The Old Town of Lijiang (丽江市), traditionally a home to the Naxi minority, has a history spanning 800 years. Once a junction on the Tea Horse Road where caravans carried goods to and from Tibet, Lijiang is a lesser known route than the Silk Road, but nonetheless important in facilitating communication and trade between Tibet and the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.
Canals and waterways in the Old Town provide aesthetics and romantic ambiance to narrow winding streets. This ancient water system still functions to distribute water from deep aquifer springs and to dispose of waste.
Following its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the popularity of Lijiang skyrocketed, and tourism to the area increased drastically. About 174 Naxi home exteriors and over 300 concrete buildings were authentically restored. But uncontrolled development is threatening the cultural integrity of its residents, prompting a monitoring mission launched by UNESCO in January 2008. Rumor has it that Chinese authorities are contemplating shutting down clubs and bars on Bar Street and East Street.
Lijiang (丽江市) is located in northern Yunnan, accessible from Chengdu over land or air. No trains serve Lijiang but long-distance buses leave daily from Panzhihua (RMB50, 4 hours), Kunming (RMB120, 8 hours), and Shangri-la (RMB80, 5 hours). It's also possible to hire a seven-passenger van and driver from some of these cities to Lijiang.