Wednesday, September 9, 2009
We had decided to spend one day in Lijiang before moving on to Tiger Leaping Gorge, so during the end of our Dali stay we located a decent looking travel agency and bought bus tickets for Lijiang. The agency we picked was run by a lovely Dali woman. She didn’t speak any English which suited me perfectly (I'm always happy to use my Chinese) and she was happy to tell a lot both about Lijiang and Dali. One of the things she said sort of jumped out:
-I don’t think you’re going to like Lijiang. It’s loved by Chinese but foreigners normally don’t like it.
Turns out she was quite right.
We caught the 10 am bus to Lijiang on the Wednesday (after 2 cups of Yunnan coffee at the Bakery No. 88) and reached Lijiang around 2 pm. The ride was fairly smooth with no dramas like toilets without doors. The bus dropped us off at Lijiang bus station and from there we asked locals for directions to the old town. A single, Israeli bagpacker immediately joined us when he heard me speaking Chinese, as he wasn't really familiar with the language himself. We started off by walking but eventually caught a cab, and 7 kuais later we were dropped off at the gate to Lijiang old town (no cars are allowed into the old town, or ancient town as it is actually called) where we waved goodbye to our new bagpacker friend.
A few steps into the old town a young Naxi girl (Naxi is a minority group mainly living in the Lijiang area) came running up to us, asking me if we were looking for a room (in Chinese). We talked for a bit and she explained that she and her family were running a family inn. We decided to have a look.
We went up and down (what felt like) 20 different alleys before we located the girl’s home. It was a fairly simple place but clean and decent and 60 rmb/night (after some negotiation). The young girl, Er Hua, and her older sister were running it, and since they seemed like lovely, honest girls we settled for the room, even though both me and mom feared that we were never going to be able to find our way back there at night.
We spent the rest of the day walking around and I have to say that the travel agency woman from Dali was quite right. Neither me nor mom enjoyed Lijiang even half as much as we enjoyed Dali. The whole old town felt a bit artificial and was super-touristy. I understand that people enjoy taking photos while holiday-ing (I’m the same) but walking around in Lijiang’s narrow, maze-like alleys was almost impossible due to people posing on every single little bit of the street. The buildings, houses and shops were nice looking, but I don’t know… the town didn’t have that “real” ring to it as Dali did (even though a lot of Dali’s architecture is also fairly new).
The artificial look is obviously due to the earthquake that rocked Lijiang in 1996. Afterwards, the Chinese Government rebuilt most of the town with traditional Naxi architecture. Rebuilt places are obviously never as nice as the original.
I also found that Lijiang locals weren’t half as friendly as Dali locals. Sure, they smiled and stuff but they were all trying to sell, sell, sell, and I missed the warm friendliness from Dali. We had one good chat with an old Naxi woman at a restaurant who told us a little bit about her family life and then started asking me 100 questions about my mom (“How old is she?” “How many children does she have?” Is this her first time in China?” “Is she fit enough for the Tiger Leaping Gorge?”). After I’d answered her (“She’s 60 years old. 4 kids including me. Third time in China. She’s definitely fit enough for the Gorge trek! She does a lot of running.”) she looked at mom with eyes glowing of respect. It was quite funny.
Other than that, the food in Lijiang was more expensive and not as good as the food in Dali. The Dali travel agency woman had already warned me about this, saying that Lijiang doesn’t have as much agriculture as Dali, so most of the veggies and stuff comes from Dali, hence the higher prices.
Later that day we decided to try a Naxi sandwich, something I had read about and was keen to have a bite off (I’m a complete food geek, and I always want to try the local specialities). I think we picked the totally wrong place though (even though it was a “Naxi restaurant”) because the sandwich (baba bread with goat cheese, egg, tomato and ketchup? The latter was a bit of a surprise. It must have been the restaurant’s very own “local touch”) was a total disappointment. Likewise was the local bread “baba” (粑粑) that I had heard others rave about. We stuck to veggie dishes for the rest of our stay in Lijiang, and my taste buds started a new love affair with bitter melon (ku gua苦瓜). Why haven’t I had that before? It's so good!
Some other goos stuff includes yak yoghurt (we had at least three serves of this per day. Simply couldn’t get enough of this thick, creamy yoghurt. It was great in milkshakes too) and the spicy ginger candy. Yum!
At night time Lijiang turned into a loud party city with screaming waitresses/hostesses and karaoke/live band performances on every door-to-door restaurant. We had decided to head to the Tiger Leaping Gorge at 8am the next morning so we were only moderately excited about the noise level when we eventually were trying to get some sleep at our family inn.
Ba ba bread
Naxi sandwich (?)
More photo mania
Tourist destination no 1
Man making ginger candy