LiJiang (I) A-Maze-ing

LiJiang (丽江)

LiJiang is a charming little town in Yunnan, of which especially the old town is amazing in its litteral meaning: It’s a maze of cobble-stone alleys and paths and you will get lost for sure. Don’t worry…you aren’t the first one and you won’t be the last one either. It’s just fun to dive into the alleys, get lost, emerge somewhere, find something seen before, and after 2 or 3 days even find short-cuts.

LJ_20070714_103634.jpg: The old market square, SiFang Jie (四方街), with an old couple coming up wearing traditional clothes. It is sometimes hard to say who wears it for the tourists and who just because it has always been like that. In the less touristy parts of the city you’ll find lots of old women in traditional Naxi dresses going about their day-to-day work.

LJ_20070714_122803.jpg: The same square viewed from a small cafe at its corner. Here and now it is seemingly empty, what a moment of peace…otherwise during the day it is filled up with tourists, many of them part of Chinese tourist groups; in the evening Naxi women dance their round-about dance to their tranquil music, which is not much different from Tibetian music: “Redundant”, as Jennifer put it, ever repeating, a good sleeping drug.

LJ_20070714_103946.jpg: Along one of the main creeks of LiJiang, probably the Yu River. LiJiang is lined with creeks, providing washing water to basically every house and an easy way of keeping the city clean.

LJ_20070714_132119.jpg: Well, yea…somewhere…nice place 😉

LJ_20070714_132827.jpg: Within the old town even modern businesses like this Agricultural Bank of China blend into the city’s character with traditional-style houses and especially doors, though they are a bit impractical: A bit from the side like in this pic you cannot look inside.

LJ_20070714_132946.jpg: The water wheels. Apparently a major highlight to Chinese tourists, who take loads of pictures of it. Nice thing…but in the end it is just water wheels. The bigger one in the back is even capable of lifting some water into the drain pipe while turning.

LJ_20070714_133138.jpg: A promenade north of the old town along Yu River, leading up to the Black Dragon Pool Park, see below.

LJ_20070714_163045.jpg: LiJiang’s old town is a labyrinth in which people do get lost. It is not a matter if, but more like how often and how serious. There are maps available, but they are of no help as they are not to scale and not comprehensive, but only look nice on thick yellowish paper, trimmed to look old. I use it no more. If I really get a bit confused I turn to these maps set up about every 200m in the city: Cynically, they use a smiley to indicate your current position, though the main reason you look onto the map is when you are actually worried and lost… These maps are extremly detailed, which is good by itself, but also means they only show the immediate vincinity of maybe 200 x 200m. If you are completely wrong you have only one chance: Find SiFang Square, which is mentioned on most of these maps and start over 😉

LJ_20070714_163244.jpg: Here a non-touristic lane somewhere…given the time close to the previous map. Most streets are filled with souvenir shops by now, every fifth selling the same stuff, which is kinda boring. But here is a more residential lane, transporting an idea of what LiJiang’s lanes must have looked like before tourism flocked in.

LJ_20070714_170808.jpg: This is the small court yard of “Mama 2”, the guest house where I mostly stayed. It is a fairly small court, thus, cozy. And Mama, the owner and good soul of the places (there are 3 in total) is indeed a pretty special, caring person. She will never leave you without food. Just come back from some walking and you’ll be greeted with peanuts or a “Baba”, some kind of thick pancake. Mama can organize for basically everything. All guests of the 3 houses come together in the evening for dinner in “Mama 3”, the largest house, for family style dinner: You don’t order. You just sit down together with the other guests and wait for the dishes to come. She and her helping hands bring in loads of vegetable and meat dishes. Noone will leave hungry or without good talks given all the different people there. And all that for just 10 Yuan.

I have to add, though, that I for my final night fled Mama’s and went to the Ancient Town Youth Hostel. There are details, which individually won’t hurt you much, but over time sum up and made me feel uncomofrtable: Mama is also forgetful; it works if she can organize for it immediately, but having her something do (like changing flight ticket dates) on the next day is likely to fail. Wireless LAN, despite advertised, is not working in Mama 1 and 2 (haven’t tried 3), also not after several times pointing it out. Breakfast is either a Banana Baba or a Tomato/Egg Baba, which made me have breakfast in one of the nice cafes around town the last 2 days (and also tomorrow). Mama’s helping hands in the 3 houses are by far less friendly; those in my “Mama 2” at times even adverse, leaving you with the feeling that every questions puts a heavy burden on their juvenile life. The dorms beds are fine, but the shared washing basins are open-air, the toilets not always clean. The door to the room cannot be opened or closed without a heavy bang, which is especially bad if you or others came back after the first people went to sleep already. I got once without my consent or even presence transferred from a 3-bed dorm to a 5-bed dorm, though I had chosen the slightly more expensive 3-bed dorm intentionally as it is more quiet. The reservation system is inherently chaotic as Mama has no idea how long her guests will stay; you just stay and pay when you leave…whenever that possibly is; so there is no chance to figure out if a bed and/or private room will be free the next day. Friends got problems getting back into a theoretically ‘reserved’ private double after returning from the gorge trip.

