There are lots of complaints about places being too "touristy". Touristy doesn't have to be tacky. I don’t mind touristy. We go as tourists after all! And use the tourist facilities and services!
Lijiang, a UNESCO heritage listed ancient town certainly is touristy. It is also beautiful. It’s an absolute warren of tiny alleys paved with bumpy cobblestones, little streams, bridges, tiny shops and eateries, locals in traditional dress – and tourists. It’s packed with tourists, mostly Chinese, and I’m not sure which I enjoy more tourist-watching or local-watching. The tourist fashion is almost as fascinating as the traditional dress of the local ethnic groups, and the photo-loving tourists will pose anywhere and everywhere making it hard to get a shot of anything without someone in it.
We stayed in a small family run courtyard hotel which seemed to be run by a couple of young girls. We think the parents/owners were holidaying in Thailand, but that may have got lost in translation. The girls did a good job anyway. There was a table in the courtyard with a permanent supply of nibbles and fruit, and free-flowing tea and coffee on hand – and the breakfasts were great.
I loved Lijiang. It was touristy, yes, but nice touristy. It was great to walk around, no vehicles were allowed into the old town (wouldn’t have fitted anyway). There was plenty of action – particularly in the main square where groups of old people in traditional dress did regular Naxi dancing. An old man played a wind instrument which I think my have been a hulusheng while a group of mainly elderly people in traditional dress danced, sometimes in lines and sometimes in a big circle joining hands, and some of the tourists joined in. We’d sit and watch for ages and get talking to local tourists.
There were endless shops selling souveniers, clothes, shoes, fabrics, artworks, food, instruments, music …
We also went to a performance of a Naxi Orchestra. Again mostly elderly, several musicians in their 80s were introduced at the beginning. I really enjoyed the music, quite tuneful and lively – even a Yunnan Opera solo - and bought a CD on the way out!
Young people in traditional dress worked in shops, restaurants and tourist spots, but most of the cultural activities were performed by elderly people - apparently the Yunnan Opera company closed 10 years ago for lack of interest. We couldn’t help but wonder where Naxi culture would be in 10 or 20 years time.
We walked up to the hilltop Looking at the Past Pavillion which gave us a panoramic view over the town. Also on our last day we went to the Black Dragon Pool Park. The view of the nearby snow-capped mountain is supposed to be the “most obligatory photo shoot in SW China” but I wasn’t particularly impressed. The park itself, though, was lovely and the museum at the northern end was very special. We almost didn’t go as it sounded like it was up a big hill and quite a trek to get to. We bought a beautiful piece of old embroidery to frame when we get home. Lucky we were on the last stop before the trek back to Lanzhou – we’d already bought several in the Shaping market and one in Bo’ao.
Lijiang was also the place I was struck down! Up four times in the night throwing up. It would be in the place where we had the split-level room with the bathroom downstairs and bedroom upstairs via a steep narrow staircase!