Free Things to Do in Dali

Dali, a city in the central part of Yunnan Province, is a Bai Autonomous Prefecture. Its altitude is 2,090 meters. It is famous for its beautiful natural scenery, well-kept Bai minority customs and culture. Among all of the fantastic attractions in Dali, the Erhai Lake, the Three Pagodas of Chong sheng Temple and the Butterfly Spring are the most well noted ones, and they need entrance fees. If you want to save money, below are some recommended free things to do in Dali.

Dali Ancient Town

Dali Ancient Town, also named Yeyu and Zicheng, is located atthe foot of Cangshan Mountain.

It was built in 1382 in the Ming Dynasty. Compared with Lijiang Old Town, it is not asbig, but it is quieter and less touristy.

The residents there,no matter whether they are rich or poor, all raise flowers and plants in their courtyards. It is said that every family in Dali is close to water, and every courtyard has flowers.

There is a main street which stretches from the south to the north. On both sides of the street, there are different stores selling embroidered handbags, jade jewelry, tea clumps, rose petal pastries, yak bone combsand cheap silverware. There are also a great variety of local snacks for you to sample.

Dali Ancient Town is not far away from the downtown Xiaguan area. You can get there in ten minutes by bus. If you take a small pony carriage, you are recommendedto negotiate the price with the owner in advance. If you want to spend one night there, there are lots of traditional Bai minority hotels for you to experience, with reasonable prices. 

Transportation: You can take bus 8 or 4 to get there.

Tips: Most holidays and festivals of the Bai minority people are in March and April. If you visitthere duringthis period of time, you will have the chance to experience more of their unique customs and cultures.

Xizhou Town

It is a small ancient town straddled between Cang Mountain and Erhai Lake. It is about 30 minutes' drive from the hustle and bustle of Dali Ancient Town.

Compared to Dali Ancient Town, Xizhou is tiny without the usual tourist crowds.The Bai architectural houses are still intact. Life is simple and slow there.You will love the beautiful Bai ethnic homes, the endless rice fields, and the tour of the idyllic countryside inthe horse drawn carriage.

The "Baba" is a must try snack there. It is a popular local pancake which is availablein sweet and savory flavors. The best "Baba" shop is located in the tiny hole-in-the-wall shop inthe old town squarethe only "Baba" shop on the square.

Xizhou is small. Most of the town and countryside can be visited bybike. It would be a nice and memorable experience if you cycled around the town and the farms. The local people are very friendly and hospitable.

Location: atthe foot of Cang Mountain, 20 kilometers north of Dali Ancient Town.

Dali Foreigner Street

It is a foreigners' street located in the center of Dali Ancient Town. It caters to tourism with lots of small shopsand cafes for foreigners with cappuccinos, beer and souvenirs. The street is pretty with its old buildings. It is a good place to eat, drink and see different people passing by. However,there could be some Chinesepeople who are justvisitingthe street to look at the foreigners. You may feel uncomfortable if you are not used to it.

Go there at different times of the day asthe character completely changes.

Taihe Town Ruins, Nanzhao

It is located atthe foot of the Crane Peak in Taihexi Village, Qiliqiao Town, Dali. It was a city on the mountainside. Only the south and north city walls are left there nowadays. The city wallswere built with earth rammers. The north wall is 3 meters higher than the ground, with a thickness of 5 meters.

Zhoucheng Village

It is located 23 kilometers north of Dali Ancient Town. There are over 1,500 Bai minority families. It is the biggest Bai minority village in Dali. They have retained the traditional Baiminority customs and culture. It is regarded as the "Living Fossil" of the Bai minority culture.

The place is nice. There are many small, family-owned tie-dyeing factories.If you areinterested, the hospitable locals will show you around the factories. You can see the large boiling pots where they actually dye the fabrics whichareinteresting to watch.

Aside from the dyeing factories, there is a food market in the main square. The Baba there is very popular.

Tip:It is recommendedthat you combine a visit there with a visit to Xizhou.

Go to the Shaping Fair

It is a market which is very rich in colors and local flavors. Almost all of the older folks are dressed in their traditional Bai clothes and they mainly sell food. Some of them can even speak a little English. It is very interesting to watch the locals atthe fair selling and buying things.

If you buy something, some of them will even agree to get photographed with you, for free.

Note: This is only a weekly market which takes place on Mondays so make sure to plan your trip so that you won't miss it.

Location: It is located in Shangguan Town, on the common border of Xizhou and Shangguan Town. It is also the source of Erhai Lake, 5 kilometers north of the Butterfly Spring.

How to Plan a Dali Tour

Usually it requiresfourdays for an essence of Dali tour, including the arrivaland departure days. This duration enables completion of the main attractions in Dali, such as a cruise on Erhai Lake, the houses of the Bai people in Xizhou, the scenery of Cangshan Mountain, Zhoucheng's elaborate batik crafts, Dali Ancient Town, a local morning market and the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple.

If you have 5-6 days, you can extend your tour to the nearby city of Lijiang.

If you have 7-10 days, you can explore the essence of Yunnan Province: Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La.

Please see our Dali tours here: http://www.chinahighlights.com/dali/tours.htm

Questions and Answers About Free Things to Do in Dali

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Hi, I'm Michael Yang
I updated this article on January 19, 2014
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