away from the center of town, or hire a bike and peddle to a nearby village, and Lijiang seems just as quaint and idyllic as it must have been when Peter Goullart called it home.

Who should travel to Lijiang?

Lijiang is increasingly appearing on tourist itineraries as a fifth destination, along with Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and either Guilin or Chengdu. It’s a great inclusion as it offers the charm of a small, traditional town, the color of the Naxi culture and the natural wonder of Tiger Leaping Gorge. Anyone who can afford to make the sizeable detour out to north-west Yunnan Province should visit Lijiang.

How long is needed to see Lijiang?

One or two days for Lijiang and two days for Tiger Leaping Gorge is sufficient time. But if you’re making the effort to go all the way out there, you might want to hang around a bit longer.