Yunnan Tour – Kunming to Dali Day 3 (11 Days 10 Nights November 2015)

We woke up to a beautiful day in Kunming. From our room windows, we could see Cuihui getting ready to welcome visitors for the day. People were already on the street and Cuihui was surely a place of interest to many people in this part of Kunming.

We left Grand Park Hotel and walked towards Cuihui to look for a place to have breakfast. Shops along the road were mostly closed so early in the morning. We reached Cuihui shortly and we checked out some eateries across the road. Some of the small restaurants were already packed with people sitting outside the restaurant enjoying their breakfast.

We decided to settle into one of the restaurants and had beef noodles for our first meal. Our noodles came and we tucked in to the piping hot noodle soup. Not many pieces of beef were found in the noodle soup and it was very spicy as well. We definitely preferred beef noodles in Taiwan than the one served here in Kunming. After this quick meal, we headed over to Cuihui to enjoy the park one more time before our bus ride to Dali.

Cuihui was already a hive of activities early morning. Young and old were exercising at the park. The air was fresh and a little chilly. It was already late autumn and winter was setting in soon so everyone was wearing a light jacket outdoor.

The park was really beautiful and a great place to start our day. Seagulls were flying all over the lake enjoying their first task of the day. Along the lake, people were feeding the seagulls. It was such a lovely sight. We stayed awhile by the lake to feast on this fascinating sight watching the seagulls flying gracefully over the lake free from all cares in this world.

It was already 8.40 am and about time to make our move. We left Cuihui and walked to the main road to check out some shops before leaving Kunming, our first city in Yunnan. Some shops were opening and near the main road, we stopped by a vendor selling xiaolongbao that was quite cheap. For 10 CNY, we could get seven pieces so we bought these little meat buns to try out maybe during our bus ride to Dali.

The roads weren’t very busy yet and at the turn of the corner, we saw a bakery, Joy Bakery. We entered the bakery and were excited to see what else we could buy for our long bus ride to Dali. We bought some more buns and cakes and then returned to Grand Park Hotel happily.

Back in our room, we thought it might be better to consume the xiaolongbao while they were still hot as food got cold quite quickly here during cold weather in autumn. Alas, these Chinese buns were a great disappointment. The skin was so thick and the meat was near non-existent. Moreover, they didn’t taste nice at all so we threw them away. What a waste but we could hardly eat them. Anyway, they were so cheap and perhaps we should lower our expectation in the first place.

We had contacted our hotel in Dali via email a week before our departure to enquire about transfer to their hotel. The reply we received from Yinfeng Hotel provided two options for us to get to their hotel when we arrived in Dali. Firstly, we should take a bus from Kunming West Bus Station to Dali about 430 km away.

We would arrive Dali bus station in the new city about 15 km from the ancient town. We could either take bus number 8 outside the train station to head to the ancient city and then we could be picked up by their driver for just 10 CNY. Or we could walk into the ancient town if we prefer and direction would be given.

The other option would be a direct pick up from Dali new city to their hotel in the ancient city for 50 CNY. So we took up this direct pick up arrangement as we didn’t wish to drag our luggage up and and down public transport and then figure out how to get into the ancient city whether by their hotel pick up or walk there. It wasn’t very expensive anyway and save us a lot of trouble and headache.

After freshening up, we went to the lobby to check out. It was trouble free. We requested front desk to call our hotel in Dali to inform them we were heading to Dali and they happily obliged. We were able to speak with the hotel staff in Dali and we were told to give them a call again when we board the bus in Kunming to confirm the car with license plate number that would bring us to their hotel.

Grand Park Hotel was a great choice for our purpose of exploring Chuihui and we were very pleased with the hotel and its staff. Next we headed to exit Grand Park Hotel. One of the helpful staff helped us get a taxi and specifically told the driver to send us to the west bus station.

So we were on our way to the bus station and it was about 9.40 am. The journey took about 20 minutes and the taxi fare came up to 30 CNY. We then went into the bus station to purchase our bus tickets to Dali. The counter staff asked whether we preferred the medium bus or the big bus. The travelling time would be about the same but the medium bus was a little smaller. I asked which bus was leaving first and was told the next bus leaving would be a medium bus. So we bought the ticket for the medium bus and went out to board the bus.

The medium bus wasn’t small at all. The bus would be departing in about 10 minutes. On the bus, we approached a Chinese young couple to borrow the phone to call Yinfeng Hotel. We informed the staff we had boarded the bus and we got the car number that would pick us up later so we settled down to enjoy our ride to Dali.

So far, we found the young people in China rather approachable and helpful. The same can’t be said of the older folks still with bad habits of spitting in the open in certain cities. The staff in Yinfeng Hotel was so kind to send me a note in Chinese to show anyone whom we might approach to borrow a phone to call them in case we were unable to communicate with the person in Mandarin. It wasn’t a problem for us though but the gesture was certainly appreciated.

