For a long time, Dali was the most important city in Yunnan, far more important than the present capital Kunming. Dali was the ancient capital of the Bai Kingdom Nanchao during the 8th and 9th century which was very powerfull throughout China.
The city is located on a fertile plateau between the Cangshan mountains to the west with peaks above 4,000 meter and a large number of Buddhist temples and Erhai lake to the east. It has traditionally been settled by the Bai and Yi minority. Still now, Dali is predominantly inhabited by Bai people, one of the strongest ethnic minorities in Yunnan province. The Bais are closely related to the Thais of Thailand, as well as to another ethnic minority in Yunnan province, the Dais.
Dali is known worldwide for its marble production, which are used mainly in decorative objects. It's even called in Chinese "Dali Stone", because of its popularity.
Dali is a very popular tourist destination for tourists from both within and outside China. It has many historical sites and also a street with western-style food, music, and English-speaking business owners. You can also find several "coffeeshops" here, where foreigners smoke marijuana, what is grown in the hills surrounding the town. Because of this extra feature, some tourists extend their stay in this old city.
This spring is located about 30 kilometer north of Dali and is not only known because of its nature beauty, but also because of a certain legend associated with it.
The Chinese believe that long ago there were was a couple of young lovers who committed suicide by jumping into the water to escape from a cruel king. The lovers didn't die, but were transformed into two butterflies.
If you would like to see the butterflies, you have to come here in late spring or early summer.
Cangshan Mountain is located west of Dali. The mountain range comprises 19 peaks and 18 brooks. Between each of the peaks flows a stream down to irrigate the land below and to finally reach the Erhai Lake.
Cangshan Mountain is a paradise with over 3,000 species of plants, mainly consisting of coniferous trees, shrubs and grasses. In spring and summer, beautiful flowers, such as azaleas, camelias and rhododendrons are blooming, which is a lovely sight.
The mountain can now be reached by cable-chair, starting from west of the ancient town of Dali and goes to Zhonghe Temple about half-way up the mountain. The cable-chair ride is one of the longest in the region, and takes about 25 minutes each way.
The small Dali Museum looks like a small Chinese palace with stone lions in front of the gate and cannons in the courtyard. The museum shows archeological finds concerning the history of the Dai and Bai people.
Erhai Lake is an alpine lake in Yunnan. It is the second largest highland lake of China, after Dianchi Lake. The lake is sandwiched between the Cangshan Mountains to the West and Dali.
Some of the nice attractions along the lake are the Erhai Lake Park and the Butterfly Springs on the Western bank. It is also possible to visit one of the islands on the lake.
The lake is very important for the local Bai people, as it is their major food source. For fishing, they use trained cormorants to catch fish and to bring it to them. To prevent the birds from eating the fish, rings are put around their neck.
Gantong Temple, which is also known as Danshan Temple, is located at the southern foot of Shengying Peak of Cangshan Mountain. Surrounded by beautiful mountains, trees and plants, it has always been a important scenic area and place of Buddhism. After its construction in the Tang Dynasty, the temple consisted of 36 halls, but due to demolishing by soldiers in the past, all except one are ruins now. The temple has become very popular among the people and is the number one temple in Dali area.
The Three Pagodas are one of the oldest still-existing architectural structures in southwest China. They are located about 1.5 kilometer north of Dali at the east foot of the 10th peak of the Cangshan Mountains and they face the west shore of the Erhai Lake. Visible from far away, it has been Dali's landmark.
They are made of brick and covered with white mud. As its name implies, the Three Pagodas are comprised of three independent pagodas forming a symmetric triangle. The tallest of the three was built in the 9th century and reaches a height of some 70 meter. The two smaller pagodas are about 42 meter high.
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