The Dali is a must go place on your list if you would like to see spectacular mountains, blue sky, vast lake (so vast that local name it as sea) just below the mountains and last but not least the great Buddhist temple with the famous three ancient pagodas which you will need to climb a lot of stairs to reach.
However, you should ascend slowly to avoid high altitude sickness and apply more lotion to block the strong UV.
We toured Dali before leaving for Lijiang, and we prefer Dalizhen over Lijaing many times over. Where Lijiang is overly commercialized, Dali still retains its old charm and if you have time to explore the many alleys and streets, you will have many pleasant finds and interesting photos.
The Demi-Gods and Semi-Demons studio city was surprisingly interesting, a good place for photos. The Three Pagodas was very expensive (121 yuan, $20), and of little interest and commercial, very bland, like a theme park.
They rebuilt the city walls in the 1990s as they were destroyed in the 1950s. There is a lot of cultural history in Dali, and you can feel it.
We found it difficult to navigate our way around Dali. We had with us a Chinese companion and a driver and still were very frustrated trying to communicate and see the things we intended to see.
We traveled with 4 girls between the ages of 8-10, two moms and a Chinese travel companion. On one of the days we hired local people to take us up the mountain on horseback, and felt we had been very misled on price. Additionally, two of the horses were at each other the entire time and near the end of the ride reared up repeatedly and nearly threw two of our girls. We tried to visit the lake, and see traditional architecture and our driver was never able to get us there. Overall the trip was disappointing.
Dali is a very relaxing place. However, not a good place for shopping or horse riding, as I found all the souvenirs I bought here are generally more expensive than in LiJiang or Shangrila.
Dali old town is in the same transformation process from ancient town that Lijiang suffered. The town is covered by souvenir shops selling the same stuff you will get in all china.
Tourist crowds are everywhere, noisy and with a total lack of respect. However Dali has a few charming streets with real old houses, the one that points to the lake. Dali old town has good Yunnanese restaurants and you can find a very few shops with real minority people articles.
Dali ancient town is relatively bigger than ancient towns in Lijiang. Thus it is not so crowded. Generally, I found the people in Dali are friendlier than those in Lijiang.
Main attractions are the 3 pagodas/temple and Dali old town (once a fortified city). The new city (Xiaguan) at the south end of Erhai Lake should not be missed either.
The pace at Xiaguan seems more relaxed than old town without the hordes of tourists. Xiaguan feels like a border town rather than a city and you can watch the locals (and school kids) in their daily routine without the tourist hype.
We entered Dali Ancient Town by the North Gate. From the North Gate to the Foreigner Street, the shops and goods were of much interest as they cater mainly to locals.
We managed to get some good buys and good food especially along RenMin Lu. Especially memorable was the freshly and manually squeezed pomegranate juice that went for Y10 per cup. The little restaurants also displayed their fresh produce and the prices were clearly stated in their printed menu and quite reasonable. The dishes were also delicious. However, once pass the Foreigner street, the place got extremely touristy and uninteresting. Even with all those tourist shops around, some parts look deserted as even the tourist shuns them. Some areas reek of stale urine too. It would appear that these areas have become the haunts of local old men who sit around smoking.
A small, walled old city with different minority groups, each with different hand crafts for sale. A lot of junk to sift through, but some lovely things to be found.
A lot of causal restaruants with inexpensive, delicious food. We enjoyed having a "western" breakfast each morning, but something local in the evenings. The mountains are beautiful, and we regret not taking enough time to really explore the waterfront. People were friendly and it was nice to be somewhere other than a huge city.
Nice people with a solid expat base so you can navigate through the city without chinese languiage skills :) and you always find a place to eat something western :)
Dali is more suitable for people that are adventurous and enjoy outdoor activities. I would suggest visiting the Er Hai Lake due to its beautiful scenery.
Great photo possibilities at many different spots around the lake. Also, beware of the street food as there is a probability of getting food poisoning like a friend of mine.
Charming old town with fascinating history. The Three Pagodas must be seen. Great shopping and a good range of bars/restaurants to suit all tastes.
Don't come expecting 5 star standards however. The town has a relaxed bustle to it - we enjoyed it thoroughly.
Spectacular old city in beautiful surroundings. Mountins, lake and a number of deligtful villages. On the Down side, really crowded with tourists.
The city of Dali is more modern than I first imagined. A tour around the Er Hai lake is a must. On a good clear day, take a cruise at the lake.
For people with interest in history, the 3 pagodas is a great place to visit.
The untouched ancient city bring you back to the old dynasty. Food, way of life and building resemble the same old days of once upon a time.
Dali is a nice lovely town. We went to some nice local restaurants recommended by our hotel Dali Encounter Hotel which did not disappoint.
The quality of massages is only so-so, dont expect too much.
Watch out for Dali tour booked from local agent. They force tourist to shop and does not allow any tourist to leave the tour half way.
Better to travel with backpack bag only so you avoid big luggage lock in the bus and force to comply to the tour.
Friendly (Bai) people. More cosmopolitan then Lijiang. Surprisingly, my stay in Dali is more enjoyable and extended extra 2 days.
Bought hand embroidery silk paintings. Very happy with their beautiful fine work.
Most people only visit the old town and the historical sites. You got watch out the people hassling you trying to by tea etc.
as you may get them cheaper in actual shops.
Spend time in Dali Gucheng (the old city of Dali), it is a great place to hang around and meet people, local or foreign.
A mix of western and local makes up the wonderful vibe of this old city. Lots of restaurants, cafes and bars.
GREAT place to relax and enjoy! Better than Lijiang. Less tourists. The lake is beautiful and the city full of life.
After traveling in northern China and hitting a lot of the more prominent cities, Old Dali was a jewel of a find.
Throw a stone and you'll find a comfortable and cheap and funky hotel. Yummy food all over (Eastern, Western, Vegetarian). All sorts of hikes and outdoor activities to get involved in. Coffee shops galor. We extended our stay here and would come back again in a heartbeat.
There's lots to do here. The area has small villages you can visit. You can hike around the Cangshan Mtn.
There is the lake you can take cruises on it. Bike around the lake or shop around Old Town Dali.
Rent a bike and go around - there are a number of good markets in the villages surrounding 'old Dali'.
Dali is very nice place and it's worth visiting for 2-3 nights. I like the atmosphere of the old town.
..also the new town is pretty nice. people are also friendly. do drop by dali if time permits ;-(
Charmimg town with full of culture and beautiful architecture. Definitely have to visit the old Town.