The Tea-Horse Ancient Road, a trade route in south-western China as important as the Silk Road, was very famous during the rule of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). This ancient trade route passed through the Yunnan provinces of Sichuan and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. What remains of the old trade route is Lijiang Old Town, which used to be an important commercial centre in the old days. Efforts at preservation have maintained the original commercial pattern of the town with Square Street serving as the hub around which everything else is centred.
With an increasing number of tourists, Lijiang now specialises in a variety of souvenirs, including exotic Naxi handicrafts.
For great tips on the best place to pick up a bargain, see our Lijiang Shopping Guide below. Our China shopping guide offers some great ideas for souvenir shopping across the country. After a day of shopping in Lijiang, sit down and savour a meal at one of Lijiangs' numerous restaurants.
Square Street is where all the shops in Lijiang are located and it is the busiest area in the Old Town. A few of these shops are owned by locals while others are run by enterprising people from other parts of China. This is the place to pick up all the souvenirs that you want to carry back.
Several of the local crafts items are very eye-catching. Naxi necklaces and bracelets are favourite buys for tourists. These items of jewellery are carved with ancient Dongba hieroglyphs. The local craftsmen will also oblige you by painting Dongba hieroglyphics on your T shirts, for that special Lijiang souvenir. Another popular buy are shawls knitted by the Naxis. The prices charged for all these items are reasonable. You might also want to pick up some Naxi murals and a few Bunong and Jixiang Bells. The design of Bunong Bells is inspired by the bells used by horse caravans that used to traverse the Tea-Horse Ancient Road. The designs chosen for decorating local handicrafts speak of the extensive use of quaint horse caravans in the old days.
The Jixiang Bell, also referred to as the lucky bell, used to function as a sacrificial utensil in ancient Naxi times. The Naxi Mural is believed to reflect the kind and intelligent nature of the Naxi people. These murals, which are made using pastel colours and feature elaborate scenes, serve as wonderful décor aids and even make good gifts.
Visitors to Lijiang generally favour two kinds of the mild wine which is made in Lijiang. These are U Wine and Sulima Wine. While U Wine has been traced back right up to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Sulima Wine has traditionally been brewed by the Mosuo people, the inhabitants of Ninglang Yi Autonomous County which lies to the northeast of Lijiang City. If you plan to carry these wines home be sure that you check the customs restrictions if any.
There is no dearth of shops in the Old Town, which makes shopping in Lijiang an exciting experience. The merchandise in these shops may be a little overpriced, but they have a consistent pricing policy. In other parts of China you will notice that there is one price for the Chinese and a different one for Westerners. Here everybody pays the same, albeit high prices.
Do try to buy burned wood carvings, which are a local speciality and can be found in most Lijiang shops. The quality and price will vary as per the skill of the artisan. Another interesting item is getting a custom etching of your face done with the backdrop being Lijiang. This process will need a few hours so head for it first if interested. Your picture will be taken and you can collect the finished product after a couple of hours. You might also find yak horn combs interesting. There are a few yak hoof combs too available. These will have handles with rough edges. Ethnic Naxi clothing is interesting and exotic. For five Yuan you can have yourself photographed in ethnic clothing. However, do be on your guard against getting overcharged. The general advice is to avoid shops that exhibit what are called ‘local skirts' with ancient Egyptian designs.
The Naxis are the proud possessors of the Dongba art - the last hierographic language left in the world. Most shops sell samples of Dongba writing and these make great souvenirs. Do try some Yunnan Coffee, which is finely ground coffee powder served in a ready-to-drink mixture with milk and sugar.
If you feel the need to buy some warm clothes avoid the shops in Lijiang Old Town, which are expensive, and buy them just outside the town. Turning left at the first intersection outside the town will bring you to stalls selling long johns, hats and mitts.