Wednesday, February 11: This is our only day in Dali, and we get a very late start. First, we sleep in. I’ve been sick with a cold and cough, and last night I started feeling an earache coming on. This morning, it’s bad, and I know an earache doesn’t just go away on its own. I’m going to need some antibiotics to clear up the problem, and my choice is to get some medication today, in Dali, or wait until I get to Myanmar, because we’re going to be in transit every day from now until Sunday, when I fly to Mandalay.
First, we have breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, right off the courtyard below.
After breakfast, we ask the daughter of the hotel manager, who speaks excellent English, first, where we can find a clinic, and second, where we can rent bicycles. She tells us the hotel has bicycles we can use for free, but when we try them, we find the seats are too low and no matter what we do we can’t raise them. We need some kind of tool because they seem to be stuck. She tells us she will walk us into Dali and help us find a clinic and a bike shop.
We walk our bikes into the town and the streets are so congested with a big market that we can hardly move. Because we are walking with the bicycles, we can’t easily push our way through the crowd. We are at a standstill for ages. When we finally emerge from the frenzy, the girl asks directions from a local man. She looks baffled and as we walk away she tells us she didn’t understand him as he spoke the local dialect, which she doesn’t know. Oh dear, even Chinese people often can’t communicate in China!
After the girl asks several other locals for directions to the clinic, we finally find an open air hole in a wall, where a lot of sick-looking people sit miserably on uncomfortable chairs around the room. In an adjoining office, also fronting the street, is a doctor talking on the phone and smoking a cigarette. The girl beckons us to follow her directly into the doctor’s office and explains to him that we need an antibiotic for an ear infection. The doctor doesn’t put down the phone or his cigarette, but grabs a box of something from a shelf, “Rhythromycin,” and shoves it to us over the desk, going back to his conversation after telling the girl how much we owe and that I need to take 3 tablets a day after meals for 2 days.
Next, we go to the bike shop, where the repairman has a tool to help raise the seats on the bike. Finally, we’re on our way. We head out the north gate of Dali on a long convoluted road toward Erhai Lake.
Once we’re outside the town, the road is straight and slightly downhill, so it’s a breeze. Of course I know you always have to pay for a downhill ride; on the way back it will be a long slow climb. We make periodic stops to admire views of Zhonghe Peak, one of the tallest mountains in the Cangshan range to the west of Dali, and the farmland in the valley.
We’re heading east to the shore of the forty-kilometer-long Erhai, meaning “Ear-shaped sea.” The east-west width of the lake is roughly 7–8 kilometres (4.3–5.0 mi). Its area is 250 square kilometres (97 sq mi), making it the second largest highland lake of China, after Dianchi Lake in Kunming.
The road ends at a parking lot on the lakeshore; it’s occupied by vendors selling dried fruits. We buy several bags of kiwi, pineapple and plums. A dock juts into the lake from the parking lot, but it is closed except to people who are going on a boat cruise, which I’ve heard is a long affair. We’re too late for that. Instead we look for a path along the shore where we can ride our bikes. We find a path, but it isn’t very long. We ride along the shore for a bit, admiring the pretty lane and the lake shore, with gnarly trees growing along its edge.
Alex finds this little pavilion a perfect place to do a handstand.
By this time, it’s quite late in the afternoon and we’re hungry. We look for a restaurant on the street near the lake. We wander into the courtyard of this little restaurant, where the menu is all in Chinese. Luckily I can use my WayGo app to translate the menu. Though time-consuming, at least we know what we’re ordering.
I order an eggplant dish. It’s soaked in oil, but it’s still tasty. I know when I get vegetables like this soaked in oil, I’m going to have stomach problems. Later I do suffer.
After lunch, it’s a long slow ride back up the hill into Dali, just as I feared it would be. As we’re riding along, suddenly an artist from Belgium is beside us, riding along with some canvases strapped to his bike. He tells us he and his wife are living in Dali doing their art. I know Dali is a haven for westerners; many have become long-time residents who have opened shops, galleries and cafes. This young man is one of the locals.
By the time we get back to town, our butts are sore and we’re exhausted. We decide to rest for a bit in the hotel. Not only do I have the cold and earache, but now my stomach doesn’t feel so good either.
After a while, we head out to walk about 20 minutes north of our hotel to see Dali’s Three Pagodas. We’ve heard it’s expensive to get into the grounds. We’ve also heard that you cannot go up inside the pagodas. We’ve pretty much decided we’re not going to pay to get into the grounds, because we’re heard you can see them perfectly well from outside the gates. We pass some drab parts of Dali (these are outside the old town) and some vendors selling vegetables outside the gates of the pagodas.
We get our first glimpse of one of the pagodas from one of the side streets.
When we get to the entrance gate, we can see that the park inside the gate looks quite nice and we decide we should go ahead and pay to go inside. It’s about 4:30 by this time and the gates close at 5:00. The woman inside refuses us entry, saying it’s too close to closing time. I have to say I’m a little disappointed because I’m sure there are some pretty views inside the gates. Plus our views outside the gate are not that great, contrary to what we’ve been told. We walk around the outside of the huge gated park, trying to find some good views, but not really getting any great ones.
According to China Highlights: The Three Pagodas of Dali: the Three Pagodas are cream-colored, delicate-looking brick pagodas. The tallest and oldest of the three, Qianxun, was built during the reign of King Quan Fengyou of the Nanzhao Kingdom, about 1,150 years ago. The square-shaped pagoda is 16 stories, stands 69.6 meters (227 feet) high, and it is one of the tallest pagodas ever built in China. The other two were built about 100 years later, probably by the Kingdom of Dali. They stand at the foot of Yinglo Peak, one of the high peaks of the nearby Cangshan Mountain range. The tallest pagoda is one of China’s best preserved buildings from the time of the Tang Dynasty; the smaller two pagodas differ in style.
We’re too exhausted to walk back to Dali Old Town from the pagodas, so we take a taxi to the south gate so we can see more of the town before sundown.