Trip to Dali

Dali. Having lived in Kunming and learned Chinese at Keats School for the last three months, one does not go by without hearing of Dali and Lijiang – the two famous centres for culture of northern Yunnan. Chinese and non-Chinese tourists alike visit both these cities on a frequent basis. From Kunming, they make convenient weekend breaks.

Being the super-organised person I am, I had left the ticket-booking until the very last minute, on a Friday evening no less. Still, we were lucky enough to secure some hard seats on the last train, leaving at 23:39. Now, they say ‘hard seat’, but they’re not really all that hard – the thing that kills is the 90 degree angle of the seat to the back. So, after a six hour journey of leaning on some really forgiving fellow-travellers, we arrived in Dali.

When we got to Dali, we stayed in the Jade Emu – a hostel where basically every owner of a copy of Lonely Planet flocks to. Still, it was a VERY nice hostel. The best thing about it was the invitation to do some English teaching to a group of four six-year-old girls. It was really very fun; I took some ideas from my own schooling and held a competition to pique the girls’ interests.

Dali is right beside Erhai Lake, (洱海胡) so named due to its similarity to a shape of the outer ear. 耳 is the character for ear, if you look closely, or imaginatively rather, you can see how the pictogram really looks like an ear. Anyway…We had intended to cycle around this lake, but when we asked the guy at reception, we decided that a two-day cycle was rather beyond our capabilities. So instead we decided to do about a quarter of the lake in one day and then cycle back.

So, having successfully procured a Giant and a Merida, we set off on our adventure. On the way to the lake from the Old Town, we cycled along a cobbled path, in between fields and fields of intense greenness. Reaching the lake, we cycled onto some sort of very long groyne and sat for a while to admire the lake and the small boys fishing. We also stopped off in the occasional village, all of which were rather quaint and quiet, very peaceful indeed.

Whilst cycling we made a friend along the way, he gave his name as Ma, (马). Ma was a history student who was taking a short holiday to tour around some of Yunnan. As quite often happens in china, being two girls travelling by ourselves, any male friend we make along the way feels an inevitable responsibility to become our guide and some kind of protector. Ma was no exception! However, the care and attention was sweet. Ma took us to see the Three Pagodas, a set of three very tall towers just outside of central Dali. These towers are very old, the architecture rather striking and an example of Bai architecture, and dates from 824 AD.

Dali itself is rather charming. The architecture looks authentically old and Chinese (to my vastly inexpert eye anyhow), if a little modernised by the vast array of shops and coffee places. Along the main street are a lot of shops selling pantaloon-like trousers (on which of course some of my own money was spent), silver, leather, wooden and even yak bone jewellery. Dali felt like a very relaxed, easy-going place. A nice short break for a weekend or so.

About Rachel Shaw

Rachel is student of Keats Chinese School in Kunming. She writes this article to share her experience of traveling in Yunnan while taking a Chinese language course in China.