Lijiang’s cobblestone laneways, slanting rooflines and ancient canals are out of a Chinese fairytale. Add to this, Lijiang’s Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and you have the makings of a fairyland.
After dark, this World Heritage town is full of Cinderellas. It’s a bit of a contrast to the natural beauty of Tiger Leaping Gorge nearby. Charming by day, Lijiang’s streets are a throbbing hub of nightlife as the culture of China’s 21st-century shows itself in Xinhua Street or “bar street” after dark.
Lijiang Bar Street
Cantonese, Taiwanese and Mandarin pop music blares from discos and bars that are housed in ancient Chinese timber houses.
These entertainment dens are packed with crowds of young Chinese drinking beer by the boxful.
Ordering one beer is simply not in the spirit of things. Most Chinese visit in groups and buy a slab of beer.
They drink and dance beneath blue, green and pink neon disco strobes. Walking through Lijiang’s bar street feels like you might be in another dimension, perhaps even a futuristic fairytale.
The entertainment is bordering on bizarre and seems to centre around drinking games. In one nightclub, the crowd goes wild when a young woman downs three cocktails under an eerie blue fluorescent light.
The host bursts into a staccato and starts leaping around the stage performing in a wild 70’s disco-style number and the onlookers just go berzerk.
Lijiang’s Old Town
It’s a lovely night as I follow the moon past yak and snack shops. One one corner, I stop to take photo of a man dishing out sweet bean curd from earthenware pots.
Wandering into mysterious alleyways filled with quiet dimly lit bars is a huge contrast to the nightclubbing antics of sin street.
Like Shangri-La, another fascinating destination in Yunnan, Lijiang is a hub for a minority culture.
Lijiang was once the capital of the Naxi kingdom, the largest of the 26 minority groups that live on the plains around the snow-covered Jade Dragon Snow Mountain.
The Naxi are unique and their culture is distinctly different to Han Chinese. They have their own language, pictographic writing and they follow a religion known as Dongba religion. Dongba is a blend of shamanistic rituals, Tibetan Buddhism and Confucianism.
Mosuo and Naxi culture
Another minority group, the Mosuo, are even more intriguing. The Mosuo are a matriarchal society, where property is passed down from mother to daughter. Female elders settle disputes and children use their mothers’ last names.
Up until the 20th century, the institution of marriage didn’t even exist in Mosuo culture. It was commonly acceptable for women to have any lovers they wanted whenever it pleased them.
Some traditional Mosuo families still practice a custom called zoy hun or “walking marriage”. When a girl turns 12, she is to have male visitors spend the night with her in the family home.
The aim is for the girl to conceive and women choose men who are physically strong and fit. The children are looked after by the mother’s family and they say the Mosuo women have so many lovers most don’t have any idea who the fathers are.
The women work the fields and are the breadwinners while the men are simply there to procreate.
Visit during March to August for wildflowers or September and October for blue skies and harvest season activities.
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain
Lijiang is absolutely stunning, with a mountainous landscape that has 13 peaks above 4000m. You can’t miss the eye-catching Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. And the cable car ride to the top is an experience to remember.
At the cable car station (3356m above sea level), you board a cable car and glide over trees, mountains and glaciers. As you approach the peak, the air turns frosty.
Bundled in layers of warm clothing, I’m alas armed with two cans of oxygen.
I’ve come prepared to battle the effects of high altitude and by the time I reach the viewing platform (4506m above sea level), I’m sucking frantically at my canister.
Above me, the highest peak, Shanzidou (5596m), looms big and white.
As I climb the timber stairs leading to another viewing platform, towards Shanzidou’s peak, I feel like there’s magic in the air. I’m not quite sure if it’s the altitude or the breathtaking scenery or the children make snow angels below.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Accor and China Southern Airlines.
China Southern Airlines has flights to Guangzhou. Pullman Lijiang Resort & Spa is a luxurious villa-style resort designed like a traditional Chinese village. There are garden villas with hot tubs and pool villas with private plunge pools.
For more things to do in in China have you considered a Yangtze River cruise or a visit to the Great Wall? Xian is home to the famous Terracotta Warriors and should be on your list if you love history.
If you’re planning a trip to China have you considered visiting Xiamen in Fujian province? Here are some Xiamen tourist attractions you might enjoy.