Dali Itinerary (3 days)

This itinerary will cover Dali over 3 days, and is the second part of my Yunnan, China backpacking trip. To see my previous itinerary, please check out my 2 day itinerary for Kunming, Yunnan. To fast forward to my next itinerary, please check out 4 day itinerary for Lijiang, Yunnan

Trip Summary

  • Trip length and when did I go? 3 days in March 2017
  • Places visited: Dali
  • How much did it cost me? MYR 305

At A Glance

  • Day 1 Dali. Arrival in Dali by overnight train from Kunming. Transferred from the railway station to Dali old town and checked in to Jade Emu International Hostel. In the morning, I did a walking tour around Dali old town, visiting major landmarks such as the Dali North and South Gates and Wuhua tower. In the afternoon, I rented an e-bike for an excursion to Erhai lake, and visited Chongsheng Three Pagodas on the way back. Spent the remainder of my evening wandering around Dali old town. Overnight in Dali.
  • Day 2 Dali. Did a day trip to Cangshan mountain by taking a chairlift to Zhonghe temple, walked halfway to Phoenix Eye Cave and walked back down to Dali old town. Overnight in Dali.
  • Day 3 Dali to Lijiang. Check-out from the hostel and took a bus from Dali to Lijiang.

Itinerary Map (click to view POIs and routes)

Travel Montage

Arrival in Dali & Getting to Dali Old Town
  • 5.30 am - Wake up. Freshened up on the train on the way to Dali
  • 6.15 am - Arrive in Dali (hopped off at Dali railway station)
  • Dali is a large district and is divided into several areas, namely Xiaguan (or Dali new town), where the railway and bus stations are at and Old Dali (or Dali old town), the main tourist hub in Dali which is about 20km from Xiaguan and is where I'm headed to
  • Exited the train station and walked about 20m to the main road in front of the station to catch a bus to Dali old town. Very straightforward, just follow the crowds. Didn't have to wait long as there were frequent buses from the railway station to Dali old town. Once onboard the bus, there is no need to get off anywhere midway, as the bus will take you all the way to Dali old town
  • 6.35 am - Rode bus #8 from Dali railway station to Dali old town - 2 yuan

Early morning arrival in Dali railway station
Outside Dali railway station
Waiting patiently to get on bus #8 that will get me to Dali old town, just a short walk away from the railway station

In & Around Dali Old Town
  • 7.25 am - Arrive in Dali old town (dropped off near #8 bus terminal, located next to Dali Hospital, nearby Dali North Gate)
  • Walked from #8 bus terminal to my accommodation in Dali old town (under 15 minutes)
  • 7.40 am - Check-in to Jade Emu International Hostel - 25 yuan per night for a dorm room. Stayed for 2 nights (total cost - 50 yuan). Not a bad place to base yourself in Dali, however its location is a mix of good and bad. Good if you want to easily do excursions to Cangshan mountain, given its proximity to the Zhonghe and Ximatan ropeway stations. Bad if you intend to visit the old town area a lot, keeping in mind that it's a 10 minute walk to old town from the hostel
  • Breakfast at the hostel - Western breakfast (35 yuan)
  • My room wasn't quite ready yet, so in order to maximize my time in Dali, I decided to leave my backpack with reception and head out to explore Dali old town

The courtyard area in Jade Emu International Hostel
The dorm room I got in Jade Emu hostel

Sightseeing Around Dali Old Town
  • 8.30 am - Walked from the hostel to Dali old town (under 10 minutes)
  • 8.45 am - 1.00 pm - Walking tour around Dali old town. Visited the following points of interest around the old town area:
  • Dali North Gate. There's a small temple at the top that you can climb up to, with some of the best views of the Cangshan mountains. The area around the north gate is also a haven for street food, in case you're wondering where to find cheap eats around Dali
  • Wuhua Tower. Located about halfway between Dali's north and south gates. Similar to Dali North Gate, you can climb all the way to the top for some good views of the Dali old town area
  • Dali South Gate. Touted to be Dali's oldest gate and is also a symbol for Dali old town. Not much else, but if you're a completionist, then this is one place you can't miss

In Dali old town center, a juncture where the streets leading to the Dali North, South and East Gates intersect
Lady preparing yak cheese and hot sausages on charcoal
There are many temples that dot the old town area, however some of them will require you to pay entrance fees to enter
Dali North Gate in the morning
Breathtaking views of the Cangshan mountains from the top of Dali North Gate
Walking along a cobbled pavement on the way to Wuhua tower
Wuhua tower. There's not much happening right now as it is still early in the morning. It will get much more crowded later in the evening
Smelling the spring blooms at Dali South Gate

