Dali (大理) is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. It's one of the most sought-after attractions to westerners and expats because of its historic sites and its "western" flavor of some streets in Dali's Old Town: western music, western food, and English-speaking shop owners.
Dali's climate is temperate with moderate summers and mild winters (a bit windy in autumns and winters). The top attractions are the silver Cangshan Mountains (苍山) (about 4,200 meters at the peak) to the west of Dali Old Town, and the jade Erhai Lake (洱海) a few miles to the east of Dali.
Dali has a long and rather glorious history. In 738 the kingdom of Nanzhao was established with Dali as its capital and covered a large area of Yunnan and northern Burma and parts of Sichuan and Guizhou. The original capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom was located in Weishan (within Dali Prefecture) and later moved to sites around the Erhai lake. The territory conquered was quite substantial and held over a long period. The kingdom survived almost 200 years and had 13 kings before being collapsing. After several decades of chaos the Kingdom of Dali emerged in 937.
The Kingdom of Dali established by DUAN Siping in 937 was controlled by the Duan clan and survived until conquered by the Mongols in the 12th century. The Kingdom retained a close alliance with the TANG dynasty, and was one of the major transit points for the introduction of Buddhism throughout the rest of China. By AD1000, Dali was one of the 13 largest cities in the world.
From 1856 - 1872 Dali was the headquarters of the Panthay Rebellion led by Du Wenxiu. That rebellion commenced as an uprising against local oppressive rulers by the Hui muslim minority and ended as open rebellion against the Qing Dynasty. The Palace of Du Wenxiu is on Fuxing Road and serves as the local museum (the museum exhibition on the rebellion paints it as a patriot workers revolt which it wasn't). The rebellion was brutally crushed by the Qing and hundreds of thousands of Yunnan muslims were killed in revenge.
Many local people in Dali have the surname Duan to this day (rare in other parts of China). These historical events are immortalised in the Martial Arts literature of Taiwanese author Jin Yong (read by every Chinese school kid), giving Dali a fame nationwide. Both the Nanzhao Kingdom and the Kingdom of Dali had a military alliance with the Tang Dynasty against the aggressive Turfan (Tibetan) Empire which made regular and aggressive incursions into their respective territories.
The rulers of the original Nanzhao kingdom were probably precursors to the modern Yi peoples, while the Kingdom of Dali rulers were precursors to the modern Bai minority.
A huge Memorial Steele to the "Pacification" of Dali Kingdom was built during the Ming Dynasty and remains standing at the end of "San Yue Jie" past the city's West Gate. Entrance is free. The Mongols destroyed the old capital & palace of Dali Kingdom, located just to the South of the Three Pagodas. Almost all the records of both the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms were burnt or destroyed, leaving much unknown about these periods. In addition, the Mongols brutally displaced many of the inhabitants of the prefecture, with the result that Bai minority people's were forced as far East as Hunan Province. Many Han Chinese also moved into the Kunming area during this period.
The old Dali City was rebuilt in the early 1400s by the Ming Dynasty. What you see in Dali Old Town today is the rebuilt Ming town. Since then, the fortunes of Dali have declined and its importance as a cultural and economic centre in the Yunnan area have been overtaken by Kunming, the Provincial Capital.
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|Ancient old town DaLi|
|Weather averages for Dali|
|Avg high °C (°F)||16 (61)||17 (63)||20 (68)||23 (73)||24 (75)||25 (77)||24 (75)||24 (75)||23 (73)||21 (70)||18 (64)||16 (61)|
|Avg low °C (°F)||2 (36)||4 (39)||7 (45)||10 (50)||14 (57)||17 (63)||17 (63)||16 (61)||14 (57)||12 (54)||7 (45)||3 (37)|
|Rain cm (inches)||1.76 (0.7)||2.39 (0.9)||3.52 (1.4)||1.78 (0.7)||6.48 (2.6)||10.59 (4.2)||15.06 (5.9)||15.22 (6)||12.66 (5)||7.32 (2.9)||2.29 (0.9)||0.83 (0.3)|
|Source: per MSN 2008|
 Getting in & Getting out
 By Air
Dali also has an airport located to the East of Xiaguan. Flights from Kunming operate regularly - 3 times a day. It is possible to get heavily discounted tickets (￥300 return Dali-Kunming), but you will need to book well ahead. Otherwise expect to pay ￥320+ each way. From major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), it is possible to book a direct flight to Dali (with a stopover in Kunming) at discounted rates. Best discounts apply to tickets booked 15 days+ in advance.
