Lijiang Old Town preserves 800 years of history and culture, an authentic taste of true China. The ancestral home of the Naxi People of China is so well preserved and so important that UNSECO has declared Old Town a World Heritage Site. Ever since Kubla Khan was a mighty ruler, Lijiang has been a crossroads of culture thanks to its location along a Silk Road route called the Ancient Tea-Horse Road. Visitors continue to pass through Old Town nearly 1,000 years after the Naxi settled the village.
The city remains home to Naxi residents, about 3,000 people in total. A small fee is required to enter Old Town, which helps support the preservation and upkeep of this precious place. It’s perched in a strategic location, high above sea level on a towering plateau with natural wonders in every direction. To the north, you’ll find the Golden Row and Elephant Mountains and Lion Mountain to the West. To the southeast, rich fields and clear streams stretch out as far as the eye can see. While the surroundings are a marvel of nature, Lijiang Old Town is a marvel of man-made design, especially the bridges and Mufu Palace.
The palace was once home to the mightiest ruler of the Naxi People—Mufu. He modeled his palace after the Forbidden City in Beijing, creating a palace complex that was equally impressive. The heirs of the Mu family ruled Lijiang for 500 years, and their legacy is still felt by all who tour the palace and stroll the streets of Old Town Lijiang. The ornate woodwork and stone carvings at the palace are some of the finest in all of China.
The well-manicured streets of Old Town are lined by shops, cafes, and other Lijiang attractions. The cobblestone streets radiate from Sifang Street, the main street, in neat little rows. Every night, one of the dams is opened to let the streets flood for a brief cleaning. During the day, the streets are exciting to explore either by foot or bicycle. However they decide to explore, many visits take some time to visit the stores, where Naxi natives sell their wares. Naxi handicrafts are prized around the world, especially the knitted shawls and handmade jewelry.
Old Town also hosts musicians who perform in the Dongjing style, a type of ancient Taoist music. Modern tunes take center stage with the arrival of the Snow Mountain Music Festival, which comes to Old Town Lijiang every October. The festival was started by a Chinese rock music legend, Jian Cui.
The streets of Lijiang Old Town lead right to Wangu Temple and Lion Park. This modern recreation doesn’t have a deep historical value, but it is well-versed in local history. On the first floor of the temple, monks are available to lead tours and answer any questions visitors have. Two floors are home to art galleries with a remarkable collection of scroll paintings. The fifth floor observation level was designed with 13 different angles, one for each peak of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain readily seen in the distance. Wherever you go in Old Town, it’s hard to miss those impressive snow-covered mountain peaks—a rarity for such a southern destination.