Lijiang – Chasing dragons and tigers
Plunging gorges, soaring snowy peaks, alpine lakes, and an ancient old town. 5 days in Lijiang, where there is much to do, and as many tourists to match.
Lijiang Old Town.
I continue on my overland journey from Singapore to Moscow, now well through the heart of Yunnan in Lijiang, before heading east to Beijing, for the Trans-Siberian Railway, to Siberia and beyond.
Day 0: Dali to Lijiang by Bus
Another 200km further up north from Dali, some 2,400m above sea level, lies Lijiang. I hadn’t realised how high up I’ve travelled (it was 1,900m above sea level at Kunming and 2,000m at Dali) until i found something almost long lost in my bag:
A bag of chips from Thailand, on the verge of bursting.
Got this from one of the bus legs in Thailand
earlier on the trip before Kunming
, pretty much deflated. Glad it hadn’t exploded in my bag, but I finished in anyway just to be sure. I try to travel cheap, but travel chips aren’t really my thing.
I arrived in Lijiang late in the afternoon and managed to find the hostel (~100Y for 5 nights) I had booked a few days before. It was probably one of the more run down ones in the entire trip but one of those where I had the most fun, making lots of friends and exploring the area together. Seems like the Chinese really love their hotpots and so I had my second communal steamboat (~36Y) (since arriving in China) with other folks at the hostel (mostly from other parts of China this time) and drank more ‘Wind Flower Snow Moon’ beer. The folks were really friendly, and if it were in Singapore anyone else would have thought they had been friends for years when in fact, most of them probably met for the first time that night. I was kind of apprehensive in joining in, being in a new environment, but they were really nice and inclusive, so it was hard not to feel at home (apart from the fact that the hostel was not really in great shape).
Day 1: Hiking around the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains (Yulong Xueshan)
Some crispy flatbread/pastry with chopped cabbage filling (3Y) from some roadside stall
The next morning, I joined a hike organised by the hostel (180Y) to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain area (玉龙雪山). Although we weren’t going to the summit, the hike would take us to the areas surrounding the summit seldom frequented by tourists. There were no clearly demarcated paths, meaning that the hike could only be lead by people experienced in the area.
On the minivan en route to the starting point.
Where the minivan stopped, in the middle of nowhere (seemingly).
Start of the hike.
Soon we were in deep vegetation, hiking through narrow passes, and the scenery changed dramatically every few moments.
Through narrow passes.
It was a comfortable hike with breaks every now and then so everyone could keep up.
Towards the great unknown.
Summit of the (usually snowcapped) mountain in sight!
Cooked lunch was included in the package so that was great, going out on a hiking trip without having to plan or carry anything, yet having a nice lunch along the way, all prepared for by the organisers. I’m lazy.
They’re really experienced (and well prepared) in their stuff.
After lunch, back on the hike.
Camwhoring is an international hobby.
Into the valley.
In the valley. Where weather started to get a little bad.
Apparently full skulls, if found, are worth a lot of money.
Getting out of the mountains.
Lots of peaks.
And more random shots.
As the clouds cleared a little, we managed to catch a glimpse of the majestic peaks, a magnificent sight to behold. Each was unique, yet dramatic, as we stood in awe with every step while the peaks were still in view.
Terrifying yet at the same time so breathtaking.
Views like this all around. Without anyone getting in your shots. What more to ask for.
End of the hike.
Throughout the hike there was almost no one else other than our hiking group, maybe one or two hikers who somehow made it on their own, and some touristy horse riding stuff near the exit of the hike. The area’s called ‘无人区’ (no persons area) for good reason and I would definitely advise not going there alone. Just did a quick google of area while writing this and apparently tourists get lost in the area often, while one died in the area just this Feb after getting injured and not being able to get help in time (story here).
Having survived a full day hike, we headed back to the city for a well deserved feast! (~73Y/pax) After dinner, a little exploration of the newer parts of town, and stocking up on some supplies.
Exploring the more modern parts of Lijiang at night.
Lijiang yogurt. Rather viscous, but had to be drunk with a straw.
Day 2: Tiger Leaping Gorge
So it seemed I hadn’t got myself enough hiking the day before, and got myself into another hike the next day, to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. This time, it wasn’t one organised by the hostel but by other guests planning to head there and had invited anyone else who might be interested. The path was well frequented by tourists and there wasn’t a need for a guide. However, the hostel did help us to reserve tickets on the bus to and from the Tiger Leaping Gorge (110Y for transport, 65Y for admission paid at entrance).
