Dali Travel China Guide and Tips

Our one day travel itinerary in Dali

Me sitting with my four travel buddies and Chinese friends we met along the way.

How to get here

When we arrived in China, we visited Kunming first as there were no direct flights available to Dali from different major cities. After we tour around for two days, we spent our night traveling on a sleeper train.

Related: Traveling around Kunming, China

Getting Train Tickets

We book our train tickets online days ago before we arrived in mainland China. In Kunming, we went straight to the ticket booth to exchange our electronic tickets. Foreign visitors have their own lane to get their tickets.

If you are planning to buy tickets in the railway station, you will need to queue up for long and ended up buying late scheduled tickets. So always book in advance so it won’t ruin your trip unless you are traveling without scheduled itinerary.

You can book at Travel China Guide. That’s the official website that sells train tickets at official rates.

Related: Train travel in China

Where we stayed and eat

We booked a small family owned hotel near the ancient city of Dali. There are plenty of family owned hotels and they’re really nice and hospitable. We arrived at the hotel 5 early in the morning. Check-in is noon but the kind hotel owner lets us in so we can have some rest after spending our night traveling by train. They also offered us hot authentic tea and it really tastes good.

We walked to the ancient city to get some breakfast. You can get your chicken noodle for just 8 CNY. We eat outside the restaurant so we can have the view of the peaceful ancient village while sipping our hot noodles. After that, we just hop into the middle of the town. By the way, the hotel owner’s name is Mr. Xi.

Beside Erhai Lake, we tried a homemade soup. It really tastes good that I want to consume two bowls of it. There are many of them selling beside the lake. You can have it for just 5 CNY. I can’t remember its name though but it looks like this:

I'll appreciate is somebody can provide details about this soup from Dali.
I’ll appreciate if somebody can provide details about this soup from Dali.

Read more:
Local foods we tried in Dali

Places we visit

We asked the hotel owner if he can drive us around. We offered 200 CNY for him to drive us to Erhai Lake or to wherever we want. He also suggested to go to some interesting places and we know that locals do know better where to go so we just go where he recommends.

Ancient City of Dali

– before we ride with his car, we visited the ancient town first. We’ve been to many ancient towns in China and they look almost the same. What made this place special is its history and the way they make candies.

This town is dated back 1382 during the Ming Dynasty. It was also the gateway to Silk Road and the seat of the government of the province during that time. I’m glad that the town is maintained and well preserved.

I wouldn’t mind paying a maintenance fee or protection fee when tourists go inside. But we can’t find any gate that asks some tickets nor meet somebody to inspect unlike in Feng Huang in Hunan.

Mt. Cangshan

– we drive for 20 minutes to reach this old temples located up in the mountains of Dali. You can go here if you wanna see the whole Dali City with the Erhai Lake in the background. For sure, professional photographers will like this scenic view.  While walking around, we found a big old tree and according to locals, that tree, I think it’s a Ginkgo tree, is 1000 years old.

There is also fresh water you can drink. Just always bring an empty bottle with you.

Erhai Lake

– people here said that the lake was derived from its shape which is the shape of an ear. But I checked it in Google Maps, it wasn’t shaped like an ear. They did not specify if it’s a human ear of an ear of an animal but anyway, the lake was calm and if you like fishing like me, I think you should hire a fishing rod or bring you own. But we can’t do fishing this time as we only have limited time for that.

Mr. Xi brought us to a small restaurant beside the lake and eat a good lunch in front of the scenic Erhai Lake.

From there we drive for 30 minutes to Shuanglang village. There you can go around try some local food, buy stuff and take some photos. You can also find the famous drums in China. You can try to sit with them and play the drums with your hands.

Nanzhao Folk Island

– from Shuanglang village, it is a 5-minute swim to this island. They also called it Love Island. There is a mini white sand beach facing Erhai Lake with a beautiful sunset. There is an amusement park, gardens, Buddhist temple and mini forest. There are hotels and villas in the island where you can stay for around 250 CNY per night.

For photographers, it is recommended to go here before 4 o’clock in the afternoon to catch the beautiful sunset of Erhai Lake.

Three Pagodas –

Dali is best known for its famous Three Pagodas. It is just a few kilometers from the Ancient Town. It has been there for about 1,800 years making it a symbol of Buddhism in the City of Dali. The pagoda is unique, unlike other pagodas, this has 3 towers forming a triangle with Mt. Cangshan in the background.

Mr. Xi told us that the middle tower is around 230 feet high and one of the highest pagodas during Tang Dynasty. Unfortunately, visitors got no chance to climbed up to see what is to be like up in there. So we decided not to go there and instead, we went to the Phoenix Statue and take a photo with the Three Pagodas and Mt. Cangshan in the background. Save time and money.

Mr. Xi (left) in front of his hotel with the gang.
Mr. Xi (left) in front of his hotel with the gang.

We spent the rest or our time driving around the Lake and the city. Thank you Dali, it’s a pleasure to see your beauty. Hope to see you next time.

About the author

Mark Adelan


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