When you tell a Chinese you are visiting Lijiang, they uniformly coo “Lijiang, very beautiful”. And they are right. It overwhelms all senses and even though I try to travel to new places – I will return to Lijiang one day. The old town of Lijiang and its smaller counterparts in Baisha and Shuhe are just a joy to walk around – day or night. Water babbles along ancient water courses and old bridges enable mazes of alleys ways to connect. Yes, shopkeepers are making an earn and there’s a sameness to the merchandise, but the buildings and shopfronts are respectful to the past and it never feels forced. Dominating the Lijiang northern skyline is the magnificent Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Whether covered in cloud or its glacial peaks visible to provides a point of reference in any of the villages. I did the day trip to the mountain and got the cable car to view the glaciers. I pushed on and visited Yak Meadow, which is easily one of the highlights of all my China travelling. Seeing yaks in a meadow with glacial cliffs providing a backdrop is simply unforgettable.
So all that physical activity requires liquid reward and Lijiang delivers, but you have to avoid the pitfalls. On the surface, it looked Lijiang offered a throwback to the best days of Nanlugouxing – Beijing’s formerly great bar alley. Wooden bars usually up a flight of ladder like stairs with eclectic decor abounded. But then the sting. “Tsingtao please” “35RMB” “Come again” “35RMB”. One joint wanted to charge 50RMB, but pretty much the uniform response was 35RMB. Fortunately there are some alternatives to the Lijiang bar cartel.
Solution 1 in Lijiang is to patronise Stone the Crows. A Lijiang institution that has been through a couple of owners and locations – it serves good beer at reasonable prices. Russ is a genial host with plenty of interesting information about the Lijiang bar cartels. He also serves a house beer called the Jaded Dragon (great name BTW), which is a very sessionable pale ale. Stone the Crows can be tough to find, but get to Wuyi Street and call Russ and he’ll either collect you or guide you in.
Solution 2 in Lijiang is to get out of the old city and go to a local restaurant. Dali beer is ubiquitously served and you pay roughly 8RMB for a longneck. Food on stick restaurants abound and it is hard to go wrong.
Solution 3 is to get out of Lijiang and visit Baisha. I only had an hour in Baisha and barely scratched the surface, but wow. Baisha Ancient Village is like Lijiang but off the ‘roids. There’s no doubt it has been discovered and within a year I predict it will it’s the laidback vibe, but it will still be worth visiting. I was waiting for my Yak short rib to be cooked and asked if I had 10 minutes to go for a walk. As I strolled a voice called out “Nice shorts!”. Sebastian is a Canadian who has settled in Baisha with his wife and young children. He’s opened a craft beer bar called Wonderful Oops. He’s sourced some great stuff including Garage Project and Yeastie Boys. I gulped down a Shangri-La unique (more on them in Part 3) whilst Sebastian gave a quick run down. He’ll be adding some brewing equipment soon, but there’s a number of craft beer options in Baisha. The emphasis is on laid-back. A neighbour down the road has already started serving his own. I really hope Sebastian is around when I return to Lijiang. After bolting back to my Yak short ribs (awesome) I convinced my very patient guide to have a quick one at Sebastian’s neighbour. Impression Baisha Cafe was empty but eventually someone and got me a glass of Sichuan Pepper beer. Not too bad at all. All in all I counted about 5 places that were offering craft beer, including one joint offering Master Gao. Alas – no time this trip, but something to look forward to next time.
Yes Lijiang – very beautiful.
Stone the Crows: Near 134 Wuyi Street. Head away from Square Street. Turn right at an alley that turns 45 degrees or call Russ on