April 14, 2016

Lijiang / Shuhe Old Town

Lijiang is an ancient city in northwest Yunnan, and an important spot on the old trade route to Tibet, called the Tea Horse Road. Where Xizhou and Shaxi were home to Bai people, Lijiang is home to the Naxi, who have close connections to Tibetan people. The old center of Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage City, but we didn't go there. Instead, our sweet hotel was just outside of Lijiang in another old center called Shuhe Old Town. The woman who owns and operates the hotel said that the buildings in Shuhe have been here many hundreds of years. It's charming in its way, which is a little bit too Disney for our taste. Partly it's pretty heavily curated, and partly it's that the cobbled streets are lined with one shop after another after another after another, all selling similar things: tea, clothing, yak meat, jewelry, leather goods, flower pastry, and restaurants. There are no tiny noodle stalls here, as in Xizhou, it's not that kind of place. Every little tea shop, coffee shop, or restaurant featured a guy playing a guitar -- and they were all quite good, their voices were beautiful, the music sometimes so beautiful it made my heart ache.

We were only here for two nights, and we mainly just walked around town, ate, walked around town, ate, and slept. So I don't have very many stories from Lijiang but I do have some really good photos:
breakfast in the hotel was in this lovely library space, surrounded by tall windows
The owner is a woman from Singapore with a salty attitude. I suspect
she is responsible for this little sign.
The garden in front of our hotel -- also the gathering spot in case of earthquake.
the mirror in the bathroom was SO LOW.
Again there was almost no English anywhere, although the women in the hotel did speak English very well, a real treat. Mao Mao, the lovely young woman who helped us from beginning to end, was just so kind and helpful, and I'll remember her a long time. Also, once in a while a shop sign had an English translation, although I think some surely missed the boat.

OK -- I believe you! Absolutely!
I guess American food = SPAM here? Better than McDonalds, I guess.....
They are just souvenirs. Hardly amorous-feeling-inspirational.
Quality Medicines. Reasonable prices.
I could take a few pictures that would provide a completely inaccurate image of this little town -- it would look rustic, old, not completely touristy, and I would be entirely misleading. We did see a couple of western people here, but for the most part the streets were choked with Chinese tour groups, each wearing its own color baseball hat; small groups being driven along in horse drawn carts; young people having a day out; and -- of course -- bridal-type people having their photos made. Just today alone I saw three different bride and groom pairs, she always holding up a long train of a lacy dress and he always in a sharply stylish very skinny suit with pointy, shiny shoes and no socks and a pair of cutting edge style glasses. Still, I do think people live here, and work their gardens. People come from the nearby villages to sell produce. It's such a mix, hard to capture very well without misleading. We stayed here just long enough . . . one day more would've been way too much.

this place featured animal skulls on the front -- above the red lanterns. huh?
That distant mountain is so different from all the others;
instead of being rounded and tree-covered, it's sharp and rocky
and topped with snow.
We stopped for a drink, just to people watch.
Lots of prayer flags scattered around town
Not sure of this dude's story; he sat on his horse with a very stern face for a VERY long time.
We hiked up the mountain behind the old village and saw these little wildflowers.
I guess this is an issue?
And this -- no washing here. I loved that the message was provided three ways, pictographs, Chinese, and English.
This river runs through town, and is the primary water source. SO pretty, and the water was crystal clear.
Maybe because there is no washing allowed.
I don't know why it surprised me, but there were lots of pink roses.
the restaurants were often quite beautiful.....
like this one, too.
Another shot of the river through the old town.
Sharing the narrow cobbled streets with horses meant also avoiding piles of horse poop,
which just added another hazard alongside the spitting.
See just how clear the water is?
In addition to several yak meat stores, there was this Tibetan restaurant.
For all its tweeness, the old town really can be gorgeous.
Both nights we were here, we ate at a fabulous placed called Number One Restaurant. The place itself was just about as charming inside as it could be, and the food was sooooooooo good, the best we ate in China by far. We couldn't even think of a distant second.

It's a standard interior courtyard, but they covered it with glass so it could be used year-round.
And then they hung petunias in baskets, which just gave such a cheery feeling.
and lovely cloth lamps next to the petunias, and prayer flags.
and plants and books tucked wherever they could fit them in.
On our first night there, Marc's dish was Sichuan-style pork and scallions, and was delicious. I didn't quite take into account what they might have meant by tea tree mushrooms WITH dry chilies, missing the possibility that the chilies would be more prevalent than the mushrooms. I tried nobly to eat the peppers but had to bail after about 20%. (The second night we saw others had ordered the same dish and they didn't appear to have eaten any of the peppers.)

Marc's dish
CHILIES!!!!!!! (with a few little mushrooms)
and bamboo rice, which was quite sticky and bamboo-ey. :)
My meal was so light and unsatisfying, we went in search of something extra and landed at a "Parisian bakery," where I got a "tarte tatin," a "tarte citron," and Marc got a couple of cookies. (No matter how hard I try, and I do keep trying, I just never like Asian desserts.) Marc was so happy with his dinner that we left with a good impression of the place, my dinner notwithstanding. After a mix-up with our hotel about dinner the second night, we decided to return to Number One and my eyes are still kind of rolled back in my head. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a meal that much!

A beer from Dali, beautifully named Wind Flower Sun Moon. It was really like water
with a little squeeze of lemon, and I think someone waved the dictionary definition
of "alcohol" near the bottle, but that was fine with me.
the very best water spinach with garlic I've EVER had.
these mushrooms were AMAZING.
Clearly, we were satisfied with our meal.
The Number Two Number One dog -- there's a much bigger collie that
always walks around the restaurant, the Number One Number One I suppose,
and  a cat that lounges around on the seats.
Dang that was a good meal. I'm still saying that out loud while I write.

We have had such a wonderful trip.
In the morning we head off to Hong Kong -- a long day of travel, stopping over for too long in Kunming (because even 30 minutes is too long in Kunming), so this is farewell to our time in mainland China, and what a beautiful time it has been.

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