The UNESCO World Heritage city of Lijiang, in Yunnan Province, is set in the stunning mountainous scenery of southwest China, close to Tibet. The area is the traditional heartland of the Naxi people who emerged from the nomadic Qiang tribes wandering the Tibetan Plateau in the ancient past.


The old town reverberates with delightful ancient charm, dating back over 800 years, built during the overlap of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and is characterised by its lovely wooden buildings, winding cobbled streets and canals flowing with rushing mountain water.

At night, the whole town is artfully lit by creative coloured lighting and is a romantic and simply beautiful vision around which to wander.

The main sights are the Old Market Square, 'Looking at the Past' Pavilion, and the Mu Family Mansion. Another interesting feature is the White Horse Dragon Pool where, even today, the locals still use the pool to rinse vegetables. For an in-depth flavour of local life, Zhongyi Market ably provides.

Beyond the Northwest Gate, the Black Dragon Pool Park is a highly picturesque beauty spot, sitting serenely beneath the bright presence of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, a worthy camera magnet.

Among the park’s features are Moon-Embracing Pavilion, Dragon God Temple, Suocui Bridge and Five-Phoenix Tower. Here, you’ll also find the Museum of Naxi Culture and Dongba Research Institute. Above the park, Lion Hill has a number of interesting walking trails.

On Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, also known by the names Yulong Xueshan and Mt. Satseto, cable cars and chairlifts run up to Spruce Meadow and Dry Sea Meadow, where you can also see the spectacular 'Impression Lijiang Show', an awesome and highly professional production designed by globally acclaimed director Zhang Yimou, best known for his visually stunning feature films ‘House of Flying Daggers’, ‘Hero’ and 'The Great Wall'.

A further cable car ride ascends to an altitude of 4,506 metres (14, 783 feet) where a short walk will bring you to the glacier.

Another major visitor site beneath the mountain is the Tiger Leaping Gorge through which flows the Jingsa River, a 16 km stretch of eighteen rapids, which can be viewed from its two paths, of which the high trail provides the best views. The gorge takes its name from a rock in the narrowest part of the gorge, in legend once used by a tiger as a stepping-stone to cross.

Nearby, the Blue Moon Valley is another popular attraction, despite its artificial waterfall, and is renowned for its bright blue waters nestled in stunning mountain scenery.


To the north of the gorge lies the town of Shangri La, also known by the names Zhongdian and Gyalthang, and although there are perfectly genuine parallels to validate the claim to be the location of James Hilton’s Novel ‘Lost Horizon’, the modern town is hardly the inspiring nirvana of the book.

However, hidden within, the historic Old Town is an interesting location with features such as the enormous 21 metre (69 feet) Zhulang Tong prayer wheel, cobbled lanes and stupas. Here you will also find the grandeur of Songzanlin Palace, a Tibetan monastery often described as the 'Little Potala'.

In the surrounding countryside, Pudacuo National Park and its lakes are a tranquil escape into this ancient land. The greatest mountain views around Shangri La are to be found in the Daocheng Yading Scenic Area, a little to the north of the town.


To the south of Lijiang, The modern city of Dali sits at the southern edge of Erhai Lake. Its predecessor, Dali Old Town, one time capital of the Nanzhou Kingdom, dating back to 738 AD, sits further up the western shore of the lake and is another of China's ancient heritage towns, prized for its authentic character. Most of the surviving buildings date to around 1400 AD, during the Ming Dynasty.

Aside from the traditional Bai ethnic detailing of its houses, one of Dali's most physically prominent features is the earlier Tang Dynasty 'Three Pagodas'.

The surrounding Cangshan mountains provide for peaceful walking, including its most famous trail, the Cloud Traveller's Path. A number of cable car routes also service the area.


Another of China's remarkable landscapes, which can be easily fused into a tour of the Lijiang area is the Shilin Stone Forest, a labyrinthine collection of shapely rocks and pinacles, to the east of Kunming, another of China's treasured UNESCO World Heritage landscapes.