And then last night a girl gave me the rest: I returned at 23:45, saw the first one already sleeping, her newly arrived sitting on one bed. I greeted silently, brushed my teeth and went to bed without making any noise. She kept on rummaging in her backbag for no less than another hour! With the plastic bags making quite some noise. I finally got really mad when she trashed a couple of noisy plastic bags into the wast bin right next to my left ear and asked her in polite words but harsh tone to take note of the people trying to sleep and repack her bag the next day. She just said “OK”, left the room, switched off the like and was gone by 00:40. By 2:45am she came back through the loud door, went in and out a couple of times, always slamming that loud door, rummaged a bit more in her bag, and finally at about 3am got to sleep. Getting up at 7am, not trying to be silent either, left in a half an hour procedure.

When then a little later my shaving water after pulling the plug mostly dropped on my feet instead in some kind of drain pipe I knew it is time for a change. And so I am writing these lines from the extremely nice bar/lounge of the Ancient Town Youth Hostel, where everything is clean and WLAN works. And I have a private room on my own with own bathroom, though very simple.

Just had to note, that beer is 10 RMB here, while Mama’s 3 RMB are certainly unbeatable…there’s always a down-side 😉

Looking at the Past Pavillion (望古楼)

Back to LiJiang proper. The dividing line between old and new town is a hill on the west side of the old town.

LJ_20070714_105153.jpg: Walking up the hill yields nice views over the maze of roofs of the old town.

LJ_20070714_105446.jpg: When up in the park surrounding the Looking at the Past Pavillion some Chinese asked me again to share a picture with them I handed over my camera, too. I don’t know that guy…

LJ_20070714_111412.jpg: The pavillion itself is built only recently, I believe 1996 or so, it is nice but not ancient. This is a small pond you’ll find on the pavillion’s back.

Black Dragon Pool Park (黑龙潭公园)

This is a park in the north of LiJiang, a bit overpriced I’d say, costing 60 RMB for a full-priced ticket (students 30). But as I was there once I’d paid and found it quite nice a location. I was too lazy to walk up Elephant Hill, which others later told me provided very nice views across the entire city.

LJ_20070714_134705.jpg: The park is especially famous for a picture you would make from this position and is supposed to include snow-capped mountains in the far back, mirroring in the water. Firstly, it is hard to make out the mountains in the back at all (the big one on the right hand side is close-by Elephant Hill), secondly, none of them was snow-capped. Probably a tribute to global warming?

LJ_20070714_135208.jpg: Enjoyable ways around.

LJ_20070714_140505.jpg: On the northern edge of the park. Now the mountains can be seen better, but still no snow.

LJ_20070714_140738.jpg: Some local Naxi women practised their ever-repeating circle dance to their local music, which isn’t any better than Tibetian. As a picture it is nice, but you can’t listen to it for more than 10 minutes.

LJ_20070714_141037.jpg: Some temple within the park, forgot the name.

LJ_20070714_153555.jpg: The white bridge crossing over the pool as you can see on the first picture.

BaiSha (白沙)

BaiSha is a small village some 10km off LiJiang, can be easily reached by taxi or back by mini bus. We went there just yesterday. I.e. between the above pictures and the BaiSha visit was the Tiget Leaping Gorge Hike.

LJ_20070717_112046.jpg: BaiSha itself is not so fantastically remarkable, but has nice views on the mountains. Shops offer the same souvenir stuff as you can get it in LiJiang, too.

LJ_20070717_121540.jpg: The reason you come to BaiSha is him: Dr Ho, the old (84 years) man in the white coat. Dr Ho became famous after some travel report writer mentioned him in The Times. Since then he is playing the PR trick very well, speaking good English, collecting newspaper articles from all over the world and giving an introduction to his fame as soon as you enter into his “clinic”. Dr Ho practises traditional Chinese herbal medicine. And he can provide you with letters in any major language of the world of how his herbal mixtures helped people with just about any disease a human being could possibly develop. People from our group asked for stuff against stomach pain, coughing, or allergies…

LJ_20070717_121101.jpg: …and he looks briefly at your tongue, asks you your age and if you sleep well, then turns around and mixes herbs from his huge collection of red buckets onto a piece of paper, tells you “one spoon per cup, mix with honey”, doesn’t name a price but wilingly accepts a donation. As I had no immediate health issue to solve I just went for the “healthy tea” he also offers you freely when entering. He is definitely a highly interesting person. We don’t yet know if any of the mixtures actually work. Maybe I learn that later by mails from the group 😉

LJ_20070717_140202.jpg: An old local women ties the many knots necessary to produce these kind of ‘batik’ sheets. Where the knots are no dye will change the white basis color.

Further Plans

Today, 18-JUL-2007, I will just hang out in LiJiang and catch up with these articles here. The Tiger Leaping Gorge article still needs to be written. Tomorrow, I fly via KunMing, which I will not see, to GuiLin, where I had been before. I will put in a laundry and plan-Vietnam day there and then meet with a Canadian couple, which was part of the Tiger Leaping Gorge trecking group. We hope to see the rice terraces in a village north of GuiLin, which is a sight I missed the last time I was there. Thereafter, we will continue to YangShuo, possibly at different days (not sure if I do the Li River Cruise again…I somehow feel like I could ;)), but hopefully meet latest at YangShuo again. YangShuo is just so nice I need it once more. And so relaxing. It will be mostly about hiking, cycling, and hanging out.

That will then be my last stop in China. China is a lot larger, there is a lot more to see. But I do seek for a change now. So let’s try Vietnam.

Today’s Lesson: You will get lost!

Categories: Asia, LiJiang

Originally Created: 07/18/2007 06:20:18 AM
Last Edited: 07/18/2007