Dali Old Town

With Dali’s major drawcards being monopolized and priced beyond their worth, soaking up the atmosphere of the Old Town is the best part of a visit to Dali. Of course, this was always the main attraction. The quaint charm of this well-preserved town with its dramatic mountain backdrop, stone-paved streets and traditional Bai homes is guaranteed to impress. The backpacker area of town near the west gate has been westernized with cafes, bars and guesthouses, while the main street, Fuxing Lu, has been Han-ified for the Chinese tour group crowd. But there are still large parts of the town that retain an intoxicating old-world vibe. And wandering the back alleys you will see locals still living a typical village existence.

Although Dali Prefecture was the capital of the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms (approx 737-1253), the old town as it appears today is a creation of the early Ming Dynasty (late 14th Century). While city walls no longer enclose the town completely, there are restored stretches of wall to admire. The south gate can be climbed for a good overview of the town. It’s also worth seeking out the north reservoir, a more secluded part of the town that is encompassed by small farms and provides lovely mountain vistas.