Lijiang in south-west China’s Yunnan Province looks pretty enough to paint on a paper lantern. Its Unesco-recognised Dayan Old Town keeps 800 years of history alive; Han and Zang-era, timber-framed houses covered in carvings of flowers and birds are well-preserved. They line the meandering alleyways of the ‘old tea horse caravan trail’, which are easy enough to get lost in, even though they’re laid out according to feng shui principles. It’s no museum – as night falls and red lanterns are lit, dongjing dancers set the rhythm and the occasional singing competition erupts; in the central square Si Fang Jie, a bonfire is lit at 7pm. Day-trips beyond the city limits are rewarded with dragon-emblazoned pavilions atop mountains, whisper-quiet lakes and villages that keep centuries-old customs, where the native Nakhi showcase their intricate embroidery and the Mosuo’s Kingdom of Women makes do without men.
When to go
Arrive in winter (December to February) to see the mountains topped with snow. Summer runs from June to September, but both spring and autumn tend to be mild.
PlanesThe closest airport is Lijiang Sanyi, a 30-minute drive from Lijang. You’ll need to fly into Shanghai or Kunming first, then pick up a connecting flight.
TrainsLijiang Railway Station is on the edge of the city, with services connecting to Kunming, Dali and Qujing.
AutomobilesDriving in mainland China is a tricky affair; drivers are usually required to retake their test. We recommend using taxis where possible.