I’ve been mentally searching for a western city I’ve visited before that is similar to Lijiang. The only place I can think of is Venice, Italy. Both cities are very old (Lijiang is 800 years old) and both have been re-crafted into a hugely popular tourist destination. There are miles and miles of cobblestone alleys (no cars) full of Chinese tourists wandering the labyrinth-like city – just like Venice. Lijiang is an “old town” where the houses have been converted to shops & restaurants and there are between 2,000 – 3,000 small “inns”. These inns have about a dozen guest rooms situated around a central courtyard (typical Chinese architecture). Some inns are old and have been updated to accommodate guests. We stayed at a new inn with all the modern conveniences on the edge of the old city for an amazing US$32 per night! At the other end of the price spectrum, the big western hotel chains have arrived at the edge of town (Grand Hyatt & Intercontinental). These must be for the wealthy folks not adventurous enough to try the local inns.
Lijiang is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas mountains (near Tibet), so you’re a short car ride from scenic lakes and mountains outside the city. In the weeks before visiting this place I mentioned that I was going to Lijiang to several Chinese friends and the reaction was always the same – wow! It’s actually near Shangri-La – and the feeling in Lijiang is the same. Very idyllic and laid-back. Everything moves slow in Lijiang. Because Lijiang is in Yunnan province, which is adjacent to Sichuan province, there was plenty of spicy food to enjoy. Yum.
Our big adventure in Lijiang happened on the first full day we were there. The owner of our inn asked if we wanted to see another old town near Lijiang. The only catch was I had to drive his friend’s Jeep because the innkeeper (portrait is below) didn’t know how to drive.. I’ve driven in China three times before – all illegally. You need a Chinese drivers license to drive in China, but the innkeeper assured me I would never get pulled over because the Lijiang police force doesn’t speak English and they don’t want the hassle. It turned out we drove around for 3 hours, including having lunch. The driving style in China is VERY different from the US, but we survived the journey and I successfully avoided the 15 day jail sentence for driving without a license.
The photos below are a mixture of portraiture, street photos, photojournalism and travel photography.