About 13km (8 miles) northwest of Lijiang at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, this small lamasery belonging to the Scarlet Sect of Tibetan Buddhism was first built in 1660. Today it is best known for its wanduo shancha (10,000-flower camellia tree). Formed from the merger of two trees planted by monks between 1465 and 1487, the camellia tree is said to bloom 20 times between March and June, bearing a total of 20,000 blossoms! If you're cycling here (2 hr.), follow Xianggelila Da Dao out of town. About 5km (3 miles) past the town of Baisha, take a left at Yushui Zhai (Jade Water Village), go past the Dongba Village, and continue on to Yufeng Temple.
Yu Hu (Nguluko)
Just before the Dongba Village is the turnoff for the village that was Joseph Rock's home in the 1920s and 1930s. The Austrian-born botanist and anthropologist, whose Ancient Nakhi Kingdom of Southwest China is the definitive account of Naxi culture and language, is a local legend who lived in Lijiang for 27 years. Following the turnoff -- which you can't miss, as large letters proclaim FOLLOW ROCKER'S TRAIL TO SHANGRI-LA (the misspelled name turns out to be an English transliteration of the literal Chinese pronunciation of "Rock," or "Luoke") -- take a right at the first fork for about 3km (2 miles), then follow signs directing you to the village where all the houses are built entirely from large stones and rocks. Thanks to the tourist boom, Yuhu now has a huge car park for tour buses and locals who use the area to arrange impromptu dog fights. When foreigners arrive they will break off to demand a village entrance fee. Joseph Rock's former residence (Luoke Guju Chenlieguan; ¥15; 8am-6pm) is a two-story wooden house where Rock lived with his Naxi assistant Li Siyu. Rock's quarters on the second floor contain his original twin bed, his suitcase, a folding table, two chairs, and kerosene lamps. A newly built exhibition hall next to the residence has displays of Rock's gun, clothing, pictographic cards used to help Rock learn the Dongba language, and Rock's own photographs of Naxi funeral ceremonies and festivals. The rest of the museum is disappointing, a bunch of low quality photocopies and some unrelated text books. More impressive is the new wing of the nearby school that shows how modern and Naxi architecture can be cleverly combined.
Ten kilometers (6 miles) northwest of Lijiang, 1km (1/2 mile) off the main road to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, this dusty historic town is most famous these days for its Ming- and Qing-dynasty temple frescoes, which were painted by Naxi, Tibetan, Bai, and Han artists and hence incorporate elements of Buddhism, Lamaism, and Daoism. The largest fresco, found on the front wall of the Dabaoji Palace (¥20; 7:30am-6pm), is a gorgeous Ming dynasty mural of Buddha preaching to his disciples.
In the street behind the Dabaoji Palace, visitors can also find Baisha's most famous personality, Dr. Ho (He), at his Chinese herbal clinic. Immortalized by travel writer Bruce Chatwin as the "Taoist physician in the Jade-Dragon Mountains of Lijiang," and visited by countless journalists and curious travelers ever since, Dr. Ho can dispense herbs for any ailment and will happily sell you some of his special tea made from homegrown herbs, which has many fans if you believe all the scrapbooks of letters from grateful patients.
For those more interested in local history than local celebrity, the plain that the bus crosses to get to the village conceals the remains of the airstrip used by the Flying Tigers. Unfortunately, there is not much left to look at, but a nose around might inspire the amateur archaeologist in you.
Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain)
This magnificent 35km-long (21-mile) mountain range framing Lijiang has become a very expensive day out. The tallest of the mountain's 13 peaks is the daunting Shanzifeng (Fan Peak; elev. 5,596m/18,355 ft.), perennially snowcapped and climbed for the first time only in 1963 by a research team from Beijing. Today's visitors have a number of options for exploring the mountain. All require you to pay a hefty ¥120 entrance fee to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Scenic Area, about 30km (20 miles) north of Lijiang. Many tourists visit as part of an organized tour. To get out here on your own, take a bus for Baoshan or Daju. The Lijiang no. 7 bus (¥10) goes from Red Sun Square (Hong Tai Yang Guang Chang) opposite the Mao statue to Jade Dragon Mountain.
