Lijiang (丽江) is one of the most popular destinations in Yunnan. In this guide, you’ll find all the info you need to organize a trip to this ancient Chinese city and the nearby attractions.
If you read my blog, it’s quite clear that Yunnan is my favorite province in China: it’s an incredibly diverse place (here is my travel guide to Yunnan).
In this article, I talk about one of the most famous places in Yunnan: Lijiang. It is a city with a millenary history, historically busy with traders and tourists. Maybe you have never heard of it, but Lijiang is one of the most visited cities throughout China.
As you can imagine, it is a place that is incredibly crowded at certain times of the year. Despite what many say, Lijiang has not become touristic in recent times; it has always been very busy! Due to its position on the Tea Horse Road Lijiang has been very popular over the last few centuries.
How to get to Lijiang
Since Lijiang is a very popular destination, getting there is not difficult.
- You can fly to Lijiang from most of the main cities in China.
- You can take a train (fast or regular) from Kunming (you can book it on Trip.com)
- Finally, you can take a bus from Kunming.
The best way to get to Lijiang from Kunming (here is my travel guide) is by fast train. Once you get to Lijiang, don’t take the taxis waiting for tourists outside the train station. They are overpriced. Take one of the buses outside the train station instead: you’ll get to Old Town for only 3 RMB.
Top things to do and to see in Lijiang and the surroundings
One thing to remember is that Lijian is divided into the modern part and the Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Fortunately, you no longer need to pay 80RMB per person to visit the Old Town. But you still do if you also want to visit the Black Dragon Pool (黑龙潭).
Lijiang is famous for the architecture of the buildings designed following the Naxi (one of the Chinese ethnic minorities) traditions, as you can see in the picture above.
In this picture, you can see a Mosuo woman. This ethnic group is famous because it’s a matriarchal society, meaning that women often head the house, inheritance is through the female line, and women make business decisions. Read more info here.
The best time to photograph Lijiang is before sunrise. The city is empty, and it will be all for you.
The old town is not very big and a few days is enough to visit it. Ideally, use Lijiang to make some excursions nearby, including the other three old towns in the area: Baisha, Shuhe, and Yuhu.
If you plan to stay a bit longer in Lijiang, these are some places you can visit that are not too far away.
Yulong or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain 玉龙雪山
This national park is one of the highlights of the area, and if it’s a sunny day, you’ll probably notice the iconic peak of the mountain while visiting Lijiang.
I wrote a detailed guide with all the info you need to visit the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Don’t miss it.
Blue Moon Valley 蓝月谷
The Blue Moon Valley is one area you can visit inside the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain National Park. It’s famous for the pristine crystal-clear water that comes directly from the glacier.
The area is very popular, so if possible, head there early in the morning before the tourists from Lijiang arrive.
Here, you can find my complete guide on how to visit the Blue Moon Valley.
Tiger Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡
Another nice trip from Lijiang is to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. At a maximum depth of approximately 3,790 meters (12,434 feet) from the river to the mountain peak, Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the world’s deepest and most spectacular river canyons. The people living in the area are mainly Naxi.
A short interesting day trip from Lijiang is to Shigu, just a couple of hours away, and a good place for hiking with a majestic view of the Yangtze River.
Check my article for a detailed guide on how to visit Shigu.
The old town of Shuhe 束河
When you hear people talking about Lijiang and its Old Town, they generally refer to Gǔchéng (古城), but that’s not the only Old Town in Lijiang.
There is another Old Town called Shuhe (束河). This is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with fewer tourists and smaller than Lijiang Old Town. Shuhe is very beautiful, as you can see in the picture above, and, though similar to Lijiang, it has more canals, and the water is crystal clear.
Baisha Old Town 白沙
Probably the last hidden gem in the area, Baisha is becoming increasingly popular among people who visit Lijiang but try to avoid the crowds.
Baisha is a lovely small ancient town, just a 20-minute ride from Lijiang, filled with cute coffee shops. It’s definitely worth a trip before it becomes too crowded.
Yuhu Village 玉湖村
Yuhu is a beautiful village in the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Park. Unlike in Lijiang, people are actually living there, and you won’t find many tourists. This was the home of the Austrian explorer Joseph Rock, the first Western to write extensive literature about the Naxi people. In Yuhu, you can explore a small museum built inside his former residence.
A visit to Shangri-La 香格里拉
Lijiang is the ideal starting point to visit Shangri-La, a Tibetan town easily reached by bus or high-speed train. The original old town completely destroyed in a fire in 2014, but it has since been rebuilt. If you don’t have the chance to visit Tibet, this is a cheaper option to witness some Tibetan culture.
Here you can find my travel guide to Shangri-La.
Lugu Lake is now conveniently connected to Lijiang via a new road, and it takes about 3 hours to get there. The lake is truly beautiful, but what makes this place so unique is the local Mosuo minority, one of the last matriarchal societies in the world. I definitely recommend it.
Where to stay in Lijiang
Although Lijiang is so popular, it is possible to spend very little money on accommodation. Hostels start from 5€ per night, but there are hotels and guest houses for all tastes and budgets. When organizing your trip to China, I recommend using Trip.com because it has more options than Booking.com.
If you don’t want to book a room in a fancy hotel, remember that the beds in regular hotels and guest houses are all very hard, and the rooms don’t have any heating system, even if Lijiang can be relatively cold at night. All rooms have electric blankets, though.
The funny thing is that in China, those who design the rooms think separating the bathroom and the bedroom is not that important, so you’ll often find a glass.
One last tip: you can ask for a discount on the room price if you are in a guest house. If they ask you for 150RMB, try to get the price down to 120/130RMB.
In addition to the information I have written, remember this:
- Lijiang is on a plateau at an altitude of 2400 meters, so the sun is very strong. Remember to bring sunscreen lotion.
- Don’t forget to visit the Black Dragon Pool outside the Old Town.
- Don’t forget to visit the other Old Town: Shuhe.
- Before visiting China, get a VPN. If you don’t have one, you won’t be able to use Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc…
- The weather is quite pleasant year-round and never too cold or hot. However, it is better to avoid the months from May to October because it’s the rainy season and all holidays, such as Chinese New Year.
- On Momondo, you can find some discounted flights to China.
- Here’s the complete travel guide to China.
If you have other questions, please feel free to ask. Here you can find some more pictures I took in China. Here is an article about a place that is not very popular among tourists: the beautiful Jiuxiang caves.