Dali, Yunnan

Woman Resting, Dali, Yunnan, China
Woman Resting, Dali, Yunnan, China

Dali, Yunnan Province:

Yulan (one of my four teachers at Keats School in Kunming – and now a friend) and I travelled by overnight train (on a hard sleeper) to Dali, at the beginning of its Spring season. The capital of the Bai Autonomous Region, Dali is rich and fertile, and full of villages and farmland in the valley that surrounds the banks of the 40 km long Erhai Lake (洱海) (“er” = see; “hai” = lake or sea); the lake is shaped like an ear which is called “er” although the character “er” is written differently: 耳. The Bai heavily populate this area, and their traditions flourish despite the many tourists. There are also many expats who run a number of places in the town, including the guesthouse where we stayed. Older women dress in their traditional blue scarves and jackets. While we were there, the Bai community was celebrating the March Fair, which is held from March 15th to 21st of the lunar calendar, and, we were told, celebrates peace with traditional music, burned incense, and foods offered in sacrifice.

Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Holiday, Dali, Yunnan
Bai Woman, Dali
Bai Woman, Dali

On our first day, we cycled 65 km., exploring the countryside and small villages in the greater Dali area. The local farmers were busy in their fields and children were fishing, with nets in hand and wearing only underwear. In one of these villages we found a lovely couple who makes bing (bread pockets which can be filled with many things, (we tried them with onions).

Man in Village Near Dali
Man in Village Near Dali
Woman in Village Near Dali
Woman in Village Near Dali
Onion Bing, Dali, Yunnan, China
Onion Bing, (in village outside of Dali)

We stayed at a quiet guesthouse, Sleepy Fish, just inside the new east gate of the old town, and awoke to the sound of roosters crowing in the morning. At the start of each day, we went around the corner to eat shao er kuai (roasted rice flour cakes). This is a common Yunnanese dish; a roasted, thin, round, pancake-like er kuai, that is usually brushed with a peanut-sesame sauce and/or chile sauce (tian de / la de –> sweet and spicy), and wrapped around youtiao (deep-fried bread sticks), hotdogs, julliened potatoes, or other ingredients, depending on the vendor.

On day two we walked around the old town, where the main roads are overrun by tourists. Dali is known to have been “discovered” by backpackers and is still inundated with them, as well a new generation of young hippies. On these streets one sees small stores full of artisanal goods (including coffee shops), people doing bead-work on the streets, and others selling mass-produced embroidered fabrics, jewellery, etc. Dali is a town for tourists, but if you can get off the beaten path, you can still catch a glimpse of the daily lives of the people who live here, such as the farmers who sell their produce on the street. People still work their plots in the farmland that borders the old town. Some corners of Dali are real surprises – just by turning onto a side street you can happen upon a wide variety of glorious flowers and trees growing in small courtyards. This reminded Yulan of the poem written by the Song Dynasty Poet Ye Shao Weng’s poem Failure in Visiting the Garden:  “Spring air’s too overfull to be shut in the garden, Over the wall one red apricot-twig had to crane.”Spring in Dali really was in bloom; pear and apricot trees were flowering and outside town golden fields of rapeseed flowers, which bloom annually, were in striking abundance. 

 Dali, Apricot Tree in Bloom


Dali, Apricot Tree in Bloom (photograph courtesy of Hou Yulan)

Fields of Rapeseed (with old town Dali in the background)

Fields of Rapeseed (with old town Dali in the background)

Dali Street Scene

Dali Street Scene

Dali Street Scene, Renmin Lu

Dali Street Scene, Renmin Lu

Dali (Renmin Lu)

Dali Street Scene, Renmin Lu

Dali Alley

Dali Alley

Dali is full of excellent food (both on the street and in restaurants). For lunch on our second day we ate at Zai Hui Shou. Their specialty is lian ji mixian (cold rice noodle w/chicken, greens, peanuts, and a mix of a sweet and spicy sauce) and wan dou lian fen (cold yellow pea doufu – topped with peanuts, green onions, and a similar but slightly different sweet and spicy sauce). Suppertime took us to the four-generation-run restaurant,  Zhen Hua Fandian, where we ate: suan la yu – sour and spicy fish with an extremely flavourful and complicated broth; tang cou pai gu – sweet and sour pork ribs; and cha shou gu – mushroom with hot peppers). The third night in Dali we dined on braised pork, lotus root, and bamboo shoots  – at another highly recommended local restaurant, Xiao Duan Chu Fang. The atmosphere was pleasant in this spacious restaurant and the food was excellent (although more expensive than the two other somewhat simpler restaurants).

Wan Dou Lian Fen (cold yellow pea doufu)

Wan Dou Lian Fen (cold yellow pea doufu)

Accommodation:

Places to Eat:

  • Xiao Duan Chu Fang (Duan’s Kitchen) – 12 Renmin Lu
  • Zhen Hua Fandian – 181 Renmin Lu
  • Zai Hui Shou on Renmin Lu — 135 Renmin Lu

10 thoughts on “Dali, Yunnan

    1. sbandtg Post author

      you will enjoy dali and shaxi –my next post in a few days from now. if you have it in you i highly recommend cycling the countryside. and check out the local yunnan/bai food. well worth it. beware of spice for those of you who cannot take it.

      Reply
  1. s phinney

    My favorite photo was the yellow rapeseed in foreground. Then the musicians with cigs hanging from their mouths. You have a great eye and I feel like I am not a voyager tourist through the eye of your camera. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

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