Dali Travel Guide, Yunnan
Located in the northwest part of Yunnan, 392km northwest of Kunmíng and 150km south of Lìjiang, Dali is home to the ethnic Bai people. It's an obligatory stop on the backpacker's grapevine. Swarming with foreigners, Dali has become a tourist heaven and can be a welcome break from the harder realities of other parts of China.
Dali was the political, economical and cultural center for 500 years dated back to the Tang and Song Dynasties. The beautiful scenery, varied traditions and the culture of minority nationalities make Dali a well-known place of interest. >> Dali Travel Maps
Best times to visit
February~October, when the majority of festivals take place around Dali.
Dali Ancient Town / Ethnic Bai culture / Tie-dye
Getting there & away
Xiaguan is 380km northwest of Kunming. Daily flight from Kunming and other limited regional flights are availabe.
Xiaguan airport is 15km east of the city center. No airport shuttle bus since the airport is not frequently used. Although sometimes a shuttle is available, it'not on a fixed schedule. The best way to get to the city is to take a taxi for around RMB80, 30 minutes.
There are 6 trains running daily between Kunming and Xiaguan. But it is more comfortable to take the tourism train than a regular train. The journey is around 7~8hrs. Travelers can choose either daytime train or take sleeper for overnight.
From the train station to the old city, it cost around RMB40 by taxi, or bus No. 6/8/10/11.
Most travelers choose to travel to Xiaguan from Kunming by bus. 3 major bus stations in Xiaguan, all on the same street, Jianshe Lu.
A.The biggest bus station is the Dali Central Bus Terminal (Dalishi Keyun Zongzhan).Most of the express buses start from here, and there is a separate waiting hall for passengers who take expresses.
Buses to the key tourists destionation around,such as Kunming/ Lijiang/ Zhongdian/Ruili/Tengchong... are available with high frequencies, daily.
B.The second largest station is called the Transportation Service Terminal (Keyun Fuwu Zhan), some express and regular buses leaving from here. Most of the Kunming buses arrive at this station.
C.Dayun station-opposite the biggest one and beside the Dayun Hotel. Express buses do not use this station but normal buses to/from Kunming and other destinations are available.
- Public bus - over 10 public routes in Xiaguan, the bus fare is RMB1 for most of the buses. Few buses run to a strict schedule but most end at around 9:30pm and starts at about 6:30am
- Taxi - The starting fare for the first 3KM is RMB6. Within that amount you can get to almost all the major places in town. To rent a taxi costs about RMB300/day.
- Jim's Peace Cafe & Guest House
Jim's Peace Cafe is also one of the hottest spots in town. The cafe serves good ethnic Bai, Western and Chinese food. On top of this, the Cafe has a nice bartender who knows cocktails very well and serves a particularly potent version of the local brew. Jim's Peace Cafe & Guesthouse has long been frequented by expert travelers, professional photographers, and artists because of the enjoyable atmosphere.
Address:57, Bo'ai Road, Dali
- MCA Guesthouse - one of the hottest places for backpackers to stay in Dali.Much more than just a guesthouse.It offers short and long term courses in a variety of subjects: classical and modern Chinese art, calligraphy, Chinese language, Chinese music, and Tai Chi (Taiqiquan).
The hotel cafe, a homely decorated place serves as a library, a bar and a music club with both Western and Chinese food. Films are also shown here on rainy days! Last, but by no means least, the MCA boasts the only swimming pool in Dali Gucheng,with gorgeous sun loungers around the edge.
The MCA has now opened guesthouses in Lijiang, Zhongdian and other tourist (backpacker) destinations.
Address:7000, Wenxian Road, Dali
- No.4 Guesthouse (or Yu'an Yuan Garden) - located at the western end of Huguo Lu ("foreigners' street").
The guesthouse is built around a traditional Bai courtyard. Amy's Cafe, a two story restaurant offers Bai ethnic cuisine, Chinese and Western dishes. The guestrooms surrounding the garden, although simply furnished, are all clean, comfortable and tidy.surprisingly peaceful and quiet.
Travel services are available, including arranging tickets to Lijiang, Zhongdian, the Shaping and Wase markets, boat trips on Erhai Lake and even horse riding trips to Cangshan Mountain, all for reasonable prices. To top it all, plenty of new bicycles are available for rent at around RMB15/day.
Address:Huguo Road, Dali
Most of the best and charming restaurants in the Xiaguan/Dali area are in the ancient city mostly inhabited by ethnic Bai people. The authentic but economical Bai dishes can be found at the small restraurants along Wenxian Road right outside the south gate of the Dali Old Town.
But what has really made Dali famous among foreign travelers is the small backpacker cafes, guesthouses and restaurants on Huguo Lu and Renmin Lu. Yunnan Cafe at Reminlu is strongly recommended by our editor who visited there just in Dec. 2011.
Food is not the only reason people come to the cafes in Dali, the cafes also offer a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere, cool music and cold beer. Many places also have comprehensive travel information, ticket booking service and bicycle rental.
- The ancient city of Dali (Dali Gucheng) - a great place to relax and explore. The streets and alleys crisscross throughout the town in a typical "chess board" pattern.Buildings roofed with dark blue tiles and the tall walls of the town's Bai ethnic houses in white and gray. Streams from snowcapped Cangshan Mountain flow through the city and join Erhai Lake to the east.
Within the city you can explore the famous Three Pagodas, the market of the March Fair and much more. The town is not large by any means and you can easily walk from one end to the other in a morning.
