Dali, located in Yunnan Province is famous for its Old Town and beautiful natural surroundings. Dali is comprised of two cities; the historic Dali Old Town (Gucheng) and Dali New City (Xiaguan). Dali Old Town is one of the most popular tourist destinations for domestic travelers as well as foreigners traveling the China backpacking circuit. Although Dali used to outnumber neighboring Lijiang with most foreign visitors, Lijiang’s well preserved Old Town has become more of a tourist attraction in recent years. What sets Dali apart from Lijiang is its beautiful location sandwiched between Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountain.
Old Town is actually a miniature city laid out in an easy-to-navigate grid pattern offering an assortment of activities; however, the most interesting places lay outside Old Town’s four walls. A good way to get an overview of the town is to walk atop the historic walls surrounding the city. Compared to Xian, Dali’s historic wall is petite as it only takes about an hour to leisurely walk.
The Cangshan Mountain and its 18 peaks located near the shores of Erhai Hu, rise high above Dali and often have a picture perfect reflection in the clear and still waters of Erhai Hu. The mountain is famous for its 3000 different types of plants, crystal clear ponds and waterfalls, hiking trails, natural marble, and views of Erhai Hu and the entire Dali Prefecture. Travel up the mountain is easy by cable car at either the base of Gantong or Zhonghe Temples. The cable car takes about a half hour as opposed to hiking up the mountain which is a sweaty 2-3 hours. Once atop the mountain you can walk between the two temples via the Cloud Path, a 20 km scenic hike, or take the chairlift that connects the two. For a special stay, behind Zhonghe Temple are guesthouses for those who want to spend the night in absolute peace and quiet.
East of the foot of the tenth peak is the world famous Three Pagodas, the symbol of Dali, built in 824-840 AD. Qianxun Pagoda, the tallest of the three, is 16 tiers high with a white marble sitting Buddha statue at the center of each tier. The two pagodas that flank Qianxun, built about 100 years later, are 10 stories high and also have a Buddha statue on each floor. The designers of the pagodas came from Xi’an and are said to have designed the pagoda after the famous Giant Wild Goose Pagoda.
Dali has risen to the top of China’s must see list yet it still remains one of the last tourist destinations where visitors can escape hectic city life. The city’s location between Erhai Hu and Cangchan Mountain make it one of China’s most spectacular natural beauties. Spend a week relaxing and getting lost in its city streets and on its many scenic trails and you’ll leave truly happy and relaxed.