Lijiang (丽江; Lìjiāng) is a small city in Yunnan Province, China. It was once the capital of a small kingdom and is a busy world heritage listed tourist town today.


A canal in the old town

Lijiang is the main center of the Naxi or Nakhi people, though it is by no means a Naxi-only town: at least half a dozen other ethnic groups are represented. The Naxi number under a million and are perhaps best-known for their embroidery; they also have their own language with its own hieroglyphic-style writing system, and their own religion, clothing, art, architecture, music and dance. The Chinese government classifies the Mosuo (found mainly further north around Lugu Lake) as part of the Naxi group, but neither the Naxi nor the Mosuo accept this.

Lijiang or nearby Baisha (now a village 12km north of town) have been important since approximately the time of Christ, when the Naxi settled in the area, and Baisha was the capital of a Naxi kingdom from 658 to 1107. Then the area came under Chinese control and Lijiang became the administrative center. Parts of the old town date back to this period, built during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The town was built where the Jade River divides into three and its streams form the canals and waterways which flow along the old town streets.

In 1278, the Yuan Dynasty appointed the Naxi chief Mu De hereditary ruler of the area, and the Mu family retained power for about 500 years. Today their palace is one of the major tourist attractions of the old town.

Lijiang became known in the west through two men who lived in or near the town in the early 20th century, Austrian-American botanist Joseph Rock who wrote a Naxi dictionary, several scholarly papers, and many articles for National Geographic, and Russian Peter Goullart who wrote several books. It has been suggested that Rock's articles inspired James Hilton's Lost Horizons novel about a fictional Himalayan paradise, Shangrila, but the claim is controversial.

After China started to admit foreign tourists in the 1980s, Lijiang began to attract many visitors. To fulfill their needs, local people started restaurants and cafes. Chinese people also long for the lifestyle and the excellent environment in Lijiang and started to pour in.

An earthquake in 1996 flattened large parts of the town, though quite a few of the traditional wooden buildings remained standing while far more of the Mao-era brick or concrete structures collapsed. Since then there has been extensive rebuilding, mainly in traditional styles. There have been some complaints that much of that work followed traditions of central China, rather than locally appropriate ones, but most visitors will just notice a lot of rather pretty old-looking buildings.

Get in

By plane

There are many flights from Kunming to Lijiang, from early morning to late at night, at around US$100 one way + ¥100 tax; the duration is only 50 minutes. There are also direct flights from Chengdu and Chongqing, of longer duration and at higher cost. However, the train service between Lijiang and Kunming is the cheapest and most environmentally-friendly way to arrive at or depart from Lijiang.

Lijiang Airport

It is also possible to book a flight to Lijiang from any major city in China, but most flights will stop in Kunming and many will require a change of planes there.

There are some international flights. Tiger fly direct from Singapore to Lijiang, though only a few flights a week. The return flight makes a quick refuelling stop at Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The modestly sized airport is 40 minutes from the city. You can take a taxi for ¥100 (official fixed price) to get to the city. There are touts that will offer the same trip for ¥60-80, but it is likely you will find yourself squeezed into the same vehicle with strangers. Alternatively, outside the arrival hall, you will find the airport bus, which leaves regularly when full, for ¥15, to the Blue Skies Hotel near the Guangfang Hotel, which is 1km from the old town. A taxi to the old town will be ¥7-10 from the Blue Skies Hotel carpark.

When leaving Lijiang, arriving at the airport an hour before your flight is sufficient.

Lijiang is at 2400m (almost 8,000 feet) so there is some risk of altitude sickness if you fly in from a lower altitude. The risk is not remarkably severe, but it may be more prudent to fly to Kunming at 2000m, acclimatise there, then come to Lijiang. Dali would be an interesting intermediate stop. If you do fly direct to Lijiang from sea level, plan to take it easy the first day or two while your body gets acclimatised.

By train

There are daily services to Dali and Kunming. A ticket booking office is located on the north side of the road several hundred metres west of the bus station. The train station is an impressive structure about 7km south of Lijiang old town. Several public bus lines serve the station, including the number 18 and some number 4 buses. Taxis are reluctant to use the meter and will demand high fares of ¥30-40, though with bargaining ¥15 may be possible. Be aware that taxis are not easy to come by in Lijiang. An alternative is the small SUV-type vans which cruise around offering a share-taxi service.

A hard sleeper berth from Kunming to Lijiang costs ¥130 and runs from 10PM to 7AM. The soft sleeper car would cost you about ¥205 on the same train. If you travel by a small family, parents and a kid, consider the VIP chamber which is at the price of ¥614, one less than purchasing three individual tickets in a four bed standard room. You may feel a bit tight for luggage storage space, but you gain more valuable privacy, with your own family. From Dali the train is a faster, cheaper alternative to the crowded buses: Hard (padded) seat is about 31Y, and the journey takes only 2 hours from Dali city.

