Dali City is the seat of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, northwestern Yunnan province of Southwest China. Located northwest of the Yunnan Province, 300 kilo-meters (186 miles) northwest of Kunming, The area is surrounded by mountains on the east, west, and south, and has the Erhai Lake in its center. Here you will find 25 ethnic minorities, which have created a unique cultural heritage amidst the area's picturesque surroundings.
Dali is the historic home of the Bai people. The name Dali refers to the Prefecture, the old town (gu cheng) and the new town (Xiaguan). Xiaguan began as a trade center at the crossing of two major caravan routes, linking China and Burma and Eastern Tibet
with the tea plantations of southern Yunnan.
Tempered by the low latitude and high elevation, Dali has a mild subtropical highland climate with short, mild, dry winters, and warm, rainy summers. Frost may occur in winter but the days still generally warm up to 15 °C (59 °F) or more. During summer, a majority of the days features some rainfall, and daytime temperatures rise to 24 °C (75 °F). A great majority of the year's rainfall occurs from June to October.
Dali is now a major tourist destination, along with Lijiang, for both domestic and international tourists. Nowadays Dali is a city that combines history with modern convenience. It is divided into two areas- the Ancient City and the New District (widely known as Xiaguan). The Ancient City was first built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Ancient buildings, city walls and the old city moat are the sites most frequented by visitors. The famous Foreigner Street in the Ancient City attracts visitors with its handicrafts, and local culinary delicacies. Xiaguan, located to the south of the Ancient City, home to the government of the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture. Here hotels, public squares, and shopping centers add modernity to the otherwise historical city.
As early as 4,000 years ago, the ancestors of the Bai people settled in the Dali area. Dali is the ancient capital of both the Bai kingdom Nanzhao, which flourished in the area during the 8th and 9th centuries, and the Kingdom of Dali, which reigned from 937–1253. Situated in a once significantly Muslim part of South China, Dali was also the center of the Panthay Rebellion against the reigning imperial Qing Dynasty from 1856–1863. Throughout the ages, Dali remained an intermediary area linking economic and cultural communications between ancient China and other countries via India. Together with the Xizhou Town and the Zhoucheng Village, the ancient towns in Dali show the best of historic customs of daily life within the Bai Minority.
The Old Town老城
The old town, where we stay, stands on the plains between the Cangshan Mountains and Erhai Lake and has historically been the seat of cultural and political power. Dali was the capital of an independent kingdom named Nanzhou (8 - 9 century) when the
Tang dynasty ruled China. It was a multi-ethnic kingdom dominated by the Yi people. Which conquered much of Burma, attacked parts of Laos and Thailand and repeatedly invaded Sichuan province. The kingdom ended in 902. What followed was the Bai kingdom of Dali. It lasted until the invasion of Kublai Khan and his army in 1253. The kingdom of Dali was famous for its breeding of fine horses that it provided for the Chinese and for its tea, which supplied much of Tibet.
Dali’s long and complex history is seen in the remains of its fortifications, pagodas and traditional stone houses. To see ways of life that have barely changed for centuries, all you have to do is leave Huguo St, where the travelers tend to migrate. Walk to the south gate or get into the lanes running eastward to the lake. Traditional houses stand on both sides. Wander through the alley-ways and observe the many
beautiful courtyards, roof tops and ornate wall designs and paintings….and maybe even a few slogans left over from the Cultural Revolution.
Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake苍山洱海
Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake are praised as Dali's leading scenic areas. Most attractions in Dali lie between these two landmarks, such as the Butterfly Spring, and the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple. Ethnic minorities have inhabited Dali for generations, with the Bai Minority making up the majority of Dali's population (65%). The customs of the ethnic minorities bring charm to daily life in Dali. Each spring, celebrations and festivals bring the city to life. Celebrations such as the March Street Festival and Butterfly Fest provide excellent opportunities to learn about local folk customs. The mountains behind Dali are part of the Hengduan range. From east to west, it has a total of 19 peaks. The 18 creeks that flow out to Erhai Lake have carved
out ravines on the western side of the range, they then continue on to join the
Mekong River. Easiest access to these mountains is via Zhonghe Temple 中和
寺. The temple provides beautiful views of the valley (entry 30Y). Chairlift from
town for 40Y or walk up a very steep slope (about 1 hour). Starting from
Zhonghe temple is a well-maintained path. Head south and it ends at Qingbi
Creek, 18 km. From here you must get a cable-car down to a temple, 50Y.
From the temple you need to walk out to the main road, there will be buses
heading into Dali. If you head north you will find yourself at a gate after 6 km.
Behind the gate, there is a path of white stones, this leads down to the back of the Three Pagodas (about 8km). The scenery on the trail either North or South is spectacular, winding around ravines with the lake hundreds of meters below.
Guanyin Temple 观音堂
This temple is located 5 km south of Dali. Take a bus to Xiaguan and tell the
driver your destination (Guangyin Si). The arched gate is remarkable. The temple is sitting on a 50 m circular rock.
The 3 Pagogas 三塔寺
They are more than 1000 years old, once part of Chongsheng Monastery, the
religious centre of the Nanzhou and successive Dali kingdoms. Qianyun
Pagoda is 70 metres high with 16 tiers. It is the tallest and the oldest. The other
two are smaller and stand at 40 metres with 10 tiers. There are artefacts inside
dating back to the Neolithic period. (Entry121Y).
Gantong Temple 感通寺
It is a good idea to combine this visit with Guanyin Temple. There is a path on the surrounding hills (with lovely tea plantations) that passes these two temples. It was severely desecrated during the Qing dynasty. The temple was a sanctuary for scholars and officials for centuries.
Zhoucheng 周城 and Xizhou 喜洲 Villages
These are two picturesque villages about 30 km north of Dali. Getting there is easy: take a bus from Dianzang St going to Cangshan. Xizhou flourished in the Ming dynasty, along with Dali’s renowned tea merchants. It became the centre for financiers and merchants. They gathered in Xizhou to build their gardens and pleasure houses. Further towards the lake lies the protected port of Haishe in a serene lakeside setting of spits, promontories, islets and inlets. The Bai architecture is even better here than in Dali.
Travellers rarely visit this side of the lake. Mountains are close to the lake’s shore, in places that plunge straight into the water. Villagers make a living almost exclusively from fishing. Between Shuanglang and Wase there are several small villages with houses made out of stone. A highly recommended route is to hire a bike, take it by ferry over to Wase or Luo Guan Temple, then cycle up to Jiangwei and then get a bus back to Dali. This is a more interesting section to cycle and there is less traffic.
Xiao Putao 小葡萄 (Small Grape Island)
This island is charming and VERY small, with a temple dedicated to Guanyin. It is accessible only by rowboat from Wase.
Currency Exchange 兑换
There is a Bank of China on the corner of Fuxing Lu 复兴路 and Huguo Lu 沪国路
Many of cafes (e.g., Café de Jacks) offer internet access.
From the Post Office.
Post Office 邮局:
On the corner of Fuxing Lu 复兴路 and Huguo Lu 沪国路.
The old town of Dali is easily walked. For trips further a field, bicycle or your guest house can arrange minivans.
Friday is market day in Dali – hawkers, shoppers and farmers fill the town.Shop for embroideries from minority peoples and ubiquitous Bai tie-dyes.
There is a local market here every Monday (about 10am to 2.30pm).
Famous for its market, which is on days ending in 0 and 5. It is smaller than Shaping.
Eating & Entertainment
Local Specialties 特色菜
Shaguoyu – fish fried, then simmered with dried vegetables in a sour stock and youdeyu – a casserole of small oily sprats and tofu.
Everywhere in the old town – Chinese and western.