3 days visiting the ancient city of Dali and its surroundings
I went to the ancient city of Dali with the main purpose of spending some time in a nearby Kung Fu temple. I had heard of this temple in Laos and had been curious ever since. But I was also going to take the opportunity to do some sightseeing in Dali.
Dali, one of the most visited villages in Yunnan by both Chinese and foreigners, was a pleasant surprise. The entire old town is walled and has managed to preserve traditional Chinese architecture. Specifically, it is a type of architecture characteristic of the Bai ethnic minority, which belongs to this area and resides both in the ancient city of Dali and its surroundings.
How to go to the ancient city of Dali?
Train journey from Kunming to Dali
Dali is 200 miles from Kunming. To go to Dali, from Kunming, it’s six hours by train. Since 2018 there is a high speed train from Kunming and in two hours it leaves you in Dali. The ticket costs 145Rmb (18 euros).
Although the ticket you buy says Dali, you actually get to Xiaguan, which is something like the new city of Dali. In theory there is no reason to stay in Xiaguan unless you want to extend your tourist visa. When you leave the train station, right in front of it, you have to take the number 8 bus that takes you to the old town of Dali or, if not, you can negotiate the price to go by taxi.
Where to stay in the ancient city of Dali?
The first thing I saw when I arrived was a big gateway to the old town that impressed me quite a lot. You soon realize that the town is a big grid with a gate on each side. The best thing to do is to stay in one of the many hostels in the old town.
Of all the hotels I saw in booking I was particularly convinced by the Dali Tea Culture Inn where you can stay for 5 euros in a shared room or for 10 euros in a private room. If you’re looking for something more luxurious but without excesses, you can stay at the Dali Yunxi Boutique Inn, where you can spend the night for 28 euros the private room.
What to see and do in the ancient city of Dali?
1. Tour the entire old town
In one day you can go through the whole town in peace. Visit the most famous streets; Fuxing Road and Foreigner Street, see each of the four gates, especially when they are illuminated at night. Go to local markets and appreciate the typical architecture of the Bai ethnic minority.
The only pity is that where people used to live, now there are only souvenir shops, guesthouses or bars, so sometimes you can lose a little of your charm. Even so, the streams that run through many of the stone streets or the typical Chinese red lamps that light up the town at night help to enjoy the town.
2. Get on one of the four gates
To enjoy the old town of Dali 100% I advise you to climb at least one of the gates to see the beautiful architecture of Dali from above, be amazed with the great mountains on one side (Cangshan Mountain) and see in the distance the Erhai Lake on the other side.
What to see around Dali?
1. Lake Erhai, the second largest in Yunnan
The ancient city of Dali is surrounded by mountains and right next to Lake Erhai. Lake Erhai is the seventh largest lake in China and the second largest in Yunnan. This beautiful lake is located at an altitude of 1972 meters above sea level and occupies an area of 250 km².
It is highly recommended to rent a bike and take a walk around the lake and visit the different fishing villages around it. You can also make a route by private car. It will cost you from 100Rmb to 350Rmb depending on how far you want to go.
2. Visit the Three Pagodas of Dali
Just outside Dali, 4 km away, you can also go and visit the three great pagodas of Dali. They are located next to each other and are the most visited monument in the area. The price of the visit is 15 euros.
3. Walk around Cangshan Mountain
Cangshan Mountain occupies a 50 km long territory where the lowest peak is at 2100m and the highest at 4122m. On this mountain there is a trail which can be walked for 15 km passing temples, waterfalls, caves and shrines. This trail is called Cloud Pass.
During the course of this trail you will pass by Gantong Temple, Qingbi Stream, the Grand Canyon and Zhonghe Temple. If the weather is good, you can also enjoy wonderful views of the entire Lake Erhai.
4. Learn Kung Fu at Wu Wei Si Temple
Wu Wei Si Temple is a temple located on Cangshan Mountain a few kilometers from Dali City. In this temple you can stay with the monks and learn Kung Fu or Taichi for only 500Rmb (65 euros) a week.
In my case, I spent three days in Dali and it was enough to realize that it is a charming place, probably one of the most beautiful villages I have seen along the way, but after a few days there is not much to do. Finally, I went to the Wu Wei Si temple to live with Shaolin monks and learn Kung Fu. In the link I explain my experience.
If you are thinking of making a trip to Yunnan you can have a look at the route we organize for Yunnan with guide and driver. You may also be interested in the list of Tips for travelling in China.