Welcome to Lijiang, a time-locked city unlike any other in China.
Here, find a fascinating assemblage of Chinese ethnic minority groups against the backdrop of snowy mountains, glacial lakes and majestic canyons. The dominant ethnic group here is the Naxi tribe, whose people moved to Lijiang from the Tibetan Plateau to prevent being harassed by neighbouring tribes. As such, the food and culture of Lijiang is largely influenced by the Naxi tribe, featuring spice-rich dishes full of flavour.
Apart from its unique culture, the spiritual veneration of nature is one of the reasons why so many holidaymakers choose Lijiang as their escape from the bustling city life. From cobblestone lanes and serene retreats to delectable plates of spicy addiction, we’ve created a guide for first-time travellers to the off-the-beaten-track of Lijiang.
How to get here
Fly directly from Singapore Changi Airport into Lijiang Sanyi International Airport via China Eastern. Alternatively, fly into Kunming and take a three-hour high-speed rail to Lijiang Railway Station.
What to see
Old Town Lijiang
The Old Town of Lijiang is the perfect marriage of traditional wooden buildings, cobbled streets and peaceful canals. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, as one one of the four best-preserved ancient cities in China. The area’s bustling streets centres around the Market Square, complete with local food stalls, rooftop restaurants and nightly ‘square dancing’ routines at dusk. A trip here is never complete without the purchase of Dongba tapestry, the ethnic handicrafts of the Naxi tribe. In recent years, the tapestry industry has grown to include those from other ethnic minorities like the Bai tribe, the Yi tribe and the Muso tribe as well.
Black Dragon Pool
An extensive pond set beneath Elephant Hill, Black Dragon Pool is one of Lijiang’s most scenic spots in town. The tranquil reflection was built in 1737 during the Qing Dynasty, covering more than 430 thousand square feet. It is also home to a five-arch bridge and the pagoda just adjacent to it. On the banks of Black Dragon Pool lies the Lijiang City Museum complex, which makes for an interesting stop for visitors to learn more about the Naxi tribe’s customs. Inside, one can find a wide range of exhibits that cover the various local cultures from the other minority tribes as well.
Mu’s Mansion is a customary stop for any discerning traveller curious about the city’s heritage. The Mu Family was the centre of politics, power and wealth in the Naxi Kingdom, and were benevolent leaders that were well respected by their people. They were best known for their exceptional skills in city planning, and kept an open-door policy for the outsiders. It is well-known for bearing a strong resemblance to the grandeur of Beijing’s Forbidden City, although it is at a comparatively smaller size of thousand square metres.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Steeped in Naxi mythology, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is the southernmost snowcapped mountain in the Northern Hemisphere. It is considered to be a sacred mountain for the Naxi tribe, and has become one of the most celebrated areas in Lijiang for its scenery and views. The mountain is always covered with snow and fog, which gives the illusion of a silver-white dragon from a distance, hence its name. The summit, Shanzidou, holds it peak up high at 5596 metres above sea level, and can be seen from the Old Town of Lijiang. Many take a day to hike here, but those looking for a less strenuous activity can take the cable car.
What to eat
Yi Pin Xiang (一品香)
Yi Pin Xiang is should be reserved for dinner time, for the 18-plate, three-course Naxi feast, also known as San Die Shui (三叠水) is served here. The feast was originally meant as a grand gesture for distinguished guests, and this tradition still carries on till today. However, those who do not have the luxury of having local friends can come to establishments like Yi Pin Xiang to get a taste of the Naxi cuisine at its finest. Look out for the dried pork with booze-infused fruit, a dish that consists of paper-thin cured pork and beer-soaked pear.
Seven Stars Lijiang Baba Shop(七星丽江粑粑店)
Baba (粑粑), also known as Chinese pizza to foreigners, is a soft fluffy breakfast bread unlike any other. The chewy wheat-bread is first fried in a large wok and then stuffed with egg, chilli peppers, ground meat and fermented vegetables. It can be eaten as is, or with a spicy chilli sauce. Baba shops are easily a dime a dozen, but one recommended place to have baba would be at Seven Stars Lijiang Baba Shop, a highly rated establishment by locals themselves.
Little Chef’s Private Menu (小厨子私房菜)
If there is one thing you have to get at Little Chef’s Private Menu, it would be the chickpea jelly. Usually served cold, the main ingredient of the dish is, as the name suggests, chickpea jelly. The jelly is made from ground chickpeas that are cooked, chilled and then sliced into noodle-like pieces. The smooth cool jelly is served with a generous serving of cilantro, garlic and chilli, making it a mind-numbingly addictive treat for the summertime.
Where to stay
Banyan Tree Lijiang
For picture-perfect views, spend the night at Banyan Tree Lijiang, located 2,400 metres above sea-level. The resort is a short 15 minutes from the Old Town, and rooms are all fitted with million dollars view of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The idyllic highland resort pays homage to the area with its chinoiserie styled teak furniture, complete with elegant oriental colours of red, black and gold. It is also home to the iconic Banyan Tree Spa, equipped with seven treatment rooms, a gym and a yoga studio. The hotel also hosts guided tours for guests, including an excursion to Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic canyon on the Jinsha River just the 60 kilometres north from Lijiang.
Any place with an Aman is testament to the beauty of the location, and there is no better place than Amandayan to tick off another resort for the ‘Aman junkie’. The resort is housed in a series of dwellings arranged around serene courtyards. Each of its 35 suites are fashioned with Naxi embroidery, elaborate Dongba wood carvings, Yunan pine and Dongbei elm, bringing the culture and serenity of Lijiang’s heritage into your space. The design of the rooms, however, remains contemporary in nature, complete with plush king-sized beds and modern amenities. Find yourself in the Aman Spa after a long day of exploration, featuring a range of wellness therapies informed by traditional Chinese practices. From massages with local herbs and the famous cupping-therapy, guests are bound to be relaxed after a visit here.
Pullman Lijiang Resort And Spa
Guests who prefer a more upscale contemporary stay should find themselves in Pullman Lijiang Resort and Spa, located in at the Shuhe Old Town Entrance road. The hotel is home to 79 villas with private courtyards and outdoor hot tubs, as well as 51 spacious rooms. The establishment is well fitted for foreign guests — those who are tired of local Chinese cuisine can take a respite with some international cuisine, inside the hotel’s very own western restaurant. Late-night tipples can be enjoyed at 1919 bar, a cosy space perfect for a quiet cocktail or two.