Day 5: Lijiang

Well today we broke with our habit of getting up super early. After a few drinks late at night with the others at our guesthouse we didn’t get up until 8:30! Though I was woken up pretty early by a cheeky rooster hanging around on the roof outside my window crowing from early morning. I wanted to toss a shoe at it but settled for some ear plugs instead.

Last night was really quite cold, I think it must have been in the 40s outside and not much warmer inside. It rained through the night and a bit in the morning before mostly stopping in time for our day’s activities. It stayed cold and cloudy though. Talking to our hostess last night I understand that it’s fairly temperate here. Because of the altitude and it’s latitude, it’s like San Jose in Costa Rica to some extent, far south but high up. The summers can sometimes be wet and not too hot, and the winters are clear and sunny which offsets the shorter days. Apparently it snowed this year for all of 10 minutes, and that was the first time in 3 years. That quite surprised me with how cold it was. But this made me feel justified a bit. I’ve been hauling around this huge pack feeling a bit like I over packed, but now that it’s cold I have a pair of thermals, wool socks, and a water proof jacket. Not to mention I didn’t have to buy an umbrella at a huge mark up like Elmar did yesterday. I think the biggest win has been that I’ve been wearing waterproof hiking boots this whole time. They were a bit hot down in Yangshuo but were a big boon yesterday and today.

I really liked this hostel, it’s called Wisteria Garden Inn if anyone finds themselves looking for nice and cheap accommodations. But we wanted some place with a heater because it got rather cold and we had some clothes to dry out, and I wanted a western style toilet (Elmar and Danny had one at least). We ended up splurging on a well recommended hotel called Zen Garden Inn. So far it hasn’t disappointed, and I would recommend it to anyone. The rooms are small and simple but clean. The bathrooms are modern and nice. The beds softer than most you find in Asia. And the attention to detail is phenomenal. Right down to some bottles of mineral water in the room and a pen and paper next to the phone. The atrium of the hotel is really cute and again detail is paid attention to everywhere with statues, ambient lighting, and a koy pond. The staff is super nice and helpful, and they provide a lot of little services not really evident in the price. Like tomorrow we hope to be taking advantage of calligraphy lessons and a tea ceremony before we leave. They even offered to send a rickshaw to pick up our bags at our other hotel. We declined and I’m not sure about the guys, but I was feeling a little embarrassed at the thought of them picking up our bags for us at a $18/night hostel.

We spent the day exploring the Old Town, but maybe intentionally getting lost is a better description. The old town really isn’t lived in anymore by anyone but tourists on holiday. Everything pretty much falls into 1 of 3 groups: Inn, Restaurant, or Gift Shop. Though that makes it feel really put on, no one is harassing you to come into their shop, the streets are pleasantly crowded, but not overly so. I really wish my parents had a chance to visit this place, I think they would have enjoyed themselves on their visit, especially my mom. Though my dad might have been a bit peeved since I could see her going from one shop to another looking at local jade jewelry and Naxi textiles. I did take the opportunity to pick up a couple souvenirs, I’ve mailed home by ship 2 painting prints that should arrive in about a month as well as a gift for a friend. I also will be bringing home a book on Lijiang courtesy of our hotel for my parents, I think they’ll enjoy reading it.

Anyway, at one point we found ourselves in the market, and the real Lijiang Old Town came into focus. Little stalls with food, pots and pans and all. Not a tourist in sight. It really served as a strong juxtaposition to the artificial though effortless feeling Old Town for the tourists.

We wound our way round and round until we finally found the Mu Residence, a large palatial complex in Old Town that also serves as a bit of a museum for the Naxi people (pronounced nah-SHE) the local “minority ethnic group”. The grounds were quite impressive, though I wouldn’t be surprised if in 5 years they’re more polished and clean as more and more tourist money flows in. We also climbed up Lion Hill which has a connected path from the Mu Residence’s Jade Garden. Lion Hill somewhat separates the bulk of Old Town with most of New Town, though there are bits of New Town encircling it. There is a tall building at the top of the hill that gave us some tremendous views and you could clearly see on one side all of the old style roofs, and on the other tall modern housing projects and the bustle of the city.

One thing I really like about Lijiang in comparison to Canton and Guilin/Yangshuo is that they seem to eat a lot more meat, something we’ve been craving for. One of the local delicacies is Yak meat skewers dusted with chili powder, and they’re absolutely amazing but somewhat expensive. I’d really like to have some more before we leave though. The town also seems so much more detail oriented. Everything in the town is more polished than we’ve seen. The town is even more beautiful at night when it’s lit by lanterns. I would recommend Lijiang to anyone visiting China on vacation.

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