Zai Lijiang

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with more than 8 million tourists visiting each year, it’s one of the top destinations to visit in China. Many people say it’s too touristy, too busy, too tacky. But as your train pulls into the station, the cool mountain air hits your lungs and the mighty Yulongxue Shan reveals itself in the first rays of the sun it’s really, really hard not to smile.

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Welcome to Lijiang.

We headed to Lijiang with my mum in the way that most people do, on the night train from Kunming. We packed our warm clothes, bought our snacks and jumped on the 21:58 train north. After watching the lights of the city disappear we got snuggled down into to our hard-sleeper beds and played some scrabble until the lights were switched off and the snoring began. For those of you that haven’t had the experience of the train in China, all I can say is.. do it! It’s the perfect way to travel and if you are a solo traveller you’ll find it super friendly! You can walk up and down the train, there’s hot water on tap (for your tea and the essential pot noodles), the beds are pretty comfy and you can just about meet anyone. As the kids get their pj’s on and brush their teeth and the cool kids from Beijing settle down to games on their i-pads you’ll find the train rocking you asleep with it’s steady rhythm in no time.

There are faster ways to get to Lijiang, but I wanted my mum to experience the train and one too many break-downs on the bus between Kunming and Dali have made me loyal to the humble train.

Our train brought us into Lijiang train station at 7:10 and as we buttoned up and stepped off the train we came face to face with Yulong Shan (玉龙雪山) or Jade Dragon Snow Mountain as it’s also known. After catching our breaths we headed out the station and joined some girls by bargaining with a van to take us to the old city. It cost us 10 yuan each and after getting a little lost in the winding streets of the old town we were at our guest house just after breakfast. We stayed at Enjoy Inn, a lovely little place, set up next to the river. It’s in a quieter part of the town opposite a primary school and you feel a little more connected to reality here. After dropping off our bags we spent the day exploring the hundreds of winding streets and alleys before giving in to a nap.

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Things to see..

Obviously the winding streets of the old town give you plenty to do in themselves. You’ll find yourself coming across tiny alleys hidden away and walk down streets you think you’ve just discovered till you realise it’s the third time you’ve been down it. It’s all part of the charm.

Within the old town one of the best things to do is to head up the hill from the main square and you get a great view of all the roofs, perfect photo opportunity!

For those of you interested in learning about the local culture and the history of the Naxi people then head to the Dongba Culture Museum. They have a great display, especially on the Dongba writing system that uses pictographs, the only living hieroglyphic language in the world!! The Museum is located at the back of the Black Dragon Pool Park about a kilometre from the old town. You can either walk along the side of the park or go through it. The park is the perfect setting for snapping a few photos of Yulong Shan. The Museum is free and open every day and closes about 5pm.

The old town itself can get a bit tiring after a day. As the crowds drag you along the cobbled streets and the one and only song that ever plays blares out at you from every single shop you can start to feel a bit stir-crazy! But don’t be disheartened. Take a walk out the old town, hop on a bike or jump on a bus and discover the beautiful villages and great hiking trails that surround Lijiang. The old town is a good base but don’t hesitate to venture out.

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