Our first full day of the trip was an 8am bus from Kunming to Dali, stopping at a few very entertaining motorway service stations to check out what the Chinese enjoy for snack food. The always present chicken feet made an appearance, shrink wrapped and in a variety of flavours but also an exciting range of produce on sticks and various dried fruit based delights.
The trip took about 5 hours and took us through stunning mountainous scenery, with terraced hillsides and forested mountains. A part of the road passed what looked like a power station or factory and we were plunged into thick smog but for most of the journey the air was clearer than we’d seen all trip.
We arrived at the Jade Emu hostel in Dali mid afternoon – which is a lovely hostel based around a courtyard with tables for eating and chatting – and our best room so far with a huge king sized bed and a thick duvet to fight the cold. Dali is fairly high and it being winter it was a fresh 10 degrees dropping to only a couple of degrees overnight – so we did actually get to use our down coats.
The main town is a grid with entrance gates on 4 sides, and a pagoda where the 2 main streets cross in the centre. From our entrance near the hostel the road was a stunning pedestrianised path criss-crossed with bubbling streams and planted with cherry blossom trees and bamboo. Really stunning! Katy gave us a quick orientation then left us to our own devices, so agreeing to meet some of the others at 6 for a beer, Wayne and I set off down the main shopping street for the East Gate.
This lovely little town was once the place for backpackers, but has now also been adopted by Chinese tourists looking to find a pretty version of historical China, and the streets are lined with everything the traveler might want from bars to markets, restaurants to fashion, sunglasses to snacks (on sticks.. it’s a thing..).
We met some of the others at 6 and headed for the Bad Monkey bar for “a” drink.. it’s owned by 2 Brits who also brew their own Bad Monkey beer and after a few debates about leaving to get food… Wayne and I finally staggered out at midnight.. oops! Well there was live music with a great band who did a mixture of chinese pop songs and western classics. The main singer was excellent and one of the guitar players most entertaining – his rendition of Britneys “hit me baby” was particularly special…
Day 2 in Dali we got up expecting a hangover but thankfully the lower % chinese beer had done nothing but hydrate so we were fine, and after a particularly good breakfast in the hostel of pancakes and fruit we joined Zoe and Karen from our group in a trip up the Cang Shan (Green Mountains). It took a bit of walking to find the chairlift – the Point It book from Jennica was invaluable for pointing at pictures of chair lifts to increasingly confused locals but we found it eventually.
The chairlift trundles slowly up the mountain through the forest, so it’s really peaceful and very quiet. Dotted up the hillside are small tombs and hanging in the trees are red ribboned charms that appear to have been thrown from the chairlift.
At the top of the chairlift is the Zhonghe Temple – a very chilled space with a viewing platform over the town.The chairlift takes you halfway up the mountain to join the Cloud Path, which is a paved walkway that runs for several kilometers across the mountain, dipping in and out of forests and into the mountain around the ravines.
It was a glorious day, chilly but beautifully sunny and the terrace at points came out of the trees to give spectacular views of Dali and the Erhai Hu (Erhai Lake) as well as the passed round the gorges.
We walked for about several kilometers passing almost no one until we reached the Seven Dragon Daughters Pool where a rollercoaster style funicular carriage zig zagged up the steep slope to take us to the mid-point of the next cable car, our route back down the mountain.
The cable car dropped us in the middle of a completely random movie studio – where lots of chinese films are made. It’s a series of very impressive sets, including the opportunity to play dress up in various outfits, but the beers were calling us so we walked back into town and found a cafe to have a well-earned big cold Beerlao.