Aaaah Dali, Dali, Dali, Dali......what a beautiful, different, quaint little town in the middle of nowhere. Imagine this: a fairly small walled off town, each side of the wall having a stunning ornate Chinese gate/pagoda in order to enter the 'Old Town'. We were based around the South Gate in a great hostel called Friends Guesthouse where we managed to get an empty 8 bed dorm for just the two of us for ¥20 (about £1.85) each. The weather is spectacular, sunny, blue skies and hot in the day and a little bit cool at night.
The Old Town is spectacular and just what you'd imagine a tiny Chinese town to look like with small canals running down the side of every cobbled street, shadowed by the long leaved, bright green willow trees that lined them. There are minature ponds everywhere with colourful lily pads floating on top and perhaps a pagoda in the middle to sit and relax in. The streets of Dali are filled with fruit vendors selling cherries, blackberries, mini melons or strawberries, vegetable vendors with cuumbers, tomatoes and cabbages that they are constantly hosing down so the food always looks fresh and inviting. We also saw plenty of locals selling BBQ'd pancake rolls, flattened rice cakes, candy floss or the amazingly ornate spun sugar on a stick that was made into various animal shapes, we bought a bird. Then you have the shops themselves which are almost blindingly colourful and full of handmade pashminas, silk scarves, dresses, earrings, bracelets, tea, dried fruit and local marble and jade. The shops seem to be constantly open and the young silver smiths are sat out in the streets still hammering away at bits of the precious metal while sat with their mates late into the night, creating masterpieces to be sold the following day.
It is a buzzing little town, packed full of tourists, mostly from other Chinese provinces. We were stopped more than once and asked if we minded having our photo taken with a group of Chinese guys and girls......not sure they'd seen many westerners before. One guy even jumped in a picture Adds was taking of me and put his arm around me whilst giggling histerically. They all seem to stare, giggle and stare, it was quite annoying at first but we're getting used to it.
We met three Israeli girls who seem to be doing the same route in China as us, they went to visit a Kung Fu temple and ended up signing up for a week of training, this meant them doing intense exercise and training every day, getting up at 5am to pray, having small basic meals and quitting smoking (not sure how they'll manage as they smoked like chimneys). We were tempted to sign up as it's £30 for a week all inclusive but I wouldn't be able to take part in much due to the rib :( boo!
We spent two days wandering inside the walls and round the perimeter, looking in shops, meeting lovely cute locals, walking up pagodas etc etc until we'd exhausted all there was to do. The third day we hired mountain bikes for £2 each (and we'd been ripped off at that can you believe, the sign said £1.50). We cycled out of the Old Town and down towards Erhai Lake, the 7th largest freshwater lake in China and 250km squared in size......i.e HUGE! We cycled through thousands of fields, rice paddies and tiny lakeside villages on roads which can only be described as stretches of rubble or in the worst cases, rocks. The lake was beautiful, unfortunately we didn't cross on the ferry as planned as they tried to charge us the equivalent of £18 each for a 20 minute ride which is crazy, it used to be about £2! Either way, we got to see the lake and spent time sitting at the end of long deserted piers or by the side of the road watching people wash their clothes in the water. The locals were really really friendly and we got lots of gap toothed grins from the old ones, inquisitive smiles from the adults and when we passed a school during hometime we were surrounded with mini humans screaming at us and practising their English, which consisted of a simple "hello", so cute. We cycled for five hours all in all and on the way home decided to visit the 'Three Pagodas', really cool to look against the dramatic mountain backdrop, although we'd been warned not to go in as it's another rip off tourist trap as you can't touch or go in the pagodas. Anyway, on the way there we attempted to take a short cut which involved us taking a 45 minute detour through a huge field split into hundreds of vegetable or plant patches.....we had to carry our bikes around and navigate paths that were no more than 30cm wide with fairly steep drops either side which could have involved us landing in someones corriander or cucumbers!!!! We made it in the end.
The food in the restaurants hasn't been that amazing, we tried some deep fried local goats cheese with chilli dipping powder, it was ok but just tasted like halloumi. Adds was quite adventurous and ordered a fish hot pot, a local speciality, as the fish is from Erhai Lake. The hot pot is filled with loads of veg , sauce and two whole fish, eyes, bones n all. It was s***! Like bathwater bleugh!
We decided we'd done all we came to do after three days and booked a minibus to Lijiang for the next morning.
Next time......Lijiang......or is it?!?!?!?!