Lijiang, Yunnan, China


I could immediately feel the drop in temperature when I got off the bus in the new city of Lijiang. At 2400m above sea level, Lijiang is noticeably cooler than Dali. It was time to take out my fleece. The humidity was low, the sky was blue, the sun was shining. Happy.

Brigitte and Saeed got talking to two friendly young Chinese during the bus ride from Dali, and they asked if we could all share a taxi to the old town. After a very animated discussion with a taxi driver, the two young Chinese signalled to us that it was cool. Despite the language barrier, we managed to find out that they are from near Shanghai and that they have been to Lijiang before. I tried to tell one of them that I am from HK and yes, my Mandarin is embarrassingly bad, but I have a good excuse, I live in Australia! After we got to the old town, the two young men paid for the taxi and refused to accept our money! Conclusion: not all Chinese are misers and obsessed with money.

Walking around in the old town of Lijiang is like going back in time. The maze of cobblestoned streets, wooden buildings, old stone bridges and canals attract 5 million visitors a year. Lijiang first gained wide attention in the 90s as a result of a BBC documentary ‘The Land Beyond the Clouds’. This Unesco-listed town is indeed atmospheric and quaint, albeit touristy. However, it is a good base to explore the nearby villages and old towns, hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and more. It’s also a good place just to wander, people-watch, or join the local residents for a dance.

We didn’t bother with booking accommodation before we got to Lijiang, so after dumping the luggage with Saeed, Brig and I went room shopping. There are so many inns and they are all so cute and charming we had trouble choosing. We looked at quite a few, including more expensive ones, as it was just so much fun checking out the different inns and the lovely decor and quaint courtyards they all seem to have. But enough is enough, we didn’t want to just let Saeed wait at the side of the road! So we made a decision – Mama Naxi. Mama Naxi is definitely not amazing, but it is in a great location, fits in with our budget and more importantly, the guy at reception speaks English, which is a bit of a rarity!

I was told that the actual Mama Naxi isn’t really Naxi, but her husband is. She likes to show people pictures from her Smartphone, and is the guesthouse’s main cook. At times, we were told, the entertainment of the evening would be Mama Naxi and her husband shouting at each other although to me, they seem to be a lovely couple, and I haven’t witnessed any fights yet. When we were checking in, we saw this note at reception saying that Mama Naxi has gone back to her hometown to sweep the ancestors’ tombs (aka Ching Ming Festival) so the menu will be somewhat limited for a couple of days.

Naxi people

Lijiang is home to more than 20 ethnic minority groups, the bulk of them are Naxi. The town has been a base for the Naxi for the last 1400 years. They descend from Tibetan nomads and they have a matriarchal family tradition.

Quoting from Lonely Planet: Naxi women have flexible arrangements for love affairs. This ‘friend’ system allows a couple to become lovers without setting up joint residence. The boyfriend would spend the nights at his girlfriend’s home but return to live and work at his mother’s house during the day. Any children they have belong to the woman. Women also inherit all property. There are also strong matriarchal influences in the Naxi language. Nouns enlarge their meaning when the word for ‘female’ is added. Conversely, the addition of the word for ‘male’ will decrease the meaning. For example, ‘stone’ plus ‘female’ conveys the idea of a boulder whereas ‘stone’ plus ‘male’ conveys the idea of a pebble. I can see that this would appeal to some feminists out there?! 🙂