 By Train
There are several night trains from Kunming to Dali Train Station (in Xiaguan) leaving between 2000 and 2300, and arriving from six to eight hours later. The cost is ￥86 for a night trains sleeper bunk, and day trains ￥35 for a hard seat. The No. 8 bus to the old town bus leaves regularly for ¥1.5 from just outside the station, terminating at the West gate.
 By Bus
Bus from Kunming bus station takes about six hours and costs ￥67 for an ordinary bus and around ￥110 for an Express luxury bus, and will bring you to Dali new town (Xiaguan). Check with the driver if he stops at Dali Old Town or Xiaguan. From Dali Train Station (in Dali New Town Xiaguan) you can take the local No.8 bus (￥1.5 & 40 mins) to Dali Old Town 13 km to the North. Buses coming south from Lijiang are about ￥60 and stop outside the old town, from where it is possible to get a taxi or walk to the main guesthouses. You can save about ￥20 on the Lijiang bus by simply hailing one on the highway East of the old town.
 By Ship
 Getting Around
Dali Old Town is small enough to get around on foot, and being laid out in a grid format is relatively easy to navigate. The major landmarks are the South and North gates with Fuxing Road running between them and Yangren Jie (Westerner's Street), lined with cafés and tourist shops. City maps are readily available for around ￥5 but tend not to follow the usual 'north-at-the-top' standard. This is because the natural orientation of someone in Dali is to look toward the huge looming mountain chain called Cangshan that runs north-south next to the city. Therefore as you look at the mountains and face west, the lake is at your back, or east. This method of orientation makes even more sense when you realize that the entire town gently slopes from the mountains to the lake, making those two landmarks a natural way to find your bearings.
Bikes are also available at many guesthouses and rental huts around town and cost anywhere from ￥5-40 per day. Bikes vary greatly in quality so shop around for the best deal. Chinese brands Merida and Giant (www2.merida-bikes.com and www.giant-bicycles.com) are among the better ones to consider.
 By Public Bus
 By Tour Bus
 By Metro
 By Taxi & Rental Car
Taxis in Dali Old Town generally cost ￥5 for under 3 km (though most drivers will ask for RMB10). For other locations outside the Old Town, all prices are negotiable. A taxi to Xiaguan will cost around ￥40.
- Cangshan Mountains (苍山)
- Festival of the Third Month (Sanyue Jie, 三月节)
- Gantong Si Temple (感通寺)
- Guanyin Tang (观音塘)
- Lake Erhai (洱海)
- Pagoda of the Snake Bones (Shegu Ta, 蛇骨塔)
- Royal Summer Palace
- Temple of the Exalted Holy One
- Dali Nanzhao Culture Town (大理南诏风情岛)
- Yangbi Shimenguan Pass (漾濞石门关)
- Chongsheng Temple (大理崇圣寺三塔)
Mama Naxi Guesthouse Dali, 88 Fu An Alley. Ren Min Lu (Walk to the East Gate on the Ren Ming Lu. Go right after the Fourseasons guesthouse (should be on your right). You should also see Fu An Hotel written on the wall at the end of the street. Go there and than turn left. Walk until you reach the end and turn right. You will see Mama Naxi.), ☎ +86 872 267 1168. This is the Mama Naxi in Dali offering the same services as the famous one in Lijiang. Competitive rates for clean comfy dorms, double and triple rooms. Quiet, convenient location with friendly, knowledgeable english speaking staff. Free internet and WiFi. Bike rental. Bus, train and airplane bookings. Discount tickets for local sights. Breakfast and family dinner. There is a nie courtyard to sit and meet other people. ¥15-.
Dali has a number of famous local products. You must try the local fried cheese "rusan" that is crispy and delicious. Available at any of the restaurants or from street stalls.
