Swooping over snow-capped mountains and verdant valleys we landed in Sanyi airport of Lijiang at the heart of Yunnan province. At the dizzying height of 2400m, the air is thin, and one has to catch their breath. Generously apply your lip balm and sun block to brace for the low humidity and high UV rays that accompanies the high altitude. Then, inhale the exhilarating crisp fresh air as you head to Amandayan, the swankiest abode in Lijiang. Fun fact: in true Aman-style, from that moment forth, you will not need to lift a finger to carry a single thing, not even a camera which will be lugged around by the ever-indispensable guide.
Here are the steps to discover what belies picture-perfect Lijiang with its bewitching natural beauty and cultural wonders:
1. CHECK-IN TO THE LOFTY DWELLINGS AT AMANDAYAN
Perched high on Lion Hill with Wenchang Palace (circa 1725), a Qing Dynasty building, casually sited in one of its courtyards blessed with delightful views of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain on the horizon, Amandayan is an Amanjunkie’s dream. Its tranquil courtyards and traditional design may blend seamlessly with its ancient surroundings, but the likes of a 30-seater indoor private cinema, outdoor heated pool and a luxurious spa firmly speaks of Amandayan’s uncompromised modern luxuries on offer. A peaceful haven just out of ear shot of the onslaught of tourists in the old town below, a guarded flight of stairs from Aman’s teahouse will bring you to the south gate of Dayan town in just 5 mins.
The Deluxe Courtyard Villa opens up to a terrace with quaint views of Lijiang’s rooftops. It is warm and welcoming with heated stone floors, portable oxygen canisters, quintessentially Aman clean-lines and fusion contemporary design. Naxi embroidery and Dongba timber carvings decorate the space that boast a king bed, sitting area, free standing bathtub, twin vanities and a personal bar.
All the while, Aman staff quietly attends to your every whim in an unobtrusive yet attentive manner, from arranging tours and meals to personally escorting guests around after sunset.
Amandayan - 29 Shishan Rd, Gucheng Qu, Lijiang Shi, Yunnan Sheng, China, 674199
2. STROLL ALONG THE BLACK DRAGON POOL PARK
The stunning Black Dragon Pool Park at the foot of Emerald Hill is a good place to start. From there, a pathway snakes along the Jade River to reach Lijiang old town. The Black Dragon Pool Park (built in the Qing Dynasty) affords a panoramic view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain over its serene white marbled bridge. This image is the poster of Lijiang and one of China’s finest views. Home to the Dongba cultural institute and Dongba museum, the park features octagonal pavilions and temples in the middle of the reflective pool of crystalline water.
1 Minzhu Rd, Gucheng Qu, Lijiang Shi, Yunnan Sheng, China, 674100
3. DISCOVER LIJIANG OLD TOWN
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cobble-stoned, winding alleys of Lijiang old town is peppered with no less than 354 pretty bridges. As charming as it is to get lost in the blossom-strewed alleys, it’s quite hard to when the narrow streets are well marked and all 4 city gates lead to the central town square. Clean lavatories, friendly shopkeepers and Instagram-worthy spots like Xian Wen alley where colourful umbrellas float in midair all scream “Tourists are welcome!”. Sample the region's produce like Yak meat, organic rose pastry and ginger sugar in every other shop and walk-off the sugar rush in the awe-inspiring Mu Mansion, the home of the former Naxi family that ruled Lijiang for centuries.
4. WATCH THE IMPRESSIONS LIJIANG SHOW
Chang Yimou’s most famous outdoor show, Impression Lijiang, could arguably be the only reason one ever needs to visit Lijiang. At an elevation of 3100m above sea level, over 400 locals and 100 horses perform on a giant brick red edifice with the jaw-dropping back drop of the snow-dusted massif, blue skies and cotton clouds. The music moves, the singing and dancing enthralls as they demonstrate the traditions and lifestyle of the local Naxi, Yi and Bai ethnicities. The show is epic in every scale and might very well be the greatest show on earth!
5. DISCOVER THE JADE DRAGON SNOW MOUNTAIN
Renowned for its 13 snow-capped peaks (highest peak at 5596m), lush meadows where pastured raised Yak roam and beautiful forested slopes, visitors can enjoy the majesty of Jade Dragon Snow mountain at different altitudes. Taking in the vista at the level of the Blue Moon Valley at a not so shabby 3000m is an option. It is a popular spot for wedding photoshoots where crystal clear waters are fed by the snow and ice of the mountain that it is juxtaposed against. The river flows down fan-shaped terraces while shoals of fish break the surface in an area steeped in legend and myth. If you are stocked up on oxygen canisters, take to the peaceful and beautiful Spruce Meadow and Yak Meadow at an even higher elevation whilst the altitude-sickness-fearless can board the cables cars for a close-up at 4506m.
6. VISIT BAISHA VILLAGE
The former cultural, economic and political center of Lijiang was the cradle of the Wu clang and is well preserved with original Ming Dynasty constructions such as temples, pavilions and palaces. In fact, Baisha frescoes can be seen at the Dabaoji Palace for a small fee. Houses and traditional artisanal workshops line up the ancient streets and silk embroidery at its finest can be found at the Embroidery School of Mu’s Family. As testament to its history and works, photos of who’s who of the region like that of Singapore’s Prime Minister hangs on the walls of its premises.
7. SAMPLE THE LOCAL CUISINE
In keeping with the high altitude, the local cuisine is rich in oil and spice, so leave all low-carb sugar-free diets firmly behind. Amandayan’s Man Xi Yuan restaurant and the local Naxi restaurant V. Sherry both offer organic meat, local vegetables and wild mushrooms. The meals comprise of the likes of Yunnan stewed yak, Mastaki mushroom fried rice, Naxi style pickled vegetable tofu, Lijiang pancake (a thick and heavy Naxi bread) and rose jam filled cheese crisps. Needless to say, Yunnan cuisine is a delicious highlight of the journey.
Man Xi Yuan - 29 Shishan Rd, Gucheng Qu, Lijiang Shi, Yunnan Sheng, China, 674199
V. Sherry - No.108 Xingwen Alley, Qiyi Street, Gucheng District, Lijiang 674100, China
8. EXPERIENCE THE PU'ER TEA CULTURE
Pu’er tea originated in the Yunnan province and is a daily necessity of the locals. The best way to experience it is to visit a local teahouse. (For those wondering: no, it has nothing to do with tossing a tea bag into a cup!) We visited Fu Xing Chang tea house in the old town which is now run by the 4th generation. Hours passed by as we sat sipping the aromatic brew of the fine leaf-buds fit for an emperor and learning the history and art of Chinese tea drinking. Another fun fact - Water boils at 92 degrees Celsius at an altitude of 2400m.
End the day with a hot bath and Bamboo massage at the Aman Spa and leave empowered and refreshed by the journey.
Fu Xing Chang - No.50 Jishan Alley, Xinyi Street, Gucheng District, Lijiang, China