The most popular visit is a round-trip cable-car ride for an even more expensive ¥180 from the village just inside the main gate to Bingchuan Gongyuan (Glacier Park). If possible, purchase your ticket in town the day before at the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain ticket office at Xianggelila Da Dao and Xiangshan Dong Lu, as ornery ticket attendants at the reception center will sometimes insist you cannot purchase a ticket on the spot. Buses for ¥10 round-trip will transport you the 4km (2 1/2 miles) from the reception center to the cable car terminus. From here it's a two-section ride on a chairlift to the foot of Fan Peak. You can climb a walkway all the way up to 4,480m (14,700 ft.), where visitors are greeted with a stunning view of glaciers and with ice caverns. If you feel any altitude sickness, Chinese vendors will happily sell you an oxygen canister for around ¥30.
About 20 minutes north of the reception center past the Baishui He River, a 10-minute ride on yet another chairlift for ¥60 round-trip and a 30-minute ramble through groves of spruce and pine trees leads you to Yunshan Ping (Spruce Meadow; elev. 3,206m/10,515 ft.). During the annual Torch Festival, young Naxi men and women come here to pray for eternal love.
The third cable car, which costs ¥120 round-trip and takes you another 20km (12 miles) north, arrives at Maoniu Ping (Yak Meadow, elev. 3,500m/11,480 ft.), the least visited of the three spots. The meadow has grazing yaks, blooming flowers (in spring and summer), and a number of hiking possibilities. One of the more popular routes leads to Xuehua Hu (Snow Flake Lake), which brilliantly captures the crystalline reflection of the surrounding mountains.
Hutiao Xia (Tiger Leaping Gorge)
Often billed as one of the most spectacular sights in Lijiang and a must-hike for trekkers, the 30km-long (18-mile) Tiger Leaping Gorge, which sits between the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain of Lijiang and the Haba Snow Mountain of Zhongdian to the north, is a tad overrated. To be sure, this canyon, reaching a depth of over 3,000m (9,842 ft.), is pretty enough, and occasionally breathtaking; as treks go, it is moderately interesting, occasionally strenuous, and infrequently dangerous, taking 2 to 3 days, but by no stretch of the imagination is it the ultimate of sights, as its renown may have led some to expect. Rather than the majestic views, many visitors now tell stories about locals giving them false directions and then offering them ridiculously priced horse rides to get them back on track. In some places, they simply demand payment before letting tourists pass. Since the unrest in Tibet, the PLA has decided to relocate a few thousand soldiers here, which makes the place even more unsettling. If you are looking for pristine hiking, then Shaxi valley is a much better bet these days.
The gorge is divided into upper (shang hutiao), middle (zhong hutiao), and lower (xia hutiao) sections, with two main entrances, one at the town of Qiaotou at the upper gorge and the other at the town of Daju at the end of the lower gorge (¥50; 8am-7pm). Most hikers now start from Qiaotou, as all foreigners traveling on buses from Lijiang to Daju are required to pay the ¥120 entrance fee to the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Scenic Area between Lijiang and Daju. For most visitors short on time, the gorge can be visited as a day trip from Lijiang or on the way to Shangri-La. Recently, instead of going all the way to Qiaotou, many private-hire taxis and tour buses like to drop off visitors at a newly constructed parking lot on the south side of the gorge across from the town of Qiaotou. After paying the entrance fee, it's a 2.6km (1 1/2-mile) walk along a wide paved path to the gorge's most famous sight, the Tiger Leaping Stone (Hutiao Shi), a large rock in the middle of the raging river which gave the gorge its name. The legend goes that a tiger being chased by a hunter escaped capture by leaping over the river with the help of this rock.
On the north side of the gorge, a new road for buses and cars has been built all the way from Qiaotou to Tiger Leaping Stone, allowing for even more busloads of tourists to disembark on the northern side of the stone; by the time you read this, the road from Tiger Leaping Stone to Walnut Grove that marks the end of the middle section of the gorge should be paved, which means more exhaust-spewing cars reaching ever deeper into the gorge.
