How popular is this timelocked, if tourist-ified, place? Lìjiāng’s maze of cobbled streets, rickety (or rickety-looking, given gentrification) wooden buildings and gushing canals suck in around five million people a year. So thick are the crowds in the narrow alleys that most days it can feel like all five million have arrived at once.
But remember the 80/20 rule: 80% of the tourists will be in 20% of the places. Get up early enough and more often than not you’ll avoid the crowds. And when they do appear, that’s the cue to hop on a bike and cycle out to one of the nearby villages.
A Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, Lìjiāng is a city of two halves: the old town and the very different and modern new town. The old town is where you’ll be spending your time and it’s a jumble of lanes that twist and turn. If you get lost (and most do), head upstream and you’ll make your way back to the main square.