We woke up on the train around 8 am and were expected to arrive in Lijiang around 8:55 am. Upon arrival we were hoping to catch a cab to our hostel but none were in sight but luckily we had some vague directions for how to get there by bus. We hopped on bus 3 and were supposed to get off at the White Dragon stop or something like that, but of course the bus stops are not labeled in English so we had to guess. We knew we were supposed to get on bus 2 after that so the second I saw a sign at a bus stop advertising Bus 2, we hopped off and waited. Bus 2 came along right as we were questioning whether or not we did the right thing. We got on and knew that we were supposed to get off at “the gas station” stop. We knew our hostel was in the Old Town of Lijiang but we drove by the entrances to the old town, and seemingly out of town without passing a stop at a gas station. Again, we were questioning whether or not we had done the right thing, but we decided to stay on anyways. Luckily, John saw a gas station at one of the next stops so we though that it had to be the stop we were supposed to get off at. When we got off there was no obvious entrance to the Old Town, like expected from the directions, so we headed down this street that seemed like it could lead us there. Finally we saw a sign that pointed towards the Panba Hostel (the hostel we were staying at) so we headed that way. After a few mins we arrived at the hostel and were greeted by an extremely helpful guy working the front desk. He arranged everything for us for our trip to Tiger Leaping Gorge for the next day and gave us reccomendations on stuff to do in LIjiang. We wanted to visit Jade Snow Mountain, but he warned us that to do everything there would be extremely expensive- he referred to Jade Snow Mountain as the money printer of Lijiang. Because we still wanted to see it, he suggested just going to Yak Meadow, and not doing the peak. He wrote down on the map of the mountain exactly how much everything should cost and told us how to get there. So after getting our room (an extremely nice room with a private bathroom) we headed into the Old Town to grab some food and check it out before catching a cab to the mountain.
The Old Town was so cool! There were tons of little streets and allys filled with shops selling jewelry, mountain/Tibetan style clothing with tons of crazy and interesting prints, and other random goods. The majority of things that were being sold were like nothing I have seen in Shanghai or any other town we have visited. I really wanted to shop around here but we did not have that much time if we wanted to make it to the mountain. There were tons of things that I thought would make good gifts but since we were going to be hiking for 2 days I did not want to buy anything because my backpack needed to be as light as possible, so I decided that I could shop around in Shangri-la at the end of the trip if I wanted to. There were some guys dressed in furs and had mules and some crazy birds that you could take photos with in the old town center. They walked towards me with the bird (not sure if it was a hawk or what it was) and tried to put it on me but I freaked out and ran away! At one point we passed a shop that had the most adorable golden retriever lounging around that of course I had to stop and pet and fawn over how adorable it was. It made me miss Riley. John and Liz had to practically pull me away from him to keep walking! Besides shops and an adorable dog, there were also a ton of cute little restaurants and bars with patios overlooking the little rivers that passed through the old town, so we decided that we would have to come back to this area at night for dinner and a drink or two.
We then headed towads the old water wheel to try to catch a cab. Before getting a cab we took some photos at the water wheel and a little waterfall near by that was pretty. There was a taxi line right outside of the Old Town entrance by the water wheel so we hopped in a taxi-van and explained where we wanted to go. They all do flat rates, which the man at our hostel told us to expect- so we paid 100 RMB for him to take us there (about 40 mins outside of the city center). There are mini-busses you can take, and I would suggest doing that instead because they are only 15 RMB per person- you just have to wait for them to fill up. The drive to the mountain was gorgeous. We had the most beautiful weather—sunny and warm with a light breeze—and the air in LIjiang was so clear! We could see miles away. The terrain and mountains, along with the clean air, reminded me of home. It was comforting.
The cab driver dropped us of at one of the ticket offices so we could buy a ticket for the cable car up to yak mountain and then was on his way. The only complaint I have about this mountain is that it is NOT easy to figure out where to go or how to do what you want to do. There were ticket offices for each place on the mountain you could go to and they were not next to eachother. They were all in different parts of the park which was annoying. It took us a long time to figure out where the ticket office for the Yak Meadow was and once we figured that out, it took us a long time to determine where we were supposed to pick up a bus to take us to the cable car. We finally just showed our ticket to a bus that drove up near the ticket office and he let us on. He drove us and a few other people a little ways up the mountain and then motioned for us to get off at this other bus stop and hop on another bus. We were extremely confused but followed the other two people who were on the bus with us on to another bus. The only seats left open were the ones in the back so we sat there. It was a ridiculously bumpy ride up the mountain but the views from the window as we drove up were breathtaking . We all just kept looking at eachother in amazement and expressing how unbelievably beautiful it was. After about 30 mins of what rivaled an old wooden roller coaster ride with how bumpy and jerky it was, we got off the bus and went to the cable car. We got a kick out of the cable cars because they were super old and jank. They were 2 people cable cars and you had to enter from either side but as they came around the circle they moved so quickly that once the guys opened the little doors to them we had to practically jump into them. The funny part is that although they came around the circle quickly, once out over the land they moved sooo slowly. When I say slow I mean practically stopped. It took us forever to get up to the top, but we didn’t really mind because the views from the car were amazing.
