Lijiang’s old town is all charm with its canals and cobblestone streets lined with shops where artisans hand-make their goods while you watch. Which, I suppose, is why the city thinks it is entitled to charge a general entrance fee. The catch is that this fee isn’t collected unless you visit one of 3 or 4 city sites, including the city’s main draw: the Black Dragon Pool Park, where the contrast of the lake with the 10,000 ft Jade Dragon Mountain in the background is considered an obligatory photo opportunity.
After all our traveling, we are leery of paying more than a couple of dollars for local sites – most of the time it’s all hype and we’re inevitably disappointed. So, upon arrival at the park, we told the ticket-taker that we had already paid the city fee but had left the paperwork in our hostel. Unfortunately, she didn’t buy it. As we stood outside the entrance discussing whether to pay the $12 per person fee (yes, looking back that seems like very little money, but at the time it seemed silly to pay the equivalent of three nights at our hotel), Juan noticed they were only charging white people the entrance fee and as he became more and more indignant we decided to find an alternative entrance.
After following a parallel path for about 5 minutes, we came across a construction site, which we ducked through only to find ourselves inside the park precisely at the lookout point featured in all the brochures. We laughed and took a bunch of pictures documenting our caper... It didn't take long for a security guard to notify some ladies in uniform. We stuck to our story about the paperwork when they approached us, but were asked to leave. In retrospect, we’re probably lucky they didn’t follow us to our hotel and ask to see our tickets. I’m sure people have been locked up for less in China. Oops.