In Yunnan, Lijiang a chinese tourist paradise?

Roofs of Lijiang in Yunnan province

Lijiang’s roofs

Domestic Chinese tourists are madly in love with Lijiang. Thanks to a local airport opened a few years ago there is now a daily torrent of tourists flowing through the pretty streets of the old town. Watching this performance is actually a tourist attraction in itself – everywhere there are groups struggling to keep up with their flag waving guides and being shepherded into the multiple and generic souvenir shops, but the main attraction is attending (you have no choice…) the karaoke sessions that spill out onto the streets as all the bars try to be louder then the neighbors. At these impromptu parties you can discover the local go-go dancers, who are dressed in traditional outfits and attended by young Chinese men with long and well-coiffed hair, dancing in the middle of the day to remixed traditional music…

Lijiang yunnan

Street of Lijiang

Naxi people dancing in Lijiang

Naxi people dancing

And what about the “exceptional ancient town set in a dramatic landscape”(UNESCO’s description)?, what about the calm little ancient streets? the splendid roof views and the Naxi minority encounters? Well you have to be clever and develop an “escape the crowd” strategy to enjoy this part of Lijiang!

First of all, do not sleep in (or you could stay up all night and karaoke): by waking up early we managed to enjoy empty streets including the tacky souvenir stores hidden behind closed doors, and have a glimpse at the local’s lives before they are interrupted by the tourists. As many of the local postcards show, early morning is the best time to take pictures. As soon as the hordes of tourists arrive, you can head towards quieter ground, which includes the area on the east side of the rivers. We got lost in the little streets here and managed to find some very nice atmospheric places. Towards the end of the day, the best way to recover from this busy day is to head towards the hill to enjoy nice views of Lijiang’s roofs from a cafe. Blossom Hill bar has a very nice view and is quiet… we wish all of Lijiang could be the same!

Once you have done all you want in town, heads towards the small villages around Ljiang. Shuhe is becoming like Lijiang but Baisha, the first capital of Naxi people, has a lot to offer: a nice Ming period fresco and the world famous Doctor Ho.

Lijiang roofs

Voyagista’s tips

  • Choose a place to sleep in the quiet part of town as at night in the central areas it’s a loud party. I found the east part of the town to be the calmest and we stayed at Blossom Hill but there are a lot of options.

  • If you want to spend some eating time in a quiet area, have lunch or breakfast at N’s Kitchen (2/F, 17 Jishan Alley, Xinyi Street). The restaurant is on the second floor from where you can enjoy the nice and quiet atmosphere of the square. You can also get some practical advice for organizing the rest of your trips in English.

  • In Baisha, go to Country Road Cafe. Do not forget your Lijiang pass to see the fresco.

  • No need to spend more than two days in Lijiang especially as the crowds can be tiring. Better use your extra day to go and visit Shaxi (see here), which is much smaller than Lijiang but very enjoyable.

People playing in Baisha

Tourism in China is developing very quickly – a world heritage designation combined with a new highway or airport is a recipe for turning a nice place of natural or historical significance into a theme park… did you get the same impression when you went to China?

Zoom-in on Doctor Ho

Lijiang-31Doctor Ho is THE most famous person in Baisha thanks to his knowledge of mountain plants with medicinal properties… all the guidebooks describe him and you will see, as soon as you get there, that the whole world knows about him: there are newspaper articles from around the world on his wall being read by people from all over the world.

Doctor Ho’s son is his PR manager and is very adept at describing over long periods how famous his dad is! We had a consultation with Doctor Ho and due to my Kiwi’s weak chi we were prescribed a bag of Chinese medicine consisting of various dried and unknown ingredients. The mix of dried plants seemed very similar to the mix prescribed to the previous patient that was suffering from a totally unrelated complaint… so they may have also found it hard to drink due to the flavor, which seemed similar to dirt. Doctor Ho is certainly quite a character but we left the place with a mixed feelings on the genuineness of the operation. Be aware that you now have to pay for the visits (100 yuan to 200 yuan).


  1. Yunnan is truly beautiful land for natural landscape and interesting ethnic culture. Avoid the tourist season and visit yunnan, spend more time in little villages or towns; further to Shangri-la, dongchuan red land or yuanyang rice terraces for some great views

  2. You took awesome pictures of Lijiang. You must have gotten up very early to find empty streets. I went to Lijiang this year in June and I was shocked at how crowded the streets were. My first time to Lijiang was in 2001, when it was still a fairly laid-back place.
    I do feel that mass tourism in China is killing the charm of some of these ancient places. At least Lijiang and Dali are “free”, because many of China’s ancient town opened to tourism have an entrance fee (80 RMB for Heshun, 150 RMB for Fenghuang) and have been transformed into open-air shopping mall. Fortunately, there are still places like Baisha, but for how long?

    • Thanks for your comment! I did, just after sunrise but it was totally worth it! There is actually a fee for Lijiang called protection fare of 80 Yuan but nobody really check if you don’t go to specific places and just walk in the town.
      I went to Fenghuang last month, I was expecting a Lijiang bis but I tought it was relatively ok, touristic but less busy than Lijiang maybe because we were in low season…


  1. […] with you some more of my photos and as I have recently presented quite a bit about Yunnan (Shaxi, Lijiang and the Songstam Lodges) I want to present some of the photos I took of different ethnic minorities […]

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