Finally it was time to hop off the cable car- and I mean that in the most literal sense; I actually had to hop off of the car because it sped up at the ciricle at the top- and headed towards the meadow. The views of the mountain were spectacular! Honestly words cannot describe how beautiful this area was. There was a little wooden path winding through the meadow and around to where we could no longer see, so we decided to walk along that for a bit to see if we could find the best place to take pictures. There were yaks grazing in the meadow along the path, so we tried to get close to some of them to take some pictures, but at one point one of them got mad and kind of chased us so we ran back to the path pretty quickly. We didn’t try to get close to them again after that haha!
All along the path were remarkable views of the snow tipped mountain range and Lijiang. We don’t know how there was still so much snow on the mountain because it was quite warm. After about 30 mins of walking along the path we reached a spot with benches and and an UNBELIEVABLE view. We were all so taken aback and completely speechless. This was a great spot to take pictures so we set the camera on one of the benches and took a few group pics with the self timer. We then just sat on the benches in silence and took in the surroundings. It was impossible to take our eyes off of the mountains. They were mesmerizing. While sitting there, staring at the mountains, I realized how utterly quiet it was. The only thing you could hear was the faint sound of the yak’s bells ringing as they grazed in their meadow. This was the first time that we had ever been truly alone in 4 months. There was nobody else around us- we were literally the only people on this part of the mountain- and it was so peaceful and serene. I forgot how nice it is to just sit in silence, and how relaxing it is to just take in nature and its beauty. None of us wanted to leave so we sat there for probably 30-45 mins just taking in the fresh air, and enjoying the silence and emptiness of the mountain. We finally decided that we should probably head back, and so we continued along the path- it made a loop back to where we started- and stumbled across an old Tibetian temple. There were Tebetian prayer flags hung along the temple and a little room in which you could pray. We walked around the little temple for a few mins and then headed back to the cable car.
There was nobody around at all- which we found to be extremely weird since this was supposed to be a huge tourist area- so we had to practically knock on the cable car operator’s window to get him to help us get on the cable car. There was only one of them- unlike at the bottom- so he made us enter from the same side. Getting on like this was pretty comical because since Liz and I had to get on from the same side before the cable car jetted off the edge, we had to take running starts and jump into the car. I’m pretty sure we actually scraped the bottom of the cable car on the ledge as we jumped in. We landed in our seats and Liz and I just looked at each other and laughed. Only in China would that be allowed!
Once at the bottom of the cable car we saw a bus waiting and headed over to it. When we got on, people started clapping and we realized that they had been waiting for us the whole time. We felt kind of bad at that point but how were we supposed to know that they were waiting? We assumed that like every other place we had been, the busses were just on a loop and would come every 15 or 30 mins or something. It was weird. We thought that maybe we got on some tour bus or something because I don’t think that is normal. Who knows. We apologized and then we were on our way back down to the bottom of the mountain. Right as we got off the bus we were approached by a young Chinese man asking us if we needed a ride back into town so we hopped into his blue minibus and paid 15 RMB. This was definitely the way to go, rather than taking a cab. The guy was super nice and spoke some English and was excited to practice it with us. The mini-busses drop the passengers off by the North Entrance to the old city (near the Water Wheel) so our bus driver pointed us in the direction of the water wheel and said goodbye, but not without throwing compliments in Liz and my direction telling us how pretty we are. We get that a lot from the Chinese, and I can’t say I won’t miss that when I get back home.
We then headed to the hotel to take showers and chill for a bit before heading back into the old town for dinner.
The Old Town is even more exciting and lively at night than during the day. There were herds of people roaming the little alleys and streets, rummaging through the shops and enjoying the lovely night. We stumbled across this extremely cute restaurant on one of the little waterways. It had an outdoor patio with extremely comfy chairs and benchs with pink, white, green and red patterned fabric pillows scattered amongst them. There were Tibetian prayer flags hanging above the patio, and flowers and fake butterflies adorned the walls and tables. The food was pretty expensive, but all of the food was similarly priced in the Old Town. The guy at our hostel warned us about that, but we decided it would be alright because it was a beautiful night and we wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of the Old Town at night. The restaurant next door had live music out on their patio so we enjoyed listening to that as we ate our dinner. After we were finshed we walked around the Old Town for a bit more and found a happening bar street. There was a river running down the center of the street and either side was lined with packed bars. There were little clubs blasting party music and flashing lights as well as smaller more quaint bars with patios looking out on the little river. All of the drinks were pretty expensive so we just walked around and looked at the bars and the shops before heading back to the hostel.
Once at the hostel, John had a beer at the bar while Liz and I sat down and drank some water before heading up to our room for the night. We had a 7 am wake up call for the next morning to leave for Tiger Leaping Gorge so we pretty much just brushed our teeth (with bottled water because we were warned not to even brush our teeth with the water here), checked our email, and messed around on our computers for a bit, and then went to bed.
This has already been the most amazing trip I have been on, and we have not even seen the main attraction of the trip yet (the gorge). I am so happy that we decided to go on this trip and I’m really glad I saved it for the end because I don’t think anything will be able to top this. Check in later to hear about our 2 day hike through Tiger Leaping Gorge and our stay in the Tibetan boarder town of Shangri-La. I’m sure it will be amazing!