There are two things that we remember about Shangri La:
2) The constant niggling feeling that our brains might turn to popsicles and slide out of our heads (I heard someone mentioning that it was so cold you might even be able to see a lawyer put his hands into his own pockets) (true story)
In the end, we could not stand the blistering cold and hightailed it back to Lijiang after two very long nights wrapped in seven layers of clothing. (Jo and I were wrapped in the seven layers of clothing, the long nights just needed three) (I know… not THAT funny)
Claudia (from Tiger Leaping Gorge) had told us about “Mama Naxi Guest House”, the place she stayed in while she was in Lijiang. The Guest House was run by “Mama”, a gregarious Naxi woman. She claimed that staying at the Guest House and being mothered by Mama was a “quintessential Lijiang experience”.
Since we were back in Lijiang, we decided to give the Big Mama a visit and stay at her place for a couple of days (days we had originally catered for Shangri La).
Mama’s presence was felt the moment we entered the hostel.
“You want dinner?” she boomed at us.
“Dinner! Here! 15 minutes!” she continued without giving us much of a chance to reply.
It took us a while to realize that the first question was (more or less) rhetorical.
We were soon lumped into a communal dining table with other travellers while Mama piled on dish after dish after dish of Naxi cooking goodness (we had a crazily delicious 15-course dinner for a paltry 40RMB).
Maybe it’s due to the very mothering nature of Mama, but eating at the communal table felt… good. It feels kinda like dinner with VERY distant relatives, so it was easy to strike up conversation with the other travellers at the table. At the very least, the communication did not feel forced. Pretty soon, we were even making arrangements to go for tiramisu and yoghurt in the Old Town together. Then again, it could also be because of the obscene amount of beer that we’d ordered.
In any case, Mama’s presence could be felt the whole time we were there. She’d make sure you took a (free) banana away with you just before you went off in the morning. She’d hug and kiss you on the cheek just before you leave. Jo actually came down with a slight flu and had to stay in bed for a day during our time in the Guest House. Mama checked in constantly to make sure that I was keeping Jo well-fed and comfortable. She even poured me some special (and allegedly precious) herbal medicine pills from her own private stash to give to Jo.
I’ll be honest, Mama’s Guest House is not the most amenities-filled guest house you could stay in. Guest House #1 (which we stayed in) was old and under renovation (there’s supposed to be a newer Guest House #3 just around the corner). The walls are paper thin, so you could hear people going about their chores as early as 6am in the morning. The rooms are small and the fittings are rather dated. There’s even a 12am curfew when the whole guest house would go into lockdown! (although if you let them know before hand and ask them nicely, they’ll open the gates for you well past the lockdown time)
The good thing is: Mama’s is located at a side-road JUST off the main “touristy” area, but more importantly, it is CHEAP!
I mean, more importantly, there’s Mama!
Comfort is over-rated.