Located in the north western corner of Yunnan Province, Lijiang is an old town comprising of a maze of little cobbled roads, rickety old wooden buildings, winding alleyways, drooping willow trees, little stone bridges, markets, inns and canals running through rows and rows of restaurants and bars on either side. It is at an elevation of 2400 meters above sea level, or about 7500 feet high. Lijiang old town has a history dating back to more than 800 years old. The bright lights and the Naxi (Na-Shee) culture handicraft shops seem to lend a bit of an authentic atmosphere.
On 3rd February 1996, the deadliest earthquake of the decade struck Lijiang Old Town with a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter scale. Surprisingly, the old Naxi buildings were able to withstand the severe earthquake and were still found standing whereas all the high rise buildings were destroyed. This instantly raised the fame of Lijiang and since has been a hot spot for many visitors. The new city of Lijiang is just another city, but the old city is what most of the people come for.
We set out from Kunming on 6th August at 8:10 pm. We boarded an air-conditioned sleeper bus with rows and rows of bunk beds instead of reclining seats. I was fascinated as this actually is my first tour on a sleeper bus. But the fascination was short lived as once the bus gets into motion, the passengers started smoking a great deal, that too with no windows!(air..air...gasping for fresh air). Also, on our way back, we took a sleeper bus again where two western women smoked at the front near the driver (hmpfff....they should have known better!). The Chinese passengers took this opportunity to practice English using all their Chinglish from their bunks. This time, my friend J, amidst the 'English practice' took the opportunity to tell them from one dark corner in a very broken English not to smoke :) I don't think they figured it came from another foreigner. But it sure did the trick :)
We stopped twice, at a bus station and at another place where the driver had something to eat at a restaurant(probably to kill time) and we, who needed fresh air and wanting to stretch our aching bones went out in the crisp night air. We finally arrived early in the morning at around 5:30 am. We lingered for a while on the bus as no public transport runs that early. At around 6:20 am, we met a girl looking for people to stay in their hotel. After bargaining and settling for the price, a van took us to our hotel which was right in the Old Town area. As we entered the Old Town, it was still very quiet and empty other than travelers like ourselves. After checking in, we wandered off to find a restaurant for breakfast. Most of the shops were still closed so we settled for a Chinese breakfast which was about the only shop open at that wee hour.
Having rested, we set out to explore the narrow cobbled streets listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We soon found that the streets were very convoluted that it was very easy to get lost. By now the streets have come alive and it was rather shocking to find that almost all the houses turns out to be shops other than the ones at the outback area. I'd say the place is literally mobbed by tourists of about 90% Chinese and 10% foreigners! The entire town is pedestrians-only and cars, bikes and other vehicles are banned making it easy to explore and pollution free.