Final Exam: Yunnan, Part 3: Biking Around Lijiang

This is part 3 of a 7 part series on our recent travels in the Yunnan province of China:

  1. Introduction
  2. Good Night, Vietnam – Hanoi to Nanning to Lijiang
  3. Biking Around Lijiang
  4. Tiger Leaping Gorge
  5. Relaxing in Dali
  6. A Step Back in Time – Shaxi
  7. Seven Legs of Transit – Lijiang to Shenzhen to Hong Kong

We arrived in Lijiang with a booking at a well-reviewed hostel, Garden Inn. Our goal in all of our China lodging was to stay at hostels who’s reviews specifically mention helpful, English-speaking staff. One of our biggest struggles in getting around China is the language barrier, so having hostel staff that can very clearly explain how to get somewhere or between locations, and also can write things in Chinese, is invaluable.

Jade Snow Dragon Mountain from Lijiang

Jade Snow Dragon Mountain from Lijiang

Luckily, we hit the jackpot with Garden Inn. The staff was incredibly helpful and presented a variety of options for tours they could organize around the area: horseback riding, trekking through Tiger Leaping Gorge, or touring some things around town. One thing we really wanted to do was visit some minority villages, which this part of Yunnan is especially known for. So we asked for bike rentals and planned to set out mid-morning for the Baisha village, about 15 km north of Lijiang. While we were waiting for our bikes, we met two other travelers staying at the hostel, an American and a Brit, both of whom were studying Mandarin in Beijing! They wanted to come along so it was great to have good company, and also Chinese speakers.

The first surprise for us was the weather. We planned our travels (and our packing list) so that we only be in warm weather. We did not bring any coats, hats, or gloves. We knew China would be a bit cold, and so when we went to the weather channel and did Lijiang, China, the average high was about 60 degrees F, so we weren’t worried. When we arrived, it was about 30 degrees F. No hostel in Yunnan has central heat, so it was cold. Luckily they provide a electric blanket so we slept OK. But our first stop on our bike ride was to a shop where we picked up gloves, a hat, and a hand-woven scarf. With the cold problem alleviated, we were off to Baisha!

Old town of Baisha

Old town of Baisha

The area surrounding Lijiang is quite mountainous and provides some beautiful vistas that are tough to see in other parts of China. As we biked through town, we stopped off at Quinxi Reservoir, which was a nice recreation area and provided our first glimpse of Jade Snow Dragon Mountain. Our next stop was Shuhe ancient town.  As a little background for this area, most of the cities are on the old tea trading route. In order to attract tourists, they have built up “old towns” that resemble the old architecture and layout of these ancient cities. Most of these old towns are really tourist traps, selling silver and scarves, but they are fun to walk through. The architecture is fairly authentic, and there are nice little streams that run through the streets.

World-famous Dr. Ho!

World-famous Dr. Ho!

After poking around Shuhe for a bit, we made it to Baisha. It was a nice old town to walk around in, with fewer tourist shops, and the people that lived and worked there were ethnic minority Naxi people instead. We were hungry from the biking and attempts to stay warm, so we went to a local Naxi restaurant that was one of our most tasty meals the entire time in Asia. The Naxi make a delicious type of flatbread and a fried goat cheese, both of which were delicious compliments to the fried yak meat and eggplant in brown sauce we ate. Stuffed, we continued walking around and dropped by the office of Dr. Ho, a “world famous” 91-year-old Chinese medicine healer that loved to talk about himself. He talked about patients from around the world that have had ailments like Leukemia and Cancer. We were impressed with his passion and energy, especially for someone his age.

Lijiang Old Town hawker market

Lijiang Old Town hawker market

The rest of the day we spent walking around the Lijiang old village, the main tourist trap in town. It was a lot like Shuhe – many tourist shops – but was actually pleasant to stroll around. They also had an amazing hawker market selling a ton of dirt cheap food items. We finished our day with an amazing meal before retiring to our electric blankets for the night, full and content with a successful first day in Yunnan.

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