Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Lijiang - A Quaint Old Town and The Forgery Incident

We arrived in Lijiang after dark.  The railway station is about 15km from the old town where we had booked accommodation.  We caught a taxi no problem and headed through the new city before being dropped off at the east gate to the old town.  Luckily Paul seemed to have some idea where we were going.  Motor vehicles (and horse and carts apparently) are not allowed within the old town so we had to wander through the winding cobbled streets in the dark to try and find our hostel with our heavy rucksacks on our backs.

Jade Dragon Mountain in Lijiang
We asked about 3 different people if they knew where the hostel was located and were given 3 different directions!  A fine example of how the Chinese will try to help even if they haven’t got a clue what you are looking for.  We finally found the hostel by pouncing on some passing westerners who, by a stroke of luck, just happened to be staying at the same hostel.  Finally, a little travel weary, we arrived at the Panba Hostel, checked in, bought a couple of beers and sat out on our balcony before heading to bed.
We got up the next day and set out to find somewhere to have breakfast and to explore Lijiang. 
The weather was really warm during the day (although it plummeted at night but we had an electric blanket!) and Lijiang Old Town was a really very quaint.  It was a little like Pingyao but the streets were more higgledy piggledy and there is a river running through it with lots of little canals running through the town.  It is very touristy – some people have said too much so but we found it charming.  There were lots of little restaurants, cafes and bars, hundreds of souvenir shops and countless places just to sit and watch the world go by.

Our room and balcony in Lijiang
We walked all through the town to the north towards the Jade Dragon Mountain, one of the most iconic sights in south west China.  It is a snow covered mountain that looks down over Lijiang and it is just beautiful.  We walked up the main street and followed the road up to the Dragon Pool Park.  We expected a formal park and while there were formal elements to it (bridges and paved paths), there was also a forested area to the east where we saw squirrels and birds. 

The river flows down from the mountain and forms two or three lakes on the way down to the river that runs through the old town.  We also saw kingfishers diving into the lake and a cormorant – one of the kingfishers posed for a few photographs but the cormorant was a bit camera shy!
Lijiang's waterways
There was also a lot of grass and lots of people sitting on it which is a rare sight in China!  And no "no feet" signs which is even rarer.

Apart from the formal areas, the park was just a little bit wilder than we were becoming used to, and we enjoyed a lovely few hours wandering about enjoying the greenery against the backdrop of the Jade Dragon Mountain.
It was in Lijiang that we had the most expensive cup of coffee in the history of either of us ever buying coffee, either in China or anywhere else in the world.  We spotted a little cafĂ© by a bridge on the river, with comfy seating outside, and decided to stop for a coffee. 

We were handed a menu and when we found the page for coffee, it really didn’t compute that 59 yuan was £5.90 for a cup of coffee.  In the time it took for the currency converting part of our brains to operate we had ordered two coffees.  When we realised we had just ordered over a tenner’s worth of caffeine, we nearly fell over.  Paul proceeded to launch into a rant which involved a lot of swearing under his breath as we sat there waiting for our coffee. 

Paul and the most expensive cup of coffee
in the whole of China
When it arrived, it was ok but it wasn’t all that.  We still couldn’t believe that we had just spent more on coffee than we usually spent on dinner and beer in a whole evening!  That was our budget blown for the day! 
As we sat there in shock for a while, we also considered camping out there for 2 days and asking for a couple of blankets just to get our money’s worth.  Well we were on a budget!  At one point Paul (jokingly) said (very quietly) that we should make a run for it.  I am not exaggerating when I say that the waitress turned up within 3 seconds of him uttering those words and asked if we could pay there and then!  Obviously it was only a joke and would never do that – mainly because it is a little difficult for Paul to blend into the crowd at the best of times, never mind in China - but we still couldn’t believe the speed with which the waitress appeared out of thin air.

Lijiang's narrow cobbled streets
That evening we decided to try and find an Irish bar that had been advertised around town.  It was a bar called Stone the Crows which advertised the cheapest beer in town so we thought we would give it a go.  We spent about an hour looking for it, and when we found it – you guessed it – it was closed.  Bloody paddies!  So we went looking for another bar instead.
There were lots of bars in Lijiang, and as it was slightly out of season, none were that busy.  The beer can also be a bit pricey so we went into a bar on a side street, had a look at the menu and the cheapest beer was 35 yuan! 

