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How to plan a trip to Yunnan Dali?

Dali, lies at the foot of Mt. Cangshan by the shore of Lake Erhai, has a profound cultural background and long history in China. It is no exaggeration to say that Dali is the perfect combination of natural landscape and historical culture, which also enjoys the fame of one of the most popular tourist destinations in Yunnan Province.

Dali had once been the political, economic and cultural center of Yunnan Province for more than 500 years in the ancient times, as the capital city of Dali Kingdom, which makes Dali a place full of historical and humanistic atmosphere. With the well-preserved historical relics, characteristic natural sceneries and the splendid culture of Bai Ethnic Group, Dali is regarded as one of the top 10 Charming Cities in China. How to plan a trip to Dali? Read on to get some inspirations for your upcoming Dali trip.


Reading Guideline:

Why Visit Dali

Romantic as Dali in Yunnan province, four themes of romance we use for wonderful sceneries in Chinese may best describe the beauty of Dali, which are “Wind, Flower, Snow, Moon”. And the four poetic themes have become the main reasons for a Dali trip in Yunnan.

►“Xiaguan Feng”:  Wind from Xiaguan County

Due to the specific terrain in Xiaguan, the strong wind force here is rarely seen in the world, with a long period of high wind for more than 35 days each year. The exotic view of wind is one of the four unique reasons for visiting Dali, especially in spring and autumn.


►“Shangguan Hua”: Flowers in Shangguan County

Shangguan is a wide grassland with varieties of colorful flowers. As Bai people in Dali are fond of flowers, and since the wild and humid weather is really suitable for the growth of flowers, appreciating colorful flowers over the mountains and plains is a good reason for you to visit Dali.

►“Cangshan Xue”: Snow on Mt. Cangshan

As a symbolic landmark of Dali, Mt. Cangshan is perennially covered with snow. The marvelous wonderland has an amazing view in summer, covered by verdant forests over the halfway and pure white snow on the mountain top, you may take the cable car and experience different sceneries through four seasons.


►“Erhai Yue”: Moon above Erhai Lake

As darkness falls, the clear water of Erhai Lake and the inky black sky seem to merge in one color. The moon and stars above Erhai Lake look as if bigger than other places, with a luminous moon on the dark night sky, another moon is lying right there on the lake water, which makes Erhai Lake a fairyland on earth.

Read more about Dali Facts.

Best Time to Visit Dali

The best time to visit Dali is during spring, especially March and April, a good time which is suitable for both Mt. Cangshan and Erhai Lake. And the famous ethnic festival for Bai ethnic people is just around April, which is so called “Sanyuejie”in Chinese, the Third Month Fair in English, an annually traditional gathering with a celebrating history of more than a thousand year in Dali.

Annual Temperature: 14.9 ℃

Rainy Season: May to October

Crowded Season: Late Jan. or early Feb. (Chinese Spring Festival);

                              first week of May (Labor Day);

                              first week of October (National Day)

Read more about the Best Time to Visit Dali.

Best Things to Do in Dali

Roam around Dali Ancient Town

Well-preserved for more than a thousand years, Dali Ancient Town has been one of the most famous ancient towns in China with its particular construction style of Bai ethnic culture as a characteristic feature. The stone-paved streets, historical buildings and abundant humanistic atmosphere, people can always find something attractive in Dali Ancient Town. Take your time to roam around the ancient town slowly, buy some featured things you like and grab something delicious and experience the local culture, what a leisure time it is!


Have a View of the Three Pagodas

As another symbolic landmark of Dali, the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Monastery was also built a thousand years ago, with the most numerous dragons as constructive features among all the temples in China. Go to the Reflection Park of the Three Pagodas will be a good choice for you as well, since you can appreciate the most beautiful reflection of pagodas together with the picturesque natural sceneries on the pure lake water.


Enjoy a Splendid Sight on Mt. Cangshan

Covered by snow all the year round, the magnificent Mt. Cangshan may always have something special to catch your attention. The white snow on the mountaintop, the changeable clouds above and natural streams combine a distinctive Mt. Cangshan. You can take the cableway or challenge hiking up the mountain, if you are willing to have a bird’s-eye view of Dali Ancient Town and get closer to the natural beauty of Mt. Cangshan.


Go Cycling around Erhai Lake

More and more people choose hotels beside Erhai Lake in Shuanglang village in the recent years, which is an ancient town situated at the east bank of Erhai Lake. Stay one night near the lake and rent a bike to go cycling along Erhai Lake during day time, it’s more than comfortable for a Dali trip. By the way, the sea of clouds above Erhai Lake change unpredictably from every minute. The best view of Erhai Lake awaits to be discovered by you.


