We’d all look beautiful if we dressed more ‘Chinese’…Dali

From one extreme of Chinese New Year to another. Kunming had been dead…everyone at home with their families, shops and restaurants closed, the streets empty…. Dali was the complete opposite. A film had recently come out called ‘Beijing Love Story’ with a storyline revolving around some young people coming to Dali, absorbing the ‘hippie’ atmosphere of the beautiful town, having a fling and eventually falling in love… And guess what, every other Chinese person wanted in on the action and was in Dali attempting to find love, or at least a one night stand?! Let just say the bars were full!


We managed to find an amazing hostel in the old town called Dragonfly, with the softest beds in China if not all of Asia, it was like sleeping on a cloud! It was the perfect base for exploring the town, and with its slightly tucked away location down an alley, it provided an oasis of calm from the frenzy of the main streets. The Chinese tourists in Dali seemed particularly attracted to the chaos in the town, with people seeming to actively seek out the fullest streets and the largest crowds to jostle and elbow their way through to the noisiest shops, this however meant that if one was to take a few steps off the main tourist streets, you could finds yourself in some the quiet and beautiful alleyways that make Dali a little bit special. We could see now why the western hippie community moved here in the 1980s…. well that and the abundance of wild growing ganja…


The town is also set in exceptional natural beauty, with a snow-capped peak on one side and huge lake to the other, so there were amazing photo opportunities around every corner. Apparently (according to Ryan!) I say this about everywhere but this time it really did look like the Lake District in England. We rented bikes and spent a morning dodging Chinese tourists on their chuckle brother-esque double bikes (complete with striped roof) and tandems as we skirted around the water. It was amazing to see the divide in Chinese culture, with labourers tending their fields by hand next to the flash shiny cars of the wealthy day trippers…


The owner of our hostel, Chris, very kindly decided to take us out into the town and show us some of the best (and less touristy bars) in Dali, including the backyard bar, which was literally in someones back yard. It was as we moved between some of the slightly more well-known establishments that Ella was approached by as lightly tipsy Chinese girl (obviously looking for her true love), telling her that she would be beautiful if she only didn’t dress like such a foreigner but more like her: more Chinese. This backhanded compliment was baffling. Needless to say she was not wearing a traditional Chinese cheongsam but instead trousers, jumper and a tartan scarf…I’m not convinced she saw the irony of her comment and we missed the opportunity to ask, as she was quickly whisked away by her more sober companions.


The rest of our time in Dali was spent not paying the entrance fee to look at the ancient three pagodas (instead walking around the small street on the perimeter), climbing the city gates and eating chicken gravy. A restaurant around the corner from our hostel was run by two Chinese girls who had studied at Manchester University, like us, and we couldn’t help but suspect some of the inspiration for their signature dish must have come  from there! It certainly tasted like it…ChineseMancuian fusion food is definitely the next big culinary thing…


But we had more to see in Yunnan province and so jumped aboard a bus to the town of Lijiang, another old city with even more tourists where we would go on the hunt for tigers!



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