|Dali (September 7, 2001 - September 13, 2001)|
On September 8th, we boarded the express bus for Dali. It was a five hour trip, but time passed quickly while watching Chinese movies with English subtitles. The countryside was spectacular - deep valleys, muddy red rivers, small hillside towns, terraced hills. Unfortunately it was raining and I couldn't take pictures through the bus windows.
The Dali hotel that we had prepaid with a Xi'an travel agent turned out to be a disappointment - it was a bit expensive (for Dali) and not really that nice. We stayed there for our two nights, and then moved to Koreana Guesthouse.
The Koreana opened 4 months ago and is bright, airy, and clean. It is owned by a pleasant Korean gentleman who used to work for Korean Airlines. He and his family have moved to China and now operate a Korean restaurant in Kunming as well as the hotel and restaurant in Dali. It is right downtown (on the street that the locals call 'Foreigners row'), but the rooms are off a private courtyard and garden. We got both a triple and double room, so for the first time on our vacation, all the kids are in one room while Sarah & I have a room to ourselves! Including breakfast, the two rooms came to Y275 ($50)/night. This is probably a bit more than we could have paid elsewhere in Dali, but we liked the staff and it felt right.
Dali is a very laid back town and a haven for backpackers because it is clean and inexpensive. Banana pancakes for breakfast, milkshakes, cheap beer (about $1.00 for a 600ml bottle at a restaurant), Bob Marley and other low key music in all the cafes. We've been traveling pretty hard, and Dali is just what we need to slow down for a few days. The kids have dug out the books in earnest now, and are doing an hour or two a day while sitting in the courtyard.
The centre part of the town itself is cobbled streets that are closed to traffic. It is about 1km of wall to wall shops with lots of marble, brass, and batik . There are tiny stalls with vendors selling beef and chicken kabobs, and skewers of potatoes that are boiled in oil.
We had a wonderful dinner at Marley's Cafe. Their Sunday special Bai Banquet was a ten course extravaganza for a remarkable $20 total bill for all five of us (including beer and milkshakes). Plus the kids got to play with Mimi, their 6 week old kitten.
All the cafe and hotel owners have been very good about helping us (and other tourists in general). The father of Marley (of Marley's cafe) walked us up to the mini bus one morning to make sure we got onto the right bus. One of the staff at the Koreana Hotel accompanied Sarah over to a streetside 'shoe fixit' guy to get the calculator back that she had left earlier in the day. It was a struggle, but he relented and handed it back after a thorough lambasting from the helpful staff member.
We managed to do our laundry again. The Koreana Hotel lent us their washer, so we're now ready for another week of travel. (!)
We also discovered Café Jack - with the best chocolate cake and cheapest internet connection in Dali. This web page update is courtesy of Jack.
We braved out first street vendor meal - beer, pop, 15 skewers of beef and 5 skewers of potatoes cost under Y40 ($8). It was spicy & good.
On our last full day in Dali, we took a horse cart for a little tour. We stopped at some of the home based marble 'factories' that we had passed by on our way to the boat on the previous day. I assume these supply many of the stores in town. The factories were little more than corrugated tin shacks with lathes in it. Typically, other areas of the same shack were the bedroom and kitchen.
It is interesting. After almost four weeks on the road, I think we have finally stopped being tourists and started being travelers. We were tempted in Beijing to sign up on a package tour of China... but I had visions of being on a conveyor belt seeing the tourist traps. We would have 'ticked more tourist exhibits off the list', but seen much less of the country and people.
We have had a lot of fun exploring on our own - seeing the major exhibits and wondering around to schools in Xi'an or to farmer's markets in Shaping. I think we have all come to the realization that some museums and history are mandatory, but we've had more fun people watching, trying to meet the locals. I must admit... traveling with kids is a real conversation starter.
We're taking a mini bus to Lijiang and hoping to find a hotel in the old part of town. After our two disappointments in Xi'an and Dali, we are traveling without hotel reservations and arriving in the early afternoon to find an acceptable spot.
Addendum.... Chinese TV has had lots of news on the terrible World Trade Centre catastrophe today. We couldn't understand any of it, but the pictures told a terrible story.