we took on a daytrip where one of the stops was ShuHe old town, smaller and much more laid back than its big sister Lijiang old town.
instead of going around exploring the 'other' old town, we end up in a so-called Tibetan quack doctor at the far left of the town.
the doctor-monks are said to correctly guess your health condition, and prescribe supplements to correct them. They never did. and the supplements, said to be from Tibet where the exotic heal-all herbs are gathered, are 5x more expensive than in the local drugstores. dont fall into the trap
Unique Suggestions: upon arriving the old town, go with the group to learn more about the Tibetan way of life and architecture, but dont go inside the quack doctors' area. go out anyways, and explore the old town urself. I did a bit of exploring. it was pleasant.
Yulong Tourist Centre is geared for Chinese tourists- the staff's English is not good. Despite showing them a drawing of Blue Moon Valley they did not seem to understand. Go straight to the ticketing office.
We walked up to the area on the first day for a view of the old city. It was Ok. However, very soon after arriving a young girl came up to us and we had a small conversation. In the outer courtyard there is a small area where for 10 Yuan you can spin a horn around a circle of Chinese horoscopes. Of course, I did and of course I then had to reveal my Chinese sign. Next thing you are invited to cross the threshold. Beware.. a monk will want to tell you your fortune. I thought the 10 Yuan covered that!! NO…you are then told a whole lot of good things and given a cloth which you write your loved ones names and “given” a lucky jade Buddha. Then. Crunch time. Donation…sign your name in a book where other people have signed and donated….300 Yuan!!! Don’t get suckered!!! Don’t cross into the temple!!!
I understand that Lijiang is a preservation of old China. I understand that it's cultural and historical sights are interesting and great. But Lijiang RAKES in the money from tourists. Touts gouge tourists, with no moral dilemma about lying to customers about the quality or origin of their products. For example, I took a 99.9% pure silver coin and compared weight with one of the coins at a jewelry store. The woman nodded and said, basically, "yes, but look- your coin doesn't make the proper sound that my coin makes. Ding! And when you blow hard on my coin, it makes a sound too." What? When did the sound of blowing on a coin determine its silver content? She told me that my coin wasn't real (though, of course, it is) and that I should buy her fake coins for 80 yuan a piece. 80 yuan... Oh, and she said that her coin was bigger around... like that makes a difference. The minting was suspect- poorly minted and misspelled words... a dollar coin with Chinese characters on the back... and here's the kicker... her coin weighed 0.8712678 ounces or 24.7 grams. Mine was 1 ounce, or 28.3495 grams (actually mine weighed 31.1034768 grams... also known as a Troy ounce.)
I know their business is gouging tourists. I know how to bargain, haggle... whatever you want to call it. Touts and vendors don't like me very much because I won't be ripped off like tourists who don't know how to haggle. All that said, it's not very decent of them to try to charge such ridiculous prices for souvenirs just because tourists don't know any better or happen to have money.
Now, add to all this another problem: 80 yuan is required to see the Black Dragon Pond. 80 yuan is recommended to be paid at tourist sites. You pay it once and get a receipt so you don't have to pay it elsewhere. This fee is for preservation of the old town. Now, with the new town around them and with the amount of money made by the stores, hotels, restaurants and bars in-town, they don't need this money. If it's worth seeing in China, they'll gouge you.
Wanchu Temple, built in 1997 just for tourists, isn't that expensive- only 15 yuan... but it's the principle... Wanchu was built just for tourists... not as a holy site, not for religious or other cultural significance... it was built to get money out of tourists... if you build it, they will throng.
Anyway, Lijiang is a tourist trap that gouges visitors. Be aware and hang on to your money, or bargain hard. If they aren't smiling when you walk away, you probably got a fair price.
Unique Suggestions: Avoid paying the 80 yuan. Maybe you can't get in somewhere, but so what?
Lijiang's Old Town is a tourist trap. Tour groups mass their way down the narrow, stone streets, designed not for them but for the few local people and possibly an occasional cart. Anyway, it can get annoying dealing with the crowds, so get out early (before 8:30 am) as the groups and most tourists start to clog up around 8:30.
Sadly, one of the draws of this town is shopping for souvenirs. This is to the point that it's not a real experience you have here, but, once again, your relationship to the people is "you take their picture, they take your money". It's a sad state, but that's why people come here.
People also come here because this is so different from much of China, with its small streets and old style of architecture.
Unique Suggestions: It's worth a visit, but just get out early, then go find something else to do, like sleeping or hiking the gorge.
Upon first arriving at the Old Town of Lijiang, unless you look like you already know where you've going, you'd inevitably get "harnessed" by people trying to get you to stay in their guesthouses. They'd try to sell the guesthouse to you with endless description and even insist that you come and take a look.
My travel mates and I followed a lady to her guesthouse and it was such a long walk back to one of the small and dingy houses. It looked acceptable and so tired from a 12 hour bus ride from Kunming, we just accepted the offer. It was definitely one of the cheapest place we found, but then the toilet was really horrible! We found another place the next night.
So my advice is that unless you want really no-frills and cheap accomodation, decline the "kind" offers of these touts and just stick to those trustworthy guesthouses you hear about on VT :)
I know I will get flak for saying this but I'm not the type to promote a place to earn popularity points.
Lijiang Old Town is a gigantic tourist trap filled with reconstructed wooden houses which are overpriced gift and souvenir shops, restaurants and guesthouses. The Unesco world heritage award, the new airport and the floods of local tourists have all but destroyed the soul of the place. Every day, the cobble-stoned streets are clogged with local visitors toting video cameras led by guides with little flags and loud hailers.
Genuine backpackers are few and far between, many of them have decided to skip altogether and head for the other 2 villages in town or to Dali which is less touristy. Things were different before the earthquake of 1996. My friends claimed that this place was a backpackers haven then since it took at least 8-10 hours to travel here by bus from Kunming.
I think I came here too late.
Unique Suggestions: Only 2 original gems remain there. The Naxi Old Orchestra and the reconstructed Mu Mansion.
Since this is a commercial place, the night scene ain't too bad. Do check out the bar scenes and cafes for comfort food.
Fun Alternatives: Do visit the other villages, in particularly Su He Old Town.
If you see lamas who wander about in the Old Town of Lijiang begging from people, please ignore them, because they are not real lamas or monks. They are professional beggars. Real monks or lamas will not ask money from people.
Someone persuaded me that there was another route to the top of Yulong Snow Mountain, I could enjoy different scene and there was no tickets. Coz I had traveled there twice before, I entered in the trap.
Finally I paid 3 times of money, didn't get to the point they promised, even there was no official insurance or receipt. If there was any accident......
Fun Alternatives: So, don't believe them, go to the right place, buy the ticket.
Don't let others, such as your driver, guide to help you, buy the ticket of horse riding by youself.
Most restaurants that serve Naxi food will offer Yak Meat in their menu. One of the locals told us that most of these are actually just regular beef but they call it Yak meat to be able to charge higher prices. We tried it once and it was indeed not something you'd like to have again, and yes, it was expensive! (almost 8 usd per dish so that's high for local standards).
Fun Alternatives: just order veggie, it's gotta be safer ;-)