The bus departed at 10.20 am and the bus wasn’t full. About 30 minutes later, the bus stopped at another location to pick up more passengers. This time the bus was quite full. Well, we thought we could finally settle down to enjoy a peaceful ride to Dali but we couldn’t be more wrong. Two passengers came up and sat behind us. They were talking nonstop. To make matter worse, one guy even lean forward near my back to speak facing his friend. They went on and on and finally, the bus pulled up at a rest area at 12.45 pm.

It was a relief to be able to get off the bus but their nonsensical chatters still lingered in my head. It was still better than trapped in front of these two guys yakking away in enclosed space. We went for a toilet inspection first and then checked out the food options available here. This was quite a huge rest area with shops and food court and a convenience store. This was busy a rest area with many people coming and going.

We didn’t feel like eating much so we bought some rice dumplings for a quick meal. They weren’t really good. Ours back in Singapore are much better in taste. Nevertheless, it was still something to fill our stomach and we were thankful for some hot food during a chilly day. When the break was over, the bus left at 1.15 pm and we were surely heading up to Dali.

Kunming is about 1900 m elevation and Dali slightly higher at 2000 m above sea level. We didn’t feel unwell in Kunming and we were still feeling fine on the way to Dali. It was a long bus ride with the two guys still chatting away behind our back. We could hardly rest. To add to the misery, someone at the back of the bus was smoking secretly. The Chinese government had already banned smoking on buses but this was not strictly adhered to for our bus ride. It was a sickening ride to say the least.

Slightly after 3 pm, we were entering Dali. The bus stopped briefly along the highway to allow some passengers to alight. They seemed to have arranged pick up to other places. The bus then continued towards Dali City. Eventually, we arrived at the bus station at the new city in Dali at 3.45 pm more than an hour late.

As we alighted from the bus, we were swarm by hotels and guesthouse owners, tour agents and drivers offering their services. It took awhile for us to get off the bus and then retrieve our bags from the bus storage. I put my mobile phone in the back pocket of my jeans in order to pull out my bags from the bus storage. One kind lady tour agent cautioned me not to do it because there were pickpockets everywhere. I thanked her for her advice. It was nice to meet good people while touring in China.

Our driver was already waiting for us when we finally located him. He had waited more than an hour for us. Our bus should arrive much earlier but the bus went around picking up and alighting other passengers along the way. We paid around 125 CNY for each ticket while the ticket for the big bus would cost slightly more. Our driver was surprised about the delay. This was rather unusual and probably the driver had made private arrangements other than picking up passengers from Kunming bus station sending them directly to Dali.

While our driver was loading our bags at the back of his car, he found that they were wet. We were surprised and upset at the same time. We couldn’t figure where the water came from but we did notice the driver collecting cash from some passengers to put a dog with chicken in the bus storage compartment after leaving the bus station in Kunming. There was nothing we could do about the situation so we headed to the ancient town to get to Yingfeng Hotel.

As we entered the ancient town, it was close to school dismissal time. Our driver told us we would be stuck in the narrow streets when the students got off from school. Thankfully, we made it to Yingfeng Hotel at 4.30 pm. We were definitely glad especially after the horrible ride with two guys disturbing our sleep and some inconsiderate passengers smoking at the back. Of course we were also upset that our bags were wet when we collected them from the bus storage compartment.

Check in was easy and we enquired from the hotel staff about bus transfer to Lijiang for the next day. We were told we could purchase bus transfer from them and we would be travelling on a bigger bus. Someone would pick us up from the hotel and send us to the bus station to take the bus to Lijiang. We guessed it would be the last time we considered taking medium bus in China. We didn’t take the medium bus to save cost but to save time as we thought that medium bus departing earlier would allow us to arrive Dali earlier. So we requested the hotel staff to settle our bus transfer to Lijiang for the next day..

We were given keys to our room on the second floor. The room was average, Chinese style in decoration. The bed was good and comfortable. Wifi worked and TV was a computer monitor that came with their preloaded TV programs. Bathroom was very big with shower stall.

First thing we did was to unpack our clothes and see what we could do with the wet luggage. Good thing we packed our clothes in ziplock bags and they were not affected. But our thicker jackets were slightly wet. So we spent some time drying our jackets and bags with the hair dryer.

Once we were satisfied with the bags and clothes, we left Yingfeng Hotel at 5.15 pm to explore the ancient town. We finally stepped foot into this Unesco Heritage Site in Dali ancient town. It was still daylight when we were out on the street. The location of Yingfeng Hotel is pretty good right in the ancient town off a side lane just a minute’s walk to the main street. The people here wore thicker jackets as it was getting colder end of the year.

