The labyrinthian ancient city of Lijiang is sliced into pieces by a jungle of squeezed alleyways. Certain junctions between the “rustic” wooden buildings are so narrow that three people can hardly pass through at once. It’s a good thing that Lijiang “only” hosts five million tourists a year, otherwise those alleys might get a little cramped...
When the mid-90s Chinese television romance “Yi Mi Yangguang” was filmed among the creaky old buildings of Lijiang, it catapulted the once-fascinating old town into the national spotlight. UNESCO later put in on their World Heritage Site list in 1997, and since then the old city has become somewhat of a Pleasure Island, where a sloppy party scene bellows through the streets at night and gentrified buildings offer face-value authenticity by day. There are also crowds – massive crowds.
On another interesting note, the Chinese know Lijiang well as the place for a yanyu (艳遇; an affair). So if you’re a mad partier or just dying to get lucky, come on down and prepare to dish out some serious cash. Otherwise, you may find Lijiang to be the perfect place to spend a day thinking of where else you want to go.
Lijiang’s history dates back to the year 658 CE, when the area was the nexus of culture and commerce for the native Naxi people. For hundreds of years, the Naxi traded their famous handmade embroidery over the southern Silk Road – which ran through here from its beginning in Burma – until 1972, when many local masters were jailed for embroidering for old Naxi emperors during the Cultural Revolution.