In the western world, the first warmth of spring means that Good Friday and Easter Monday are just around the corner. People prepare for their trips to see family and friends, or to head out on some new travel adventures. This year is shaping up to be a continuation of the last, where people are sadly still in a locked-down state, or unable to travel due to a variety of reasons.
We’re very fortunate here in China that through some very strict controls put in place early in the pandemic, we’re now essentially free of the virus and can travel around the country with limited to no restrictions in place. Instead of Good Friday and Easter Monday, we have the Qingming Festival, a time for families to get together to pay their respects to their loved ones that have passed away. Qingming literally means Tomb Sweeping and is a chance for the family to clean the gravesite and provide food offerings to those that have passed.
For foreigners like myself (and some local Chinese too), Qingming is an opportunity to take a long weekend vacation. For this weekend, I chose to visit Yunnan again after the excellent experience I had last year in visiting Xishuangbanna. This time I chose to visit Lijiang, a small city known for its ancient towns and beautiful scenery. Lijiang was a popular place for backpackers to visit in the pre-COVID-19 days, and as such, has many trappings for tourists to enjoy.
Even though this was just a long weekend trip, I’m going to split this trip into a few posts to keep the image count reasonable for low bandwidth visitors:
Dayan Ancient Town
Dayan is an ancient town with over 1,000 years of history. It was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997 and is a popular tourism destination for foreigners and locals alike. In the COVID era, it has become extremely popular with local tourists that are pretty much rapped within China’s borders. While tourism helped lift many people to higher living standards, there is a bit of a Disneyland feel to Lijiang. However, as you’ll see in a future post, there are many small ancient towns near Dayan Ancient Town which can provide a very authentic experience.
Just like in Xishuangbanna, I decided to stay at an IHL Group hotel; in Lijiang, you can choose the larger Intercontinental or the smaller boutique style Indigo. If you choose to go with Indigo, the nice thing is that you can use either hotel’s facilities. I chose Indigo so that I could experience the boutique hotel style that I prefer, while being able to use the Intercontinental’s lounge and larger restaurants.
Overall, I found the service to be exceptional and took the time to write a 5-star review for the hotel and the really helpful staff. The staff at the hotels and in the town speak a lot more English than what I experienced at Xishuangbanna. While this made the trip much easier to manage, it also took away a bit from the sense of adventure that I had in ‘Banna.
The hotel is right on the southern end of the Dayan Ancient town, so it makes for excellent access to the town. There’s even a secret gate to get into the town from the Intercontinental side. However, given the COVID-19 restrictions, I went through the proper gate to ensure that everything is tracked properly in case of an outbreak. The technology in China is so advanced. Once my passport was scanned, a facial image was taken, and for the rest of my trip, I just walked up to the gate and the system recognized my face without any papers, cards or tickets.
The Dayan Ancient Town is amazing and huge. You can spend three days walking around and barely cover all the corners of the town. I heard that the town was pretty raucous a few years back, but the local government stepped in and cleaned up all the shady places. The government now only allows clubs to be present on the canal street (and my gosh is that street raucous!). It always amazes me that a small town in China can have a party scene that can rival what you’d see in big North American cities like Toronto or Montreal.
If you’re a coffee nut, you’ll love visiting Yunnan Province in China. One of the things that make it famous is their coffee. In the ancient town, there are a few third wave style coffee shops. While I wasn’t able to converse with the barista in English, by using Baidu Fanyu, we spent a few hours talking about coffee. It turned out that he actually works in the coffee farm and was just subbing in for the barista who took leave to visit family. I bought some beans and took a bit of Yunnan home with me.
Just like in Xishuangbanna, the food in Lijiang is excellent. The famous local dish is Yak hotpot. While I did try it, I didn’t find the yak meat to be to my taste. However, everything else besides the yak was excellent. I really enjoyed the spicy food the most and found a number of good restaurants by walking around and searching on the Chinese app called Dianping Meituan. Two places I really liked included Rice Slurp (truffle chips to die for!) and Cocoa Private Kitchen (amazing spicy beef and chicken dishes). If you visit Lijiang, remember that Yunnan is also famous for its exotic mushrooms, so make sure to try dishes with local mushrooms.
Enough writing, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. I hope that you enjoy this series of images as much as I enjoyed making them. Lijiang is a really great place to visit and I hope the images make you want to travel there. Let me know what you think in the comments section below; you don’t need to register to make a comment, just enter an email address and name and that’ll work fine.
Next up in the series will be Blue Moon Valley, and boy is that going to be a visual treat! Stay tuned.