Dali Gate II

Dali Gate II

© willh

Sitting under the towering peak of Cang Shan Mountain in Yunnan, China, next to serene Er Hai lake, Dali (大理) couldn't have a more dramatic setting. Well established on tourist itineraries for both Western and Chinese travellers, Dali is blessed with a interesting restored old town, refreshing climate and great countryside. Dali is home to the Bai people, and examples of Bai architecture and tradition still survive around the town.

Note that the Dali referred to by travellers and guidebooks is the old town of Dali. Boarding a bus for 'Dali' may land you at Xiaguan, a rather less interesting modern conurbation 15 kilometres up the road.



Sights and Activities

er hai

er hai

© reddoor333

  • The walled Old Town, including the lovingly restored stone town gates at the East, West, North and South of the town.
  • Er Hai is a wonderful lake to look out for locals fishing with trained cormorants.
  • Cang Shan is a nice mountain that can be enjoyed either via a hiking trail, or using the cable car.
  • Kung Fu is taught at a few independent schools that are run here.
  • Rock Climbing either on your own or through Climb Dali, which also runs a free bouldering bar in town.



Events and Festivals

China has three "Golden Week" holidays per year. People get a mandatory two or three days off work for each holiday, and workers' companies can grant them the rest of the week off, making each holiday a total of 7 days. As you can imagine, having almost 1.4 billion people with the same days off can make travelling at these times arduous to say the least.

Travelling during the Spring Festival/Chinese New Year is incredibly difficult. Chinese New Year is China's Christmas, so the millions of migrant workers and students flood back to their home towns. Everybody else takes the opportunity to spend their hong bao (gifts of money traditionally given at CNY) and go travelling. Most of the time, since you are only allowed to purchase train tickets 6 days in advance and must be present in the city of origin, sometimes only standing room tickets are available. Be aware! The Spring Festival is undoubtedly the busiest time for the Chinese transportation system. Flying will avoid the crowded trains, but book early and expect to pay higher prices. All the main tourist attractions will be crawling with tourists (worse than usual), so unless you like crowds, it's best to avoid it altogether.

Chinese New Year is based on the lunar calendar, so the date changes each year. The Chinese New Year/Spring Festival holiday is 7 days long and usually starts on New Year's Eve.

The two other national holidays are October 1st, National Day, celebrating the founding of the People's Republic of China and May 1st, which is International Labor Day. Almost all Chinese get the two holidays off and many take the opportunity to travel. If you want to avoid the crowds, fly, but it should get a lot less busy towards the end of the week.

Local Festivals

  • The Bai March Fair
  • The Torch Festival - a harvest festival held on 25th June.



Getting There

By Plane

China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Lucky Air fly from Kunming to Dali Airport (DLU).

By Train

It is possible to reach Kunming by train from Xiaguan. This is as far as it is currently possible to travel by train in Northern Yunnan.

By Car

Dali is well connected to the rest of Yunnan by well-maintained roads.

By Bus

There are extremely frequent bus connections, at a range of levels of comfort and corresponding prices, both to Kunming and on into Northern Yunnan to destinations including Lijiang and Shangri-La.



Getting Around

By Public Transport

Local buses run to villages around town. It's also possible to catch a ferry or charter a boat across Er Hai lake. Taxis are easy to find and moderately priced. A cable car runs halfway up Cang Shan Mountain.

By Foot

The old town, from the foot of the mountain to the shore of the lake, is easily explored on foot.

By Bike

Dali is bicycle friendly, and bikes are available to hire from hostels and cycle shops.



Eat and Drink

The speciality of the area is fish from Er Hai lake. Every day the fisherman bring their catch back, alive, to the town's cafes. The fish are held in tanks outside, and passers by can choose exactly what they're going to eat before sitting down to dinner. The fish can be cooked in any one of a variety of ways, but a particular favourite is a fish hotpot - your chosen fish is cooked in front of you, to your liking, in a hot and sour broth.

Being well established on the traveller's trail, Dali has more than its fair share of traveller-oriented bars selling banana pancakes and Heineken by the glass. You'll get a cheaper beer, and a better idea of real Dali, if you take a seat upstairs in a cheap noodle-and-dumplings place, order a bowl of fried dumplings and a chilled Tsingtao, and watch the world go by.





There are plenty of extremely cheap hostel options in Dali:

  • Three Pagodas is the official IYHF option and is well-established.
  • Tibetan Lodge is another well-established guesthouse.


You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)




Keep Connected


Wangba (联网) means internet bar in Chinese. Almost every town will have an internet bar or gaming center. The best way to spot an internet bar is to look for the 网(ba) character, which means net, and large digitized images of computer game characters. Often, there will be a sign saying Green Power in English at the entrance. Most gaming centers cost about RMB3 an hour. You prepay at the main desk and are then given a plastic card or a piece of paper. Once you are done you return the card or piece of paper and get reimbursed for the money you didn't spend. Be prepared for a place that might be dingy, basic and messy. Internet bars in China tend to get crowded starting in the late afternoon to the late evenings.

Some hotels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
Also, quite a few cafes provide free wireless Internet service. Some cafes, even provide a machine for customer use.


See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to China is 86. To make an international call from China, the code is 00.

When making international phone calls it is best to buy an IP card. They typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card English-spoken instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper. There is no warning before the card runs out of minutes.

If you already have a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, you can roam onto Chinese networks, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). If you're staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of money preloaded. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will often be happy to offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. If you need a phone as well, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card you put in them. China's two big operators are China Mobile and China Unicom. Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about ¥1/min when roaming outside the province you bought the SIM, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying.


China Post (中国邮政) is the official postal service of the People's Republic of China, operated by the State Postal Bureau of the People's Republic of China (website in Chinese only), and has more details about price to send letters, postcards and parcels, both domestically as well as internationally. The Chinese postal service is very good. Remember that in more remote places usually only one post office in a city can handle sending international boxes or letters. Also many times it might be worth having the name of the country you are trying to send to in Chinese characters, because small town people might not know what Estonia is in English. Post offices have a striking green logo and can easily be found everywhere in the cities. They are mostly open every day (including weekends!) from 8:00am to 6:00pm, though small offices might have shorter opening times, while the bigger ones in central and touristic areas are sometimes open during evenings as well.

Quick Facts


  • Latitude: 25.679569
  • Longitude: 100.18409

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