Get there: From Xiaguan -Bus No.4 leaves from the area opposite the Dali Hotel on the intersection of Jianshe Lu and Renmin Lu in Xiaguan, running from 6:30am-8pm and takes about 40 minutes/RMB1.2. Bus No.8 leaves from the Xiaguan railway station and takes 40 minutes for RMB1.5.
The most convenient way is to take minibus from the intersection in Xiaguan. RMB1.5 , 30 minutes. No fixed schedule but run later than other public buses.
- Xizhou Village/喜洲- 18km north of Dali, Xizhou is a great place to explore the classical Bai Minority folk culture and architecture. A characteristic Bai house consists of a "shining wall" on the south and rooms on the other three directions. The building generally has finely carved beams, overhanging eaves, with a blend of green, gold, blue and white paint. Yan's Compound (严家大院) is the most representative of Bai-style residences in Xizhou.
Historically, Xizhou was the stronghold of Nanzhao Kingdom(738~937 AD). Nowdays, besides farming, Xizhou is also home to embroidery and wax dying. A walk in the bustling Xizhou local market presents you with products from groceries, commodities and real folk handicrafts.
There are numerous Bai festivals in Xizhou, nearly one festival per month. One of the most worth mentioning counts the "Three Spirits Festival" in April, while local youngsters gather together to choose their lovers and future spouses. During the festival, local people perform all manner of Bai folk dances by wearing their traditional costumes.
- Zhoucheng/周城 - Situated at the foot of Cangshan Mountain and some 23km north of Dali Old Town, Zhoucheng is the biggest Bai village in the area with a population of approx 8,000 in 1500 families. It is known as "the Hometown of Tie-dye". .
Tie-dye is one of the Bai people's traditional handcrafts,a technology of printing flower patterns on cloth. As the name suggests, the producing process is divided into "tie" and "dye". Tie refers to making the cloth into certain shapes by pinching, creasing and flanging it according to the flower patterns. They are then sew or tie tightly together to make a bunch of knots. The aim of tying the knots is to dye the untied part while retaining the original color of the knotted parts. The tighter the knots are tied, the better the effect of the color printing will be achieved.
- Three Pagodas/崇圣寺三塔 - one of the oldest standing structures in southwest China with a history of over 1,800 years. It is a symbol of Dali City and a record of the development of Buddhism in the area. Clear weather permitting, they look especially pretty when reflected in the nearby Erhai Lake, which is the hightlight of the spot. The temple behind the pagodas is Chongsheng Temple.
Known for its resilience, Three Pagodas has survived several eras of severe earthquakes.
Get there-The pagodas are about 1km northwest of the ancient town. Either walk or rent a bicycle, about 15 minutes cycling
Admission:RMB121,incl. ticket for Chongsheng Temple. Not worth getting into but you can have an overlook on the facing slope. Too much construction around the area at the moment(as )
- Erhai Hu/洱海湖 - the largest highland lake next to Dianchi and one of the seven biggest fresh water lakes in China. Located about 2km east of Dali. It is like a crescent lying between Cangshan and Dali city as seen from Cangshan Mount.
The surrounding islands, temples and villages are worth visiting too. Golden Shuttle Island (Jinsuo Dao), and the nearby fishing community of Bai Minority do really deserve a visit with its attractive Bai culture and lifestyle. The most unforgettable Xiaoputuo Dao, originally devoted to Bodhisattva Kwan-yin, can be traced back to the 15th century.
Get there - Bus No. 6 from Xiaguan, or by foot or bike from the ancient city in less than 15 minutes. Taxi for RMB5 from Dali Old town.
- Cangshan Mt./苍山 - famous for its natural scenery of streams and paths through the mountains. Melted snow on the upper slopes form the mountain clear streams. The snowcapped peaks often shrouded in fog and appear imposing and mysterious. Like the rest of Dali and Yunnan, the mountains are lush and green with trees, flowers and other wild vegetation.
Get there- cable car starts west of the ancient town and goes to Zhonghe Temple. Tickets can be arranged in the cafes and the travel agents.
Admission Fee -
RMB30 (Resource Protection Fare)
RMB70 (set ticket for Zhonghe Temple Telpher)
RMB100 (set ticket for Gantong Temple Telpher)
- Butterfly Spring /蝴蝶泉 - located on the peak of Cangshan Mountain, 27km north of Dali. The spring is regarded as a symbol of love among the local Bai people who believe that two lovers committed suicide here in order to be together.
Their wish was granted when they were made into butterflies that return to the site every spring when the tree flowers bloom. At the southern end of the spring, is a museum of butterflies displaying 45,000 butterfly samples belonging to 400 species and 11 families. On April 15 each year, young Bai come here with their lovers to socialize, dance and sing.
Get there: Walk to the Yunnan-Tibet Highway west of the ancient town of Dali and get onto almost any passenger bus heading north. Tell the driver that you are heading to Hudiequan, then the bus will drop you off there. The Spring is just by the main road. In peak season, minibuses running between Dali Gucheng and the site.
Admission fee: RMB 54
Tips & Reminders
- The 2 "Dalis"- Dali City, officially known as "Xiaguan", is where most traffics pull in.
The Dali known as a backpackers paradise with cheap beer, music and guesthouses is another 12km away from Xiaguan. Locals like to call that area "the ancient town" or Dali Gucheng.
Visitors Usually arrive at Xiaguan first and then move on to the real Dali.
- Safety - Xiaguan has lots of immigrant workers who sometimes create minor crime problems in the city. These problems are most common in the southern areas of Xiaguan. The center of Xiaguan is as safe as most Chinese cities, but not recommend wander in the southern suburbs at night.