Experience the Bai Ethnic Culture in Xizhou Town

Xizhou Town is the most important habitation for Bai ethnic group with a long history of more than a thousand years, where you can find the most numerous and well-preserved traditional buildings with Bai ethnic cultural elements. Here you can also have a chance to closely experience the Bai ethnic culture by tasting their unique Sandao Tea and Xizhou Baba, which is famous local snack in Dali originates from Xizhou.

More information about Attractions in Dali.

Best Food to Eat in Dali

As the location of Dali is near Mt. Cangshan and Erhai Lake, Dali is rich in kinds of fungus and fish. Those dishes such as the Boiled Fish in Casserole, the Dali Spicy and Sour Fish, Fish boiled with Tofu are all worth trying during your Dali trip. If you have no interests of fish, try Ersi and rice noodles boiled in small pot, which are two special kinds of noodles in Yunnan. Besides, there are plenty of local snacks for you to choose in Dali. The most symbolic local snack in Dali is Rushan, or Fried Dairy Fan, which is made of milk and people in Dali shape it as a fan, usually being fried or roasted and mixed with sugar or other sweets. For other special food which can only be found in Dali is Xizhou Baba, a kind of crispy bread from Xizhou town.

What is worth mentioning is Sandao Tea, the Three-Course Tea of the Bai ethnic minority contains philosophy of life, which Bai people have for welcoming their guests. There are three main courses during the tea ceremony. The first course is bitter tea, use the local baked tea in Dali, tells people the truth that life is hard. The second course is sweet tea, mixed the light tea with brown sugar and walnuts, sometimes with Rushan, implies the payback after hardworking. The third course is aftertaste, put honey and Chinese red pepper into the green tea, shows the recalled memories of life, encourages people to let go disappointments and wishes the best of their life. The best place to experience the Sandao Tea ceremony is Yan’Family in Xizhou town. You’d better not miss it for your Dali trip.

Where to Stay in Dali

Considering which area to stay in Dali? Wondering whether it’s better to stay in the ancient town or near Erhai Lake? Here are some suggestions which may help you with your different requirements for hotels.

►Inside Dali Ancient Town

With kinds of restaurants and shops, very convenient for eating and shopping. And it’s more enjoyable for you to take a walk in the Dali Ancient Town and experience the local culture whenever you prefer. The most convenient area in the ancient town is near the South Gate, where you can also take coach to Lijiang and Kunming. Or you can choose your hotel near the East Gate, with lots of new-built hotels for your preference.


►Caicun Village

If you really like Erhai Lake and want to have a view of Erhai Lake for different time periods, especially sunrise, Caicun Village will be a good choice for you, more quiet and cheaper than hotels in Shuanglang Village. Just take bus No.2 from the Dali Ancient Town, convenient to reach but has few commercial shops.

►Shuanglang Village

Another choice for those who wants to stay near the Erhai Lake is Shuanglang Village, lots of local shops and restaurants along the street, really convenient for eating and shopping. You can take a boat on Erhai Lake to get close to its beauty, or rent a bike to cycle around Erhai Lake. If you not only want hotels beside the Erhai Lake but also convenient commercial streets, Shuanglang Village will reach your expectation.


How Long to Stay in Dali

For visiting Dali in Yunnan Province, 3 to 4 days may be enough for the must-see attractions in Dali. However, some people will stay for about one week to enjoy the leisure time in Dali and explore the local culture. They may either stay inside the ancient town for some days or spend one or two days in Shuanglang Village. And for some people who are planning to go cycling around the whole Erhai Lake, they may spend longer time in Dali.

What to do for 3-4 days

  • Explore Dali Ancient Town
  • Visit the Three Pagodas in Chongshan Monastery
  • Have a splendid view on Mt. Cangshan
  • Experience Sandao Tea and Bai ethnic culture in Xizhou Village
  • Enjoy the beautiful view of Erhai Lake
  • Try local food such as dishes of fish and rice noodles, or snacks like Rushan

