Hang on to your hardhats kids because this one is going to be a doozy!
When we arrived to Lijiang at night, we took a cab that dropped us off vaguely in the vicinity-ish of our hostel. Well we spent a good 20 minutes wandering through the barely lit back streets of Lijiang before stumbling upon the Nirvana Hostel. Since it was on hostelworld, where I’ve been booking most of the hostels, we assumed it should be reputable. It was reputable, but it was not at all English friendly. It was really more of a guesthouse run by a Chinese family with only Chinese guests. The place certainly had a lot of character and in the end really charmed us with such incidents as when the family dog ran away or when they lost the key to our room and I had to jump in through our window.
We decided that night to explore the city of Lijiang and grab a little dinner. Lijiang was basically Dali, a picturesque preserved or rebuilt ancient looking city over run by tourists and shops, except larger and crazier. The streets were jam-packed with Chinese tourists, and the pagoda roofs actually give it more of the Chinese town you imagine it to be, packed with brilliant red hues. There was also one street that was one of the most bizarre places I’ve been. Imagine yourself in a place made to look like ancient China, surrounded by Chinese tourists, with night clubs blasting Chinese pop music, multi-colored strobe lights, all while on a stage, bored girls dressed in traditional Naxi tribal garb danced vague hip hop moves, and the absurdity of it all was that this madness only lasted for about half a block. So weird.
The next morning we got to discover the town in a calmer light. Lijiang is a sleepy city and doesn’t really wake up until the afternoon. We just spent the day reading poorly translated signs and wandering through the streets. We went to the world famous Black Dragon Pond where each year hundreds of women flock to take their wedding pictures at the most picturesque park in all of China. We almost thought about climbing Elephant hill, and decided against the stairs and just decided to sit alongside the lake and play a match of gin.
We really just spent the rest of the afternoon shopping, wandering up Lion Hill, drinking tea with a beautiful view, dancing with the Naxi tribal women, and then eating dinner. For dinner, we decided to have a street food dinner, which, in the name of word count, I will write more about when I talk about food in China.
The next day, we were determined to go to see a show called Lijiang Impressions. This performance was highly recommended and all that we really knew about it was that it happened during the day at the base of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the beautiful snow-capped mountain looming over Lijiang. We headed out early in the morning to catch the 11AM show. We just missed it, and when we began figuring out how to get into the 2PM show.
The following events take place in about the span of 2 and a half hours.
We barged into the ticket office, asking about each different location and how long it would take to visit it. The Mountain Glacier? 3-4 Hours. No time. Yak Meadow? 4 Hours. Nope. Spruce Meadow? 2 HOURS! Great! We sprinted through the building and caught the next bus there. We bused our way through the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain park, taking in the natural beauty of the Himalayan Plateau. We passed the most beautiful lake in the world before arriving at the Spruce Meadow cable cars. The Chinese people love cable cars and they are frequently mandatory to see the venue and the lines are invariably long. In a moment of questionable morality, Mia and I finally cashed in on our “let’s be the dumb white people” abilities and just started cutting in line left and right. People were way too afraid and/or confused to tell us no so we just pushed right on through, cutting about 300-400 people in the process and easily saving 45 minutes.
At the top of the stunning cable car ride, was the stunning view. And of course Spruce Meadow. You walk through a fairy-tale forest with the greenest spruce trees at the height of 4,000 meters. These woods are lovely, dark, and deep. After walking along the creaky wooden path, you emerge out into a gorgeous valley, filled with grazing sheep with the mountain larger and closer than ever before.
I also had a weird moment of déja vu. Or was it? No! I had seen this place on TV before! The Amazing Race went to this place. I maybe hyper ventilated as I remembered the challenge the racers had to complete in the meadow. There is an arbor absolutely filled with hanging Chinese charms, that would look charming if it weren’t so overstuffed to look overwhelming. On these charms, Chinese tourists write short prayers to be closer to heaven. My faithful readers will remember that Mia and I began our friendship through Cathedral Thursdays in France, and we happened to be at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on a Thursday so we left a charm in that honor. This day also happened to be the day after our family put our dearly beloved cat Cuddles to sleep. I also left something in his honor.
Although there was no time for reflection as we only had precious little time before the show began! We raced back through the woods, down the cable car and then we needed a bus. We thought we were going to have to wait in another line, budged another 400 people, only to find out it was the wrong line. After running between buses being sorely lost, we finally ended up on a jam-packed bus straight to the amphitheater. We raced to buy our tickets and ran in as the clock counting down the show read 16 seconds until showtime! EPIC WIN!
And if you ever find yourself in Lijiang China, you must make Lijiang Impressions a priority visit. This show is one of the most over-the-top spectacles of human tradition and unity I have ever witnessed. Directed by film director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers and also, more appropriately, the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony) created a true sight to be seen. There were over 200 performers on this tiny stage that was about 15 feet in front of us. The men were all dressed in the traditional tribal Naxi garb shouted war cries and energetically brandished weapons to intense fight choreography. And meanwhile the whole show is set right in front of the mountain. It’s absolutely stupendous.
When we returned to Lijiang we did a little more shopping and eventually made our way to the train station to take a sleeper train to Kunming, nearing the end of our time together in China.
And just how is our time like The Amazing Race? Well on Season 18 (The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business) a group of all-star teams raced around the world and leg 4 brought them to Lijiang and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (they drop the Snow, probably because it sounds ridiculous). We drove by that lake or river or whatever, although when we saw it, the lake was far more beautiful; we went up to Spruce Meadow and looked at all of the charms; we rode the cable car, but the fact that they didn’t wait in any lines tells me something was rigged; we had troubles getting a bus at the bottom; we were in a massive time crunch the whole time to make our showtime so everything seemed heightened and stressful; we felt the altitude although they complained more than we did (although I think they’re supposed to? Oh reality tv); we danced with the Naxi women of Lijiang; and we went up to Lion Hill – except we didn’t, the entry fee was too expensive and we already saw the view. MY LIFE IS THE AMAZING RACE! Except I’m glad I wasn’t on the race because they didn’t get to appreciate Lijiang for the crazy, beautiful madhouse that it is.
YouTube unknowingly provides footage of almost every old episode of competition reality tv shows (Project Runway, Survivor, you name it) and The Amazing Race is no exception. They arrive to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain just at the beginning of part 2 and Lijiang Old Town at the beginning of part 3. Take a look below.