Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Lijiang 丽江

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

Yak yoghurt
Naxi sandwich (?)
Naxi ren
Photo mania
More photo mania
Tourist destination no 1

Man making ginger candy

Lijiang by night


Pingu said...

when I saw the first photo, i thought it was pretty authentic. But after reading your article I can see how an earthquake and rebuilding would make it look artificial.

I think the Dali woman's comment regarding foreigners won't like Lijang is due to her perception that foreigners only like 'modern' cities like Shanghai, not because of the reason why you didn't like it - too artificial.

Anyway, interesting. Can't wait for the next set of photos ^^

Book Bird Dog said...

I would love to be in Lijiang, even with all the tourists. I liked your photos! (Never been to China).

Anonymous said...

Hello Jonna Wibelius.
I always learn something new when i visit your blog, it´s nice to read, and see this great pictures, thank´s for sharing your passage in china.
All the best, have a nice day, see you soon.

José Filipe 09-09-2009

Carl said...

Great pics, Jonna. It must have been interesting to see the guy pulling the candy. And even better to sample it!!! :D Did the water wheels power anything, or were they just there for looks?

Brad Farless said...

Touristy areas do generally lose something when it comes to friendliness. Also, prices are considerably higher than what they should be because the people can get away with charging that much for it.

I hate to keep making the reference, but most of the food we had in Phuket this month was good, but not great. I've had better in Singapore. The only thing that really stood out was the grilled squid.

By the way, I sympathize with you on the ketchup incident. Also, I noticed that ketchup here in Singapore doesn't taste the same as what I'm used to in the US. It's sweeter, and I don't like that. I wonder if it's the same there?

Anonymous said...

Heard that a lot, but of course, I disagree. (I'm biased, obviously. Lived in Lj for 2 years. Never really liked Dali).

I always surprises me a bit to hear tourist complain about a place being touristy. At any rate Lijiang is a lot better if you avoid the two main allies, and the singing girls are only on one street + the square. The new town is also pretty nice, though not pretty, and I can't say one bad word about the friendliness of Lijiangnese.

Emma said...

Vad fina bilder Jonna och vilket härligt område!!!
Jag är sååå ovan vid att läsa engelska, inte gjort det sedan universitets tiden :) Men det är jätte roligt att se allt du är med om.
Får man kommentera på svenska? Hoppas hoppas hoppazzzzzz :)

Vad roligt det var att springa på dig i Malmö, jag hoppas vi ses snart igen Jonna, fast mindre bakis då, ha ha!
Må så gott.
Kram från Emma - som numera bor i Skåne

Jonna Wibelius said...

Pingu -well like I said.. it didn't look bad in any way. It just didn't pop out as anything special to me. And my expectations were kind of high.

Book Bird Dog -yeah, it was still fun to see that part of the city even though I probably wouldn't return.

Jose -that's nice to hear! Thanks for your kind comment!

Carl -I made a video of the guy making the candy! I will post it sometime soon! :)

Brad -yeah, that's just the way it is. Did you have bad thai food in Phuket?! That sounds odd. I have been to Thailand too -Koh Chang- and I really enjoyed it, especically the tom yum soup (an every day must do!) :) Not sure if I would go back to Thailand though. Next on my list is Malaysia!

As for the ketchup, yeah, what can u do? People put it everyday nowadays, and I don't like it one bit. I don't know if it is because the taste is different.. I simply don't like sauces and stuff on my food. Takes away the actual taste of the food. However, I prefer the ketchup to mayo (that u sometimes get on your sallads in China) everytime!

Anonymous -I hear you. I am pretty sure I have a very shallow impression of Lijiang. We spent most of our time in the ancient town, although we did some walking in the new town too, which I found OK, although nothing special, just like any city in China basically. But I was obviously there for a very short time, so I didn't have the chance to see the "real" scene.

As for a tourist complaining about a place being touristy... hehe. Well I don't see why not. I normally don't like to travel to big tourist destinations, but obviously, when you want to visit cities like Lijiang, Xi'an or Beijing, you are going to end up crammed with other tourists regardless if you like it or not. I didn't have the same feeling in Dali, hence why I preferred that city.

Before I went to Lijiang I read a discussion in some forum where someone had made a comment about Lijiang, going something like "most people coming to Lijiang have no idea. They just see the ancient town and get stuck in the tourist traps. I have lived there for some years and I can tell you it's a wonderful place." After reading that I was thinking: wow, I must find those "real" places... but I apparently failed. Oh well. Glad to hear it is a nice city to live in though!

Emma -klart du får kommentera på svenska, haha! Vad kul att du titta förbi! Så du har flyttat tillbaka till Skåne, så kul! Då får vi absolut ta en drink tillsammans nästa gång jag e hemma, snarare än ett bakissnack på värnhem... ;) Kram!

Brad Farless said...

I wouldn't say the food was bad. It's just that none of it really stood out, except for the grilled squid.

Tom Yam soup is available in Singapore. My wife even makes it at home sometimes, though I don't care for it that much. ^_^

If you go to Malaysia, I've heard the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur are really nice. I'm kinda sad because we went to KL and didn't even know about the Batu Caves.

Anonymous said...

yes, that is really too bad that you didn't find the real Lijiang outside of the tourist places. Lijiang is one of my favorite trips that I took while living in China. And I say that even though I got food poisoning in Lijiang and was so sick I could barely leave my bed for a day. When I got better I walked out of the central old town and found where the locals lived and went to farmers markets and met people just standing in the doorways of their homes. No one trying to sell me anything at these locations. Now it might help that I have two adorable children and the locals are very happy to meet foreign children. So I always had a built in reason to approach someone because they already were looking at my children.