Erhai Lake & Chongsheng Three Pagodas
  • Erhai lake is located about 5km away from Dali old town, and to cover more ground quickly, I rented an e-bike (with a battery capacity that can go up to only 40km) from a shop in Dali old town - 30 yuan per day
  • As a helpful tip, there are many bike rental shops located opposite Yu'er Park, along the main road that runs eastward from the Dali West Gate
  • Should you wish to go further, higher capacity e-bikes that can go up to 80km are also available to rent for 50 yuan per day. Alternatively, there are pedal bikes that you can rent, also for 30 yuan per day
  • 1.30 pm - 5.30 pm - Sightseeing around Erhai lake, visiting Caicun and Majiuyi along the way. Both villages were interesting in their own way, Majiuyi is a bit more upscale however I absolutely adored Caicun for how laidback it was. For a change of pace, instead of staying in Dali old town, you can opt to stay a night or two in one of many guesthouses here
  • 5.35 pm - Rode back to Dali old town. Did a quick photo stop at the Chongsheng Three Pagodas enroute. Didn't go in as I felt the entrance fee (121 yuan) was a bit too much. There's no need to enter anyways as you can view the three pagodas from outside

Scoping out for an e-bike to rent from one of the many shops in Dali old town
Riding from Dali old town to Erhai lake
First stop, Caicun
My first look at Erhai lake. Caicun wharf can be seen in the distance
Loved my afternoon walks around Caicun, it's just so laidback
Some girls trying their luck fishing with nets near the lake
Erhai lake as seen from Caicun
Another view of Erhai lake from Caicun
Saw this on my way from Caicun to Majiuyi. This water pumping station in the middle of the lake connected by a causeway is a popular spot for wedding photography
Candid shot of my rented e-bike with Erhai lake in the background
More views of Erhai lake closer to Majiuyi
In Majiuyi at last
Besides the great views of Erhai lake from its shores, the food market pictured above is also one of Majiuyi's main tourist draws
From Majiuyi, the views of Erhai lake are stunning and gives you a realization of how vast the lake really is
Sunset over the Cangshan mountains
Chongsheng three pagodas seen from the outside

Back in Dali Old Town
  • 6.00 pm - Back in Dali old town and returned the e-bike to the shop I rented from earlier
  • 6.05 pm - 9.00 pm - Spent the remainder of my evening walking around Dali old town. Foreigner's Street is a particular highlight in the evenings. Menu prices in Dali old town are a bit overpriced, however finding cheap eats is not that difficult as there is quite a few roadside stalls selling street food near the Dali North Gate
  • Snacks at various shops in Dali old town - Yak cheese (5 yuan), roasted sausage (5 yuan) & spiced tofu (6 yuan)
  • 9.05 pm - Return to hostel for a good night's rest

Ladies doing evening aerobics near the Dali cinema
Dali North Gate all lit up at night
Street food stalls selling cheap eats near the Dali North Gate
Street hawker whipping up some spiced tofu on a hot plate
Dali old town becomes quite a bustling and lively place as soon as night falls 
Walking along Foreigner's Street
Another part of Foreigner's Street
Dali old town center in the evening
A small man-made stream running along a pavement on the way to Wuhua tower
There's turkish ice cream here too
Wuhua tower, all beautifully lit up at night
Views of Dali old town from the top of Wuhua tower

Day trip to Cangshan Mountain
  • 8.00 am - Wake up
  • 8.40 am - Walked from the hostel to Zhonghe ropeway station (under 30 minutes). Take note that it's an uphill climb to the ropeway station, you can opt for a taxi if you're not feeling up to it
  • 9.10 am - Arrive at Zhonghe ropeway station. Went to the ticket booth and purchased a ticket for the chairlift - 30 yuan (one way). A return ticket will cost 60 yuan. One more important thing to note is that this ticket is valid for return trips from Zhonghe temple only and cannot be used for Gantong or Ximatan ropeway stations, therefore if you're planning to go up the mountain from one ropeway station and exit from another, it's best to buy one way tickets at the respective ropeway stations. Keep in mind also that the last chairlift going down is at 5pm, this is the same for all three ropeway stations
  • At the same time, I also paid the Cangshan scenic area protection fee - 40 yuan
  • 9.25 am - Rode chairlift to Zhonghe temple
  • 9.50 am - Arrive at the top of Cangshan mountain (hopped off at the ropeway station near Zhonghe temple)
  • Breakfast at a small shop near Zhonghe temple - Sausages x 2 (6 yuan)
  • 10.00 am - 12.00 pm - Photo walk along the Cloud Traveller's Path, going northwards along the trail until I reached the Taoxi stream. The trail is fairly flat for the most part and has excellent views of Dali and Erhai lake
  • 12.05 pm - Turned back and retraced my steps back to Zhonghe temple

