June 4-5, 2009
After our short stay in Lugu Hu, we continued to Lijiang. This was our official entry into Yunnan province.
Lijiang has an old quarter with very picturesque cobble-stone streets. It’s not the only town like that in Yunnan – we later saw similar quarters in Shangri-La and Dali. But in our opinion, Lijiang’s old town is the most picturesque.
The town suffered a huge earthquake in 1995. Following this quake, the government spent huge amounts of money rebuilding the old quarter and turning it into a major tourist attraction. Most of the local Naxi people sold off and left, and today the old town is full of shops selling tourist junk during the day and bars blasting live music at night. It’s a big magnet for Chinese tourists. And despite these drawbacks, it’s still worth visiting because it’s just that pretty.
We spent a night here before heading up north to Shangri-La, and then another night on the way back south. Here’s what we saw…
The cobble-stone streets of Lijiang’s old town, lit by so many red lanterns at night:
One of the local delicacies, baba, a kind of deep-fried pancake. Generally they’re made with meat or vegetables, but the one we got, surprisingly, was sweet:
Much better than baba – small wallnut cakes. There were a few of these shops where the small wallnut-shaped cakes were made by robots along a conveyor belt:
Chinese flutes made with the shell of some vegetable (pumpkin?):
Two large waterwheels at the center of old town:
Wandering around Lijiang in the daytime (much quieter):
One of our favorite treats – Yak yoghurt:
Beautiful woodwork everywhere you look. Behind some of these facades there were some peaceful courtyard hotels:
A store selling Naxi-style scarves. The woman doing this work is not Naxi at all; she’s a Han Chinese woman dressed as a Naxi woman (in a costum’ish sort of way). It’s all pretty kitsch:
We saw a lot of this breed of dog. They always have a major under-bite. We noticed that lots of Chinese have pet dogs, but most of them are puppies. Makes you wonder what happens to those older dogs??
North of old town there’s Black Dragon Pool Park. It costs 60 yuan to enter, and in our opinion the sights here are not any better than the (free) sights in old town, so our recommendation is to skip it. But it’s worth mentioning that if you come here on a really clear day, you can get a good view of some white-cap mountains (we didn’t see them).
Pnina in front of Black Dragon Pool. If this was a clear day we would see a huge mountain in the back:
A pagoda in the middle of the pool:
In the afternoon, a small troupe of musicians practice traditional Naxi music in this small theatre. The music was pretty jarring to our ear, so 5 minutes was about enough:
The Naxi have their own hyrogliphic-like written language:
Local men playing Chinese chess in the park:
While traveling in China we carried a Mandarin phrase book, definitely one of the most useful things we had in our possession. But here and there we ran into words or phrases that we just couldn’t find in the book. So when we found a bilingual person, we asked them to translate a phrase for us and write the Chinese version somewhere in our book (having a phrase written down is key, because Pnina and I are completely incapable of pronouncing Mandarin, and anyhow the dialect is different from one location to another). One phrase we had translated was “I’d like a dish with different vegetables stir-fried together; I’ll point out the vegetables I want”. Why did we need this? Because waiters always offered us meat-heavy dishes, which we didn’t always like because the meaty dishes are generally the most oily dishes and often they include parts of the animal that we don’t care to eat. Also the Chinese vegetable dishes are always 1-veg-at-a-time, never mixed, kind of boring. Well, this phrase was an awesome addition to our phrase book. We would just enter a restaurant, show the waiter the phrase, and proceed to their kitchen to point out the veggies we wanted. In some cases they had their veggies displayed in plastic bins up front, so we didn’t have to intrude. In one of these restaurants in Lijiang, among bins of mushrooms, we noticed one plastic tub with a huge living frog! So weird! We’re not sure why he didn’t just jump out and run for freedom. It was raining outside and the canal was only 20 meters away, so it seemed like it would be an easy escape. But he just sat there waiting to become someone’s meal. Poor guy!