City guide to historical town of Lijiang With Kids The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lijiang in China is a fitting tribute to the country’s splendid past. To get a sense of what China was like in her historical glory days, wander the old streets, meet some of the ethnic minorities that call this area home or do lots of outdoor family activities such as hiking, mountain climbing and horse riding. Here is the suitcases&strollers travel guide to Lijiang with kids.
The Destination – Lijiang With Kids
The picturesque city of Dayan Lijiang lies at the foot of the Himalayas in the shadow of the snow-tipped peak of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The wide, tree-lined, cobble stone streets breathe its former grandeur from when it was the first and final stop on the famous Silk Route. The city was also part of the Ancient Tea Horse Caravan trail to Tibet. Nowadays, Lijiang’s Dayan Old Town is a perfectly preserved piece of history, think an Asian version of Bruges and Venice.
Lijiang is located in the south-western province of Yunnan, on the border between Tibet and the coastal plains, just at the point where the Yangtze River bends away from its sister rivers Mekong and Salween. It is surrounded by lush alpine lands perfect for hiking, cycling and exploring. There are gorges for white water rafting, mountains for climbing and forest paths for walking.
Yunnan province is home to an astonishing 25 different ethnic groups, among them the Yi, Naxi and Tibetan. Minorities account for 34% of Yunnan’s population. In villages and on market days, the local culture (with its colourful clothing and amazing pictorial Dongba script) is still very much present and alive.
The Attractions in Lijiang With Kids
The biggest draw for visitors is Lijiang’s Dayan Old Town, where every cobble stone has a story to tell. Wandering around among the old houses, temples, palaces and through the winding streets easily takes half a day (or more if you stop to take pictures).
This is the cultural heart of Yunnan province, including having its own Naxi minority opera house with regular shows. (Travel tip: Chinese opera is a bit of an acquired taste!) You can visit with a tour guide, wander around alone or even do a treasure hunt. Boutique hotel The Bivou sells maps for a self-guided treasure hunt. It’s fun, especially for older children. The clues are not that easy and it’ll take a bit of detective work to solve the final riddle which is all great for keeping everyone occupied.
Outside of Lijiang there is Shuhe which is a village version of Lijiang’s Dayan Old Town – the streets are cobble stones but narrower and the town is much smaller. However, it has the same amenities and even boasts a palace of its own that can be visited for free.
Nearby Shuhe is the village of Baisha which is the home of the Naxi silk embroidery tradition. The town itself is mostly filled with shops selling anything made from fabric (from delicate embroidery to loud batik sofa covers) but just outside, near the bus stop, there is an amazing complex of several palaces. These palaces date back centuries to when Baisha was the capital of the Naxi kingdom and are well-worth a visit. They are also perfect for children to run around and explore.
Burning off energy (and calories – Yunnan is a mountainous area so its cuisine is rich in fat and high in carbs) is something that is easy to do in and around Lijiang. There are mountains and gorges, alpine forests and village walks. You can climb the holy Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (it’s over 5,000 metres in altitude, so not suitable for young kids) and kayak among migratory birds on emerald lakes.
There is the Thousand Tortoise Mountain made of arresting red sand stone, a two day trek along Tiger Leaping Gorge or horse riding on the Ancient Tea Horse trail. The area caters to all adventurers – whether you want to boulder your way across the Yangtze gorges or prefer to view the waterfalls from the comfort of a wide stone, stroller accessible path, it’s all possible.
Finally, if you’re looking to bring home a memento of all this historical and natural beauty, Lijiang and its surrounding cities and villages are known for silk, leather, embroidery, silverwork, tea, coffee and colourful clothing. Often you’ll find the master crafter outside of his or her shop smithing silver or embroidering cloth.
Food for Kids in Lijiang
Yunnan cuisine is varied and relatively simple, especially compared to Chinese dishes served up elsewhere. It is also quite rich in fat and carbs, so don’t over-order. Local favourites are yak meat hot pot and scrambled eggs with flowers, like lotus and jasmine. Be sure to order a savoury soup with your meal, as the more liquid you get inside, you the better!
