Dali - 大理

by - June 03, 2014

The Three Padogas, Dali
Dali Old Town 
With a name that conjures up the surname of a Spanish painter rather than a Chinese town, Dali appeared to be somewhere a bit different.  Situated between a range of mountains and China’s 7th largest lake, the beautiful Old Town was actually made popular by hippie backpackers before it made its way onto the radar of domestic tourists.  Now the town is thoroughly on the Yunnan tourist trail, situated two hours south of Lijang and six hours from Kunming by direct train.  We caught the morning train from Lijang which left at 8.30 and arrived at 10.15 at the new town at the southern tip of the lake, before grabbing a taxi up to Dali old town in time for lunch.  The old town conjures up images of Lijang, though without quite the same degree of rampant commercialism and with a far more laidback vibe.  The hippie community obviously never really left and you can find plenty of western guys sitting outside bohemian little shops selling bracelets and other trinkets – people who obviously found the vibe so laidback that they could never muster the momentum to leave. 

Dali Catholic Church
As with the majority of towns we would be visiting in Yunnan, Dali is more about the general feel and attraction of the place itself, rather than being a list of sightseeing boxes to check.  As a result, we spent the first part of the afternoon wandering around the cobbled streets past cute coffee shops and boutique clothes stores.  There is, however, one major sight in Dali and that is the ‘Three Pagodas’, about a kilometre north of the town.  For some strange reason, the tourist sites in Yunnan are extremely expensive and, ridiculously, at 138 Yuan, entrance to the pagodas was more expensive than to either the Great Wall or the Forbidden City.  As beautiful as they were, the pagodas were certainly not in the same league as their counterpart attractions in Beijing.  Luckily however, our Hong Kong student IDs allowed us to receive the 50% discount that Chinese students are able to claim – so I’m glad that they didn’t take my ID when I left HKUST.  Anyway, price aside, the ancient pagodas were worth a visit, as was the nearby temple that was included on the ticket and allowed excellent views back towards Dali Old Town and over the lake. 

Chongsheng Temple
We finished our day at the hostel, the Jade Emu, where we met a load of other backpackers from all around the world at the excellent bar.  Somehow the hotel had managed to get its WiFi to go around the famous Chinese firewall, allowing all of us to access Facebook and Snapchat, while watching full coverage of the Tiananmen Square anniversary on the BBC.

Biking by Erhai Lake
The following day we woke late and, speaking with a few other backpackers over breakfast, decided to go for a bike ride beside the lake.  Myself, Sergei and Eleanor were joined by two Argentinian guys and an Israeli girl as we made our way into the town to hire our bikes – a bargain at 15 Yuan for the day.  We had no real plan for the day beyond heading to the lake itself and trying to find a route alongside it - supposedly there were some interesting villages to aim for.  The lakeside area was very beautiful, but was also in the process of being substantially developed (as with all places in China it seems).  The villages that we came to all seemed reasonably new and a range of (empty) boutique cafes and hotels were starting to pop up.  At one village we came across a local festival, for what seemed to be the harvest, which involved local ladies dancing around with a dragon and spraying each other (and us) with water.  It was one of those wonderfully out of the blue experiences that happen from time to time when travelling.  Soon after this, in another village, we had our lunch at a local restaurant, basically a couple of tables and chairs by a house, that had no menu and therefore required us to order by pointing at various uncooked vegetables and asking for them to be cooked.  For less than a pound per person, the food was very good and couldn’t have been more genuine.  With that, we slowly made our way back to the hostel along the main road (which was quicker than the lake), eventually getting back in time for the Thursday night barbeque that the owners put on every week.  That night we made our way back to the station to catch the sleeper train back to Kunming, from where we would be moving to the south of the province.

Old ladies at the festival

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