Zigzagging some neighborhoods to get to Zhonghe ropeway station
Zhonghe ropeway station
My first chairlift experience, was pretty nervous that it swayed so much in the wind, but thankfully I made it in one piece
Zhonghe temple is only a short walk away from the ropeway station at the top
Views of Dali and Erhai lake from Zhonghe temple
Walking on the Cloud Traveller's Path. It was fairly flat for the most part, so walking around it was a breeze
Quite a feat of engineering, the trail is carved into the rock on the side of a mountain, color me impressed!
More magnificent views of Dali from up here
The Taoxi stream can be seen snaking down the mountain in the distance
Another part of the trail further on
The walk from Zhonghe temple to Taoxi stream took me about an hour, I could've done it in less time, but I was so smitten by the views that I couldn't stop taking pictures every now and then

Day trip to Cangshan Mountain (continued)
  • 12.45 pm - Back in Zhonghe temple. Rested for a bit before continuing on
  • 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm - Photo walk along the Cloud Traveller's Path, this time going southwards along the trail until I reached the Phoenix Eye Cave. The cave isn't very interesting and can be skipped, however to make the best of your time here, pay a visit to a viewpoint (with more magnificent views of Dali) about 100m further down the trail from the cave
  • I contemplated walking the rest of the way to Gantong temple and take the chairlift down from there, but I was told that the Gantong ropeway station was closed for an event that day, so I decided to call it a day and return to Dali old town
  • 3.10 pm - Walked down the stairs from Phoenix Eye Cave to Ximatan ropeway station/Tianlongbabu movie city, located at the foothills of Cangshan mountain
  • 4.00 pm - Arrive at Ximatan ropeway station/Tianlongbaby movie city. Did a quick photo stop before walking back to the hostel (under 30 minutes)

On the Cloud Traveller's Path again, this time heading south towards Gantong temple
Beautiful spruce forest along the trail
Entrance into the Phoenix Eye Cave
The viewpoint further down the trail from Phoenix Eye Cave
So glad I made the decision to explore more of the area and found this place. The views are amazing!
Ximatan ropeway as seen from up here
Heading back down to Ximatan ropeway station using these stairs from Phoenix Eye Cave
Back at the bottom of Cangshan mountain, and exited near Ximatan ropeway station/Tianlongbabu movie city

Back in Dali Old Town
  • 4.40 pm - Back at the hostel. Early dinner at the hostel - Yunnan fried rice with soup (20 yuan) & soft drink (7 yuan)
  • 8.00 pm - Walked from the hostel to Dali old town (under 10 minutes)
  • Went to a travel agency and booked a ticket for the 9am bus departing for Lijiang the next morning - 80 yuan (one way)
  • Alternatively for a slightly cheaper option, you can head to the Dali north bus station (in Xiaguan) and find buses going to Lijiang from there (last I checked, the fare to Lijiang was anywhere between 50-60 yuan). To get to Dali north bus station, simply take bus #4 from the main road (in front of Jade Emu International Hostel) for 2 yuan
  • 8.30 pm - 10.00 pm - Walked around Dali old town before returning to the hostel

Spent my final evening in Dali by wandering aimlessly around Dali old town

Dali to Lijiang
  • 7.00 am - Wake up
  • 7.50 am - Pack up and check out from the hostel
  • Walked from the hostel to Dali old town (under 10 minutes). Had breakfast at a roadside stall in Dali old town - Steamed buns (2 yuan)
  • 8.20 am - Van pickup to a bus stop near Dali old town to wait for the bus to Lijiang
  • 9.15 am - Board bus departing for Lijiang

Boarding the bus to Lijiang

How much?
What for?
CNY 50
CNY 50
Accommodation in Dali (2 nights)

CNY 102
Ground Cost
Transportation around Kunming
CNY 30
E-bike rental (1 day)
CNY 30
Chairlift to Cangshan mountain (Zhonghe Temple)
CNY 40
Admission – Changshan Scenic Area

CNY 80
In & Out Cost
CNY 80
Bus from Dali to Lijiang

CNY 86
CNY 86
Food & drinks

CNY 318

How much did it cost me?

  • In local currency: CNY 318
  • Conversion rate (at the time): MYR 1 = CNY 1.55
  • After conversion: MYR 205 (for 3 days)


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