Nestled in a high mountain valley, Lijiang's charming Old Town has long been a center of Naxi culture and in recent years has become a major tourist attraction. Declared a UN World Heritage site after a 1996 earthquake and developed in the years since with tourism in mind, Lijiang, once a remote backpacker getaway, now attracts more than 5 million tourists a year. If you are just find a peaceful place to travel in your China tour, Lijiang would be the best option for you.
Of course, the tourism boom has changed the city and it's now common to find traditional wooden Naxi houses converted into shops run by Han Chinese who cater to the needs of tour groups. This has changed Lijiang's character, replacing much of its authentic (if occasionally dilapidated) charm with the convenience and relative luxury that the tourism industry requires. Strolling the winding stone streets and alleys of Dayan, the main part of Old Town, is still enjoyable, although it's certainly better during the off season, weekdays and before 8:30am when the tourist groups begin to get started. The villages of Baisha and Shuhe, both part of the Lijiang Old Town UNESCO Site, are somewhat quieter alternatives to Dayan's very well-trod streets. Many businessmen particularly like to visit Lijiang along their China business travel to escape from the bustling world.
The New City, whose flimsy modern buildings fared worse in the earthquake than the old city's Naxi wood and stone houses, is not worth too much time, though hotels tend to be cheaper than in the Old City. Carrying the China map of Lijiang along your trip in case of Beijing lost in the maze.
Beyond Lijiang, the beautiful countryside beckons. Not far from the city you'll find monasteries like the Yufeng Lamasery, Naxi villages like Baoshan Stone Village, Lashi Lake, the spectacular Tiger Leaping Gorge and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains. Lijiang is also an excellent spot for a few days of relaxation before or after treks in Tibet or eastern Yunnan. This may show us why the China travel deals of Lijiang are hot cakes among travelers.
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