Last updated on March 29, 2024 by Jacky The Techy, Photography enthusiast spreading photography tips. Rea more Yunnan

I think you all agree with me that we love travelling because we enjoy discovering the local history and architecture of a place, Do we have this in the old town of Lijiang?

We travel to Rome and we love wondering in the small lane. We visit Paris and we enjoy getting lost in the narrow streets. We fly to Buenos Aires and we marvel at the historical neighbourhoods. Walking and be fascinated by the local history. It does not cost anything but it open everyone eyes to a new world

It is true. Many cities in China have been totally rebuilt, demolishing in most cases the old architecture, buildings that were there for hundreds of years. Somebody call it economical progress.

However look deeper in any region and you will be rewarded with authentic gems, beautiful towns that still keep the formal old Chinese character.

Do not stop in the Old Town of Lijiang! There is another secret small town to visit

And in Today’s post we visit one of the most beautiful and preserved town of the Yunnan Region: the Old Town of Lijiang. We don’t stop just here, we move forward to unveil a little secret, the town of Baisha, so close to Lijiang however so far away from the tourism trail, a town where the Chinese life goes by as it used to be hundreds of years ago.

Lijiang is situated 150km north of Dali and it is the former capital of the Naxi kingdom, one of the China’s minority ethnic groups. The history goes back to the Warring State Period, over 2000 years ago. The geographical position of Lijiang played an important role in the own development. It was right in the middle of the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, the most important trading route from Tibet to Yunnan and the Eastern China.

Following a devastating earthquake in 1996, the old town has been officially added to the  UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. This took new funds to Lijiang that helped to rebuild the old town maintaining the former character typical of the Naxi region, a character made of canals, cobble stone, walkways and bridges that took Lijiang to be know as the little “Venice of Yunnan”.

Similarly to many European cities, the Old Town of Lijiang is still the epicentre of the local life, with the new modern part of the city built around the old town. A remarkable example of how old and new can live together.


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Why is Lijiang called the little Venice of Yunnan?

Lijiang is situated at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, also know as Mount Yulong, with peaks as high as 5,500m. The water of the Jade Dragon River flows from north to south of the city, entering the old town in a multitude of little channels. This has created a real maze where you can wonder and walk through the 354 bridges that will remind you, without any doubt, the city of Venice.

The multitude of red fish living in the channels are a clear symbol of good luck in China. The fear of a new earthquake is still alive between the locals, and any symbol absolutely helps, in line with the typical Chinese superstition.

What we do like from Lijiang is exactly the wondering in the maze of cobble stones and bridges, clear inspiration for some amazing photos. We are maybe not enthusiastic with the election of the old town to main tourist center which has transformed the maze in a ……well….a very busy maze during the day, with the typical tourist shops in any corner.

How many times you read “visit XXX before it will be discovered”. Most probably Lijiang has been already discovered 🙂 . Are you more after a preserved authenticity? Have a look at Shaxi.

Old town of Lijiang and Baisha – A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

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The secret village to visit: Baisha

Here is the secret tip you were waiting for:

Take a short bus trip of just 8km and go to Baisha, the first capital of the former Naxi Kingdom.

What you will find?

An authentic village!

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Old town of Lijiang and Baisha – A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

Wander in the small lanes, drink tea and eat the specialties of the Naxi cuisine in a traditional atmosphere; this is the perfect place to relax before trekking in the Yulong Snow Mountain or continuing your journey to the next destination

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Old town of Lijiang and Baisha – A travel itinerary to the Yunnan

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Travel & Photography tips

  • living costs in the old city : 80RMB (AUD17 or Euro12). This will cover you sleep and eating, but not your shopping for typical local products (be selective)
  • wonder in the old town very early in the morning before the massive tourist invasion arrives. This will help you to enjoy your walk and take some stunning photos of the real local life
  • on sunrise, walk on top of one of the many hills around the old town to take a fantastic shot of the local skyline made of the low profile red roofs
  • remember to include one or more of the 354 bridges in your photos! Wait untill the day-tourist will leave, late in the day, to have more space around you
  • there are many minority festivals in this area. Check with your host on what is happening around. This is the best way to experience a culture. But beware, the Chinese use the lunar calendar!
  • go to Baisha for an authentic and relaxed experience
  • enter in the characteristic Baisha shops for some photos of the local life
  • plan some portraits of the Naxi minority


Stefano Ferro - Founder and Editor

About the Author

Photography is taking me everywhere in the world. I love the technical side of it, how to create my photos minimizing the post-production side of it. More time on the field and less time on the computer. Ten years of experience and counting. Is it enough? Never! I learn new things everyday.

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