LIJIANG (丽江, lìjiāng), capital of the Naxi Kingdom, nestles 150km north of Dali at foot of the inspiringly spiky and ice-bound massif of Yulong Xue Shan, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Surrounded by green fields and pine forests, the town’s winding cobbled lanes form a centuries-old maze, flanked by clean streams, weeping willows and rustic stone bridges. It is also, however, China’s biggest tourist black spot, and while undeniably pretty, has become little more than a cultural theme park, and the template against which all “old towns” in China are being remodeled. Packs of visitors throng the streets, while the Naxi family homes that line them have been converted into rank after rank of guesthouses and souvenir shops, mostly run by Han Chinese posing in ethnic costumes. Despite this, it’s easy to spend a couple of days in Lijiang, especially if you’ve been out in the wilds and need a good feed and a hot shower. Fairground atmosphere aside, there’s also some genuine culture lurking around the town’s fringes, and plenty of potential excursions into the countryside. While there is no charge to enter Lijiang itself, you do have to buy an “Old Town Maintenance Fee” ticket before you can visit specific sights in and around the town – though you still have to pay additional entry fees for these sights, where they exist.
Rich pickings surround Lijiang, with a stock of pleasant countryside, temples and villages on the lower slopes of Yulong Xue Shan within bicycle range.