An old friend sent me this inquiry: We (3 of us) are going to Yunnan for the last week of August. We have things pretty well organized and plan to spend 3 days in Lijiang and 2 in Shangri-La. If you have any suggestions about wild and exciting things to do, that would be great!
Here are my answers:
1. First of all, where are you staying? That’s important because Lijiang has turned into a crazy tourist town that stays alive 24/7. The old town of Lijiang is most charming with those two-story wooden houses lining cobblestoned streets, but it’s really hard to find a quiet hotel room because the bars and cafes stay open till midnight. In this context, I’d recommend either the Banyan Tree, which is charming, but expensive. Or some Chinese 4-star hotels like Guanfang, which is not that memorable, but at least you can sleep. In Zhongdian, you want to stay at the Songsam Hotel near the Songzanlin Monastery. It’s owned by a Tibetan entrepreneur. It’s better than the Ringa Banyan Tree.
2. Activities in Lijiang: Lijiang’s old town used to be so lovely, but now, it is overrun by tourists during the day. Exploring the old town, I suggest you get up early and walk around in the maze, allowing yourself to get gloriously lost. Pick up some pancakes freshly made on a food stall, etc. That’s still quite lovely. The Black Dragon Pool, despite its popularity as a tourist site, it’s still lovely. Spend a good 2 hours in there, check out the dongba museum – not fancy, but gives you a little sense of what dongba culture is like. Xueke’s Naxi music used to be great, and I loved it many years ago. But, now the venue has doubled or tripled in size, it’s lost its intimacy. At WildChina, we used to just hire a small local band and do a dinner/concert in one of the village houses. After that, you probably want to get out of the old town as quickly as you can.
a. Leave Tiger Leaping Gorge for a stopover visit on your way to Zhongdian.
b. For glacier, Maoniuping is slightly better. It’s probably quite fun to ride horse up, as compared to taking the tram. I would not recommend riding horse downhill. The horses don’t come with western saddles with all the padding and handle for you to grab. If you’ve never done horseback riding, don’t try it out there.
c. If you like day hikes, try to go to Wenhai or Lashihai. Not tourist sites, but interesting villages.
d. If you don’t mind 2-3 hour driving, go to Xuehua village, a tiny little village with 80 people, you can still meet the Yi Shaman there. (Yi is another ethnic group, different from Naxi in Lijiang.)
e. Further afield, on the border with Dali, there are some wonderful places to visit: Jianchuan Grottoes – most stunning grottoes documenting the history of Dali Kingdom. Not touristy at all, but the hike and the grotto are just absolutely mind boggling. You can hike from the Grottoes to a nearby village called Shaxi – an intact old village, that used to be a key stop of the Southern Silk Road. Lovely old temple, old houses. Again, either without a tour guide, getting lost in it is a wonderful experience. (It’s not that big). To go there, you need to drive 3 hours each way from Lijiang.
3. Activities in Zhongdian: Songzanlin Monastery, Pudacuo National park will probably take up all your time. I’d recommend you try to visit a local Tibetan home in a village nearby. Anyone will do, just to see what their life is like. Remember to start slow, give yourself time to get used to the altitude when you just get there. Altitude sickness usually hits you after a nap or something like that, with in my case, a bursting headache. Drink lots of water to recover or go with Diamox from your doctor.
Have fun. for more information, check out www. wildchina.com