Yunnan Province has many wonders for the more adventurous travelers. I standard on the tourist path, Lijiang is a massive “old” city that keeps much of China’s older charm. The original Lijiang was quite small, judging by the older photos, but expanded as tourism increased. The city likely ended at the main square’s gate, yet expanded up the hill (which is pretty great if you want tea with the entire cityscape under you). Furthermore, a larger “newer” and much uglier city has grown around the old city.
The airport is around 30 minutes away from the old town. The road to is a relatively dry landscape with farms and large hills (there is a drought in Yunnan). The bus station is 20 minutes into the “new” town. From the bus station you can catch the regular buses to Shangrila.
There are a few primary sites, the biggest being the Mu Family Mansion. Don’t be fooled by the gate, the mansion is gigantic and filled with ancient buddhist art (some with faces unfortunately scratched off due to a certain “incident” a few decades ago). The mansion goes up the hill behind giving a pretty nice view of the city and manor. Besides the mansion the other sites are not of much interest. The main draw of Lijiang, after all, are the maze-like alleys which are worth getting lost in.
Food in old town is directed towards tourists, so expect greasy, boring, and expensive food in most establishments. Like much of China, the more it costs the less appetizing the food is. Avoid the semi-western food establishments along the river which LP regards as filled with “singing and dancing”. Matter of fact, the food is better in the lonely alleys or better yet, new town.