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  • Rick

China Story 12: Trendy Dali Ancient City (大理古城)

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Dali Ancient City Three Pagodas (大理古城三塔)

Sights: Dali Ancient City & Around (大理古城)

Region: Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province


Dali Ancient City was popular with backpackers. As the title hinted, the ancient city was more hip with bars and cafes and had more backpackers than older folks pacing the streets. It was trendy and artistic and yet traditional at the same time. It is a city where backpackers came to take a break from travelling and laze around for days. Surprisingly, Dali Ancient City was not as crowded with Chinese tourists as the ancient towns in Lijiang (丽江).

After bidding farewell to Jojo (from Taiwan) in Kunming, I soon got acquainted with 3 independent Chinese travellers, who are also heading towards Dali. One of them was a Bai-Minority (白族) from Yunlong County (云龙县) and was returning home for a Bai festive event. He volunteered to show us around Nuodeng Ancient Village in Yunlong.

I was checking out this beautiful place in Kunming previously

Dongchuan Red Land in Kunming

Story 11: Dongchuan Red Land in Kunming (东川红土地)

Getting From Kunming to Dali Ancient City

The overnight train from Kunming to Dali Railway Station was the most convenient as it saved us one night's accommodation. We deliberately chose the 11pm (last) night train so as not to arrive in Dali too early in the morning. The first bus to Dali Ancient City was around 6:30am.

After exiting from Dali Railway Station, which was in the new city, we took Bus service 8 outside the station to the ancient city about 18Km away.

Where I Stayed

Right after the bus turned off the main road and entered Dali Ancient City, we alighted along Yu'er Road (玉洱路) and walked over to an area with inns and hostels — one of the many backpackers' quarters in the city. We lodged at Half Time Hostel (大理慢半拍青年旅舍), which was newly-opened in 2012.

Location on Google Map

Sights around Dali Ancient City

Dali Ancient City was not very big and could be easily covered on foot. We explored the city and various surrounding sites solely by walking. Other than the ancient city, the main attractions outside the city were Chongsheng Temple and Three Pagodas, Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake.

First, we checked out the ancient city, starting with one of its old gates and preserved city wall.

Dali Ancient City (大理古城)

The ancient city had preserved the traditional architectural style of the Bai minority people. Even though the city was not really "ancient", neither was it very modern, and it did have a rustic feel.

Dali Ancient City (大理古城)
Dali Ancient City (大理古城)
Dali Ancient City (大理古城)

There were streets with bars and cafes — mostly alfresco style. These streets became crowded and lively only after nightfall. We also had our share of pub-hopping in the nights.

Dali Ancient City (大理古城)
Dali Ancient City (大理古城)

There was also this handicraft street where beautiful artworks of the Bai people were put up for sales.

Dali Ancient City (大理古城)
Dali Ancient City (大理古城)

We also tried some specialty food and snacks that we could see along the streets. Yunnan has 18 so-called "weird" things (云南十八怪) that are often used as gimmicks to attract visitors. Two of them are about Dali's specialty snacks.

Dali specialties

Grilled rushan (烤乳扇) is cow's milk cheese that are traditionally made by Bai minority people. The mainly-milk ingredient are made into flat pieces. When served, they are grilled and rolled up in a stick. "牛奶做成片片卖" means "milk are sold in flat pieces".

Another "weird" specialty is called erkuai (饵块), a type of Yunnan rice cake. In Dali, the rice cake is usually made into thick, flat, round bread and used to wrap around meat and veggies before eating — like an open-ended spring roll. In other southern provinces of China, the bread is called "baba" (粑粑) but in Dali, it was called erkuai because of its shape that looked like an ear — thus "米饭粑粑叫饵块". I guess I forgot to take a photo of it.

Weishan County (巍山), also in Dali, has a variant of erkuai by cutting it into shreds, called ersi (饵丝) or shredded rice cake, and cook it like a noodle dish. The intended meat and veggies are then added as toppings. The dish is called "巍山粑肉饵丝" (Weishan ersi) and is also available in Dali Ancient City.

"喜州粑粑" (Xizhou baba) is a specialty of Xizhou Town (喜州镇), just 20Km north of Dali Ancient City. It is similar to erkuai except that it is being roasted into bread. One piece can made a meal.