Avoid Lijiang between Oct 1 to 7 at all cost!!

A client asked WildChina to help book the Lijiang Banyan Tree hotel in Lijiang, arriving on Oct 1, and departing on Oct. 5th.  I wanted to scream –“NO, NO, NO! You don’t want to do that.”  Hence, want as many to know this as possible, pls. pass it onto anyone who’s planning to go to China. 

Here’s my advice:

If you have any flexibility on timing or location choice, I would highly recommend you NOT to go to Lijiang at this time. October 1st is the busiest day of the whole year. That is Chinese National Day, that’s the day when Chinese travel most. Lijiang is on top of the list as popular destination.  In fact, this Chinese National Day Holiday is state-sanctioned, from Oct 1 to Oct 7 every year. So star from Sep. 30, it’s already crazy there.

That means:
A. The crowd in Lijiang is probably equivalent to black Friday at the mall after Thanks-Giving.
B. No hotel or flight discounts.
C. Inconsistent services due to the volume. 

In fact, you also want to avoid Lijiang at the following time too
Chinese New Year: Feb. 13-19, 2010
Tomb Sweeping Festival: April 3-5, 2010
Dragon Boat Festival: Around June 16, 2010 exact dates to be determined
Moon Festival: Around Sep 22, 2010 exact dates to be determined
Chinese Labor Day: May 1st to 3rd, 2008
(Note all except Chinese Labor Day and Chinese National day are based on Lunar calendar, so the dates changes every year. )

This warning probably applies to all travel in China. I would not recommend anyone to travel in China during those dates.

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3 days in Lijiang, 2 days in Shangrila

An old friend sent me this inquiry: We (3of us) are going to Yunnan for the last week of August. We have things pretty well organised and plan to spend 3 days in Lijiang and 2 in ShangriLa. If you have any suggestions about wild and  exciting things to do, that would be great !

Here are my answers:

1. First of all, where are you staying?  That’s important because Lijiang has turned into a crazy tourist town that stays alive 24/7. The old town of Lijiang is most charming with those two-story woodden houses lining cobble stoned streets, but it’s really hard to find a quiet hotel room because the bars and cafes stay open till midnight. In this context,  I’d recommend either the Banyan Tree, which is charming, but expensive. Or some Chinese 4 star hotels like Guanfang, which is not that memorable, but at least you can sleep. In Zhongdian, you want to stay at the Songsam Hotel near the Songzanlin Monastery. It’s owned by a Tibetan entrepreneur. It’s better than the Ringa Banyan Tree.

2. Activities in Lijiang:  Lijiang old town used to be so lovely, but now, it is overrun by tourists during the day. Exploring the old town, I suggest you get up early and walk around in the maze, allowing yourself to get gloriously lost. Pick up some pancakes freshly made on a food stall, etc. That’s still quite lovely. The Black Dragon Pool, despite its popularity as a tourist site, it’s still lovely. Spend a good 2 hours in there, check out the dongba museum – not fancy, but gives you a little sense of what dongba culture is like. Xueke’s Naxi music used to be great, and I loved it many years ago. But, now the venue has doubled or tripled in size, it’s lost its intimacy. At WildChina, we used to just hire a small local band and do a dinner/concert in one of the village houses. After that, you probably want to get out of the old town as quickly as you can.

  a. Leave Tiger Leaping Gorge for a  stopover visit on your way to Zhongdian.

  b. For glacier, Maoniuping is slightly better. It’s probably quite fun to ride horse up, as compared to taking the tram. I would not recommend riding horse downhill. The horses don’t come with western saddles with all the padding and handle for you to grab. If you’ve never done horseback riding, don’t try it out there.

  c. If you like day hikes, try to go to Wenhai or Lashihai. Not tourist sites, but interesting villages.

  d. If you don’t mind 2-3 hour driving, go to Xuehua village, a tiny little village with 80 people, you can still meet the Yi Shaman there. (Yi is another ethnic group, different from Naxi in Lijiang.)

  e. Further afield, on the border with Dali, there are some wonderful places to visit: Jianchuan Grottoes – most stunning grottoes documenting the history of Dali Kingdom. Not touristy at all, but the hike and the grotto are just absolutely mind boggling. You can hike from the Grottoes to a nearby village called Shaxi – an intact old village, that used to be a key stop of the Southern Silk Road. Lovely old temple, old houses. Again, either without a tour guide, getting lost in it is a wonderful experience. (It’s not that big).  To go there, you need to drive 3 hours each way from Lijiang.

3. Activities in Zhongdian: Songzanlin Monastery, Pudacuo National park will probably take up all your time. I’d recommend you try to visit a local Tibetan home in a village nearby. Anyone will do, just to see what their life is like. Remember to start slow, give yourself time to get used to the altitude when you just get there. Altitude sickness usually hits you after a nap or something like that, with in my case, a bursting headache. Drink lots of water to recover or go with Diamox from your doctor.

Have fun. for more information, check out www. wildchina.com