Go see traditional Naxi villages
Within an hour or two, you can cycle out of Lijiang and make your way through traditional Naxi villages that are not on the tourist trail... just like the one in the photo.
These villages, built in traditional stone clusters, are often quite a distance from any tarred road, and can be found by following quite rough paths through the meadows. You will not find any tourist facilities: no bars, restaurants, shops, just the family units, living in community, and working on the land.
While "lost" tourists are obviously a curiosity, don't be surprised to find that the streets empty as you arrive. People clearly liked to keep their privacy and would rush off into their houses as we approached.
We remained discrete. We didn't poke around in private property, and certainly didn't try to take photographs of people who clearly didn't want to be committed to film. You can get a sense of these villages from the photograph.
There is no clear destination... you just head off and you can't fail to stumble across some paths leading from the main roads... you will certainly not be able to cycle all the way - the paths are rough. However it makes for a great day out and the scenery is spectacular.
Run by the sister -who speaks some English- of the owner, this cafe is quite pleasant. They make quite a good espresso and in July of 2008, the few times we went there, there was no one else but us. Their loss. Espresso and the cream caramel (creme caramel). The other food is good, but those stood out. The mango lassi is good as well.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
If you want to go to the mountain you have to enter the National Park (entrance fee is 40 Yuan, for students 20 Yuan). We were taken to the cable car station leading to Spruce Meadow at an altitude of about 3400 m. The queue at the cable car station was very long, so we decided to walk. For the unfit like us it was quite a challenge as the path is steep and we already felt the altitude. But if you are not in a hurry, walk up, it is nice! It will take about 1 hour if you really take your time. You can still take the cable car back, the views are spectacular. Don´t worry about the ticket, just queue and explain to the person checking the tickets that you went up on foot, you can pay the one-way fee of 20 yuan down at the base.
The most touching part of the old town is the utilisation of the river water. This watermill was used in ancient times to process grain by the local residents. It has been restored in its original location.
Lijiang - Vintage China
"Sleepy no more"
Lijiang used to be an old town tucked away from the rest of the world. Not until an Austrian anthropologist who discovered it in the 90's. Since then, many Westerners come and visit the town to enjoy the rustic old town and the surrounding sceneries. As most of them know, this is near where Shangrila is. It also became quite well known in 1990 when a huge earthquake shook the city. After that, most local Chinese knew about the town and came flocking to it afterwards. Now, Lijiang is one of the favorite tourist destination in China, due to its old town, snow-capped mountains and other famous sceneries around like Shangrila, Lugu Lake, etc. Don't try to visit Lijiang around China's national holidays like Chinese New Year, May Labor holidays and October national holidays as I'm sure it's going to be jampacked. We were there in early August and got surrounded by lots of Chinese tourists from all parts of China.
"City without walls"
Lijiang old town is more than 800 years old. It used to be called the 'city without walls'. Reason being is that one of the most prominent founders of the town has the surname "Mu" (wood) and historical data stated that he purposedly didn't build any wall around the town because if he did, then the Chinese character "kun" (trapped) will emerge. Another interesting thing you see in Lijiang houses are the low ceiling on the entry of the door. Legend say that they are build that way so that whenever people enter a house, they have to bow to the wood, again bowing to the "Mu".
The town has narrow streets that seem to be winding everywhere. It's fun to explore them and although you have the risk of getting lost, it's actually one of the best way to discover lots shops or cafes where you can unwind and daydream.
We've discovered that the people who visit Lijiang only belong to two groups...people who join tour groups (look for those little flags) or the ones who are there just to relax and unwind. For the latter, you can see them in the cafes writing or scribbling because indeed while you're there, you'd feel that you're transported back in time, with the old houses, cobble-stone lanes, and old bridges over the canals.
"Explore the surroundings"
Lijiang could be a good base to explore its neighboring towns or tourist spots which could include the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lasi Hai, Shu He old town, Shangrila, Lugu lake, etc. The entire Lijiang town is around 2000 meters above sea level and some of the places mentioned here are even higher. So take it slowly when you visit Lijiang and surroundings because oxygen content is lesser than what we normally are used to. Besides, you should take time to enjoy the surroundings because it's pretty worthwhile, too.