In the river basin of the Erhai lake (5th largest in China), Dali dates back to the beginning of UNESCO status... when everything got swapped out for factory-made handicraft huts and the Han people moved in to sell barbeque food on sticks.
Not that I like to cut places apart – but Dali is essentially an historical town, stripped back to quaint streams and aligned pagodas and then filled with sticky tourist traps. The flip side is that the tourists themselves offer enough of a sight – herding around the old guy dressed in a samurai outfit and the aerial view of the city from one of the gate’s parapets... and lining up to take their photo with the white people.
At night Dali really comes alive. The cobbled streets are lined with venues to cater for all tastes: here a late night stool-&-table restaurant for MahJong; there a live music spot for the foreigners and over there – a sticky-floor boozer for the English. It really works in a bohemian way and it’s worth the trip to wander around and soak it all in.
Above Dali is the Cangshan mountain where an 11km paved path links a gondola (German made – phew) and a chairlift (hold your breath as it plays communist anthems). The views are superb looking down on Dali and the lake as it wraps around the mountainside. We didn’t soak the vista in as we were running the path in training gear – counting instead the number of shocked tourists scrambling for their cameras.