Mountain Air & Cobbled Streets – Lijiang/Shuhe With Kids

I must admit.. I’ve sometimes been a tad disappointed in my trips to mainland China.  Perhaps I’ve read too many books set in ye olde China but I was searching for cobbled streets, red lanterns and wild countryside.  There is one place however, that I hear rave reviews on.  That place is Lijiang, a city in the northwest Yunnan province.  A huge thanks to Claire for this review.

Lijiang - Banyan Tree Family Photo

Claire, husband Alistair, 21 month old Ellie and 4-year-old Gen.

November 2012.  Weather was good with beautiful sunshine during the day (we got burnt one day!) and cold (insert ‘very’ for those who have been in Hong Kong for a while!) in the evening, night and early morning.  Think it was around 23 during the day and 10 at night – felt like the best of both worlds.  Sunshine to do things in and cold to cuddle up at night to!

How did you pick Lijiang?
My husband read an article on Lijiang and suggested it (I was pushing for more obviously kid friendly holiday choice but very pleased we went).  We actually stayed at Shuhe which is another, slightly less famous but older town than Lijiang.

How did you book the trip?
We booked flights and hotels separately.  We booked flights with China Eastern.  There are direct HK-Lijiang flights I think once a week but we did via Kumming on a Friday (4 hour) and then direct back (2 hours but delayed an hour).

Organising the visa
We got a double entry visa from China Travel Service.  Was thinking of getting an annual visa but they are super expensive at the moment (around $3000 each) and as this wasn’t the kids first china visa and I had recently lost my HK ID card, we could actually only get a single or double entry visa.

How was the flight?
Going there we went via Kumming which meant getting off the plane, going through immigration and then essentially getting back on the same plane.  Was very smooth and good to have a leg stretch. The connection time is very short but seemed fine.  Coming back we went direct but this flight was delayed by an hour.  The food on the plane was fine (rice and noodles with various other less attractive offerings) and the staff friendly.  Not as safety conscious as other airlines – didn’t get a seatbelt attachment for Ellie (but as the flight was not full we just sat her in her own seat!)

Getting to the hotel
Airport transfer was included for free by he hotel.  Coming back we had changed hotels so took a taxi (flat fee 150 RMB) although ti dropped us at domestic departures and we needed international.  Luckily a short walk across but could have done without the hassle (was not signposted at all)  Takes about 45 minutes to get to Shuhe.  Both transfers were driven well and on nice open roads!

The hotels – Le Bivou & The Banyan Tree

Lijiang - Le Bivou Hotel

The Bivou

This was a boutique style hotel based in two sets of old buildings.  The place has been lovingly restored by the owner (a lady from Singapore) who really made the trip.  Her email correspondence was very helpful and she advised on choice of room etc.  She welcomed us personally when we arrived with tea and biscuits.  The place was truly beautiful and on the edge of a vegetable lot where every day you could see people watering, planting and farming.  It was conveniently located on the edge of the town with lots of different walks into town along the waterways and through the historic buildings.  The place is truly beautiful and Le Bivou magical.

There is no ‘Kids Club’ but the hotel was incredibly welcoming to the kids.  They provided a cot for baby and also a baby bath (no baths in the rooms – this fact was one of the drawbacks as the hot water in the shower took forever to heat in the morning – 30 minutes and still only lukewarm which was not great on a cold morning).

There were few options to choose from in term of room options – this was our first trip away with both kids (save for annual trips back home so we were unsure what was the best room dynamic as at home the girls have separate rooms.  We went for the cheaper room option (RMB 890 per night) for room with king size and extra single bed and cot.  It made the room quite ‘tight’ and lack of balcony meant we essentially all had to go to bed at the same time!  There were rooms with an outside area which were smaller and also it was quite cold at night so not the most relaxing place to ‘chill’ out there.  They do have family suites etc but as far as we could see, no way to ‘separate’ the kids off (bathrooms tiny so couldn’t put baby in there!).  On the third day my eldest got an ear infection and this, combined with the lack of decent sleep meant we checked out early and went to the Banyan Tree!

The Banyan Tree

Lijiang - Banyan Tree Villa

On the penultimate day we moved to the Banyan Tree which was an amazing resort a little further out-of-town.  Truly stunning.  We got a villa with outside hot pool and the ability to have three rooms within the villa.  Helped with sleeping!

There is no ‘Kids Club’ but the kids adored the hot pool and there was lots of grass to run around on.

The food was excellent although reasonably pricey.

Trips around Shuhe / Lijiang

Lijiang - Shuhe Old Town

Most of our time was spent wandering the streets of Shuhe.  We had brought our Phil & Teds stroller which coped with the cobbles but struggled a bit with stairs. Thankfully we also took the Ergo and back carrier as well which used a lot. Lijiang is definitely doable with pushchair with a few adaptions of routes!

The place is as beautiful as it looks in the photos!  Based around canals of water with lots of little shops and cool cafes to relax in.  One day we walked to the edge of the town which was all farmland.  Made you realise how disconnected we are in Hong Kong from the basics of life.  In Shuhe the waterways are an intricate part of life – people use it to wash the shop floor, clean their clothes and even wash their hair.  There are lots of vegetable and fruit sellers selling what has been grown locally.  Running water and fresh food (and a place to stay) – what more do you need?

The owner was super helpful and there were lots of trips on offer.  We weren’t sure how the kids would take to horse riding (horse rides on the ‘original’ tea trail pony is big business here) so the owner arranged for a horse to come to the hotel and we walked through the town up to a vantage point and back again.  Felt like a little lady godiva and our two kids on a horse were an even more unusual sight! (On a side bar – one of my reservations about China was the amount of photo attention our blonde kids would get).  Here in Shuhe people were definitely interested and if you don’t like it, it isn’t the place for you.  Our eldest quickly learnt ‘bu yao’ (don’t want) and people were mostly good at asking to take her photo and we asked her and she usually shouted ‘bu yao’ and hid herself and this was fine.

Lijiang - Horseback riding Shuhe

Sidebar aside, we then went to do a horseback trip around a lake with lunch included.  Lovely day and the kids adored the horse ride!

How were the restaurants?
Great.  Le Bivou offered basic Western fair and there were lots of options in the town.

In Conclusion!
This was very family friendly in that there was lots to see and for the kids to explore.  Much more ‘natural’ than the more fabricated kids club culture.  We actually didn’t do ‘much’ whilst there, preferring to lose ourselves in wandering around the town or relax.  We will definitely return and do some of the hiking around there once the kids are bigger!


For more on Lijiang, check out the Travel China Guide

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