‘The Black Spot of China’s Tourism Industry’. That’s the moniker often given to the Old Town of Lijiang. Even travel guides mention it. The name has to do with the heavy-handed restoration efforts to local Naxi-style buildings and an influx of Han Chinese putting on traditional Naxi getup to give the place an ‘ethnic’ flair. Perhaps that’s a byproduct of the Old Town’s addition to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, or perhaps not.
Time passes, day by day. The greatness of this country lies in the inexorable journey it has taken through time.” – Yo Yo
I went there prepared for the crowds of tourists and tacky souvenir shops. I went prepared for kitschy eateries and staged performances. I found all of that and more, but what I didn’t expect from the Old Town of Lijiang was to find out that I loved it.
Entrance to the Old Town runs you a cheeky 80 quai, but the ticket gives you access for a month — not too unreasonable. The cobble-stoned streets of the district are narrow and winding, making their way through rows of Naxi buildings with ornate latticework and tiled roofs. The main thoroughfares are congested, but alleys branch off and lead to quieter sections of town — equally picturesque.
Staged? Sure. Endearing? Absolutely.
…but sometimes those places are touristy for a reason. Sometimes, they’re just awesome.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to a simple truth: no matter how ‘off-the-grid’ I strive to go, no matter how ‘local’ I try to live in a place, I’m still just a tourist.
I found a spot by the river flowing through the center of the Old Town of Lijiang, and I sat for a while watching the tourists pass me by. Selfie sticks and SLR cameras were in abundance, as were sunglasses and parasols. Dogs lay panting in the shade of entryways, and the smell of street food wafted through the air.
I breathed deeply, contentedly.
Sometimes, it’s good to be a tourist.
How about you? What’s a touristy place you’ve visited that appealed to you? What made it so intriguing? Share in the comments below!