A bakery was at the junction of the side lane from our hotel to the main street. So it would be easy for us to pick up more bread and cakes should we desire western snacks. There were shops selling clothes, shoes, provisions and there was even a shop selling meat hanging in the open. They won’t need a freezer as the climate here was already very cooling.

Nearby was an old church with a Chinese style building which was quite unique. Outside the church were street vendors selling food and drinks and fruits as well. It was quite an interesting sight for us. This ancient town was very authentic with people living here and not just catered to tourists coming for a visit.

We turned around and walked along the other direction further away from Yingfeng Hotel. We passed by the Dali Cinema, definitely not the modern cinemas in our part of the world. It was interesting though as there were only two levels in this cinema. We walked on and the street got prettier. There was a drain along the street with benches set up for visitors to rest. The water in the drain came from the surrounding mountains so it was pretty clean.

The shops here were more modern with nice warm lighting and we finally reached the junction of the famous Foreigner Street. More street vendors were here selling fruits and flowers. The junction here is one of the landmarks in Dali ancient town.

We then turned into a side street to explore. We ran into students just released from school. They were out strolling and also going for dinner. There were quite a few interesting cafes and restaurants catered to western taste. The alfresco dining scene here in Chinese style was interesting as well. Low tables and chairs were set up along the street and locals just settle down for their meals here. My wife and I didn’t like the smell of the food along the street here because we got the impression the food here was geared towards a more sour taste based on the smell.

So we headed back to the main street to explore. We walked into the other side of Foreigner Street to look for a restaurant for dinner. This side of the street was catered more towards western diners with nice cafes and restaurants and pubs as well. Having checked out some menus at a few restaurants, we settled in at Clares Café. This café looked traditional and we went up to the second floor and got a table over looking the street.

The street was busy and it was getting darker soon. I ordered carbonara while my wife ordered fried rice with steak. We thought it would be great to eat western meal here as we couldn’t really get used to the food in Yunnan. We ordered fruit juice and soup as well.

While watching the world go by below from our window seats, we waited patiently for our food to arrive. Our drinks and soup came first then followed by the fried rice with steak. Next, the waitress brought to our table a clay pot dish. We were surprised. I ordered cabonara and not a clay pot dinner. But the waitress insisted that was what I ordered.

So I checked the clay pot dish covered with a layer of cheese and after removing the layer of cheese, noodles were found underneath. It wasn’t spaghetti but noodles with some meat. This was the strangest carbonara we ever came across. Fortunately, it didn’t taste bad at all, much better than the beef noodles I had in Kunming this morning. We were glad the dinner was good and the ambiance pretty cool in a Yunnan traditional setting.

We continued with our street roaming after dinner. It was already dark all over and getting colder. The ancient town was actually getting much more romantic and prettier as well. The street lights brought out a different feel of the ancient town in Dali.

At the further end of the street, we bought a bottle of pomegranate juice from a street vendor. This was a freshly squeezed juice. The fruits here in Dali were huge and looked very good too. We saw some street vendors selling nice looking grapes as well but we didn’t buy any.

Our night tour of Dali ancient town continued and we really enjoyed this street scene. The cafes and pubs were getting ready for more diners to come in to enjoy their meals with live music. This part of Foreigner Street was quite exciting and interesting too.

Back on the main street, we went further to explore. Many people were out on the street to enjoy the lovely evening. Some were sitting on benches on the street and others were shopping and lovers were walking holding hands enjoying the fascinating ambiance of this ancient town.

We were getting tired after the long bus ride so it was time to head back to Yingfeng Hotel. Along the way, we passed by Dali Cinema again. This time, the cinema ground had become an open dance hall. It was so good to watch these locals here enjoying themselves in their own town having a great time. So this was another happy place with happy people we came across in Yunnan besides Cuihui in Kunming.

Not long after, we were back in Yingfeng Hotel. Front desk staff informed us our bus tickets to Lijiang the next day were confirmed. So we paid the lady our bus fare which was about 120 CNY each. The gentleman manning the hotel who corresponded with me via emails the week before was very helpful. He helped me call our hotel in Lijiang and Shangrila to enquire about direction and transfer arrangement to their hotel. So far, we were thankful we had met nice and helpful people in Yunnan. This made our travel so much easier and so much more enjoyable.

After that we returned to our room to rest. Hot water took quite some time to get hot because of the cold weather and the long pipe lines. The room was nevertheless comfortable. We watched some programs on TV and chatted with the children back home. Not long after, we called it a night to prepare for our onward travel to Lijiang in the morning. We had no doubt Lijiang would be a great city to visit hence we headed to bed happily with much anticipation for the next day to arrive.

Continue to Day 4

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