Travel Stories – Dali

I’m going to be breaking up the travel stories into several emails – we went to so many places (and took so many photos), that to do it all justice would mean one mammoth email! So I’m making it… not exactly bite-size, but less of a full banquet. Again, I know this stuff won’t interest everyone, but some of those who ARE interested have been asking for these stories for awhile, and I wanted to share them with anyone . So, without further ado, I present PART ONE!


My parents arrived on September 28th – a Monday night. Due to swine flu craziness they couldn’t stay with me, but I booked them a room at a guesthouse near where I live (in the compound all my foreign friends live in). We had two days there while I worked before the National Holiday began. A highlight was walking up the street with Ting to eat street food – the parents tried a bit of everything and even liked a lot of it. Mum even liked one of the tofus! We celebrated National Day by watching the parade on TV (pink minidress solider girls with white gogo boots and fluffy white berets!) before driving up to Shunyi where Rachel had offered us the use of her apartment for a few days while she was housesitting elsewhere in Shunyi.


Our Beijing time was mostly spent seeing some of the important people in my life, and eating at some of my favourite restaurants. Mum and I did manicures and pedicures and bought lots of jewellery, too :) The parents also visited the Temple of Heaven on a gorgeous sunny day, but I think that was the only sightseeing they did.

First Stop – Yunnan Province

The first week of our travel outside Beijing was spent in Yunnan. Yunnan is on the southern border of China, and shares borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar (Burma). It’s also very close to Thailand. If you look at a map of China, there is a pointy bump on the bottom, to the left. That sticky-out point is Yunnan Province.


Our galavanting started on the 5th with an afternoon flight to Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province. Kunming is 1,900m above sea level, and has a population of about 4 million people. We had a few hours before our connecting flight to Dali so we stashed our bags and took a cab to down near Golden Horse bridge. We wandered around, took some photos, ate some Maccas, and headed back to the airport. After a 45 minute flight we landed in Dali sometime after 11pm and began the hour long cab ride to our guesthouse. Halfway there our cab driver explained that his brother was drunk and in the hospital and he needed to go be with the family there so he’d arranged for another driver to collect us. We stopped by the side of the road as the second car u-turned to meet us and with hardly a delay were on our way again. Poor guy!

Facts about Dali

  • Dali is almost directly west of Kunming.
  • Dali sits between the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake.
  • Population of the Old Town is 40,000 and Dali City itself is about 600,000.
  • Peoples of the Bai, Yi and Hui minorities live in this area.
  • Dali was the capital of the Bai kingdom of Nanzhao from 937 until 1253, when it was captured by the Mongols.
  • By 1000 Dali was one of the 13 biggest cities in the world.
  • The Old Town that stands today is what was rebuilt in the Ming dynasty (about 1400).
  • The Chinese name for “marble” is “Dali stone” because of the fame of the marble produced there.

We stayed in the Old Town of Dali – lots of older style buildings and cobbled roads. Was an interesting place to wander around! We also visited Shannon and Lori, friends of mine from Beijing who recently opened a cafe by the university there. Their place is amazing!

Dali old town

Dali old town

Then we went up the cable cars to the mountain area – takes you to an altitude of about 2,500m below the 4,100m peaks. We didn’t do the 6km walk but enjoyed the waterfalls and pine forest before heading back to the guesthouse. We stayed in the Sleepy Fish Lodge which was WONDERFUL – I’d recommend it to anyone going to Dali. The lady running it was a friend of a friend and, as it turned out, knew some other friends of mine from her time in Hongkong. China is a really small place sometimes.

Mountains above Dali

Mountains above Dali

That night we wandered the Old Town looking for a place to eat dinner. I finally found a place that felt right to me and we headed in. Seated in the open courtyard we had a great view of the kitchen, which fascinated the parents. As seems to be the case in many restaurants in the area, there wasn’t a menu as such – I was taken to look at the fresh produce and decide what I wanted. The lady taking my order suggested things like Tang Cu Li Ji (sweet and sour pork) and Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kungpao Chicken) until the guy who’d seated us interrupted her and said “She speaks better Chinese than we do, give her Chinese food!” which I thought was hilarious! When it turned out there wasn’t enough chicken left to make a dish I’d ordered, the guy recommended a Bai minority style pork dish that he said was good – so we gambled on it and it was one of the best dishes of the trip!

The Three Pagodas

The next day we visited the Three Pagodas and then a famous Bai Teahouse on the way out of town. The Three Pagodas (San Ta) were top of my to-do list for Dali. The largest of the three is almost 1200 years old and dates from when Dali was a Buddhist kingdom. The smaller (not small!) pagodas lean in a Pisa-like fashion – took a while to realise they were crooked, not the photos! Behind the pagodas is a large temple compound (Congshen Temple) but we didn’t spent any time there. It was rebuilt recently (starting in 1986) to repair damage from earthquake, fire, and the Cultural Revolution. We just stopped into the first hall, to see the golden Guanyin statues.

San ta

San ta

Bai Teahouse

The Teahouse is a famous place to visit, but we went mostly on the recommendation of our driver. We had a little tour guide to show us around, which meant I was fumbling around trying to translate from her accented Mandarin into semi-coherent English. It was mostly an old courtyard style house set up traditionally. Then we were taken to a little room to have tea prepared for us (the four seasons of Yunnan teas – including the wonderful “snow tea” which, if I understood correctly, is a special plant grown at a high altitude). Then there was a fairly typical Chinese minority show – with costumes and dancing and singing. The best part, for me, was that they served the audience a few different teas during the performance. Two were quite sweet, and one actually tasted like cinnamon doughnuts. I didn’t believe my Mum when she said that, til I tasted it for myself!

Leaving Town

Leaving Town

We’d hired a driver to take us to Lijiang and it was an….interesting trip. Tiny two-lane roads winding up and around very tall mountains, with misting rain coming and going, and some run-down trucks to share the road with… We’d be in too high a gear as we headed uphill, and as she pulled out to overtake she’d go UP a gear!! So instead of the 1st-2nd gear we needed she’d be in 4th! We’d move oh so sluggishly in the wrong lane as we watched a car headed straight for us… There were LOTS of white knuckle moments. That said, there were also some awesome views – the patchwork valley of rice paddies, the corn cobs put out to dry all over houses we passed, and, to our surprise, a lot of eucalypt trees!

That’s all for the first installment – stay tuned for Lijiang!


3 thoughts on “Travel Stories – Dali

  1. Pingback: My Liebster Award | Tanya's Stories

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  3. Pingback: Tasting some Chinese teas | Tanya's Stories

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