Kunming – Dali
Dali is a Buddhist Capital, 9 of 20-something kings abdicated to become monks. Capital of Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms for 600 years. Apparently it was discovered by western backpackers years ago, and has been popular with travellers ever since. It is one of the main tourist stops in this region and supposedly very beautiful. Today we need to make it there from Kunming and as we have our train tickets booked already, it should be a breeze.
Train. Thank god we were close to the station. I have described the security procedures for the train station, but today was madness. There were people everywhere. We left with plenty of time to get some food at the station. 10 minutes to the station, 15 minutes to get food, and the gate opens half an hour before the train departs so an hour should do it right?
It took us at least 20 minutes to get into the station, and another 10 to get our tickets checked, then another 10 minutes at the final checkpoint, and had just enough time to find our platform and board the train. Well, we did have 10-15 minutes spare, but who wants to risk it? At least we already had our tickets, as we would never have made the train if we didn’t. The train was already full, so we blessed our allocated tickets and manoeuvred ourselves around the people with standing tickets to find our seats. Then it was time to set off. The trains are not exactly comfortable, but are supposed to be faster than the buses.
I am not sure if that is true or not, as the train ride took forever. To be fair, it was going up into the mountains, through long tunnels, around mountain sides and over long bridges spanning the valleys. It still took a long time, and we were glad to be off it when we arrived in Dali. At the train station there was a proper tourist information! Fantastic! Don’t speak English? We have a Translator! Could we get any information? I wouldn’t bet on it. Leaving very disappointed we headed out to catch bus 8 to the old town. This is about 15km from the train station and took about an hour. Typical. The bus was packed with tourists and we were all wedged together with our bags, unless you were lucky enough to get a seat, which we weren’t. The driver picked up a few more people along the way until he decided that any more people would break the Guinness book of records for the most people and bags on a bus and blew past anyone else wanting to get on. We worried a bit about getting off, but knew that our stop was at the “famous” Rydges Hotel. As it happened this was the stop everyone else wanted as well, so the bus disgorged all its passengers in one go to the relief of all involved!!
Now we just had to cross the highway Chinese style. Very similar to Italian style, which is time it well, walk and let the traffic swirl all around you. The pedestrian lights act more as a guideline than it being safe to walk.
Making it safely to the other side we were met by our first real Chinese tout. An elderly gentleman that had accommodation. As we had nothing booked we would see what it was like. Walking with him we got the price, and found out that he had a soft mattress. Excuse us for not believing him.
His hotel was fairly close so it was only a short time later that we went down the alleyway to his place. First we had to negotiate the large truck blocking the entire path with construction materials. Pushing our bags in front and gong sideways we squeezed past. The hotel is more of a home stay. There is an entrance foyer which is the living room for the family, with a staircase leading up. Happily for us, we would be on the ground floor if we stayed, and true to his word it was a soft bed. It was also massive. A King sized bed with a wide running board around it. That was nice, but we both kept skinning our shins on it for the duration of our stay!
Accepting the room, probably a bit too quickly, as we found it had no toilet paper, or towels, or much of anything really. (Paper showed up after asking) Yet it did have hot water (he was proud of that, even if you do have to run the taps for a few minutes first) a western toilet, and most importantly a soft bed!
As it was now dark, we went out for dinner. Korean Cook-it-yourself seems to be popular here. Skipping that we found a place further down that seemed popular, and we settled in for a meal. It turned out to be liver, lung and whatever else is stuck inside a chicken. As the table beside us was leaving they had an argument over the price, as well as what seemed to be wrong dishes turning up. We think that we got their dish and they our plain one. When we paid up, we were also overcharged. Not happy about this, but what can we do? We can’t argue over it with our little translator.
Then it was onto one of the main gates. A small market had been set up here with leather shoes, cashmere scarves and, surprisingly, telescopes pointed at the moon. It was fun to wander through looking at all the trinkets and such then onto the main streets of down town Dali. Live music, bars, and tourist shops. Yep. We are on the trail all right. Stopping in to a hard rock bar for a drink, we were a bit overwhelmed by the prices (40 yuan for a 6 yuan beer) and appreciated some very soft rock. Shisha’s abounded, along with cocktails as people sat on the balcony overlooking the band, paying it no attention as they typed away on their mobile phones. It wasn’t even loud enough to justify texting each other to talk. The disinterest astounded us, as the band wasn’t that bad really. We stayed there nursing our drinks through a number of songs from Alice in Chains to Nirvana and Chinese ballads then back into the night to make our way home to a SOFT bed!
You know when you are in a Chinese tourist town when the streets are full of people (well, I suppose that is every Chinese street) and the shops are all selling the same things. You could pick up fake jade at every second or third shop. Bone and stone combs, jewellery, drums painted up in Aboriginal dot painting styles with very bored shop assistants all drumming along to the same song in every shop. We hope it is some local traditional music,but it probably isn’t. Then there are the jars filled with coloured sands depicting palm trees and camels. Cheap scarves and clothing made up the rest of it.