Yunnan Province, 527km (316 miles) NW of Kunming, 150km (90 miles) NW of Dali
Located in the northwest part of Yunnan Province, this capital of the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County (pop. 302,000) is home to the Naxi people (who constitute almost 60% of its population) and to a smaller number of Bai, Tibetan, Yi, Mosu, and Han peoples. Though its history dates from the Warring States (475-221 B.C.), its most influential period was when it was governed by Naxi chieftains during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
In February 1996, an earthquake hit Lijiang, killing over 300 people, injuring 17,000 more, and destroying 186,000 homes, much of the city. Amazingly, many of the traditional Naxi houses held up quite well, leading the government in its reconstruction process to pour millions of yuan into replacing concrete buildings with traditional wooden Naxi architecture. The World Bank came up with rebuilding funds, and Lijiang was conferred with the ultimate imprimatur (some would say the kiss of death) as a UNESCO World Heritage town in 1999. All this attention plus the construction of a new airport and hotels has turned it into a major tourist destination with outrageous prices at every turn. Lijiang's old town, with its cobblestone streets, gurgling streams, and Naxi architecture, thankfully preserves a modicum of traditional ways, but as Han merchants move in to cater to hordes of stampeding tourists, many of the Naxi who still live there (about 6,000 households) are finding their old way of life being challenged. Lijiang's commercialization has emerged as a source of concern for UNESCO, encouraging them to put it on "examination" status (along with five other Chinese sites) which may eventually result in de-listing.
Located on the road to Tibet in a region widely regarded as being one of the most beautiful in the world, Lijiang also offers a plethora of fascinating side trips that can easily take up to a week or more of your time. Lijiang (elev. 2,340m/7,800 ft.) has a pleasant climate year-round with average temperatures in the spring, summer, and fall ranging between 16°C and 27°C (60°F-80°F). Spring and fall are the best times to visit, as the summer months are unbelievably crowded with Chinese tourists, busier even than the big-city shopping areas. Recently the old town began charging visitors ¥80 to enter the old town.