Train No. // Dpt // Arr. // Duration // Dpt. Time // Arr.Time // Soft-sleeper // Hard-sleeper // Soft seat // Hard seat

K9610 Kunming Lijiang 8hr:48min 10:00 18:48 ¥218/¥227 ¥142/¥148/¥153 ¥138 ¥90

L9630 Kunming Lijiang 9hr:14min 11:26 20:40 ------ ¥142/¥148/¥153 ---- ¥90

k9606 Kunming Lijiang 9hr:02min 21:58 07:00 ------ ¥142/¥148/¥153 ---- -----

K9602 Kunming Lijiang 9hr:00min 22:28 07:28 ¥218/¥227 ¥142/¥148/¥153 ¥138 ¥90

L9646 Kunming Lijiang 10hr:45min 22:50 09:35 ¥168/¥175 ¥99/¥104/¥107 ----- ----

By bus

Get around

Walking is the only option in the old town, while taxis are often the easiest way around the rest of town for ¥7 (June 2008). Make sure you have the exact location info or address for the cab driver. Some of them do not know a whole lot more than you do.

Fracture alert: watch where you are walking. It is easy to trip on the cobblestones or fall into the canals from the walkways or bridges, many of which do not have handrails. The cobblestones can be very slippery when wet.

To see the sights outside the old town, the options are walking, biking, public bus, private mini-bus, or taxi. The public bus mainly stays within the city and stops 8PM-PM. The mini-buses are the same price as the public bus within the city. They will have the number of the bus on the front windshield. The price of a mini-bus to a nearby village is ¥2-5, but the starting location within the city is different for most villages. If you do not know where you want to go and are limited on time, the best option is to rent a taxi or mini-bus for the day, but the price can vary wildly from about ¥100 all the way up to ¥300. The price mainly depends on whether you can speak Chinese or not, and how comfortable you look when you try to bargain the deal.


Sifangjie (Square Street)
Looking over the city
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
One of the many canals


Local Hospitality

In Biasha village, there is an old woman named Liu who will sometimes stop tourists and invite them into her home. She is a very nice lady, who will show you pictures of people who have visited her home as well as messages that people have left in her guestbook. She will feed you snacks and tea and make you feel welcome. Before letting you leave, she will ask for a small 'donation' (around ¥10 per person).


Typical Old Town Street With Shops

Loads of tourist shops available in old town. Probably overpriced, but Lijiang does not have as many cases of the Westerner price being too much higher than the Chinese price as in many other parts of China.

Local skirts that include designs that appear Ancient Egyptian may actually be based on pictographs that preceded Chinese characters.


There are three primary types of restaurants in Lijiang: Naxi, Tibetan, and Sichuan. Some restaurants offer more than one type of food. Much Western food is also available, but more expensive. Lots of local snack-type foods available from street vendors, including:


If you are in the old town, it's probably better to get out to find cheap prices.



There are a couple of local drinks worthy of special mention. Lijiang Yinjiu and Sulima (both commonly available in Lijiang) are modern renditions of ancient beer types of the Naxi and Mosuo people and far more enjoyable than the typical bland Chinese lager. Yunnan is famous for tea, as well (though Pu'er, Yunnan's best-known tea town, is way down south on the road to Xishuangbanna) and every fourth shop is a tea shop specializing in the length and breadth of Chinese tea, the likes of which you will not find in your average Western Chinatown.

Unlike the rest of China, Lijiang's cafés and restaurants shut down around 11PM. The bars have to shut down their music at 11:30pm. But you can drink until you finish your alcohol. Along the canal you find find it packed with bars. It's packed with people even on rainy days. The cost for a dozen beers ranges from ¥98 at 9pm, all the way to ¥600 around 11pm. The bars along the canal are the most touristy. If you walk past Four Square street deeper into the old town you will find less touristy bars where you aren't constantly asked to buy flowers for the girls.

There are too many bars inside old town to list, but here are a few:


Lijiang has plenty of hotels to fit all budgets and styles.

It is sometimes difficult to find specific addresses in the old town; the best option, especially in low season, is to walk around town and check put prices and rooms to see which suits you best as there are many different options to choose from. In the winter ensure there is a heated mattress pad or heating in the room as the nights are quite chilly.


There are hundreds of beautiful and clean Chinese hotels not listed below. To find them it's best to ask around, or stand in the train station bus drop-off stop (East of the water-wheels central square) with a big backpack and look lost. Nice ladies will approach you: expect to get a double room for around 80Y-100Y, depending on the season.


For info - Facebook Page - Lijiang Sina Hotel 新纳大酒店


Stay safe

The smaller streets in the old town are reported not to be safe at night. Do not walk alone.

Go next

Lijiang is on a popular route which we describe at Yunnan tourist trail. Other major towns along that route are:

Other places in the region include:

Lijiang is also a jumping off spot for treks; see Tiger Leaping Gorge (quite nearby) and Three Parallel Rivers National Park (more of an expedition).

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.