Dali     大理

Offering a well-preserved old town, stunning natural scenery, and an array of western restaurants and bars, Dali has long been a backpacker favorite. The old town, with its Ming Dynasty architecture and partial city walls, is wonderfully atmospheric. And the immense mass of Cangshan Mountain just west of the town provides the most dramatic of backdrops. It’s easy to be charmed by this exceedingly photogenic town.

The other main drawcard of the Dali is its strong backpacker focus. One section of the old town is filled with establishments catering to the western market. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars to choose from, but the area is small enough that it doesn’t impact on the character of the old town. And due to its compact nature there is a strong travelers community: it’s a great place to meet other backpackers.

But because this backpacker community is a key ingredient of the town’s appeal, higher-end travelers might not be as enamored with Dali as budget travelers invariably are. Another negative is the severe gouging of tourists. The powers that be have set up Dali to attract the big money: Chinese tour groups. As a result, doing things independently, and for a reasonable price, has become increasingly difficult.

But although places like the nearby Erhai Lake have practically had the life sucked out of them, there is so much beauty in the Dali region that there are always new attractions gaining prominence. Hiking the beautiful Cangshan Mountain and exploring nearby villages are undeniable pleasures. And the ambience of the picturesque old town remains the major attraction of Dali.

Who should travel to Dali?

Dali is principally a backpacker destination. Other tourists would do better to skip it in favor of Lijiang. Though the old town is picturesque and Cangshan offers some great hiking opportunities, Dali probably won’t do a whole lot for you unless you’re immersed in the backpacker scene.

How long is needed to see Dali?

Two days is enough to ‘see’ Dali. But the reason most people come here is to chill out for a while and therefore most visitors will stay longer. Certainly there is plenty in the area to keep you occupied for several days.