Yunnan pt. 3: The Old Town of Lijiang


Yunnan pt. 1: The diversity of Chinese culture

Yunnan pt. 2: Horseriding

After lunch, we went to the Old Town of Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From UNESCO’s website:

“The Old Town of Lijiang, which is perfectly adapted to the uneven topography of this key commercial and strategic site, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity. Its architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries. Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today.”


The Old Town is a very beautiful town of complex structures and haunting waterways, but it was also extremely touristy. There was a huge maintenance fee of 80 RMB per person just to walk through these streets which had been so transformed for commercial activities that the local character was a bit suppressed. (Spoiler alert: we would experience even crazier entry fees in the future.)


While I enjoyed experiencing the Old Town of Lijiang very much, this is not a UNESCO site I think is reason alone for someone to visit Yunnan because of the extreme commercialism that often made this historic place look like any other tourist area in any other Chinese city. For example, the modernized and accessible cities of Beijing and Shanghai also have several areas (hutongs and Wangfujing in Beijing, the water towns in Shanghai) where you can walk through winding streets of old houses and experience the architecture and “living history” vibe. Lijiang’s rampant commercialism was interfering with its old town’s cultural appeal.



The Old Town of Lijiang is over 1000 years old. It was an important trading spot on the Ancient Tea Horse Road, tea and horses being major business in Yunnan’s history. The Tea Horse Road has also been called the Southern Silk Road, linking Yunnan to Myanmar to Tibet to Sichuan to Central Asia.


The Old Town is an amalgam of mainly local Naxi and dominant Han culture, which can be seen in the architecture, which has elements differentiating it from the usual Chinese architecture including detailed, colorful flower carvings on windows (Han windows are usually limited to geometric arrangements of rectangles of a single color).

Regrettably, I can’t give as good of an explanation as I’d like to as to how the architecture in Yunnan is not in the typical Chinese (in other words, Han: read my explanation here) style. Ancient East Asian architecture is all about sprawling complexes, round columns, colorful detailing, stacks of arched roofs, and complicated wood carvings, with a lot of similarities, but there are regional differences. As a person of Chinese heritage who has visited China over 10 times, I can just tell when buildings are “Chinese” (Han), when they’re of Chinese indigenous peoples (like in Yunnan), and when they’re Japanese or Korean.



Above is a building for community gatherings. This type of building, a two-story building with four walls surrounding auditorium seating plus a stage, is found all over China and still used today in villages and cities. They are used for civic meetings and performances put on by travelling troupes.



We bought some flower pastries, the local specialty. These pastries have a filling of crushed, delicately sweetened rose petals encased in a flaky crust that resembles pie crust and laminated dough. They smell great. Five boxes of five pastries each came to just 50 RMB.


“Eating out should keep civilized behavior, and keep healthy eating in mind.” Good advice.

After a long walk over the cobblestone streets of Lijiang Old Town we came to the Mu Palace (or Mu’s Residence). As I wrote in my last post, the Mu family was very powerful in Yunnan and many people still have the last name Mu.


The entry fee was 50 RMB, not cheap.


This palace is gorgeous and even though I was in a bad mood because I had gotten sick and my nose was running uncontrollably, this was one of my favorite Chinese architectural experiences ever. Some parts of this complex were spread over flat, open space and some parts were integrated into the hilly terrain, providing breathtaking views of the town and surrounding countryside. Lots of cool walkways, some on the ground and some built into the hills, and lots of smaller buildings up above worth exploring. I would come here again and highly recommend visiting Mu’s Palace if you understand Chinese/have a Chinese speaker with you, because the tour guides at Mu’s Palace can tell you a lot of history about Mu, his significance, and his impact on Yunnan, enhancing your experience and understanding.


The color scheme here is pretty unique. Generally, complexes of Chinese buildings in the ancient style have red buildings with highlights of green, plus blue, white, and gold in smaller amounts. Here, some walls were white, which set off the red, green, and blue and made them pop.






Indigenous art:


The reason everything looks so clean and well-maintained is because this isn’t the original Mu Palace and was constructed from 1996-1999. This is the case at many historical attractions in China. Original buildings are often repainted.


This kind of attitude towards restoration might seem strange to westerners, considering what’s done to preserve history in America and Europe, but the Chinese perspective is that by rebuilding and repainting, we can experience something as those who built these buildings and lived here might have experienced things hundreds of years ago, even if the building itself is not the original building from hundreds of years ago.




These views!



After this my runny nose was too uncomfortable so we returned to the hotel, where we had dinner in the Club Lounge. The hotel from the ground:


The hotel from the lounge:


So gorgeous, and I love how the numerous split-up buildings create a sense of privacy.



The lounge food was alright. Good variety of flavors, ingredients, and a mix of western and Chinese cooking, but it wasn’t freshly prepared. The way Hyatt Club Lounges serve their food makes it pretty clear that it’s prepackaged, because they won’t bring individual items (for example, if I only wanted the crème brûlée, I would still be brought the other desserts because each set is packaged together). If things were being made to order, this wouldn’t be the case. Fried items are also often limp and stale, and cold things (and sometimes things that are supposed to be hot) are often not completely thawed. I don’t care if the food was previously frozen but I do care if the food is frozen when I get it.


Tomorrow: Impression Lijiang, a show on “the highest stage on earth.”











One Comment Add yours

  1. Mel & Suan says:

    The day looks beautiful and so does the sites! So lucky for you to have this clear day!

    Liked by 1 person

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