Dali – History meets Hipsters in the Highlands
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.
Unfortunately, no sign of Salvador here.
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)
Day 1: Shaping Monday Farmers’ Market, Erhai Lake, Shaxi 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.
Between where the bus stopped and the farmers’ market.
Local produce. I’ve no idea.
Who are these aliens?
Locals were clearly amused by our presence. Despite the proximity to tourist hotspot Dali, there were hardly any tourists (both Chinese and foreigners) here.
An explosion of colours, flavours, scents and action.
Ethnic minorities in China are the majority here (as with most of Yunnan).
Big juicy tomatoes.
We were getting a little hungry by then, and grabbed some buns and cold noodles at the market.
Some bun with some sweet stuff.
Delicious cold noodles at a food stall in the market.
More colours and flavours.
Straw ain’t breaking my back.
The candy shop.
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’.
Rice fields set against the perfect backdrop.
Nice stroll along the highway.
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.
Nearing Xizhou village. Nice traditional architecture.
There were a couple of lovely cafes in the villages which made for good rest stops.
Some sort of traditional pancake.
Entering Xizhou village.
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.
Right out of a Chinese novel.
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!
More delicious cold noodles. Not sure what this is called but I only saw it in Dali.
Some traditional dessert.
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.
Not very spectacular, but sufficient for an adventure.
This little fella followed us all the way from the foot of the mountains to the top and later back down again before we lost him in a crowd of people.
It’s the climb.
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.
View from the top, overlooking Erhai Lake.
The views were decent, but didn’t have too many wide open areas for landscape shots. Nevertheless great to experience in person,
A little too cloudy.
It was a great walk along the top, and not too long after, time to get back down.
Donkeys ready for the worn and weary. It could be costly.
The long winding slippery road back down to town.
The trail led nicely out back towards Dali Old City, passing through some local markets on the way.
Open air market selling everything and anything.
Into the walled ancient city.
Some grilled cheese. Yum.
Really crowded in Dali Old Town.
A big bowl of noodles is a good way to end of a half day hike.
Claypot rice noodles. Rice noodles are really popular in Yunnan.
Sour plum tea.
Similar to the pancake seen in the previous day, but less fancy.
Sunlight streaming in from the mountains to the town centre.
The usual tourist fare.
Old shops, new stuffs.
Fruits and tourists.
Looking for a shave.
City gates at night.
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.
“Wind flower snow moon” I remember that someone told me some story/poem behind this but I’ve forgotten about it.
Yunnan dish? Lol ate too many stuff I can’t remember all that I ate.
Fried Chinese sausages.
Mushroom soup. I’m so un-romanticising all of their local dishes.
Town centre at night.
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.
Sausage in a rice flour wrap.
The temple was a short walk away from the town center. Buses are available for the short commute too.
Third one behind the trees.
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.
Temple in the clouds.
With Erhai Lake in the distance.
Certain areas were more frequented by tour groups as they dropped off at various points on buses, and walking alone allows for some space in between without the crush of the crowds.
Temple grounds ascend steadily as it extends into Cangshan, so turning back every now and then allows great vistas overlooking Erhai Lake. Although this is not one of them.
Not sure which is fiercer.
Behind every door a new story.
Beautiful works of art.
Door behind door behind door. The never ending chain of temples.
Huge Buddha statue.
Overlooking rice fields and the villages lining the lake.
Wall of enlightenment. Actually I’m not sure what it says.
The three pagodas ever so prominent.
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.
Three pagodas and Cangshan.
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.
The bus to Lijiang.
And that concluded a very interesting visit to the city of Dali. Next up, Lijiang!
Dali (Yunnan, China) Budget
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)