Monday, August 8, 2016

Lijiang, China: Disasterland. But Still Pretty

Maybe it's not fair that I call Lijiang "Disasterland," because every disaster that befell me there was maybe kind of my own fault.

What It's All About:
Lijiang is a super-old, World Heritage city that is incredibly historic and pretty.  It has an ancient system using waterways that is still in use today - making it one of the original water villages. More importantly, it is just one of those places that you enter and feel like you're in a different world. Much of the old architecture and such has been preserved because it is a World Heritage Site, so you can really get an actual feel of how it used to be.

Wandering the streets of the old city = dreamy

With its preserved status, however, there is also one tiny downfall - tourists, tourists everywhere.  Along with that comes all the cons of having a high-tourist area - you actually have to pay a hefty fee to enter the old city itself, and many of the old buildings have been converted to tourist shops and cafes.  If you can get over that part of it, however, Lijiang is seriously the prettiest.

You can't hate on these lovely (algae-filled) canals

Sliiiiiight problem with my time in Lijiang was that a series of travel disasters befell me, all at the same time, and all in Lijiang.

Disaster #1:
  • My bus into Lijiang from Dali was late. It's only about 2.5 hours, but I had booked the latest bus, meaning I didn't roll into town until about 11pm.  I took a taxi to the outskirts of Old Town, but had to walk to the hostel because cars aren't allowed in the entire Old Town complex (which is quite large).  I had the location of the hostel on my maps, but unbeknownst to me, it had pinned the wrong location.
  • 30 minutes later, I was hopelessly lost. Not to mention on a dark road with no cars (aka other taxis I could take).  I finally located a parking attendant playing on his phone, had him call my hostel for me on his phone, and then got instructions on where to go to get a new taxi to the hostel (apparently I was beyond walking distance by that point). When I finally got to a lit area where there were taxis, the first two that approached tried to rip me off because of how late it was. I finally located one that was reasonably priced, and had her call my hostel to figure out where to take me. It was seriously over an hour later....and she dropped me off at the exact same spot my first taxi had dropped me an hour earlier.  I had been in the right spot, but had taken the wrong turns. The owner of the hostel met me at the taxi this time to ensure I wouldn't be lost. Sorry, mister - I'm sure you have better things to be doing at midnight (he assured me it happens all the time since they're located wrong on the map).

Despite being dark and lost, I still had time to appreciate how pretty the city was....??

Disaster #2:
  • The next morning, I had made plans with a couple girls at the hostel to get brunch. I also had to book a bus out of Lijiang back to Kunming, and went down to the front desk to get that sorted quickly before brunch. Upon having to pay for the bus, I looked into my wallet.....and couldn't find my ATM card. Or my credit card. Both. Missing.
  • Panic.
  • Panic some more.
  • These poor girls I had just met were waiting for me for brunch, and I was running around upending all my things and rummaging through everything and ranting about missing both my cards. I retraced my steps and realized that I don't think my last hostel in Dali had returned my credit card after I'd paid the room fee.  I had the front desk of my new hostel call my old hostel to check for my card.  AND THEY HAD IT.  (Apparently, the lady at my old hostel had been like "what does her card look like?? We have so, so many of them here!"  THEY HAVE A HABIT OF FORGETTING TO RETURN CREDIT CARDS. Seriously, that hostel was a hot, hot mess.  Even hotter of a mess than I sound like right here).  
  • My old Dali hostel worked out that they had a guest who was headed to Lijiang this day - they said they'd send along the card with that guest, and I could meet him at the Lijiang bus terminal. But I had to come back to the hostel at 1pm and call him to make sure it was ok and work out logistics.
  • So I went to brunch. Then I had to run to the Bank of China across town to get some of my emergency USD changed to Chinese Yuan because I had no cash left, no credit card, and no ATM card (the girls came with me. They are angels).  

Disaster #3:
  • I ran back to the hostel at 1pm to call my old hostel to talk to the guest that was headed to Lijiang - and SMALL WORLD, it ended up being Chen, the guy who was on my lake tour in Dali the day before! I know Chen! I'm WeChat friends with Chen! We made plans to meet at the bus station at 5pm when he got in. Problem is, I don't have a Chinese phone and couldn't reach him if the bus was late (and he had to head to the Lijiang airport directly from the bus station to catch a flight), or if we had problems meeting up or anything. It was so nerve-wracking.
  • Of course, around 5pm, my taxi driver on the way to the bus terminal sneakily took a loop to pick up other customers and made me late to go meet Chen at the bus station.  I seriously almost lost it at him but he kept lowering the price of my taxi and assured me I'd be on time. (Spoiler: I wasn't).
  • I flew into the bus terminal about 10 minutes late - no bus to be found. I asked around - and the man said the bus from Dali had arrived a long time ago. Apparently it'd gotten in early.
  • Panic.
  • Ran around like a homeless person until I finally found a lady willing to lend me her phone (seriously, I've learned that when you approach a stranger in China and use your heavily accented Chinese to ask to borrow their phone to make a call, they either look at you like you're an axe murderer, or they pretend not to hear you and scoot away).  I called Chen, freaking out because I thought he'd left because he had a really tight plane to catch.  
  • AND RELIEF. Turns out Chen's flight was delayed (THERE IS A GOD. I KNOW THERE IS) and so he was just next door having noodles.  And then there he appeared, with my credit card in hand!  ANGELS.
  • ATM card is still missing. I think I lost it in Shanghai.  But I have a backup because I am a prepared (yes still somehow disastrous) traveler!  So all's well that end's well.  Back to regularly scheduled programming. (Only one more month, Connie - hold yourself together).

