Dali (大理; Dàlǐ) is a city in Yunnan Province in China famous for its old town and handicrafts.


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 15.3 16.7 19.7 22.5 24.8 25.0 24.4 24.3 23.3 21.2 18.1 15.8
Nightly lows (°C) 2.2 3.9 6.7 9.5 13.1 16.4 16.7 15.8 14.4 11.6 6.8 2.8
Precipitation (mm) 20.4 28.1 41.6 24.8 61.9 164.5 185.6 209.1 167.6 96.2 40.7 10.8


Dali is a popular tourist destination for domestic Chinese tourists, one of the string of towns described in Yunnan tourist trail leading up to the beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is a medium-sized city of 650,000 but its tourist draw is the "Old Town." Like many Chinese tourist destinations, the old town, which has architecture that dates back to the Ming dynasty, has been extensively renovated, rebuilt and modernized, including newly constructed city walls and gates. You can still see the remnants of the old wall in the form of long mounds that surround the old city, but Dali is no longer a walled city by any means. The old town section of Dali is sandwiched between two multi-lane highways. While it lacks the authentic rustic charm of other old Chinese cities (e.g. Pingyao or even Lijiang) and much of the old town has been renovated and is devoted to tacky knick-knack stores for Chinese tourists, it does sit in the shadow of a beautiful mountain range, the Cangshan and is close to the large Erhai lake. There is an expensive cable car (90 Yuan) that you can take to reach the top and there are some hiking paths that offer beautiful views of Lake Erhai.

But do not expect to find a small ancient city in the beautiful mountains of Yunnan. This is not what you will get. Dali is very spread-out and it takes almost an hour by bus #8 to get form the train station in the modern part of town to the old town. The rest of Dali is filled with modern buildings, 20 story residential towers, even a Wal Mart. You can also see factories belching emissions on the other side of Lake Erhai.


In 738 the Nanzhao Kingdom was established; the original capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom was located in Weishan (within Dali Prefecture) and later moved to sites around Erhai Lake. The territory conquered was quite substantial; covered a large area of Yunnan and northern Burma, and parts of what are now Sichuan and Guizhou. The kingdom survived almost 200 years and had 13 kings before collapsing. After several decades of chaos the Kingdom of Dali emerged in 937.

The Kingdom of Dali established by Duan Siping in 937 was controlled by the Duan clan and survived until conquered by the Mongols about 300 years later. The Kingdom retained a close alliance with the Tang Dynasty, and was one of the major transit points for the introduction of Buddhism throughout the rest of China. By 1000, Dali was one of the 13 largest cities in the world.

The rulers of the original Nanzhao Kingdom were probably precursors to the modern Yi peoples, while the Kingdom of Dali rulers were precursors to the modern Bai minority.

Many local people in Dali have the surname Duan to this day (rare in other parts of China). These historical events are immortalised in the Martial Arts literature of Hong Kong author Jin Yong (read by every Chinese school kid), giving Dali a fame nationwide. Both the Nanzhao Kingdom and the Kingdom of Dali had a military alliance with the Tang Dynasty against the aggressive Turfan (Tibetan) Empire which made regular and aggressive incursions into their respective territories.

A huge memorial stele to the Pacification of Kingdom of Dali was built during the Ming Dynasty and remains standing at the end of Sanyue Street past the city's West Gate. Entrance is free. The Mongols destroyed the old capital and palace of the Kingdom of Dali, located just to the south of the Three Pagodas. Almost all records of both the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms were burnt or destroyed, leaving much unknown about these periods. In addition, the Mongols brutally displaced many of the inhabitants of the prefecture, with the result that Bai minority people were forced as far east as Hunan Province. Many ethnic Han also moved into the Kunming area during this period.

The old Dali City was rebuilt in the early 1400s by the Ming Dynasty. What you see in Dali Old Town today is the rebuilt Ming town. Since then, the fortunes of Dali have declined and its importance as a cultural and economic centre in the Yunnan area have been overtaken by Kunming, the provincial capital.

1856-1872 Dali was the headquarters of the Panthay Rebellion led by Du Wenxiu. That rebellion commenced as an uprising against local oppressive rulers by the Hui Muslim minority and ended as open rebellion against the Qing Dynasty. The Palace of Du Wenxiu is on Fuxing Road and serves as the local museum (the museum exhibition on the rebellion paints it as a patriot workers revolt which it was not). The rebellion was brutally crushed by the Qing and hundreds of thousands of Yunnan Muslims were killed in revenge.

Get in

By bus

Buses from Kunming West Bus Station take about 4,5 hours and cost 100 yuan for an ordinary bus and around 130 yuan for an express luxury bus, and will bring you to Xiaguan (Dali New City). Some buses go to Dali, too, so check with the driver. In Xiaguan, there are three different bus stations, to reach the train station, go east along Jianshe Lu and Dianyuan Lu. From Xiaguan Train Station (in Dali New Town) you can take bus 8 and bus 4 (1.5 yuan, 45 minutes approx. 18 km) to Dali Old Town 13 km to the north (Bus 4 also runs through the town). It's also possible to catch a white mini-bus on Jianshe Lu that run between Xiaguan and Dali, there's usually a white sign displayed inside the front wind shield that reads (大理<->下关) in Chinese. The cost for the mini-bus is 3 yuan per person. Taxi fare between Xiaguan and Dali should be around 40 yuan.