Steamed buns for breakfast.
And some baked sweet potatoes.
Entering the gorge, the road to the starting point of the hike can be quite unnerving, with steep overhanging rocks on one side of the road and a drop off on the other side that seemed to extend forever to the bottom. Portions of the road were missing from heavy rockfall, and the fact that the driver was on the phone with a hand on the wheel did not help calm passengers down.
Overhanging rocks along the mountain road.
The little flat edge on the right side of the gorge is where the road is.
At Tina’s Guesthouse, everyone got off the bus (some were leaving their bags at Tina’s or staying the night there), while those on the day hike (like us) proceeded with a smaller vehicle to the start of the hike a little further down the road.
Where the hike started.
Sheer cliffs and stunning views.
Narrow path leading down to the bottom of gorge.
Paths were clear, but it’s necessary to be really careful.
Many such lizards on the trail.
There were a couple of ‘checkpoints’ where people collected ‘tolls’ from tourists. Not sure if they were legal or not but we paid anyway, didn’t amount to too much in the end I think.
Little stalls perched precariously on the edge.
Selling stuff such as these pretty rocks.
Luckily the weather (mostly) held up, could have been dangerous if it rained.
Part of the trail carved into the rock face.
The legendary rock!
Tiger Leaping Gorge is so called courtesy of a legend, where a tiger, escaping a hunter, jumped from a huge rock at the narrowest point of the gorge over to the other side. And the huge rock above is the aforementioned rock.
The focal point of the short trail, also the turning point.
The flimsy bridge to get to the huge rock.
Young and fearless.
There was a man guarding over the bridge stopping people from running/causing too much movement on the bridge. I really wouldn’t want to run over it though.
The tiny bridge at the top was one of those the bus crossed to get us to the trail. That’s about how far we descended. And about the height we had to scale to get out.
Muddy waters. I think in other seasons the water is supposed to be much clearer.
Work of nature/ work of art.
The path carved into the rock that we were on earlier.
Top to bottom.
Lots of steps to take to get out.
And this ridiculously high ladder, or Sky Ladder. there isn’t any protection, and pretty dizzying to turn and look down on the way up. If you aren’t afraid of heights, definitely worth the climb. There is also a slightly longer route by stairs to the top.
The stall just before the Sky Ladder. Many of such stalls along the way, and they aren’t too pushy with selling their stuff.
After 2 such ladders, back to ‘flat’ ground.
Donkeys for the really tired. I heard it can be quite terrifying though, sitting on a donkey which is itself trying hard not to slip and fall off the face of earth.
Amazing views, but we had to hurry as we were getting late for the bus (leaving about 1pm). Can’t help feeling in awe/ so small/ so sore (after the hike).
The guesthouse where buses would drop people off/ pick people up is after the bridge.
We were a little late for the bus back, but the driver was kind enough to wait. There was only one bus a day from the Tiger Leaping Gorge back to Lijiang. There are also buses to nearby cities such as Shangri-la (Zhongdian), and a couple other routes.
At one of the rest stops on the way back, villagers were selling bags of strawberries for 10Y (~S$2). They were really sweet. I hope they were real.
Back in Lijiang. Many shops selling this rose petal pastry, was a tourists favourite for souvenirs.
Dinner! The group I was hanging out with that day were obsessed with sashimi so we basically got a hot pot to share and one plate of raw fish each and ended up paying about 120Y each.
Lijiang Old Town at night. Many people gathering round and dancing. And even more tourists watching.
Nice stroll at night (seemed largely safe too).
Day 3: Lijiang Old Town
Decided to take it a little easier this day. Started much later and spent most of the day wandering around the streets.
Breakfast view from one of the restaurants in the old town, at Gu Lou Xiao Chi (古楼小吃).
Washing clothes by the well.
Slightly more crowded areas.
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Rows of traditional shophouses.
Found a nice spot to chill and end off the day.
Top of the town/ Talk of the town.
Kids painting some murals.
Slow and easy. A nice change from the previous two days. And a good rest for more adventures to come.
Day 4: Lijiang Old Town revisited
A good friend of mine joined flew over from Singapore and was to join me for the next two weeks. Was excited to finally have someone over (Yay!). We had an easy day today too, exploring the nooks and crannies of the old town.