After the coffee incident, we had made a pact that if the prices on the menu were out of our range, then we would just simply turn around and leave.  We were about to leave (£3.50 for a small bottle of crap beer – I don’t think so when you get a large bottle for between 50-80p in most hostels) when the guy said 20 yuan.  We thought we might as well stay for one as there was a guy playing the guitar and he had quite a good voice so we ordered 2 beers, Paul paid and we sat down at the back.

More of Lijiang
We had quite a nice time, just sitting there listening to the music, a complimentary plate of sunflower seeds appeared, and a few more customers turned up.
As we sat there, Paul reached for one of the beers that were grouped on the table.  There were a couple of things going through my mind, one of which was the fact that we had got the first 2 beers for 20 yuan each but it wouldn’t have surprised me if they charged 35 yuan for the next ones.

I expressed this concern to Paul, at which point he advised me that he was staying to spend the change he had been given, because he had been given the most shocking forgeries in change from the 100 yuan note he had paid with.  Forgeries are a big problem in China but apparently these one were no better than photocopies cut up with a pair of scissors.  I was told in no uncertain terms to  have a bloody drink, so I did!
One of Lijiang's main streets
So we sat there and had 2 more beers each.  In the meantime, my brain is working overtime and I start to worry that if the barman has given us forgeries which Paul has put in his wallet, that he is not going to want to accept the very same forgeries as payment for our beers.  I was a little uncomfortable but Paul seemed to be fine about it.

We were drinking a brand of beer called “Happy Hours” which had not come across before.  It is a genuine brand but the contents of the bottles were a little suspect.  The bottles were clear glass, and the contents were varying shades of amber – one was significantly paler than the rest and we both avoided that one!
A kingfisher in the park
Once Paul had reached the end of his third beer, he leaned across the table and said to me “RIght, I’m going up to pay, you grab my sheep and the bag and head for the door, and if there’s any problems I’ll fight my way out of it”.  I could hardly bring myself to stop laughing.

He went up to the bar and as instructed I grabbed his sheep (his fleece, just in case your wondering), the bag and went towards the door, just in time to see him handing back the forgeries to the waitress who had a huge smile on her face, was thanking him in Chinese, and the other staff and customers were all waving us on our way.
Gambling in the park
As we headed out of the door, Paul was visibly disappointed and said to me “You made me flex my beer muscles and I didn’t get to use them!  Bloody woman!”.  It was the funniest thing that happened in a long time.  It doesn’t help that I am slightly more paranoid than Paul but in fairness, that is balanced by Paul’s gung ho attitude. 

We giggled all the way back to the guest house, had a beer on the balcony before heading to bed.
The next day Paul had a hangover that lasted the whole day and we decided that the contents of the “Happy Hours” beer bottles were indeed, as we believed at the time, very suspect.  I know my husband, and I know how much beer he is capable of drinking.  He doesn’t have a hangover after drinking 15 pints of Strongbow – I find it hard to believe that 4 bottles of cooking lager would give him such a shocking hangover!

Jade Dragon Mountain
In spite of the coffee and beer/forgery episodes (or maybe because of them), we loved Lijiang.  The old town was enchanting with its winding streets and waterways, and a really lovely place to spend some time.  It is especially beautiful because of the surrounding mountains, in particular the snow peaked Jade Dragon Mountain.  Even the new town of Lijiang was attractive as we found out on our bus trip to the express bus station. 

We caught the bus on the main road just outside the old town and told the driver we wanted the long distance bus station and he nodded sagely so we sat down and waited for him to indicate our stop. 

However, the bus driver then proceeded to launch into a long and heated discussion with one of the other passengers and after about half an hour we were beginning to think he had forgotten about us.  Our suspicions were correct and when we reminded him, he stopped the bus, got out the bus and personally led us across the road to another bus stop and, to be fair actually put us on another bus.  This time the driver didn't forget about us and showed us where to get off.  We bought our tickets for Dali and, once again, were on our way.




  1. This update made me chcuckle several times. :)

    1. We thought you had to be there but glad it made you smile :-)