Dali, an incredible highlight to our China experience. It’s unlike any other area of China we’ve experienced. A mix of Tibetan, Han, Burmese, Thai, etc, etc, influences is what makes up Yunnan.
Dali has more of the Tibetan influence and is home to the local Bai minority.
The first thing you notice in Dali is the incredible blue sky, mesmerizing clouds and air. We spent hours just watching the clouds and the light change and dance around Er Hai Lake and the Cang Shan Mountains. I equate the look of the area to Lake Tahoe in America, a lot less trees and a lot more rice fields, but hey, if you gotta make a comparison! The air here is crisp and cool, spring and fall winter all year long…hello my Monterey Peninsula home.
The next thing you notice are the smiling faces and warm hearts of the locals. People are still very curious about foreigners as they are everywhere in China, but here I always received a big smile back from those I came across. Often I receive a quizzical look or a blank stare when I say hello to random locals on the street, but not in Dali. In Dali the locals hearts are stronger, or maybe they are just used to more foreigners, either way I loved the feeling here.
Every morning I woke up to watch the sunrise. It’s not too difficult as it didn’t come up until close to 7:00 in October this far west, and so worth every second. On the second morning, I watched it come up from the South gate in an amazing contrast of oranges and dark hues.
In opening my eyes after meditation, I was blessed with a huge rainbow over my left shoulder. The sun lite up the famous three pagodas of Dali and the monastery up the mountain side.
Days in old Dali were filled with wandering the streets, window shopping, enjoying butter tea and beer, tasting fried cheese and seeing the locals at market. The shopping in Dali is awesome, just wish I had the drive to add another ten pounds to the suitcase. After traveling and living abroad so much, the concept of buying more stuff when you don’t have a home becomes less and less appealing, a grave misfortune in this area. Embroidery, silver, handbags, shoes, dresses, lounge pants and wrapped skirts, stone work, unique jewelry, and the local famous batik technique, all soooooo enticing!
There are water ways in the middle of the pedestrian lanes lined with very comfortable cafes, restaurants, and bars. Makes a perfect afternoon of people watching, and being watched, photographed, and interviewed at times.
All the while relaxing with butter tea.
Riding bikes from old town to the lake and farming villages was a definite highlight. Wandering down neighborhood streets you never know what you may run across. Perhaps an artist/ foody compound with a Big Sur-Santa Cruz vibe. I had an amazing lunch of local cheese, homemade soda bread, applesauce, pear, and marinated bitter greens. All local ingredients served on a dried lotus leaf on a wood board. Jason had homemade spinach and tofu dumplings. Home brewed coffee and Lao beer made the perfect combo. Delicious!
While riding along the road and in the narrow village alley ways, you find a lot of crawly friends. Gorgeously colored, living in very close-nit canopies of webs, I’ll admire them at a distance. Thankfully the zoom lens was invented. Also, be very careful where you stop, it’s best to look up or next to the neighboring trees first before lingering too long.
While admiring or avoiding the spiders, don’t forget to admire the views!
After three nights in old town Dali, we went up to the north west side of the lake on the recommendation of a local.
The most relaxing find was staying north of Dali old town in a wonderful newly completed hotel. Our room and the owners, Sky, his brother, and wife, Tracey, were amazing and treat you as family. There are a lot of Christian elements, but they are not preachers. We had the corner room on the third floor including floor to ceiling windows with sweeping views of the lake, mountains, and sky.
It is just below the flower scenic area Shang Guan Hua set in the middle of farm land.
We found this place thanks to Xiao Hua, who turned out to be our guide for two days and the local jade merchant. Really, everyone around here is looking for customers to purchase their old and new minority pieces of jewelry and garments. She has a wonderful collection and invited us into her home to try things out. After drooling over some gorgeous jade and silver jewelry, I was bummed to realize I could only afford some less, but equally beautiful things. I now know I need to do more research about the value and importance of jade to consider a real investment in it’s beauty.
Xiao Hua did her best to outfit me with a solid jade bracelet, after a few painful attempts I firmly said no! Jason had fun modeling a necklace and I loved admiring the subtle coloring details and fine carving of my favorite of her jade pieces. If we weren’t beginning our travels around the world and moving without jobs…I definitely would have purchased the ring!
When we arrived the first of two nights, we enjoyed a scrumptious home cooked meal of wild mushrooms, chicken, dried fish, veggie somethings, soup, and local bread, yum!
After lunch, we went to one of the local markets, mud floored and a giant flea market/ fun fair, it was a little different than what we were expecting, but very local! I just love trying to capture the most I can of the feel of a place like this.
After the day market, we went to another town’s food market where we met the resident pigs out for their late afternoon stroll, watch out – this one’s got a crazed look in his eye! We bought cheese, a good 14 inch lake fish (alive, of course), vegetables, and fruit. Xiao Hua cooked up all our purchases in many excellent dishes. After dinner we enjoyed comparing travel photos and stories with the owners, Tracey being an English teacher herself, and a very pleasant person.
A soak in our tub and reviewing the days photos with Jason made for a remarkable day and a stellar sleep. in the morning we were greeted by another glorious northwest China sky!
Our second day we really wanted to take a boat ride across to the other side of the lake and see one of the fishing villages and islands. It’s a fishing village turning into the more lucrative industry of catering to tourism, but has still retained it’s charm with an updated look. The boat ride ended up taking half the day there and back as they double book it for taking a quick tour of the lake with a tour bus before actually traversing the lake, but hey, you get your money’s worth! It was one of the clearest and most gorgeous days we had so far, we are definitely blessed.
The best part about Dali are definitely the people. They have huge hearts and huge diversity. They welcome you and enjoy your company. I really appreciated our interactions, their openness, and the best way to make memories by making friends.
Well, now it has been another travel day, luckily it wasn’t the extended traffic day we had the way up here. A 45 minute taxi ride from Old Town Dali to New Dali, and a 4 hour bus ride later, we found ourselves back at the Kunming Upland Hostel enjoying a beer and ready to repack.