A centuries-old maze of winding lanes and clean streams, weeping willows and rustic stone bridges, LIJIANG, capital of the Naxi Kingdom, nestles among green fields and dwindling pine forests southeast of spiky, ice-bound Yulong Xue Shan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). In 1996, following a devastating earthquake, the government invested heavily in rebuilding and aimed to recap its investment through tourism. Now Lijiang is one of the most visited tourist destinations on the planet, and the old town, though undeniably pretty, has become a cultural theme park. Even so, Lijiang is still worth visiting for the genuine culture that survives on its fringes, and offers plenty of potential excursions.
Rich pickings surround Lijiang, with numerous temples and villages on the lower slopes of Yulong Xue Shan well within bicycle range. Single women should, however, be on their guard when visiting the more remote temples, as the past behaviour of some of the caretakers has been less than exemplary. To experience a less touristy Lijiang, the eco-lodge at Wenhai is recommended. More ambitious trips include the excellent two-day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge along the Yangzi River (here called the Jinsha), due north of Lijiang.