We just spent about a day and a half in Dali, Yunnan. Our trip in Yunnan started in the capital of Kunming, a flight north to Lijiang, and then drove south for about 5 hours to Dali. It was only about a 200 km distance (which is about 140 miles, would take 2 hours in the states), but 1/3 of the trip were unpaved roads through farm land and our driver lady drove slower than my great grandmother if she were still alive. Nonetheless, I always enjoy these long car rides, with my windows down looking out to soak it all in.
Old Town of Dali, Yunnan
We arrived around 4 pm in the Old Town of Dali. It’s the most happening spot in all of Dali, especially where travelers hang out. We hadn’t had lunch yet so we randomly found a restaurant off the side road. All the restaurants look alike, with about a dozen of fresh vegetables in baskets displayed at the front of the restaurant. Most likely freshly picked that morning. We chose 2 different greens and sat down to order a fish hot pot. Everything we’ve had in Yunnan province, whether expensive or hole-in-the wall has been very flavorful. The main problem though is that they put too much oil and MSG. Besides that, it’s been a delight sampling all the different kinds of food they have to offer. And learning about different food from province to province. The main staple is their spiciness, rice noodles in spicy soup, mushrooms everywhere you go and hot pots.
Ethnic Groups of Dali
There are mainly 3 ethnic minorities here in Dali which is the Bai (50%) Hue (Muslims) & Naxi. The other 50% of the population is the mainstream Han ethnicity (mainland Chinese people). The Naxi group rule the population in Lijiang.
After a week and a half of traveling, completely immersed with the locals, I have to admit I started getting withdrawals & yearned for a dose of Western energy. I finally opened up my Lonely Planet book and found their recommended bars. I dragged my dad, sister & driver lady along to Bad Monkey, an expat bar that was ran by 3 British guys. Lo and behold, there were some dreaded out expats and backpackers hanging out there. The drink prices were comparable with local alcohol pricing which is a treat because usually non-local places are more expensive. Everyone looked high out of their minds and they were excited to meet some Americans.
After a few drinks & coffee, we shopped around Old town. There is 2 miles radius of shops selling mainly the same things we’ve seen in all of Yunnan. Shawls, keychains, souvenirs, jade (fake or not we can’t tell), ethnic jewelry, Pashmiri scarfs, ethnic clothing, bars, etc etc. In every few blocks, a Buddhist Temple is spotted. We climbed up the first one we came across, up to the top (4 levels) to view the vibrant scenery.
At dinner we settled at some small hole in the wall for Noodles & Xiao Long Bao’s. After some major bowel failures & vomits our first 3 days in China, I think our stomach has become accustomed to all the chaos. We can eat just about anything without fear. Shortly after the noodles, we decided to go back to Bad Monkey for drinks. Our tour would start the next morning at 8 am so we wanted to enjoy ourselves. By 9 pm, this place was off the hook with Live music, “open mic night”, hookahs lit, white men & local Chinese girls giggling away at tables over Dali beer, and men in dreads floating around stinking up the place (but giving it some kind of flavor).
Western Bar in Dali: Bad Monkey
It brought me back to my backpacking experiences in India and SE Asia. I missed it. It’s a different experience traveling with your family. Although my dad & sis didn’t mind this.. it was still different. We met a few people from London, a guy from Sacramento who’s a drummer for a traveling band throughout china & is now fluent in Mandarin, and some other interesting folks who have, yes you guessed it, ‘left it all behind years ago to start a new life here.’ I had heard of the massive marijuana growing here, and asked one of them about it. Apparently their bar was raided last week for marijuana selling and use. Although if you walk up a hill behind old town, you could easily run across a big field of it.
This morning, we were picked up by a new tour guide of the Bai ethnic group. She was dressed in their traditional Bai Outfit and immediately I liked her. The other 2 tour guides in Lijiang were pretty useless with information and had negative vibes that nearly ruined our 2 days there. It was great to have this new lovely gal around. Our first stop was to a movie set that resembled that of a big Buddhist temple complex. I thought that it was another Temple we were visiting until the end when I was told it was a movie set.
Butterfly Garden in Dali
2nd stop, the Butterfly Garden in Dali. It’s a preserved nature spot with a short hike through bamboo trees to a green house of lively butterflies. The most exciting part of China I’ve experienced besides the food is all the nature/countryside we’ve seen. Yunnan is great for that. You go to Shanghai or Beijing for a few days and you may forget that China has more nature than city.
Horse Carriage & Visiting Er Hai Lake in Dali
After an hour chasing butterflies, we hopped on a horse carriage and headed to lunch at a huge gorgeous hostel. This hostel has a bar, a huge outdoor restaurant that you could easily get lost in, and a tea room. Once again, we ordered a fish pot, and some vegetables. I was enjoying all the information our tour guide was sharing with us. I like Dali a lot more than Lijiang. It’s a lot more laid back and has less commercial buildings.
In the afternoon, our tour had set us up on a tacky 4 story cruise around Er Hai Lake (translated Ear lake because it’s the shape of an ear), about 20 miles long with all local travelers. I would have rather rode a bike around the lake and relaxed, but I’ve been put in this 4 day Lijiang/Dali tour my dad insisted on. I have been catching up on the book I’m reading “China Road” by Rob Gifford. The writer is an NPR reporter and journalist who traveled along Route 312 in China and reports on their social, economical stance. There was also a short dance performance to introduce the Bai ethnic group to us.
My access to internet is limited and we can’t access facebook/twitter!! So I’m a bit perturbed that I can’t blog daily, fearing that I”ll forget some knick knacks I wanted to write about.. but the important things will stick out so I shaln’t worry. I’ll blog soon when I can. Word of Advice:: Enjoy your Liberty in America, the cleansiness, the freedom of choice, the clean bathrooms. Toilets are rare here, there are mainly squatty potties and toilet papers are rarely supplied. Believe me, when you come to a country like China, despite how “advanced & rich” the government is and how it has the potential to “be the next Hyperpower”, it is still extremely backwards and I surely miss the very basic things in the US.