Tea is drunk with meals and, once the first pot has been ordered, subsequent refills are free. Yunnan is famous for its pu’er tea, and many places offer tastings. Prices can vary from a few dollars to thousands of dollars for the young leaves of 500 year old trees!
Local snacks are flower filled pastry, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and the locally grown variety of sweet apples.
Western food is available but has a distinctive taste, different from what you might be used to back home. Some of the food is spicy but there are non-spicy options available as well (such as the scrambled eggs, fried rice or the soup).
In a pinch, there are supermarkets both in Lijiang and in Shuhe where you can find dried goods, bread, cookies, biscuits and the like.
Family Friendly Accommodation in Lijiang With Kids
As Lijiang is a beloved domestic tourist destination, there is a lot of accommodation available. However, as most of the hotels and restaurants cater to the domestic market, the local lingua franca is Mandarin.
The Bivou in Shuhe is a quirky and warm boutique hotel, which calls itself a “designer lodge for the modern adventurer”. It is located within two traditional Naxi farm houses on the edge of Shuhe, just outside the Nine Dragon Pools and in the foothills of the surrounding mountains.
The rooms are spacious enough to fit a family of four (if two of those four are toddlers). Although it is a designer hotel, it is also very suitable for children, counting a kids’ play attic with toys and a mountain of DVDs among its facilities. Breakfast is included and includes a DIY cereal station, a DIY congee (savoury rice porridge) station, toast with home made preserves and a different hot breakfast every day. The Bivou also arranges tours and hiking trips, rents out bicycles and has maps of the surrounding area. Finally, it has both wifi in the rooms and wifi via VPN in the common areas, meaning you can keep the grandparents updated.
Also in Shuhe is a Banyan Tree Resort for those looking for dependable, 5-star accommodation. The resort has an award-winning spa, a gym and offers yoga as well as tours and treks in the area. It also offers a special “Sense of the Family Package”, which includes a visit to Baisha village and a meal with a local family in addition to your stay. Be sure to meet with Langka, the Banyan Tree Resort mascot during your stay! The resort adopted the dog from a local Tibetan family and its wagging tail will make you feel right at home.
The Practicalities of Lijiang China With Kids
Lijiang has its own airport with a weekly direct flights to some Asian centres such as Singapore. It is also possible to fly in to Yunnan’s capital city Kunming and take a train from there to Lijiang.
Taxis and minivans are available, although English is not widely spoken. It is good idea to have a translation app on your phone to get your message across. The green taxis are only allowed to pick up passengers within a certain area. They may take you outside of that area (i.e. from Dayan Old Town to Shuhe) but if you want to go the other way, you’ll have to take a blue mini-van.
You could also go by local bus, book your own transport through the hotel or even rent a bike, as the distances between Dayan Old Town, Shuhe and Baisha are quite small.
Once you have purchased a ticket to any of the sites (such as Dayan Old Town or Baisha Palace Complex) keep hold of that ticket – it will grant you a deduction on other tickets to historical sites in the area.
Lijiang is located in the foothills of the Himalaya at an altitude of 2,000 metres. Unlike Europe, there is still a lot of vegetation and trees at this altitude, as well as crops and fresh produce all year round. This means it can be quite cold and, since China is not yet a fully developed country, indoor heating is not a priority in most shops, restaurants or even hotels. Both The Bivou and the Banyan Tree Resort have room heating. If you arrive in winter, be sure to bring warm clothes as the temperature can drop below freezing (and will drop even further than that after dark).
Lijiang also has a wet season between June and August, which sometimes causes rockfalls and landslides. The best time to visit is spring or fall.
It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Lijiang. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.
Tea is also widely available. It is much milder than the Western black tea and quite suitable for children even without milk. At this altitude it is important to drink often, as the thin air dehydrates. Similarly, due to the thin air, the sunshine is much stronger so bringing along sunscreen is a good idea.
Diapers are available at the supermarket, including in larger sizes (up to XL). As there is a shortage of baby milk formula in China, if you need to this, bring enough to last you the entire trip.
By Katrijn de Ronde