If the expressway is closed or under construction the bus may opt for the more scenic route akin to the notorious "road of death" in Bolivia, though paved.

Buses coming south from Lijiang are about 60-80 yuan and stop outside the old town, from where it is possible to get a taxi or walk to the main guesthouses. You can save about 20 yuan on the Lijiang bus by simply hailing one on the highway east of the old town.

There is a bus service to Xiaguan from Jinghong, Xishuangbanna prefecture, which has buses running at 17:00 and 21:30, possibly earlier too. The ticket price was 195 yuan and the journey was about 17 hours. The bus used on this route is a sleeper bus so you get a fairly comfortably bed and a blanket. This service may be useful for people who have arrived in China from northern Laos, e.g. Luang Namtha.

By train

There are several night trains from Kunming to Dali Train Station (in Dali New City) leaving 8PM-11PM, and arriving from six to eight hours later. The cost is ¥105 for a night trains sleeper bunk, and ¥31 for day trains hard seat. Bus 8 to the old town leaves regularly for ¥1.5 from just outside the station, terminating at the West Gate. There are currently also 2 trains daily from Lijiang to Dali and back. The ride takes nearly 2 hours. Cost is 30¥ for hard seat. The train actually only has hard sleeper cars, but you are not allowed to lay down.

By plane

Dali has an airport located to the east of Dali New City, about 45 minutes drive to Dali old town. There are no airport busses. Taxis are waiting but cannot always be trusted to take you to the guesthouse/hotel you want to go to as they get commission at a lot of hotels. Better book an airport pick-up with the hotel you booked. Flights from/to Kunming: only morning flights at the moment (Nov, 2009). Depending on the time of year you can get discounted tickets (around 400 yuan one way Dali-Kunming) but you will need to book well ahead. Full price is 750 yuan (680 + 70 airport tax, nov 2009). From major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) it is possible to book a flight to Dali but always with a stopover in Kunming. Best discounts apply to tickets booked 15 days+ in advance.

Alternatively, you can go to Kunming Wujiaba International Airport by plane. It is located in the southeast of Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan Province. (It is one of the most important and the busiest international airports of China.) You can then take the Airport Shuttle bus from Kunming airport. They operate 6:30-22:00 (Beijing time).

Get around

Dali Old Town is small enough to get around on foot, and being laid out in a grid format it is relatively easy to navigate. The major landmarks are the South and North Gates with Fuxing Road running between them, and Yangren Street (Westerner's Street) lined with cafés and tourist shops. City maps are readily available for around ¥5 but tend not to follow the usual north-at-the-top standard because the natural orientation of someone in Dali is to look towards the huge looming Cangs Mountain which runs north-south next to the city. As you look at the mountains and face west, the lake is at your back, or east. This method of orientation makes even more sense when you realize that the entire town gently slopes from the mountains to the lake, making those two landmarks a natural way to find your bearings.

Bikes are also available at many guesthouses and rental huts around town and cost ¥5-40 per day. Bikes vary greatly in quality so shop around for the best deal. The Chinese brands Merida and Giant are among the better ones to consider.

Taxis in Dali Old Town generally cost ¥5 for under 3 km (though most drivers will ask for ¥10). For other locations outside the old town, all prices are negotiable. A taxi to Dali New City will cost around ¥40.

In addition to the Old Town, Dali is a Prefecture of over 10,000 km2. A whole range of destinations exist within the Prefecture that are perfect for the adventurous traveller. All are relatively easily accessible from either Dali Old Town or Dali New City, the major city 13 km to the south. A lot of useful information is available from the cafes within the old town on day trips around the prefecture.

By bus

Xiaguan Northern Bus Station

Destinantion Price (¥) Departures (HH:MM) Duration (HH:MM) Lunch-Stop Last Update
Jianchuan 26.00 Every 15-30 mins from 6:20AM to 6:50PM. 3:00 approx. No 18 March 2010


Cangshan Mountains

There are two accessible "peaks" of mountain you can choose: First, the 2500m altitude that hosts Gantong Temple, Zhongho Temple and "Cloud Traveler's Path" that lies between the two temples. To reach here, you have options of: taking a cable car from the city (near Guan Yin Temple) to get to Gantong Temple; or ride a horse to Zhongho Temple from Dali Tianlongbabu TV City; or walk up (1.5 hours) to the somewhat middle of Cloud Traveler's path from Dali Tianlongbabu TV City; or ride a horse or walk up (1,5 hours) to Zhongho temple from the city (from the gate across Ren Min Lu street).

Second, the 3700m altitude that hosts Horse Washing Pool. To reach here, you can use the new cablecar from Dali Tianlongbabu TV City OR use cable car in direction of Gantong Temple and walk the Cloud Traveler's Path for around 3 km until you find a chairlift service and then take chairlift to Horse Washing Pool.