View from the roof of the hostel, overlooking the ‘newer’ parts of the city.
Morning roadside market, a short walk from the hostel, just outside of the old town. Lots of fruits, vegetables and other local produce.
Really fat bananas.
Tasted kinda ‘wild’ (or unmodified?) compared to the ones I was used to in Singapore (3Y).
Some delicious cold noodles (6Y).
And some delicious hot noodles (6Y). I’m bad with food names. Both tasted great, though.
From the roadside market to the wet market. Lively place bustling with activity.
Catch of the day.
Not too sure what’s going on here, but the sign in front of the parked carts seem to be saying ‘Strictly no parking’.
Back to the old town (briefly).
Found this monument just over the other side of the old city. Couple of monuments dedicated to Chairman Mao around the city.
Then it was time for lunch! Writing about it is making me hungry.
Lunch at my favourite restaurant in the old town (~120Y for that + rice).
My memory is failing me but I think the restaurant is called Gu Lou Xiao Chi (古楼小吃). I liked the grilled fish (烤鱼) (covered in garnish here), and the nice view from the alfresco dining on the roof (refer to the breakfast view picture 2 days above, it’s the same place). The other dishes are nice too, but food here, like most other places in Yunnan, is a little too oily for me.
Large, sweet, and juicy grapes. A little overpriced from peddlers in the old town compared to stalls at the market, but nevertheless addictive.
Winding in and out of little streets trying hard not to get lost.
The old town is popular with tourists, day or night. Here’s a less crowded area.
The three wells.
These three wells are supposedly where people living nearby drink from, wash their food, and wash their clothes in. The well at the highest level is for drinking (on the right side), and it overflows to the middle one, where people wash vegetables, and finally the water flows to the last one (at the far left of the picture), which is for washing clothes. Tried some water from the drinking side and thought it was refreshing. My friend did have reservations trying it though.
Some of the inns in the old town provide traditional music performances, and don’t mind strangers stepping in to take a look.
The old town at night.
Day 5: Qingxi Reservoir (Qingxi Shuiku)
My last day in Lijiang. It was my fifth day here and I was running out of places to visit. Someone I met at the hostel reccomended visiting a reservoir which was a little out of the city but accessible by bus. Locals’ recommendations usually beat most tourist sites so off we went in search of the reservoir.
A little breakfast before we set off.
We couldn’t miss the stop as it was the last stop on that service (3Y for bus). Took a little while to find our way to the reservoir from the bus stop.
Steps leading to the reservoir.
The view greeting us at the top of the stairs. Crystal clear waters from the mountains around.
Great for a nice morning walk.
There was hardly anyone there. Peaceful and scenic park.
One of the great mountains (there were too many around to be able to identify which was it). Ever so slightly snowcapped, even in the middle of summer.
A neat path straight across the middle of the Qingxi Reservoir.
Bridge over peaceful waters.
Some couples were getting their wedding shots in the area.
Like a scene from some teen romance drama.
Smaller hills nearby.
And back to town for our final meal in Lijiang, also one of the most awesome.
And lunch again!
Back in town, another of the guys at the hostel excitedly brought us to this place he discovered not far from our hostel but where only locals frequent. We basically ordered this huge pot of wholesome goodness (~48/50?Y for a pot thats more than enough for 4 grown guys) with all sorts of ingredients cooked to perfection in an amazing broth for an affordable price. The shop was crowded and it seemed like every table ordered the same thing. I’m not sure what it’s called though, but it was awesome.
The shop from the outside.
With our stomachs filled, we grabbed our bags and headed to the bus station for the bus to our next stop, the fabled Shangri-la further up north. We had company with us for the next few days- a guy I met in Dali who was introduced to me by a guy I met in Kunming.
The bus to Shangrila.
Got to the bus station, bought tickets (71Y) on the spot and soon we were on our way.
Rest stop along the way to Shangri-la. Also a rest stop for buses to Tiger Leaping Gorge, as the Tiger Leaping Gorge lies between Lijiang and Shangri-la.
Total Spent in Lijiang (5 days)
Actual travel dates: 20 May 2015 – 25 May 2015
Accomodation: ¥100(~S$22 for 5 nights)
Attractions: ¥355(~S$77) (includes transport to Tiger Leaping Gorge)
Transport (excl bus to Shangrila): Y3(~S$0.65)
Bus to Shangrila: ¥71 (~S$15)
Bus schedules from Lijiang (May/June 2015):