Heading West in the Far East – Dali & Lijiang, China

Leaving Kunming by train, we headed west. Our goal is to travel north and west through Yunnan province towards areas of Tibetan culture.

Our first stop was the city of Dali, on the shores of Lake Erhai. The Dali Old Town (or Ancient Town) it is undeniably beautiful, though most of the buildings have been restored to achieve the ancient look. But this doesn’t deter the Chinese domestic tourists, who flock to the streets, shopping for local specialties as silver jewelry, sweet buns stuffed with rose petals (yes, it’s a food), and for whatever reason, bongo drums.

Streets of Dali Old Town.
Dali is sandwiched between the Cangshan Mountains, in the distance, and Lake Erhai.
The south gate of the Old Town. Its a popular spot for wedding photos – we saw 4 wedding photo shoots in around 15 minutes.
Distinctive roof lines throughout town. The Cangshan Mountains are in the distance.
There are several streams that run right through the middle of the Old Town.  At least we assume they are streams. Knowing Asia, they could easily be a form of open sewer – though they don’t smell.
A restaurant outside the North Gate. Notice the huge fish (some sort of carp) in the tank out front?  We aren’t in a hurry to try this particular delicacy.
Speaking of food, we have been sampling all different kinds of local dishes trying to find something we really love.  Coming from Malaysia, where every meal is amazing, China has been a bit of a shock in this regard.  Dishes are very oily, and heavy on the salt.  The noodle soups are decent, but nothing to write home about. Unless you’re mentioning it in a blog.

North of the Old Town is the Three Pagodas complex.  Its an old Buddhist site, with the centre pagoda dating back over 1200 years.  There are a bunch of temples surrounding the pagodas, and it costs a hefty entrance fee of 100 CNY (Chinese Yuan, which is around $20 CAD) – a little rich for our blood, so we opted for some free photos outside the gates.

The Three Pagodas complex. Beautiful but pricey.

The Cangshan mountains run to the west of Dali, and offer great hiking opportunities.  The most popular hike, rather dramatically known as the Cloud Traveler’s Path, is really more of a walk, as the path is paved and in decent condition throughout.  But the views of the surrounding mountains and the lake are fantastic.

View looking north over Dali and the lake. The mountains top out just over 4100m above sea level.  Dali is about 1900m above sea level, and just for comparison Banff, Alberta is around 1400m above sea level.  
Can you spot Emily?
The path is in remarkably good condition, which let us travel over 15 km on the path – nearly all of the available path.


There are plenty of waterfalls along the path.

From Dali we headed north by train, arriving in Lijiang. Much like Dali, Lijiang is famous for its Old Town area. While Dali manages to feel somewhat authentic, Lijiang was like being on the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland. But it was worth it just to see a view of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, towering over the city from the north.

We took the public bus to get to the Dali train station, and this lady was sitting across from us.  She had two live chickens in a special bag (meaning a basic grain bag) with holes in for their heads to stick through.  People sure have unusual pets here.
The “hard seat” section of the train which, as it turns out, is neither hard nor has seats.  Each compartment has 6 padded bunks, but for some reason the train staff make everyone sit on the bottom bunks.  Emily waited until they were gone and climbed up to the middle bunk.  
There is an 80 CNY ($16 CAD) fee to enter the Old Town at Lijiang.  But we found that if you go after 6 pm its free.  To our dismay, everyone else also found out about the free entry.  It was so overcrowded in site that we didn’t stay very long.  Oh, also lots of bongo drums for sale here too.
The view from the street outside out hostel, with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain peaking over the city.
Walking to the bus at 7:15am with the morning sun hitting the mountain.

We had been warned Lijiang was overdone, so we only planned it as a stopover on our way to trekking at Tiger Leaping Gorge. But that’s another post, for another time. Well, more specifically it’s the next post, probably in a day or two’s time (pending good internet). Stay tuned!

  • Doug and Emily / June 6, 2017 @ 9:15pm / Walnut Grove, Leaping Tiger Gorge, Yunnan, China @ Tibetan Guesthouse

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