Location: Lijiang, Yuannan, China
Visited: Dec 30, 2009 – Jan 2, 2010
Opinion and Background:
If I had written this article right after I came back from China (the first time), I would have given it a glowing, spotless review. After all, it was one of my first travel experiences that wasn’t long term (like Korea). Sometimes, it is good to let a little time pass by to have some perspective. How can you say a place is the best if you haven’t been anywhere else to compare?
Lijiang has a history dating back almost a thousand years. It is a prime example of the diversity of China as a country. When most people think of China, they think of a homogeneous place, with the exception being Tibet. While Tibet is an example, China is home to hundreds of ethnic minorities, including the Nakhi people of Lijiang. The Nakhi still live in Lijiang and the surrounding areas, and some still practice silk embroidering which they have been doing since the times of the Silk Road. In those times, Lijiang was one of the last stops of the road where traders could get some of the finest silk in China. Much like Xi’an, China, Lijiang is very unique and quite different from Chinese mega cities like Beijing. One special feature is that cars are not allowed inside the Old Town at all.
The Old Town of Lijiang’s architecture is fantastic, with the entire town being made of traditional buildings. Due to its popularity however, many of the buildings are now either bars, restaurants, or souvenir shops for tourists. While many complain that Lijiang is too loud and doesn’t warrant its reputation as a place of serenity, I beg to differ. Much like the World Heritage site of Venice, Italy, Lijiang also has wonderful quiet spots if you look hard enough. Since there are rivers that flow around the town, I found that the sound of the water drowned out any rowdy guests. Fireworks were also quite awesome for New Year’s, but they go nuts on the fireworks pretty much anywhere in China.
The town center also has Nakhi women making traditional clothes (although I didn’t figure out if it was for sell, or for show). I also witnessed some men ride up in horses. Someone translated that they were there to trade supplies that they needed, which I thought was pretty cool (although I can’t verify since I don’t speak Mandarin). While it is true that it is not the hidden oasis it must have been before its inscription as a UNESCO WHS, I am sure that anyone visiting, won’t be disappointed.
While this is not part of the WHS, it is also interesting to note that you can rent bicycles and visit some even older towns in the area, some of which do not speak Mandarin Chinese at all!
1) Completeness and Originality (8/15): While the city remains in tact, unfortunately, some of the traditional practices (and people) that made Lijiang special, such as master silk embroiders, were lost during the ‘cultural revolution’ of the 1970s. Also, an explosion in tourism has made it over-accommodate, getting rid of some traditional shops. Apparently, it was also completely reconstructed after it was destroyed in the 1990s.
2) Extensiveness of the Site (6/15): The actual Old Town is like a small village. While every alley would take a day, you can see most key spots in about 2.5 hours.
3) Cultural Significance (19/25): Lijiang was one of the major trading posts of the silk road. It is also a testament of Chinese cultural diversity.
4) Personal Impact (10/15): It was one of my first travel experiences, and I had just come from seeing the Terracotta Army, so I was pretty positive about the whole thing.
5) Logistics (7/10): Lijiang has a small (national only) airport that serves it. I flew in from Xi’an without a problem. Getting around in China without getting scammed is an accomplishment.
6) Uniqueness (9/20): Looks nice, but very similar to the other traditional Chinese towns.
Combined Score: 59/100
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