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Well, besides running around like a crazy person doing weird arbitrary errands I shouldn't have had to do if I had my life together (i.e. heading across town to the bus terminal and back, heading to the other side of town for the one bank that would change my USD, etc.), I did really get to enjoy some time in Lijiang as well.  I swear.  I really liked it.  
Canals, lanterns, and pretty buildings as far as the eye can see

  • I spent my time in Lijiang with some lovely new hostel friends (the ones who were saints in insisting on waiting for me for brunch, accompanying me to the world's farthest bank, and waiting for me to return from the bus station to get dinner).

New hostel friends (L to R) are Helene from Denmark, and Aurelie from France (but living in Massachusetts). We walked up to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (fave name ever), a famous sight in Lijiang. We are actually standing at the most famous viewpoint ever, which looks highly unimpressive because the dense clouds are actually covering (what I've been told is) a beautiful snow-covered mountain.  Darn you, clouds.

However, the area was a really nice park that you could wander around.  

With very pretty, very historic (but reconstructed) temples all around!

  • After our "hike" to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, we spent a lot of time just walking through the Old Town.  Lijiang is one of those cities that's so, so lovely to wander through - there's alleys full of people and tourists and shops and noisy performances, and then you can take a turn to a tiny little picturesque alley with no people, and get a glimpse of actual life there.  It's absolutely stunning either way. Photo dump of Lijiang to commence.

The entrance to the old city is very grandly displayed.  Signs a city is way over-touristed: there is a grand entrance to enter it. With ticket booths.
I can't read this (not that I have the patience to), but I imagine this plaque is boasting of the World Heritage status. Oh, and that's a World Heritage logo on the top.

Ahhh, but you are so pretty!! Dragon head water spouts?!? SIGN ME UP.

Hoards of people

Tofu that they top with spring onions and peppers and deep fry with sesame seeds. Delicious. A little oily, but that never hurt anyone (Chinese people looooove their oil. There's always an unappetizing pool of it left over at the bottom of every dish).


I bought a printed shawl #soauthentic

I could have taken a billion photos of this city. Too bad I only succeeded in taking about a million.

Some local guys offered to take this photo for us and when handing the camera back to me, asked "Are you their tour guide?"  I'm going to assume it's because I carry myself with an air of authority.


Four flavors of Oreos. Another reason I know heaven exists.  I may have purchased the birthday cake flavored Oreos and eaten the entire tube for dinner (IN MY DEFENSE, I WAS STRESSED).

Waterways everywhere!

This street was so pretty. And photos like these are what make me miss my iPhone more than ever.

There's also construction going on everywhere here too - I think they're continually expanding to accommodate the crazy tourism.  This was like the opposite of Yuanyang. My hostel owner said he's owned his hostel for 10 years now, back when Lijiang was lesser-known and more quaint, and the boom in tourism since has been so crazy that he has considered closing the hostel and going somewhere else.

Though are these streets not a photographer's dream??

Construction means one side of the road is entirely covered with particle board.
I only took this photo because Aurelie and I went to get our hair washed (I had told her how amazing and cheap hair washing is in China; see Chengdu post) - and they curled my hair!  And for one day, I didn't look homeless!

Dusk over Lijiang rooftops

For dinner, the three of us went to a restaurant our hostel owner recommended, called Daily Fresh. You can tell it's legit because there was a huge line of people waiting outside at all times. We waited forever. And were rewarded with the most delicious meal EVER.  There were a ton of local Yunnan specialties, which included some braised tofu and bacon things. And a very authentic-looking wooden rice bucket (I'd like those boys to still think I could be tour guide now....)

Nightfall - they light the buildings up, in true tourist-pleasing form

  • After two days in Lijiang, I hauled myself back to Kunming to catch a flight I had previously booked to Hong Kong.  If I'd had more time though (THEME OF MY ENTIRE TRIP), there are so many cool places I could have explored in Yunnan!  Near Lijiang is this stunning hiking gorge called Tiger Leaping Gorge (with a name like that, how could it not be life-changing), and then even further on is the city of Shangri-La!  Which is apparently beautiful and mountainous and like being in Tibet, without actually being in Tibet. Side note, did you know China does not let you enter Tibet by yourself if you're a foreigner??  They make you join an approved tour. It's like North Korea. Crazy.

Ahhh, the overnight bus back to Kunming was an upgrade!  They had three rows of single beds, instead of having you sleep THISCLOSE to a stranger right next to you. Never mind that the aisles between the beds were basically the narrowest things ever - like once you entered the aisle, there was no turning back. Literally.
I feel like here, I have to bid farewell to the Yunnan province as a whole since it's my last post here.  All I have to say is: you have to visit this province if you're in China!  It feels absolutely nothing like the rest of China, and the places you see and visit and go are such different experiences and so, so different!  There are a TON more backpackers in this part of China than I've encountered anywhere else (seriously, every other hostel I've stayed at in China had a very weird, Chinese-only kind of vibe) - and the hostels are much more like the hostels you'll find in other parts of the world.  Also, if you come here in summer, you will not melt. You will in the rest of China. Really.

Bye, Yunnan! Bye moto taxis and beautiful ethnic tribes (DIVERSITY) and cool weather and backpacker-friendliness!  


  1. <333333333 sending love after those disasters. COME HOME SAFE TO ME PLEASE. SO SOON!! Could someone have found/be using your first ATM card?? Make sure its closed!! Ok i'm done :) Love you!!!! glad everything worked out

    1. Yep, all checked and we're all good on that front! Love that you took the time to make sure. I will see your face so soon and I CAN'T WAIT. XO