“My name is Christoph Rehage, and I like to take walks sometimes.” …
Having the reputation of one of the most romantic and artistic spots in China, the once so calm and quiet Dali, that used to be a secret destination among backpackers, turned into a tourist hot spot in the last years. Both Chinese and western tourists are invading Dali in droves every year, but somehow Dali still maintains at least a bit of its original flair. Although street venders are offering the typical tourist souvenirs and you can book tours to visit minority villages and all that stuff, Dali seems to be a lot more laid back than other tourist destinations in China. If you manage to avoid the tour groups and crowds and explore the city and its surrounding areas on your own, you get to see all the beauty and amazing scenery that the Yunnan province has to offer. If you are planning to visit Dali now (do it!) here are some tips that might be useful:
Located just a few Kilometers outside the Old Town of Dali, The Three Pagodas can be reached easily by a 20 minute walk and are a nice option for a lazy day when you don’t want to spend the whole day out exploring. Other than that they are not a MUST, you can for sure get some nice shots of the pagodas and walking up the hill you will pass numerous temples that are quite nice, but to be fair they are all kind of similar and after the fourth temple you might already have had enough. Besides the entry fee is a bit pricy: 120 Yuan for an adult /60 Yuan for students.
Cangshan Mountain is a mountain right next to the Old Town of Dali and doesn’t look too special at first sight, but from my experience I can say it is definitely worth going up there, since you will be given an amazing view over Dali and the countryside. There are three cable ways to go up the mountain, the longest one in the middle that takes you up to the highest point of the mountain and two shorter ones on the left and the right side. The two shorter ones are connected with a 12 kilometer hiking trail which seriously is one of the most beautiful trails I have hiked so far. The Mountain is also called the mountain of 19 peaks and 18 streams, because there is a stream going down the mountain in between every two peaks. The path leads along most of these streams and provides you with amazing views of waterfalls, mountain cracks, the famous Erhai Lake and peaceful forests and greenery. I would recommend taking the right cable just opposite the old town to go up the mountain, then follow the path all the way to the other cable station and take the hiking trail right next to it to go down, since there are some more amazing viewpoints and it is very likely that you can enjoy it all by yourself because most people take the cable cars. Don’t worry about the rainy season- as long as you take an umbrella with you it will be just as enjoyable. The visibility might be poor in the beginning, but the neglected hiking trail along the mist covered mountain is just picturesque.
Definitely worth a trip is Erhai-Lake, the seventh biggest lake in China. The best way to enjoy the beautiful countryside and see some villages other than the really touristy ones where the tour buses will take you, is to hire a motorbike and go round the whole lake. Since the lake is really big this will take you the whole day, but scenery is amazing and you can stop to take pictures or have lunch in one of the villages.
What to eat
A very famous specialty of Yunnan is the rose pastry, which is usually a small round cake filled with a sweet rose paste. Not as well known among strangers but definitely as delicious and a real local specialty of Dali is baba, a flat bread-cake with either a sweet, creamy rose flavoured filling, or a filling made of egg and pork. The Yunnan cuisine is very different from the one in other regions of China, so don’t miss the chance of trying it in Dali. Most of the restaurants along the main roads in the Old Town such as the Foreigner Street or the busy Renminlu, are restaurants with standard Chinese food or western styled dishes, the local restaurants are located in the smaller side streets or the villages. Since those are places where usually all the locals eat, the prices are a lot cheaper than in the popular bars and restaurants and the food is more authentic. If you are looking for a good place along the main road though, I would recommend a small Muslim restaurant right at the corner of Renminlu and Yeyulu, which offers authentic northern Chinese rice dishes and handmade noodles for a fair price.
Where to stay
There are a lot of really nice hostels in Dali, all in about the same price range and most of them located in the Old Town of Dali where I would recommend staying, as it is the heart of Dali with the atmosphere of an old Chinese village and a lot of nice old buildings and cute little cafes and shops. The one particular Guesthouse that I can definitely recommend is the Dragonfly Guesthouse. It is owned by a Chinese-Dutch couple and the rooms are located around a lovely little backyard with outdoor sinks. The rooms are very clean and modern and in the dorms each bed is provided with a personal reading light and a curtain to have a bit more privacy. You can enjoy food and drinks in the public area, or relax on the rooftop on your lazy days. The Owner, Chris, also offers a free Scooter tour around the lake every week, shows you around the countryside, and introduces you to the best local food. The scooter tour was definitely one of our personal highlights during our stay in Dali. The guesthouse also organizes bus tickets with a pick up right in front of the building without charging you an extra fee.
Read more about her adventures in China: gegenwind.me :)