For trekkers approaching from Qiaotou, there are two paths: the lower path used by buses and cars as described above, which is a relatively easy and flat, if exhaust-filled, hike; and the higher path, which is longer, more strenuous, and more dangerous because of falling rocks and narrower paths. Check with the travelers' cafes in Lijiang beforehand for the latest hiking conditions and then check again with Margot at the Gorged Tiger Cafe in Qiaotou. It is possible but not advisable to do the hike in a day. Basic but charming guesthouses along the way, all with hot water and restaurants, make overnighting at the gorge a relatively painless affair. In general, hikers on the high path can overnight at Nuoyu village, 6.3km (4 miles) and 2 hours from Qiaotou, where the Naxi Family Guesthouse charges ¥30 per bed. Or you can stay at Bendiwan village, 17km (10 miles) and 4 to 8 hours from Qiaotou, which has several guesthouses; the Halfway Guesthouse (Zhongtu Kezhan) has beds for ¥20 to ¥50, and some of the best views. Some hikers even manage to get to Walnut Grove (Hetao Yuan), 23km (14 miles) from Qiaotou and 2 to 4 hours from Bendiwan, in 1 day. However, the middle rapids between Tina's Guesthouse on the lower path and Walnut Grove is one of the prettiest sections of the gorge, so you may want to take your time through there. Guesthouses at Walnut Grove include the very social Sean's Spring Guesthouse (Shanquan Kezhan) with beds for ¥15 to ¥20; and the quieter Château Woody (Shanbailian Luguan), with beds for ¥10, clean toilets, and great views. From Walnut Grove, you can either hike back to Qiaotou via the 4- to 5-hour lower path, or you can take a taxi back to Qiaotou for ¥10. Another option is to continue on to Daju, a section considerably less scenic that requires crossing the river; the old ferry costs ¥10, the new ferry ¥12.
To get to Qiaotou from Lijiang, take a Zhongdian-bound bus (2 1/2 hr.; ¥18), which runs every half-hour to hour from 7:30am to 3pm, and ask to be let off at Qiaotou. From Qiaotou, the last bus to Lijiang passes at around 6:30pm, while the last bus to Zhongdian passes at around 5pm. The last bus (3 hr.; ¥35) from Daju to Lijiang leaves at 1:30pm. Frequent minibuses, running until 5pm, take 2 1/2 hours and cost ¥28 to get from Daju to Zhongdian.
Wenhai & Lashihai
For nature lovers and conservation-minded travelers, Wenhai Ecolodge, built with the support of the Nature Conservancy as a community-based tourism initiative, is designed to minimize environmental impact and has fantastic views of nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Wenhai Ecolodge (tel. 1390/888-1817; www.northwestyunnan.com/wenhai_ecolodge.htm) is located in the mountain valley that is home to Lake Wenhai, a seasonal lake that appears between July and March. When the basin fills, the lake becomes home to black-necked cranes and black storks, as well as a range of endangered plants and animals such as the giant laughing thrush and the winter wren. The area is only accessible on foot or on horseback by climbing through the Yulong Xueshan pass, which offers spectacular views of the Upper Lijiang Plain, and the surrounding mountains before descending again to Wenhai Lake. The lodge offers a back-to-nature experience that allows for intimate interactions with the Naxi people and an introduction to the local culture of the area. Meals are provided and the traditional Naxi breakfast of local bread, honey, eggs, potatoes, and tea was especially enjoyable. From here it is possible to hike over to the next valley of Lashihai for a canoe trip in the beautiful lake waters. The best way to visit is to organize in advance with the English speaking manager Lily Zhang (email@example.com). For ¥1,450 per person she can arrange a truly memorable trip consisting of 3 days and 2 nights (1 night at the Ecolodge and 1 in a Naxi homestay) as well as bikes, all meals, local guides, and a canoe trip in Lashihai Lake. The lodge has 11 bedrooms, each having one to four beds.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.