"If you have time for but one
  province in China, Yunnan should
  be it.
- Lonely Planet


Volunteer in Kunming, Yunnan,
a city with year-round Spring weather. Trips to 26 cultures &
5 nearby countries.

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Dali is one of most famous cities in Yunnan for people to visit. This name generally refers to the Old Town, but it can be also used to describe the prefecture. A lot of people are fascinated about Old Town, or Gu Cheng in Pinyin. Most travelers are attracted to the Dali
Old Town for its traditional architecture, minority cultures--mostly Bai, but there are also many Yi and Hui. There are also a great number of things to do and see in Dali Prefecture outside of the Old Town.

Full of all kinds of tourist attractions, Dali has been attracting tourists from the over the world, domestic Chinese and overseas foreigners alike. Like most central Yunnan cities, the climate in the Dali area is moderate in summer and mild in winter, though it can get rather windy in autumn and winter. Generally, the climate is suitable for traveling in all seasons.  

It is very convenient to get to Dali either by air, bus or train. There are three flights daily from Kunming to Dali (the cost will vary in different seasons--around 450 RMB). Upon your arrival at Dali Xiaguan (the capital of Dali prefecture) airport, it will take another 50 or 80 RMB for you to get to Xiaguan Old Town or Dali new town by taxi. In the main bus stations in Kunming, buses are available daily to travel from Kunming to Dali. There are four overnight sleeper trains and one day train from Kunming to Dali. The prices for night trains are a little bit of more expensive than those during the day time, but should be well worthwhile as you will save your time for travel. Trains leaving during the night will arrive by morning.     

For centuries, Dali has been regarded as the political, economic and cultural hub of Yunnan, and is still one of the most important cities in western Yunnan.  Back in the Qin and Han Dynasties (about 221 BC to 220 AD), Dali served as an one of the most important fortress cities on the route on which ancient China kept in contact with people in the present day India region. For most of its history, Dali was the capital city for most of Yunnan. In 738 the kingdom of Nanzhao was established in this region, and Dali was the capital. The kingdom covered a large area of Yunnan and northern Burma, with parts of neighboring Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. The original site for the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom was in present day Weishan County, 54 KM (33.5 miles) south of Dali Old Town.  Later on it was moved to the Erhai lake area. Nanzhao lasted almost 200 years and had thirteen kings before collapsing. There were decades of turmoil and chaos before the Kingdom of Dali emerged in 937. The Kingdom of Dali was controlled by the Duan clan and survived until the Mongols took Yunnan under control in the 12th century. Historically Dali was one of the major transit points for the introduction of Buddhism into China. Most of its kings were followers of Buddhism. 

The culture of Dali is a combination of that of the central plains Chinese, nearby Tibetans, southeastern Asians and local aboriginal ethnic people. The length and diversity of its ethnic cultures and customs makes Dali a city of splendid cultures. 

Dali is one of the most visited cities in Yunnnan, and the following places are certainly recommended for your stay in Dali.

The Ancient Town of Dali

The Ancient Town of Dali is the evidence of its ancient history. It is surrounded by a wall eight meters high and 3.5 kilometers in circumference.
This Old Town was the capital of both the Bai and Nanzhao kingdoms, during the 8th and 9th centuries, and the Kingdom of Dali, which reigned from 937-1253. Today's Ancient Town has been somewhat renovated based on its traditional architectural style. Hence the ancient town maintains pretty much the authentic flavor of old Dali. Dali is one the most popular spots for visitors from all over the world. Huguo Street in Old Town was designated for western cafes and restaurants. It is also called Yang Ren Jie, which literally means Foreigners' Street. About 13 KM (8 miles) from Xiagian, it is easy to get to the Old Town by taking a bus.  

The Three Pagodas of Chongshen Monastery
Just one kilometer to the northwest of the ancient town of Dali, at the foot of Cangshan Mountain, stand three beautiful pagodas, which are an emblem of the city's long and glorious history. The tallest among these three, being 69.13 meters high, was built in 836 AD, while the two smaller ones were built during a later period. As the Great Wall is to Beijing, the Three Pagodas of the Chongshen Monastery are synonymous with Dali. The monastery can be accessed by bus from Xiaguan. From the Old Town, it is only about 30 minutes walking distance. The admission fee is 121 RMB for adults and 62 RMB for children.  
The Cangshan Mountain is like a huge wall in the western part of Dali. Altogether there are nineteen peaks. They have an altitude of 3500 meters (11,483 ft) above sea level, and all of them are snowcapped year round. Many sites that reflect typical Bai culture are in this mountain area, such as the Three Pagodas of the Chongshen Monastery, Fo Tu Pagoda, Gan Tong Monastery, among others. With its great variety of plants and trees species, the Cangshan Mountain is just like a gigantic botanical garden. Dali is where some of the rarest camellias species in China are found, and the Cangshan Mountain is the base to most of them. You can choose to get the top of the mountain by riding cable cars. For a larger cable car the cost is 80 RMB, and 60 RMB for smaller cable cars. The admission fee for Cangshan is 30 RMB.

