3 days in and around Dali, the ancient kingdom at the edge of Erhai Lake in Yunnan, China. Exploring traditional markets, historic towns, ancient temples, rice fields, hiking trails, and hipster cafes, no less.
After reading so much about Dali from Chinese novels (or rather, from watching period dramas inspired by these novels), it was great to finally be able to see Dali in real life. Sure, parts of Dali were tuned to cash in on the tourist dollar, but its old world charm and simple way of life still remains largely intact, a nice change of pace from Kunming. It’s little wonder that people from around China (and around the world) chose to settle down in Dali for a slower pace of life and to seek inspiration.
Day 0: Bus from Kunming to Dali (via Lufeng Dinosaur Valley)
Continuing on my overland trip from Singapore to Moscow, the bus from Kunming arrived in Dali New City, or Xiaguan, somewhat late at night, and after another transfer by local bus to Dali Old Town, I found my hostel with the help of friends I made along the way. Bed was great, perfect for an end to a long day at Lufeng Dinosaur Valley.
Day 1: Shaping Monday Farmers’ Market, Erhai Lake, Xizhou Village
The next morning, together with a French guy I met on the intercity bus the day before, I took a short bus ride up the western shore of the romantic Erhai Lake and found myself at Shaping village, where there was to be a farmers’ market every Monday (and it was a Monday, of course). Local markets have always fascinated me so I had to make the trip to check it out.
Shaping Monday Farmers’ Market
Locals were clearly amused by our presence. Despite the proximity to tourist hotspot Dali, there were hardly any tourists (both Chinese and foreigners) here.
We were getting a little hungry by then, and grabbed some buns and cold noodles at the market.
After that sensory overdosed morning, we made our way down south along the lake towards Xizhou, a well preserved village known for its Bai architecture. It was about a 1 – 2 hour stroll between the two villages (from Shaping), with amazing scenery of rice fields backdropped by the Cangshan mountain range on one side, and lined by the poetic Erhai on the other.
I didn’t realise this at first, but upon closer inspection, realised those are actually birds on the boat. I think that is supposed to be cormorant fishing, a traditional form of fishing with birds but where modern ‘fishermen’ charge tourists good money to see them perform their ‘art’.
It looked like really hard work. Nonetheless, the farmers, like the locals at the market, seemed amused that tourists would pop by, and stood up to wave to us as we walked past.
There were a couple of lovely cafes in the villages which made for good rest stops.
Definitely more tourists at Xizhou than the places visited earlier in the day. It was a nice stroll around the village, curiously peeking into traditional shops and houses.
I thought this cold noodle dish with some sort of cheese like thingy was quite good, and I only saw it in/ near Dali. Would recommend trying it out if you see it around!
On long trips such as this (would end up travelling for 52 days straight this time, probably the longest in a long while, since it was my grad trip), I try to pace myself out a bit. I spent the rest of the day taking a break in the hostel, and joined in a communal steamboat for dinner. A Chinese friend I met in Kunming also arrived later that day. It seemed like a really popular route for Chinese tourists from other cities to complete Yunnan from bottom (Kunming) to top (Shangri-la), and for the really adventurous, to continue their tour into Tibet and beyond.
Day 2: Hiking up Cangshan, along the Cloud Traveller’s Path, and Dali Old Town
Cangshan is a mountain range lining Dali city, and hikes along the top (suitable for beginners) offer views of Dali, Erhai, and the surrounding area. I decided to make my way up Cangshan along the Cloud Traveller’s Path, along with a few guys from other parts of China I met at the hostel. There’s an entrance fee involved and lighters have to be surrendered at the entrance.
Cloud Traveler’s Path (Cangshan)
I think cable cars also take people to the top, but we didn’t check it out, and did a satisfying climb up the never ending flight of stairs.
The views were decent, but didn’t have too many wide open areas for landscape shots. Nevertheless great to experience in person,
It was a great walk along the top, and not too long after, time to get back down.
The trail led nicely out back towards Dali Old City, passing through some local markets on the way.
Dali Old City
A big bowl of noodles is a good way to end of a half day hike.
Dali after dark
Met up with a few other friends I made in Kunming for dinner. I think having dinner with locals is a great way to learn more about a country’s culture, although these guys were not from Yunnan or anywhere near so I’m not sure if they qualify as locals. China is just so huge and diverse sometimes people from different cities appear to be from different countries/ continents.
That wrapped up another awesome day in Dali.
Day 3: Congsheng Temple (Three Pagodas Temple)
With half a day left in Dali, I decided to visit what is probably the most iconic attraction in Dali, the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple.
Congsheng Temple (Three Pagodas Temple)
The temple was a short walk away from the town center. Buses are available for the short commute too.
The weather was perfect for taking photos so I helped myself to a spammage of shots. The temple grounds were huge and it takes probably at least 2 hours to cover the different levels and layers of the temple. Although large parts of the temple looked refurbished, it was still an interesting and eye opening experience exploring the temple grounds.
There was a temple museum just behind the three pagodas but I didn’t manage to visit it as it was closed for lunch when I passed and I had to rush off for my bus to Lijiang. Hopeful that there might be couple of interesting artefacts inside, given the long and illustrious history of the temple. Some members of the royal family of an ancient kingdom are also supposedly buried on the temple grounds.
Off to Lijiang
With the temple done it was time to go. I quickly grabbed a bowl of noodles before getting to the bus station for the bus from Dali to Lijiang, the next stop of my trip.
And that concluded a very interesting visit to the city of Dali. Next up, Lijiang!
Dali (Yunnan, China) Itinerary
- Day 1
- Shaping Monday Farmers’ Market
- Erhai Lake
- Xizhou Village
- Day 2
- Cloud Traveller’s Path
- Dali Old Town
- Day 3
- Congsheng Temple (Three Pagodas Temple)
Actual travel dates: 18 May 2015 – 20 May 2015 (3 days)
Accommodation: ¥54 (~S$12 for 3 nights)
Attractions: ¥82 (~S$18)
Food: ¥212 (~S$47)
Transport (excl bus to Lijiang): ¥10 (~S$2)
Bus from Dali to Lijiang: ¥75 (~S$17)
Total: ¥433 (~S$96)
2 thoughts on “Dali – History meets Hipsters in the Highlands”
My biggest memory of Dali was the old ladies constantly trying to sell Hash
Haha I remember spotting marijuana growing in small plots while walking along the rice fields with my French friend. Didn’t see the ladies selling hash though, maybe I was at the wrong (or right?) place.