DAY ONE: Hello hot tub!
As there is no direct train from Emeishan to Lijiang, we picked up an overnight train to Kunming, had a four hour stopover and changed on to a much shorter train to Lijiang, a total of 27 hours travelling! As we arrived in Lijiang after 7pm, we made our way straight to the hotel. We got a great deal with our room; it was pretty cheap anyway (£15 a night!) and we got upgraded as the hotel was pretty quiet – wahoo! We chose Charming Heart Inn because it was right on the edge of the Old Town, which was the perfect location for us 🙂
We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw our room – it was massive! Beautifully decorated with traditional Chinese designs, it had a modern twist with small bursts of bright colours. We had a huge queen sized bed, sofa complete with tea set, spacious en suite bathroom and the best bit…. A HOT TUB! A freakin’ HOT TUB! I can safely say this is the first time I’ve had a hot tub in my room. I couldn’t wait for the hotel manager to leave so I could hop straight in! Sinking in with a beer and a film, it was the perfect way to relax after our long journey.
DAY TWO: Exploring the Old Town
We spent our first full day in Lijiang wandering up and down the maze of cobbled streets that makes up the Old Town. Reaching almost 900 acres, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a well-preserved city of ethnic minorities, bursting with history and culture. Built near the mountains, fresh water flows through a system of waterways and through two old (but still functioning) water wheels, which act as one of the top tourist attractions.I love Lijiang and completely fell in love with this quaint old city when I first visited eight years ago. Returning to what I considered my favourite city was a strange experience when I realised tourism had exploded here, and not necessarily in a positive way. It does still retain most of its charm, but it can get tiring to continually wrestle your way through hoards of other tourists just to walk to the end of the street.We also went for a walk around Black Dragon Pool, a postcard-perfect pond and traditional Chinese pagoda, found in Jade Spring Park. With the mountains shining through in the background, it’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon.
For lunch, we grabbed a quick and easy (and very greasy!) street food dinner of fried potatoes and fried bread with onions. Not the healthiest of meals, but we were hungry and couldn’t be bothered to go on a hunt for food! In the evening we went to N’s Kitchen and enjoyed a cheeky Western meal – the classic traveller favourite of tomato pasta! N’s restaurant is in the upstairs section of another building, which means you can enjoy dinner on the terrace overlooking the town below, people watching or enjoying views of the mountains in the distance. One of Lijiang’s greatest features is that it doesn’t allow any buildings to be built over the current height of the traditional buildings, so if you are in the upstairs of any building, you can see for miles!
DAY THREE: What a rip off!!
As I’d already seen a lot of Lijiang from my previous trip, I chose to have a lazy day at the hotel but Gary went out to climb to a viewpoint and explore the city further. After a full day working on the blog from the comfort of my bed (and hot tub…) I finally left the hotel in the evening to grab some dinner. I had found a vegetarian restaurant recommended on Happy Cow and walked along the river to check it out.
When I got there, the restaurant was empty with just one young guy working on his own. He welcomed me inside and sat me down at a table by the window, overlooking the river. So far, so good! I tried to ask him if I could see a menu but was told that there was ‘no menu, just hot pot’. I always like to make sure I see a menu beforehand – obviously to make my own choices, but also to make sure I know what prices things are before ordering! After lots of backwards and forwards, I was eventually shown a menu (in Chinese) but I could see most of the prices written in English and none looked particularly high. It was impossible to order anything but the guy reassured me he can do a vegetarian hot pot for one. I would never normally agree to anything without knowing a price beforehand but figured hey, this is China, how expensive can it be?! Most dinners we had were between £1-3 so I assumed the most it could be was £5-6 which was fine for a one off treat.
With street food stalls selling hot pots, the tables have holes cut out of the centre to fit a gas hob. Open flames probably aren’t a great idea for inside restaurants, so this place had electric hobs built into the tables. I was soon brought out a big bowl of broth, filled with herbs, one tomato, one red date (jujube) and a slice of apple. Then, plate by plate, a number of dishes were brought out for me to add into my broth. After the first three platefuls, I started to get worried about when it would end… I told the guy to stop bringing out food but two more plates came out before that happened! When a further plate came out, I refused and indicated he needed to take it back to the kitchen. I ended up with rice, peanut sauce, lettuce, mushrooms, tofu, spinach and a weird spongy thing that I’m guessing was some kind of tofu or noodle…
When I asked for the bill, I nearly cried when he said 140RMB – that’s £16/ US$20!!! I was so mad, but only had myself to blame – I was more annoyed I’d let my guard down. The hot pot was average at best; I’d enjoyed much tastier hot pots from street food stalls for 1/5 of the price so the whole experience left a rather sour taste in my mouth… literally! Meanwhile, Gary enjoyed a huge place of vegetables and noodles for £1.50! Damn.
Once again, I enjoyed a lazy day at the hotel – this time Gary joined me. We used the time to plan our upcoming adventures and catch up on a bit of TV! We left the hotel in the evening to go for a beer and enjoyed a lovely night time walk along the river. All the buildings in the Old Town, especially along the river, are outlined with lights which gives the area a completely different, peaceful vibe at night. We ended up at N’s again, for beer and fries!
The next morning we got a short (1hr 45) train to Dali – another one of my favourite places! Lijiang and Dali are probably joint favourites, although Dali has sadly changed a lot over the last eight years and has morphed into a Lijiang look-a-like. It’s lost its sense of individuality and now feels very artificial. Luckily we were staying with friends so we got out of the city and stayed by the Erhai Lake amongst the mountains! 🙂 I took our stay in Dali as a week off the blog and sightseeing as this was my fourth visit, so I’d done all the touristy things already! It was lovely to spend time with friends, relax, go for bike rides around the lake, visit local markets, BBQ, hang out with the dogs, read etc. We also visited the Saturday school my friends run for the local kids, which was great. Because of this, there won’t be a blog post about Dali, so next up will be Guiyang!