What to do for 5-7 days

  • Explore Dali Ancient Town
  • Visit the Three Pagodas in Chongshan Monastery and go to the Reflection Park of the Three Pagodas to appreciate the most beautiful reflection of pagodas together with the picturesque natural sceneries on the pure lake water
  • Have a splendid view on Mt. Cangshan
  • Experience Sandao Tea and Bai ethnic culture in Xizhou Village
  • Relax yourself in Shuanglang Village or Caicun Village for one or two nights to enjoy the beautiful view of Erhai Lake varies from different time
  • Rent a bike to go cycling around Erhai Lake
  • Try local food such as dishes of fish and rice noodles, or snacks like Rushan

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How to Get to Dali

By Airplane

You can take direct flights to get to Dali from these cities in China, such as Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming and Xishuangbanna. Since there are airlines to Kunming from many countries, you could choose Kunming to be you first stop in China and then transfer to Dali by plane. By the way, the Dali Airport is a little bit far from downtown, but shuttle bus is available to take in the airport.

By train

Take high speed train to Dali is considered the best way to get to Dali, fast, convenient and comfortable, just two hours from Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan. You can take high speed train to Dali from most of cities in China. And you can take bus No.8 to go to Dali Ancient Town directly.

Getting around in Dali

  • Taxi: flexible for your time.
  • Bus: available to take to get to the bus station and train station in Dali, you can also take bus from the West Gate of Dali Ancient town to the Three Pagodas, from the East Gate to Shuanglang Village, from the North Gate to Caicun Village.
  • Bicycle: good choice to rent a bike to get around Dali Ancient Town.
  • Cruise: best way to get close to the natural beauty of Erhai Lake.

Read more about Transportation in Dali.

What to Prepare for Dali Tour

What to Wear

There is no distinct difference for the weather in Dali, so that the weather in Dali is not very hot or cold. But you’d better pay attention to the strong sunlight during the daytime and be aware of the changeable weather. But it’s better to bring windproof clothing with you for the strong wind.

  • Spring: the weather in spring is warm but cool in the early morning and at night, you can wear your clothes for spring, and you’d better get ready for a thin coat in case of the temperature change.
  • Summer: summer clothing will be fine, better with sunglasses and hats in order to protect yourself from the strong ultraviolet rays. Since the rainy season is around July and August, you’d better prepare a thin jacket because it may be very cool after the rain and better not forget your umbrella.         
  • Autumn: the weather in autumn is not so cold or hot, but there is a little bit temperature gap between day and night, remember to bring jackets or sweaters for the early morning and cool evening. Rain gear is still necessary.
  • Winter: you could wear your clothes before late November because the weather is still warm in Dali, but you’d better bring your winter clothing if your plan is after November for the sudden change of the weather.

Learn more about Climate and Weather in Dali.

What to Take

  • Get ready for your Visa, and do remember your passport.
  • Prepare for your SIM card to make sure the internet use in China.
  • Take some medicine with you for emergency use.

What to Know

  • Read some basic information about Dali and China so that you could understand the local culture better.
  • Know something about Bai ethnic minority in order to have a better experience of the local ethnic culture.
  • Learn some basic words and phrases in Chinese so as to communicate with local people easily if you have interests.

Basic Chinese You Might Need

Chinese Pinyin English
你好 Nǐhǎo Hello/Hi
再见 Zàijiàn Bye/See you
谢谢 Xièxie Thank you.
不客气 Búkèqi You’re welcome.
对不起 Duìbùqǐ Sorry
请问卫生间在哪里? Qǐngwènwèishēngjiānzàinǎlǐ? Excuse me, where is the restroom?
多少钱? Duōshǎoqián? How much?

Learn more about Survival Chinese Phrases.

Special Bai Ethnic Festivals in Dali

►“Sanyuejie”, the Third Month Fair or March Street

Date: 15th, March (Chinese Lunar calendar), lasts for 7 to 10 days

Place: Sanyue Street, at the foot of Mt. Cangshan

History: more than a thousand years

Activities: horse racing; dragon-boat racing; ethnic music and dance performances; selling local products from different regions


►“Raosanling”, a traditional ceremony of Bai Ethnic Group

Date: 23rd to 25th of March (Chinese Lunar calendar)

Place: the first day in Chongsheng Monastery; the second day in Xizhou Town; the third day to the north of Erhai Lake, Majiuyi Village

History: more than a thousand years

Activities: parade with singing and dancing, the journey starts from Dali Ancient Town to Xizhou Town and finally Majiuyi Village for worshiping different local gods and ancestors of Bai people.


►Torch Festival of Bai Nationality

Date: 25th of June (Chinese Lunar calendar)

History: more than a thousand years

Place: among all the places of Bai Ethnic Group

Activities: make and play the torch; singing and dancing performances


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