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Search for Charm in Kunming and Dali, Yunnan

More Adventure travel tales in China:
Great Wall of China
Modern Beijing
Terracotta Warriors
Yangtze River trip
Other Asian Tales:
Angkor Wat temples
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Sapa Valley, Vietnam
Kuching, Malaysia
Luang Prabang, Laos
Tana Toraja, Indonesia

Streets of Dali with the mountains in the background
Dali, Yunnan, is supposed to be the most charming village in South China, near the mountains and lake Erhan. Unfortunately we only have a week until our visa expires. No time to visit all of Yunnans tropical rainforests, mountains, lakes, diverse cultures, and beautiful villages. We have to restrict ourselves to Kunming, Yunnans capital, and Dali.

The Sleeper bus

The sleeper bus from Guilin to Kunming features three rows of beds with two aisles in between. Every bed has a quilt and a pillow, and the luggage can be stored under the bed. The beds are half a meter wide and 1.70 meters long, so we have to sit up right to stretch our legs.

We choose the sleeper bus since it would be faster than the train: 22 hours instead of 36. But even before we leave, we have our doubts. The bus isn’t full and the driver is trying his best to get more passengers. Not only do we leave an hour late, we also make long detours to pick up as many people as possible.

The road winds itself through the hills, offering nice views of the surroundings. We also pass several villages where locals are coming from the cattle market with their ox and carriage. On the downside we are stuck several times in traffic jams, caused by severe accidents with trucks in the mountains.

The bus stops frequently for sanitarian and culinary breaks. These words are much to fancy, though, for the latrines we have to pee in and the food we are offered.

Tips for Yunnan

Thinking about traveling tips for Yunnan, we can only think of one important thing. Take enough time to visit this beautiful region. Do not waste your time in Kunming, but move on to Dali. From there, go on to Lijiang, we still regret we didn’t have the time to do that. Then, proceed to Zhongdian, close to the provincial border with Tibet. And if you do not proceed to Tibet, explore other places in Yunnan, too.

We just accept it and hope for a quick arrival. But when Sabine hurts her leg because of a sudden stop of the bus, we decide never to take a sleeper bus again.

Finally, after 30 long hours we arrive at 9.30 PM in Kunming. Quickly we find a hotel, relief ourselves sanitarily and culinary and go to bed.

On to Dali

We decide to directly move on to Dali the next morning. This bus ride takes 5.5 hours, including a change of buses in the ugly town of Xiaguan. In Dali we find a nice hotel with beautiful garden. After checking in we treat ourselves to a beer, relax and enjoy the laid back atmosphere.

Dali is a backpackers village like Yangshuo. But other than Yangshuo, this village also attracts many Chinese tourists. Besides the backpackers street Dali also features some large, modern streets where hordes of Chinese tourists pass by. The old, charming center is almost completely renewed. Even the old city walls and gates are pimped with lights. It all looks a bit kitsch to us. Dali is transforming in a mass tourist attraction in a short time.

The following morning we are heading for the mountain edge on which Dali is situated. On our way there, we pass the local market. Several local minority people are trading their wares. The market is located on a street with traditional wooden houses. Strangely, we see no tourists in this well preserved part of Dali.

At the base of the mountains, a cable lift can take us to the top. But it’s also possible to climb the steep ascend, so we split up. From the cable lift, Sabine sees Patrick climbing below. The paths going up lead along acres and cemeteries, but that’s no reason to get distracted. On the last, steepest part, Patrick is determined to catch up with a group of Chinese ahead. He succeeds, but is exhausted as he reaches the top. Sabine is waiting at the temple with a terrible cup of tea. Oh well, at least there is a good view over Dali and the lake behind it.

From the temple a path leads along the mountainside, passing streams and small waterfalls. A great quiet walk, although that might be different in high season. When we get back to the temple we decide to descend together. At first, we are following a good path, but it leads to far from our preferred route. Eventually we arrive via the rice paddies at some kind of construction site. As we need people to show us the way back, we realize that we probably took a path followed by nobody before, again…

The Ear-shaped Lake

Fishing with cormorants on lake ErhaiOur last day in Dali we walk to lake Erhai, aka the ear shaped lake. We are past by several horse-and-carriages offering us a ride, but we prefer to walk. When we finally reach the lake, there is no possibility to follow its banks. We can choose between a touristy boat trip, or a walk back to Dali. Together with a british couple, arriving by bike, we negotiate a fair price and take the boat trip.

It’s pretty cold on the lake, but the view over the lake to the snowy mountains is great. On our way, we see a local fishing boat, using a strange fishing technique. Different cormorants with rings around their necks are diving for fish. When they arrive at the surface, they are pulled inside the boat to cough up their fish, and thrown back in the lake again.

On the other side of the lake we pay a visit to a temple complex. The buildings serve both as souvenir booth and temple, which is possible since most tourists here are religious Chinese anyway.

A nice cup of tea

After visiting the temples, the boat moves on to Jinshuo island. As soon as we set foot on the island, we are surrounded by locals offering us all kinds of stuff, and trying to lead us to little private temples. But we prefer to walk the narrow streets, in search for refreshment. When we finally find a teahouse, they immediately start some kind of act. We try to indicate that we want a menu, but they insist on performing a ritual first, which ends in offering us a cup of tea.

Woman on Jinshuo islandAlthough we do not like green tea, we are polite enough to sip from it. But then we really would like a menu. Instead, we are offered a second cup, which we decline as well after a small sip. As this ritual repeats for a third time, we understand that we will not get to order our own preferred drinks here. As we ask for the check, the trouble starts. They ask a ridiculous amount for three tiny cups of disgusting tea we didn’t even ordered. So we pay a small amount instead and try to leave. But then half of the island’s population gets angry and follows us to the boat. When we get on board, they hesitate, but after a while, they come on board to. With our captain in between, the case gets settled by us paying another small amount. But we conclude that tourism has introduced greed here, which does no good to the hospitality.

The boat trip back is great. The wind is in our backs now, and the sun warms us nicely, with the beautiful view in front of us. Back ashore, we take a horse and carriage back to Dali, where we walk the streets and enjoy a beer in the sun.

Old or new charm in Kunming

Back in Kunming, we try to find the supposed charm of the capital of Yunnan. As other big Chinese cities, Kunming is rapidly built up with modern skyscrapers and other big buildings. Still, according to our travel guide there is supposed to be some old charm somewhere. We search and search, but cannot find it. Instead, we find some modern charm in a park along a canal. We ask ourselves: is the old charm is gone or are we just not searching well enough?

The next day, we try again. But at first, again with no success. As we meet an older American couple, the give us directions to a muslim street with foodstalls in a charming atmosphere. And as we search further we find another market (selling huge frogs, among other things). Then, suddenly, we are in between the two pagodas described in our guide. But, the one that was supposed to be damaged, is now completely restored. And there is a complete new street built in traditional style, and a brand new, traditional temple. People are determined to rebuild the old charm that they are destroying elsewhere. At least it’s more than nothing…

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