Travelling to Dali from Kunming: A Practical Guide

Travelling to Dali from Kunming: A Practical Guide
By Caitlin Dwyer , eChinacities.com

Many Yunnan travellers encounter a problem: how exactly do you get to Dali?  Tucked between the mist-shrouded Cangshan and the flat expanse of Erhai Lake, Dali feels remote. But it’s surprisingly easy to catch a bus, train or car from Kunming. A weekend trip from Yunnan’s capital, Dali is a jumping-off point to further explorations in the north.

Reports of over-exposure may have jaded some to Dali’s charms; but the truth is this beautiful little city still has a lot to offer. Waterfalls trickle down the centre of the streets, reconstructed remains of an ancient water system. Smoke rises from fields, filling the cold mountain air with an acrid tang. Cobbled back alleys are full of Bai architecture: white houses with grey tiled roofs and flowers painted under the eaves. Here are some practical tips for travellers to Dali.

Transportation

Two trains leave daily from Kunming, one at 8:30am and a night train departing at 23:00.   The morning train has only seats available, starting at 50 RMB; the overnight train offers sleepers beginning at 89 RMB. The trip takes around eight hours.

The Kunming train station is located on congested Beijing Lu. Tickets can be purchased there or at one of many travel agencies and ticket vendors scattered around the city. The West Bus Station has routes to Dali; buses depart frequently throughout the day.

Although the ticket may say Dali, most trains and long-distance buses actually arrive in Xiaguan (下关). Adjacent to Dali, this modern city serves as a transport hub. A 40 minute taxi ride takes you to the old city; ask for Dali Gucheng (大理古城).  Local bus #8 goes directly from the train station to Dali’s west gate.

It is also possible to hire a driver from Kunming to Dali. Having a connection with local Kunming folk is generally necessary to put out the proper inquiries. In most cases, a local car owner will provide transport to and from the city. Standard rates run between 500-1000 RMB each way, depending on your bargaining and guanxi with the driver. The drive takes around four hours.

A return trip from Dali to Kunming is easily arranged through one of the many travel agencies in town. Trains depart twice daily from Xiaguan, one at 8:15 and one at 21:15, bound for Kunming. The prices are comparable to those quoted above. Most guesthouses can also arrange transport, as well as onward travel to Lijiang, Shangri-La and other popular destinations.

Kunming West Bus Terminal 西部汽车客运站 View In Map
Add: Kunzhou Road, Xishan, Kunming.  The station is at the intersection of Chunyu Lu and Yining Lu
地址: 昆明春雨路与益宁路交叉口东北侧
Getting there: Bus Nos. 54, 80 and 101 run to the station. Taxi drivers may know the station by the name 马街客运站 (mǎ jiē kèyùn zhàn)

Kunming Train Station 昆明站View In Map
Add: At the southernmost end of Beijing Lu, Kunming
地址: 昆明北京路的南端
Getting there: Many buses go by the station, including Nos. 2, 23, 58, 59, 83, 160 and K1.

Sights

1) The Three PagodasView In Map
The Three Pagodas are probably Dali’s most prominent sight. Rising like some strange prickled creatures from the hillside, they attract a great many busloads of tourists. Visitors can stroll the gardens at the base of the pagodas, and climb upwards through the Chongsheng Temple. The Temple has a clean, pleasant atmosphere, although most of the buildings were built within the last ten years.

Add: Three Pagodas Road, Dali
地址: 大理三塔路
Price: 126 RMB
Getting There: A taxi from Dali Old Town should cost under 10 RMB.  Hardy walkers can head north along 214 National Road (214 Guo Dao) until reaching the temple complex.  It will be well-marked and obvious by the tour buses entering the area.

2) Hiking on Cangshan
A gondola runs up Cangshan, leading to hiking on the mountain. Set into the slope, the Zhonghe Temple (中和寺) looks out over the valley.  Inexperienced hikers should take a guide if they plan to wander the lesser-known paths.

Price: Gondola ride: 80 RMB round trip, 50 RMB one-way.  Hiking up: free
Getting there: The gondola begins at the base of the mountain. Walk out the Old Town West Gate and cross the 214 National Road. Follow the path up the mountain a few hundred metres. Hiking trails also begin from this point.

3) Bicycling the Countryside
Below the old town, cobbled paths cut through fields of rice, corn, and vegetables. Biking through the farmland and villages of white-and-blue Bai architecture makes for a bucolic afternoon. Most paths terminate at Erhai Lake. From here, visitors can take a boat cruise on the lake (a pricey 180 RMB) or continue cycling back to town.  Most guesthouses, and plenty of private rental agencies, have bicycles available for full and half-day rental.

Accommodation

1) Yu Yuan Hotel (玉源客栈) View In Map
A pretty guesthouse set around a central courtyard, Yu Yuan has amenities such as free laundry and internet access. It’s run by a welcoming Bai family with limited English.

Add: 8 Honglong Jing, Old Town, Dali
地址: 大理红龙井8号
Price: 120-200 RMB/night

2) Jim’s Tibetan Hotel (吉姆式酒店)View In Map
Up a quiet hill outside the South Gate, this beautifully designed hotel is studded with antique furniture. The Tibetan food in the café downstairs is tasty and authentic. They also run tours, both locally and further afield, including into Tibet.

Add: 4 Yu Yuan Xiang, Old Town, Dali
地址:  大理玉苑巷4号
Price: 280-480 RMB/night

3) The Dali Hump View In Map
A longstanding backpacker hangout, this artsy space is set just inside the city walls. With nightly concerts, readings and a popular bar, it’s a scene of its own.  Private rooms are individually painted. Most people come here looking for community as much as simple accommodation.

Add: 53 Hong Long Jing, Old Town, Dali.  The hostel sits at the far-west end of Hong Long Jing, against the western wall
地址: 大理红龙井的西端
Price: Private rooms 120-160 RMB/night; dorms 30 RMB/night

Dining

Most of Dali’s dining options crowd small pedestrian lanes Renmin Lu and Huguo Lu.  Cafes and small restaurants serve a standard array of Western and Chinese fare. Don’t miss the fried goat cheese, a local specialty.

1) Bakery No. 88 View In Map
This lovely little bakery has the kind of bread you never see in China: crusty and thick with a soft, chewy inside. And they have pie. Enough said.

Add: Foreigner Street Centre 52, Bo’ai Lu, Dali Old Town
地址: 大理洋人街中心52号
Opening hours: 08:00 – 22:00
Getting there: The bakery is in a courtyard located off of Yangren Jie. One entrance faces Bo’ai Lu, a north-south artery running through town
Website: www.bakery88.com

2) The Black Dragon Café 墨龙咖啡馆 View In Map
With three candlelit tables and wall-to-wall bookshelves, the Black Dragon feels almost hermetic. A small menu of excellent Western dishes, including breakfast waffles, makes Black Dragon one of Dali’s most gourmet places. The café also has an informal library and book exchange.

Add: 42 Centre Square, Yangren Jie, Dali Old Town
地址: 大理古城洋人街中心广场42号
Website: www.blackdragoncafe.com

3) Stella PizzeriaView In Map
Up on the west end of Huguo Lu, this courtyard pizzeria serves tasty wood-oven pizzas.  If Italian isn’t your style, they also serve burritos and a few Chinese dishes.

Add: 21 Huguo Lu, Old Town, Dali
地址: 大理护国路 21号
Opening hours: 08:00 – 23:30 

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Keywords: How to get from kunming to dali travelling from Kunming to Dali Dali travel guide dali practical guide

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