As the cablecar to get to Horse Washing Pond is really pricey (285 Yuan for return as of January 2014), the most economical (yet still fascinating) hike to the mountain is to hike to and walk the Cloud Traveler's Path with the following route options:

Entrance to the Mountain Park costs ¥30 and the cable car from/to Gantong Temple: ¥80 round trip or ¥50 one way. A taxi to/from Gantong temple (about 8 km South of the old town) is ¥30. If you are particularly dedicated, you can gain an access (also ¥30) to the mountain by taking a longer route behind the One Pagoda (follow the stone road) and up the stairway behind the Dali Tianlongbabu TV City.

Other sights

Dali's famous Three Pagodas


Rock Climbing in Dali

The cost of the run is ¥20 which includes all you can drink. ¥60 for run, beer, and an all you can eat BBQ at the Dali Hump. Open to all nationalities and drinking orientations.


As ever, be prepared to bargain when shopping in Dali. See Yangshuo#Tourist stuff for advice on prices in Chinese tourist towns.

Dali has a number of famous local products.


In the old town, Western food is widely available and cheap. For a traditional Chinese meal served catering for four people along with beer expect to pay ¥80. Western meals average around ¥25, including a bottle of the local beer. Breakfast prix fixe menus are served everywhere and average around ¥25 including coffee.

Fruit stands and corner stores abound. Try to get a feel for prices before buying if you want to avoid paying exorbitant prices. You can buy apples for ¥1-2/shijin (a half kilo), a bottle of water for ¥1.5 and noodles/dumplings for ¥4/plate.






Dali Wall Hump Garden (驼峰厨房-点苍虹鳟). 53 Hong Long Jing. At the top of Hong Long Jing (waterfall street), right before the Hong Long Jing gate on the right. This newly opened restaurant specializing in Rainbow trout is set in a beautiful garden built over the remains of the original Dali wall. Dali's rainbow trout is considered the best in China, and spring water carried down from the mountains is used for every step of the cooking process. This is sure be one of your best dinning experiences in China.


A 500 ml bottle of Dali Beer will cost you around ¥10-12 in a bar and about ¥4-5 from a grocer. A large selection of beer is on offer but some are coloured green and require an acquired taste. But for the price, there is no excuse not to sample the lot.


Dali has some of the cheapest accommodation options available in all China. Lots of accommodation to chose from. Expect to pay ¥15-30 for a dorm bed, ¥40 and above for rooms, ¥60-300 for a double room with private shower and toilet.




Bus #19. double w/ bathroom from ¥80.



Stay safe

There are a few scams and petty crime targeting tourists in Dali. Watch your belongings carefully to protect from pickpockets and theft, though perhaps the major risk you take if staying in cheap accommodation is theft by other foreign travellers. Overall Dali is a very safe place with little crime directed at tourists.

If you are planning to hike up the Cang mountains, travel in a group both to protect yourself from robbery and as back up in case of accident. Stay on the paths and don't take any risks climbing no matter how experienced you are, as fatal accidents do happen!

Drugs disguised as strange artifacts are usually sold by women in traditional Bai costume, who will then lead you to their homes. Marijuana was widespread in Dali's foreign bars before 2009, when police crackdowns and arrests forced the smokers back into the alleys and guesthouses. It is still widespread, of course, but it is no longer tolerated in public. It is not uncommon to see marijuana growing in the wild. Women may also offer you "opium," though it is just worthless garbage, possibly sesame oil pressed with some unknown substance. While it is no longer easy to purchase marijuana in Dali, it can still easily be obtained from trail vendors in Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Don't get your shoes fixed by men approaching you on the corner of Fu Xing Rd and Foreigner St. Even if a price is agreed, they will add a couple of extra stitches and charge ridiculously inflated prices (¥200-300). You're in a difficult position to argue because they have your shoes! Just go to a regular established shoe shop (there are several towards the East end of Renmin Rd) where you can get your shoes repaired well for less than ¥10.

Go next

Most of the hostels and travel agents can organise bus tickets anywhere in Yunnan. They can also arrange flights farther afield.

Many travelers from Kunming continue on from Dali to Lijiang. Consider taking the smaller bus through the mountains toward Jianchuan (can be picked up at the main bus station in Xiaguan - "New" Dali City). Get off the bus at the fork in the road in the village of Diannan (about 8 km south of Jianchuan). Get into a minibus and visit the Old Southern Silk Road town of Shaxi. The town has been well preserved and still holds much of its traditional character. The valley around it is littered with Qing and Ming Dynasty homes, bridges, theatres and temples. It is also the main jumping off point to visit the beautiful grottos at Shibaoshan. After your visit to Shaxi it is easy to continue your journey. A minibus from Shaxi or Shibaoshan can take you to the main bus station in Jianchuan. From there it is easy to get a bus on to Lijiang.

There is also a sleeper service to Shangrila, coming from Xiaguan, and passing Dali at 20:30h (¥120). However, it fills up quickly and can only be booked at a few agencies in Foreigners road (as of Oct 2009)

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