A jewel in southern China 200 mi/320 km northwest of Kunming, Lijiang is set among snowcapped mountains that provide an enchanting backdrop to the ancient city.
Lijiang has a daily market in its Old Town: Get there early in the morning to see the full variety of tribespeople that Yunnan province is known for, and then spend some time walking the narrow cobblestoned streets.
Although the place has become a bit of a backpacker, granola-trail tourist trap, replete with Internet cafes, expat bars and banana pancakes, the place is well worth a visit—the fantastic view of the Yulong Mountain (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain), pristine air and fresh food are unrivaled in China.
The matriarchal Naxi tribe, which makes up most of the population, has preserved a powerful form of music (passed down from generation to generation). Performances of the Naxi Orchestra are held nightly at the Naxi Music Academy, starting at 8 pm. Book in advance as it is very popular.
For a great view of the area, take a cable car up the mountain to an altitude of 13,000 ft/4,500 m. Lijiang can be seen on a side trip from Dali (it's about a day's bus ride away).
Of the many tours to enjoy in and around Lijiang, few are as spectacular as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the great natural wonders of the Yunnan region in southwestern China. The gorge is between the massive Yulong and Haba mountain ranges, which are about a two-hour bus ride from Lijiang.
The mountains surrounding Tiger Leaping Gorge resemble no other on earth and sport an impressive Tibetan or Himalayan signature—skyrocketing peaks. From mountaintop to river bottom, it is one of the deepest gorges in the world at more than 12,795 ft/3,966 m. Sunlight rarely reaches the river bottom within the canyon.
Tiger Leaping Gorge is an attraction that helped qualify the Old Lijiang area as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The gorge area officially opened to foreign tourism in the early 1990s.
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