Sarah Vossler, her husband Zhang Yang and their son Oliver Zhang (1).
By plane, train and automobile, the family spent a week in Dali, a small southern city near the China-Myanmar border. They flew China Eastern to Kunming and then took a seven-hour train ride to Dali. From the train station, they took a taxi to the old city of Gucheng.
Through Ctrip.com, the family booked roundtrip flights from Beijing to Kunming at RMB 2,400 (tax inclusive). It was RMB 20 for the taxi ride from the airport to the Kunming train station. If traveling during the day, the train is RMB 90 for hard sleeper and RMB 50 for hard seat. Once in Dali, the taxi ride from the train station to Gucheng cost RMB 40. The family spent RMB 6,400 over the seven days.
The family stayed at a friend’s house, but Sarah recommends Bird Bar & Bird’s Nest (www.birdbardali.com/en/rooms). The hotel has been newly renovated and a deluxe suite is RMB 280 a night.
Shopping in Dali is cheaper than in Beijing. There are shops selling things, like minority-print skirts and shirts, silver, Yunnan coffee and many types of homemade liquor, including plum wine.
The family cooled down with smoothies and frozen fruit drinks (RMB 10), bought at shops on the side of the road. At Café de Jack, a restaurant that’s been around since 1993, a set meal of eggs, toast and hash browns, and coffee or tea is RMB 18. Eating breakfast street food is another scrumptious
option. The family also found some great local restaurants, selling specialty food from other parts of China, like Shaanxi noodles (RMB 13 a bowl) and a Sichuan restaurant – one of many restaurants in Dali that are family-owned and operated.
On their last morning, they took a ten minute drive to Er Hai or Er Lake. There they visited a friend of a friend, a famous artist who has settled in Dali. He has turned his home into an art gallery and was preparing for an exhibit. From the rooftop of the house, they took in a gorgeous view of the lake. Later, they walked around the village and lake. They finished the day with a delicious meal at a local restaurant.
The Worst Part
They didn’t realize that March is one of the worst times to visit Dali, because of the wind. They woke up every morning in their courtyard bedroom to doors banging open from the strong gusts of wind. However, by noon the sun was out and the wind had died down.
An Unexpected Moment
The Sichuan restaurant was cozy and decorated with photos of the owner and his twin teenagers dressed in different costumes, from when they were movie extras. The dishes served were selected by the owner, made especially
for them. Sarah can be picky, so she was surprised when she loved
everything he made, including a crispy eggplant dish, a melt-in-your-mouth rib dish and a vegetable soup. While they enjoyed their meal, the owner played piano for them.
You can rent bikes (RMB 30/day – they even provide baby seats) and ride around the old city. English is spoken in the Western restaurants and by tour agents around town, which makes it easy to book bus or train tickets. There are also lots of stray dogs, which was perfectly okay by Oliver, who loves to dog-watch.