The first time you walk past the sweetest, wrinkled little old lady and she whispers to you ” you smoka the ganja” it will certainly take you by surprise!
These ladies are referred to as the grannie dope pushers of Dali. You will likely be approached several times as you wander the streets. Don’t be insulted if you’re a bit older, consider yourself hip enough looking that you’ve been propositioned. Along with these grannies you will find several places that are referred to as “low key” Amsterdam style cafes where you can spend your days listening to Bob Marley tunes.
We’re Getting Better At Figuring Out How To Use Cheap Local Transport
Most of the four hour bus trip consisted of monotonous scenery of rice and corn fields, it was occasionally broken up by small villages of traditional wood houses. Our ears popped several times as we climbed to 2200 meters in elevation.
The bus pulled into the station in Dali City. It can get confusing as this is a large newer city, not the old town of Dali that is a tourist attraction. Taxi drivers bombarded us as we stepped off the bus. To their surprise we carried our bags past them and out of the bus terminal. A taxi into the old town will cost anywhere from 2o to 30 yuan. If you walk a few minutes to the Xiaguan train station you can catch bus number 8 into Dali old town for 1.5 yuan. It’s a twenty minute ride. We’ve been getting quite good finding out how to get the local transport. It’s always a fraction of the cost they want to charge for a taxi or tourist shuttle.
We were dropped off at one of the gate towers that make up part of the massive eight meter high wall. It used to encompass the ancient kingdom of Dali. We looked at several guesthouses, but they were either full or didn’t appeal to us. We decided to look outside the walled town, which is the main tourist area.
We came across the MCA Guesthouse. It wasn’t anything special, but it was clean and reasonably priced at 100 yuan for a private double. We later found out the room walls were paper thin. We could switch our television onto the same channel as the adjacent room and turn off the volume, we could hear theirs perfectly clear.
Does Anyone Know When Market Day Is?
Anywhere you are in rural China will have a village market of some sort. It is usually held on specific days of the month. We read there was a market in the nearby minority village called Wase. It was close enough to Dali that we decided we would rent bicycles to ride out to it.We experienced market day confusion in other areas of China, Dali was no exception. The guest book in our room said the market was on the 20th or 23rd of June. The free city map we were given says it is on the 20th and 25th. The guy at the front desk of our hotel says the guest book provided in our room is wrong and the market is today the 24th.Things were confusing enough so we didn’t bother to mention to him that today was actually the 23rd. We gave up on going to the market for the time being.
We later booked a day tour around Lake Erhai with our own private driver. He took us to a nearby market and we made stops at several minority villages.
Sitting With All Foreigners, Eating Western Food, What’s The Point?
Unfortunately the old town has lost some of its charm due to a couple of reasons. There are hoards of tourist groups brought in by bus from other parts of China. Also due to the fact that the business owners have decided that non-Chinese tourists want nothing more than western style bars and restaurants.
It is possible to get more out of the area if you take the time to get out of the tourist zone and do some exploring. Otherwise your experience of Dali will be sitting with other foreigners and eating that same food you would have if you were at home. Then really, what is the point?
Not Much In The Walled Town That Isn’t Touristy
Traveling in China as a vegetarian can be challenging at times. There doesn’t appear to be many options in old town Dali other than restaurants catering to Westerners.
We enjoyed eating at a place called Cafe de Jack. Not just because my husband’s name is Jack, they had good food. We enjoyed toasted tuna sandwiches, curried rice and vegetables with chapati bread, and a signature dish they called Grandmas potatoes. It was done with onions and pickled vegetables. It was also a good place to come to use the free wireless with our laptop.
Exploring Outside The Tourist Trap
We wandered away from the tourist area of Dali into an area where there were locals homes. The cafes and shops catered to the locals, not the tourists. The eateries placed out plastic bins of fresh food everyday on the sidewalks. You could walk up and point to a variety of vegetables and fish and have it prepared for you.
We witnessed wood carvers and furniture makers at work. Both women and men were doing the carving, we saw them working late into the evening.
The sidewalks along the streets have holes where there is a deep trough of flowing water. Many times we witnessed someone holding their baby or toddler over one of the holes to go to the washroom. I guess if they went i nside it would end up in the water anyways. So why not skip a step?
We came across these signs on a street corner, they’re enough to confuse anyone! We noticed in many of the rural areas of China that women are doing hard labour. Here is a crew of female construction workers. We have seen women carrying stacks of heavy bricks in cloth sacks over their backs. We’re not sure where all the men are, perhaps they have gone into cities to work.
Overall we enjoyed our time in Dali. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit, but if it is en route to your next destination then it’s worth a stop.
One of the main attractions in Dali Old Town is the Three Pagodas Of Chongsheng Temple. There are horse drawn carts that will take you there, but if you’re up for a bit of a walk, it’s not that far.
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