With a well-marked map, crisp bills, and the hope that you don’t get horribly lost, you set out from the hotel. Cobblestone streets are lined with timber-framed houses. Birds and flowers are carved on windows. It feels like a small victory when you spot Qiyi Street. As Lijiang’s longest street, it would have been a spectacular failure to miss it, though. Shops pack both sides. You wander between stores filled with Dongba paper and pottery, camel and fish bells, drums and tambourines. Qiyi Street runs into Sifang, the main square. From its corner, winding steps lead to a secret spot. You feel winded, thanks to the altitude, when you reach the top. But the view of the city is worth it.
After catching your breath, you head back down to street level and cross small canals in search of the Fu Xing Chang Tea House. At Lijiang’s oldest teahouse, you watch the owner weigh, steam, and press pu’er tea into round cakes. The last part he does by standing and rocking on a stone weight. A tasting of the fermented tea follows, of course. You’re beginning to learn the secrets of the Tea Horse Road.
The Tea Horse Road, also known as the Southern Silk Road, was a network of almost 2,000 miles worth of horse-caravan trails that wound through the mountains of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Tibet in Southwest China. Lijiang was an important stop along the ancient trade route. The city’s Nakhi culture was renowned for its silk embroidery. Dayan, the Old Town of Lijiang, is now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Your helpful map and the confidence to navigate the daunting City of Bridges came from your hotel. LUX Tea Horse Road Lijiang picked you up at the airport, poured your first cup of pu’er tea, and settled you into your room. The boutique hotel, which sits right in the heart of Dayan, is the perfect combination of traditional and modern. The timber-framed building surrounds an inner courtyard. Wooden floors, poles, and beams extend throughout the library, the coffee bar, and the restaurant. They’re in your junior suite, too. So is a deep soaking tub.
After you washed away your long trip, you returned to the Cha Ma Dao Library to begin planning your Lijiang adventures. A cooking class, which includes a visit to the local market to handpick fresh ingredients and a communal meal, is a must. So is an excursion to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, 13 always snow-capped peaks, on the outskirts of the city. But you needed to see Lijiang before you could start to understand it. So you set out on foot—no vehicles are allowed in Dayan—to see, hear, and taste the historic city. Lijiang is awakening your senses.