Erhai lake
Erhai Lake, which literally means ear-shaped lake (Er is Chinese for ear), lies in the east of Dali, covers 250 sq.km, and has an elevation of 1,980 meters (6,496 ft). With a water storage capacity of 300,000 cubic meters, it is the seventh largest lake in China. On a sunny day, the snowy peaks of the Cangshan Mountain are reflected in the still surface of this vast body of water with its green color. People ofttimes poetically regard it as 'Silver Cangshan and Jade Erhar'. The Erhai Park (admission fee 8 Yuan) was built specifically for people to appreciate the beauty of Erhai Lake. Erhai is within a walking distance of Old Town. There are cruise programs on Erhai Lake available for people who want enjoy themselves on the lake and appreciate some traditional ethnic cultures. Prices range between 150 to180 RMB.  

Butterfly Spring
At the foot of Cangshan Mountain 40 Kilometers north of ancient Dali town, is a shallow pool that attracts swarms of butterflies around April. The beauty of the site was described by China's famous traveler, Xu Xiake, in his travelog. After the movie Five Golden Flowers, the spring also became known as a romantic place for lovers. The legend goes like this:  Two lovers jumped and died for love here because of the objection of a cruel king. Afterwards the couple came out as two beautiful butterflies. Now butterflies are becoming scarcer, you may not find many of them except for a few days in April. Butterfly Spring takes about 40 minutes from the Old Town by bus. The admission fee is 32 RMB. 

Xizhou Folk Residential Architecture of the Bai People 
Located 16 KM north of the Ancient Dali Town, Xizhou Township is famous in Dali and even in western Yunnan. The style in Xizhou resembles the most typical homes of the Bai people. The specialty of this kind of architecture is that it is laid out in a way that is called "Three-House-One-Screen Wall" and "Four-House-Five-Courtyard". This type of architecture follows that which was very popular back in the Ming Dynasty in central China. The best time to visit is from March to June. At that time is the San Yue Jie (The Third Month Fair) celebration. It is the season when camellias bloom. It will take you approximately twenty minutes from the Old Town by bus. Within the township, there are three major residential houses: The Yan's (admission fee 5 RMB), the Yang's (admission fee 3 RMB) and the Hou's (2 RMB). 

Come over to Dali or Xia Guan city, there is still much to see.

Binchuan Ji Zu Shan
The name of this mountain literally means Chicken Foot Mountain. The mountain gets its name from the configuration of the entire mountain. It has long been regarded as the holy pilgrimage site for both Buddhists and Taoists of the seventh century. It is 33 KM (20.5 miles) from Binchuan County, and 103 KM (64 miles, north of Dali Old Town. It takes about two hours from Binchuan County to get there by bus. The admission fee is 60 RMB. There is a cable car option for you to get to the top of the mountain, which costs 21 RMB.

Jian Chuan Shi Bao Shan
Located in the remote mountain region about 110 KM northeast of Xia Guan, it also known as Stone Treasure Mountain Buddhist Grottoes. Shi Bao Shan is one of finest grottoes of its kind in Yunnan and was primarily constructed in the ninth century. The grotto itself reflects the mixture of Han and Tibetan cultures. 

Weishan Ancient Town
The Ancient City of Weishan is a famous national historical and cultural city. It was the cradle of the Kingdom of Nanzhao. Weishan was the site where the Nanzhao originated. The county has the best preserved architecture from the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was categorized as a Historical and Cultural Old Town at State Level. Within the county is the Shibaoshan (Stone Treasure) Mountain, China's fourteenth Taoist holy mountain. Weishan is 61 KM (38 miles) north of Xiaguan. Travel takes about 90 minutes from Xiaguan.

Ethnic cultures
As a place where multiple ethnicities and cultures meet, Dali is a perfect place for you to enjoy differences. There are many ethnic festivals in this region.

San Yue Jie (The Third Month Fair)
The Third Month Fair, also is called Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) Festival because of its Buddhism origin, is a traditional festival for the Bai people. It begins on the 15th day of the third lunar month (usually in April). It was, and partly still is, for commercial and entertainment purposes in this region. In recent years, the fair has become more and more grand as the government is promoting it as a platform for the development of tourism and other industries.

Rao San Ling
This means the Three Temples Festival. It is held between the 23th and 25th of the forth lunar month. The festival is also referred as the Meeting to Pray for Rain, and is one of the grandest fairs for the Bai people during the spring season. During the festival, people circle around those three famous temples and pray for good weather, prosperity and fortune.

The Torch Festival
This festival falls on the 24th of the sixth lunar month (about July). The festival itself is celebrated around Yunnan province. Legend about the Torch Festival in Dali goes like this: The festival is observed in commemoration of Mrs. Baijie, a virtuous heroine of ancient Dali. After her husband died, the enemy king forced her to get married.  Pretended to be agree, she led the remnant of her husband's army and fought against the enemy, but was killed. This festival is one of the most important festivals for the Bai, second only to the Spring Festival. People gather to socialize and be entertained.   


Dragon Dance of Bai People, Dali, Yunnan




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