Dali Ancient City

Dali Ancient City Yunnan China

As a traveler, I never imagined that the Dali Ancient City would be so mesmerizing and impressive that I already want to come back here for another visit again, this time longer. I have always envisioned cities in China to have that certain style but Dali was not one of them, well, for the old part of Dali that is. 

During a familiarization trip here in mid 2014 with AirAsia, we flew in via Kunming (AirAsia flies to Kunming, China) and then took an overland trip to Dali. Arriving at Dali city center, it looked similar to places like Hangzhou or Kunming so I thought it would be another Chinese city. But when the bus went past and continued the journey, the architectural structure began to change drastically and that made things much more interesting.  

This is my story on the Ancient City of Dali, where historical structures stand tall and streets reminding me of old Chinese drama series. I'm not kidding - If you want to see some real old world China, Dali is one of the places you must visit.

Walking Street in Dali
Dali walking street
While the entire group stayed in an equally unique hotel which resembled a Chinese temple, our after work journey on foot took us into the core of the ancient town here for some serious exploration and it was well worth every step taken here. 

For the shopping lovers, you should be pleased to know that Dali has a very strong cultural influence with having the largest ethnic Chinese tribe called Bai here. They are literally everywhere and their craft being sold at every corner. From art, jewellery to clothes, you can pick them up at a good price - with some Mandarin bargaining skills of course.

Souvenirs in Dali
All kinds of souvenirs seen at a local shop
Shopping in Dali
Shopping for the ladies with some interesting fashion
Ladies would find this place a heaven for cultural handicraft, accessories and clothes. Did I mention bags? Well, there are a ton of them in very unique designs available, from small coin pouched to full sized bags. Why I say heaven? Simply because of the 8 women in my entourage who went crazy buying items here. 

Silver seems to be one of the hot favourites in Dali old town as I keep seeing silver vendors over and over, each offering you custom made designs or simply the ready-to-wear items. As most of us would know, silver in China is very subjective due to forgery so I had to ask our local guide about them and to my surprise, most of the proper shops sell authentic silverware. So, silver is on the menu for those who like jewellery and accessories.

Dali Silver Shops
Silversmith at the Walking street
Dali Silversmith
A silversmith in action on the street
Bai Art
For me, being a amateur photographer and writer, I preferred to explore on my own walking around the huge square here. I love to walk into quirky shops selling unique stuff and also observe the local and foreign people here.

To be very honest, I hardly saw many foreigners here, more of the local China tourist so I'm happy to say that this place is not overrun! 

Among the many places around the city we visited, our guide brought us to a Mosque in Dali due to the fact that there were Muslim journalist in our group and they wanted to interview the Imam of the local Mosque.

I was quite impressed to find out that there were in fact, a huge number of Chinese Muslims in Dali and around the Yunnan province. So, for any Muslims heading here, fear not as there is a Mosque and also Halal food available. Most of the restaurants we went offered a section for Halal Food too.

For art lovers, you will be pleased to know that there are numerous local Bai art available here. Some of them in galleries while for the budget pieces, they can be seen sold by smaller vendors in shops or even street corners and alleys.

Shopping in Dali
One of the shopping streets in the Dali town centre
The Dali Walking Street or Shopping Street lives up to  its name where everything is so well maintained. I kind of reminded me of a show city or like a massive movie set where every small detailed was looked into. However, this was real - the community contributes to the cleanliness here. Shop facades take you back into a time where villages, traders and vendors work side by side. 

The only problem I faced was language as generally everyone here speaks Mandarin or the local Bai dialect. However, some of the traders do speak a little English so it's not the end of the world. As for tourist here, I hardly saw them, I mean the foreigners. There are a lot of local Chinese tourist here by the way.

Ancient Town of Dali
One of the tower tunnels leading into the shopping street
Yunnan Coffee in Dali
Yunnan Coffee Shop
Finally as a coffee lover, it was my mission to try the famous Yunnan Coffee and apparently, was sold all over Dali. From the day I arrived, I was practically yearning for some great local coffee and at most places, it was available. Some great and some bland. Again, this is all based on luck if you ask me.

However, as the coffee taste differs from shop to shop, eventually at the Dali Shopping Street, I managed to chance upon a Yunnan coffee seller who sold all kinds and types of coffee and I ended up buying a few types to take back home apart from some other food souvenirs.

One of the towers that protect the ancient town
Overall, for those wanting a different kind of experience in China, I would highly recommend visiting Dali as this place is absolutely beautiful and rich with traditional culture. Again, you can forget that commercialised image of China as it is not practised here.

I flew to Kunming from Kuala Lumpur with AirAsia before taking an overland bus to Dali which takes about 5 hours. There are internal flights to Dali from Kunming via other airlines for those who want to cut some travel time.

Town Square in Dali
Dali town square
Dali Haidu Hotel
Haidu Hotel, an interesting place to stay here in Dali
As our group stayed at the Haidu Hotel in Dali, it was conveniently located in the old town area making it easy to move around. It is also recommended to spend at least 4-5 days on a minimum here in Dali to fully see the entire place, the countryside, the fishing village and also the visit the Bai community museum. One of the most popular attractions in Dali is also the 3 Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple here in ancient Dali.

When night falls, it is recommended to explore Dali Ancient City and the main shopping street. There is also a Foreigners Street where you can find entertainment in the form of small cosy bars and pubs. A great place to unwind after a long day of walking. 

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