Dali, China Travel Guide

Once a hippie strong hold here in China, Dali has evolved a bit and the massive Chinese tourist market is starting to slip in. Still, in comparison to many of the other destinations, in particular nearby Lijiang, Dali is quiet. It remains a bit of an enclave to the hippies of the world as well as expats looking to find a more peaceful China. Sitting at about 1900m, the altitude of Dali gives you a bit of a reprieve from the otherwise stifling heat most experience in the Chinese summer. In the winter months, it gets cold here. But, the cool, dry climate and the altitude means blue skies, and some of the most stunning clouds you’ll see anywhere on the planet.

Time Needed: 2-4 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: 35-50USD
Mid-Range Budget: 45-60USD

Dali, China

Things to Do and See in Dali, China

  • The Pagodas: Oh China, why do you rip thee off? It seems there’s not a park, building, or sight left in China that the government doesn’t charge tourists an extortionate price to enter. It doesn’t seem very communist to me to charge the community fees to see public buildings. I love how it’s capitalism when it works in their favour. I didn’t pay to go into the pagodas. The cost is about $40USD. Instead, I stood impressed by the oldest buildings in Yunnan province from outside the gates.
  • The Lake Cruise: You can experience the lake in two different ways. Most of the wealthier tourists take a lake cruise. The cruise stops briefly at the villages along the edges, but won’t give you much of a real taste. Also, most of the cruises are packed with Chinese tourists, and it’s like travelling in mob.
  • Lake Village Drive: Some of the hostels Dali organize drives around the lake to see some of the villages. If you actually want to see the villages, this is a great way to experience them.
  • Markets: Every day of the week there’s a village with a market.  Ask at your place of accommodation and they’ll definitely be able to steer you in the right direction.
  • Yoga: Of course, as in any hippie town, there are plenty of options for yoga in town.

Where to Eat in Dali

Along the tourist strip there are plenty of hip little bakeries and cafes.  With all the hippies and foreign tourists in Dali, you can be assured that you wont have to walk far for baked goods, tea, or fresh juice.  Below are a couple other options.

  • The Veggie Buffet: On Boai Road, ask for YiRanTang) just north of the Art Garden Hotel, there is a vegetarian buffet that is operated by Buddhist.  It’s a great spot and cool experience.  All-you-can-eat will cost you no more than about 2USD.
  • Marley’s: Popular cafe on the corner Huguo Road and Boai Road.  The prices are good and if you can get a spot on the balcony it’s a great place to chill.
  • Black Dragon Cafe: Great spot for grub!  You have to try the wraps.  It’s also on Boai Road and is a bit more expensive, but still great value.

Dali, China

Where to Stay in Dali

There are plenty of hostels in Dali, and the quality of them is quite good, in general. We stayed at a place called the Five Elements which was really great for the most part. The restaurant had good food, the rooms were great, it was quiet, and the staff was really good in organizing things like transport and tours, but not pushy. The only issue that we had was that it was on the other side of the highway from town which isn’t a massive deal. It does mean that you have to hike 5-10 minutes to get there, and you have to dodge traffic crossing the highway any time you want to go downtown.

Getting out of Town

  • Train: The train station isn’t in old Dali town, but Dali city which is some 20-30 minutes away. The train services Lijiang(1 ½ Hours) and Kunming(4hrs) for now. They are working on the train link all the way to Shangri-La at the moment as well.
  • Bus: The bus is often the best option here. The hostels can book trips to Lijiang, Kunming, or Shangri-La(6hrs) which often include a free pick up, but leave from Dali City.
  • Air: There are flights that land at the airport in Dali City from Chengdu, Kunming, Beijing, Shanghai, and other Chinese domestic destinatiosn.

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