Dali has exquisite marble (a little difficult to carry) which is carved into all sorts of products: vases, ashtrays, carved animals and more. The marble stone can also be cut and polished revealing 'pictures' on the surface. These are known as "chushi" and can be bought framed and make beautiful wall decorations. Many people can mistake them for traditional Chinese paintings. Cheaper "chushi" (generally the white and grey type) will sell for RMB60+ per item. More expensive and colored stone with clear mountain landscapes can be priced at RMB10,000+. The Chinese word for marble is "Dalishi" or Dali stone, indicating just how famous Dali marble is throughout China.
The local batik fashioned from dye and wax is also popular and cheap.
You can also purchase beautiful minority embroidery (generally Miao minority from Guizhou Province) at a number of shops. The embroidered items include baby carriers, clothing or decorative patches that were attached to traditional costume.
Dali has great teahouses. Relax in a teahouse regularly, buy a little tea and you'll be welcome to come back at any time, with friends, usually for free. Sample new teas and as long as you buy something every so often, you'll be welcomed again and again.
Be very careful because they will try to rip you off no matter who you are. If they say a shirt is 500rmb, it's really worth 25rmb. If they try to sell you a Jade Buddha for 4000rmb, it's really worth 50rmb. Best idea for getting the right price is undercutting them SIGNIFICANTLY. Usually slash the price in half, or even take off 75%.
 Night Life & Entertainment
A 500ml bottle of Dali beer will cost you 8 - 10 yuan in a bar and about 3 - 4 yuan from a grocer. A large selection of beer is on offer but some are coloured green and require an acquired taste. But for the price, there is no excuse not to sample the lot.
 Sports & Recreation
- Climb Dali is a rock climbing guiding service and bouldering club located on RenMin Lu. Contact us information on China climbing trips, and stop by the boulder bar for a drink and/or free bouldering lessons.
 Excursions & Day Trips
- Take the ropeway (chairlift) upto the Cangshan Mountains to get an impressive view of Dali from high up. Hike in the mountains, going up, North or South. All directions offer some great hiking. Stay overnight (see accommodation below). The 16km 'Cloud Traveller' path across the Cangshan Mountains offers walks that range from easy to hard going, cuts through some superb valleys, offers spectacular views across the lake and valley, and overall is a must for travellers to Dali.
- Chicken Foot Mountain 'Jizu Shan'. Further away from Dali to the North East behind Wase on the East side of Erhai Lake is Jizu Shan, called this because the mountain and its ranges look like a chicken's foot. Actually a 2-3 day trip in its own right. This is one of the 5 major Buddhist mountains in China and the top and slopes are covered in temples - many in a state of disrepair. Some have been restored and have resident monks. This is a difficult hike with the summit at 3200 metres. Be prepared. Or there are horse rides and a cable car that starts halfway up. To get here take a bus (2 hrs) from Xiaguans Northern bus station to Binchuan and from there change to a minibus or bus (1 hr) to Jizu Shan.
- Studying traditional Chinese martial arts with Wudang Mountain Daoist monk Zhou Xuan Yun. http://www.DaliMartialArts.com
- Lake Erhai has "Erhai Paradise" which is certainly worth a visit. It's a magical Buddhist haven with giant statues, empty amphitheaters, demon-statues, tea gardens and an artificial beach. One way is to hire a taxi driver form Dali or Xiaguan for the entire day and negotiate a price. The driver can take you to the boat jetty and show you onto the island ferry. You'll sail across the lake. Explore the island and come back by boat, where your driver will be waiting to take you to a restaurant for dinner, or temples and bars as you wish. Total for the day about ¥500pp.
 Tips & Practical Info
There are a few scams and petty crime targeting tourists in Dali. Watch your belongings carefully to protect from pickpockets and theft, though perhaps the major risk you take if staying in cheap accommodation is theft by other foreign travellers. Overall Dali is a very safe place with little crime directed at tourists.
If you are planning to hike up the Cang mountains, travel in a group both to protect yourself from robbery and as back up in case of accident.
Drugs disguised as strange artifacts are usually sold by women in traditional Bai costume, who will then lead you to their homes. Marijuana is widespread in Dali's foreign bars.
Don't get your shoes fixed by men approaching you on the corner of Fu Xing Rd and Foreigner St. Even if a price is agreed, they will add a couple of extra stitches and charge ridiculously inflated prices (200-300 RMB). You're in a difficult position to argue because they have your shoes! Just go to a regular established shoe shop (there are several towards the East end of Renmin Rd) where you can get your shoes repaired well for less than 10 RMB.