Dali, China

Trip Start Dec 25, 2008
Trip End Dec 25, 2009

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Flag of China  ,
Monday, May 18, 2009

The express bus from Kunming to Dali was good with lovely views along the way and it took around 5 hrs.  There were several options for decent accomodations in Dali but I could only get wifi in the room at Tibetan Lodge so that is why I chose the Lodge (70 Y without breakfast).  Otherwise,  there is a new Youth hostel  (single room with ensuite 80y) which just opened just down the street from the Lodge.  I checked it out and the rooms looked very good.  I also checked out Jim's Tibetan Guesthouse and the single room looked clean and was very small. Would probably be better than the Lodge but everytime I went there were different people at the front desk giving different prices for the room and just didn't want to deal with that.  My room at the Lodge was O.K.. Lots of hot water at the appointed times.  If you are booking at the Lodge make sure you ask to be far from the kitchen as the smells, smoke/fumes from the kitchen can be a bit much!!  As I was mostly out during the day, it was bearable. Quite safe to return around 10 p.m. as most of the cooking was done by then.  There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes right beside the Lodge for breakfast and and all your meals.

I arrived in Dali during the 3rd Moon Fair and the streets were filled with locals and surrounding villagers.  It was really a fair with lots of activities everywhere and treats also everywhere.  The main stage features many different minorities dances and the evening the stage was taken over by mainly foreigners jamming away.

One of the most advertised sights near Dali is the Three Pagodas situated at the Chongsheng Temple. This area is popular because the Three Pagodas are featured on many postcards and calendars. They are "among the oldest standing structures in SW China".  It is very expensive to visit and they are inside the gates leading to the Chongsheng Temple. (I believe I paid 150 y.) Most tour companies and guesthouses will tell you that it is very expensive and they suggest to just stop on the roadside and take a photo.  That is what most of the day tours do on their way to visit local villages and  a trip around lake Erhai Hu.  Again, I found that the day trips  are quite expensive for 1 person so I decided to do it on my own and did it in two days instead of one.  I walked to the Three Pagodas (approx. 2km from the outside gate of Dali.  Although the entrance fee is indeed excessive if you are only interested in the Three Pagodas but the Chongsheng Temple is totally worth it.  There are many buildings, courtyards (along side the mountain)  and lovely views of the mountains and the lake.  I spent most of the day there and then walked back to Dali and enjoyed mingling with locals in the market which is basically just about on every street during the festival.
The next day I  took local transport to Xizhou which is approx. 18 km out of Dali.  It is a small village noted for its Bai architecture.  I think I was the only foreigner visiting (although every tour co. advertises a stop here).  Oh I forgot all the Chinese Tour groups stop at a very well known teahouse in a historic building (I forget the name but again all tours include it in their day tour of Dali and surrounding area) for the dance performance and tea and then get back on the bus and continue on!    This is definitely a Chinese tourist place and way too expensive compared to other teahouses I have been to. ( I think it was 150 y)  Actually the one that I was at in Chengdu for the same price was much better (but also geared for tourists).  I think that my favorite one was in Beijing.  Teahouse aside,  the old Bai buildings are indeed worth the visit.

I visited a few temples and the Dali museum (very small - not really worth it but . . .) if you are into archeology, you will not want to miss it.

Dali is defnitely a tourist city for both foreigners and Chinese but definitely worth a short visit. If you travel on your own you will definitely enjoy visiting villages and you will probably be the only foreigner on the street.  I find that travelling on my own and doing most touring on my own reveals much that a tour doesn't and is totally worth the extra time and hassles.  I have come to accept that getting lost usually means discovering what I would not have discovered otherwise and having a year to travel in Asia also means not having to worry about time and a fixed schedule. In fact, my initial plans were to fly from Myanmar to Nepal and skip China but after the heat in Laos I decided to find some cool weather in Yunnan province and what a great decision that was.  I have totally enjoyed Yunnan province which I am told is very different from the rest of China.  The bus rides and the villages, towns and cities along the Mountain ranges of Yunnan have simply been amazing. Anyone wanting a mix of culture, nature and city life will enjoy visiting this area of China.  The only "hardship"  is not knowing the language.  I am always amazed at the end of the day all that I have accomplished with only speaking two Chinese words  which are hello and thank-you. The trick of course is to have someone write your destination in Chinese and then you are on your way.  I might have walked a few extra km. but I have never ended up in the middle of nowhere!!!!
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