Dali

a flight to kunming & an afternoon at yuantong temple

Thursday, February 12:  At mid-morning, we have a flight from Dali to Kunming that is delayed by nearly an hour.  So far, of all the flights we’ve taken in China, it’s the norm that the plane has departed late, at least by a half-hour.  Of course, any delay is frustrating, as airports are notoriously boring.  The small Dali airport is especially so.

At Dali Airport waiting for our flight to Kunming

At Dali Airport waiting for our flight to Kunming

Inspired by the multitudes of Chinese selfies: Alex & me on the plane to Kunming

Inspired by the multitudes of Chinese selfies: Alex & me on the plane to Kunming

Finally, we take off for our one hour flight, but by the time we arrive in Kunming to the Kai Wah Plaza Hotel, it’s well after lunchtime.  We enjoy a meal in a huge banquet room where we’re the only customers.

Our hotel in Kunming, Kai Wah Plaza

Our hotel in Kunming, Kai Wah Plaza

Soon after lunch, we take a taxi to the fabulous Yuantong Temple.  This temple is considered to be Yunnan’s grandest and most important Buddhist site.  While most Buddhist temples are built on a hill, you enter Yuantong Temple from above and descend along a gently sloping garden path. Giant cypress trees, flowers and tropical foliage line the garden path to the temple making for peaceful yet impressive entry.

Entrance gate to Yuantong Si

Entrance gate to Yuantong Si

King Yimouxun of the Nanzhao Kingdom built the temple during the late 8th and early 9th century during the Tang Dynasty, and the restorations  performed from the Qing Dynasty onward have not changed its unique mixed architectural style of the Yuan and Ming Dynasties.

Yuantong Si

Yuantong Si

It’s notable that this temple sits right in the midst of Kunming and so is a surprisingly quiet oasis in the center of a Chinese city’s normal bustle and chaos.

Under the eaves at Yuangtong Si

Under the eaves at Yuangtong Si

Yuantong Si

Yuantong Si

 a riot of color under the eaves

a riot of color under the eaves

Inside Yuangtong Si

Inside Yuangtong Si

Colorful eaves

Colorful eaves

Jolly fellow

Jolly fellow

Alex mimes the Buddhist figure

Alex mimes the Buddhist figure

Buddhist figure at Yuangtong Temple

Buddhist figure at Yuangtong Temple

The temple complex is built around Yuantong Hall (Mahavira Hall), which is known as the “Fane on the Water” for it is surrounded by a large pond. A stone bridge, upon which sits an elegant octagonal pavilion, connects Mahavira Hall and the temple entrance. The pavilion is connected to the rest of the complex by various bridges and walkways.  This structure of a Buddhist hall surrounded by water is unique in China.

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

pretty bridge at Yuangtong Temple

pretty bridge at Yuangtong Temple

Details at Yuangtong Temple

Details at Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuangtong Temple

Yuantong Temple

Yuantong Temple

The temple is an active site of pilgrimage.  Along with the patronage of the local people of Kunming and Yunnan in general, Buddhists from around the world come here to pay homage, there are special Buddhist services two times each month, and the Buddhist Association of Yunnan Province is located here.

Eaves at Yuangtong Temple

Eaves at Yuangtong Temple

The main hall at Yuangtong Temple

The main hall at Yuangtong Temple

Bridge over the pond and Yuangtong Temple

Bridge over the pond and Yuangtong Temple

The octagonal pavilion sitting atop the stone bridge over the central pond is dedicated to the multi-armed Guanyin and white marble Sakyamuni.

the octagonal pavilion in the center is dedicated to a multi-armed Guanyin

the octagonal pavilion in the center is dedicated to a multi-armed Guanyin

a white marble Sakyamuni in the octagonal pavilion

a white marble Sakyamuni in the octagonal pavilion

Main Hall at Yuangtong Temple

Me in front of the Main Hall at Yuangtong Temple

According to Travel China Guide: Yuantong Temple: Sakyamuni, Amitabha and the Medicine Buddha, all Yuan Dynasty statues, are found in the main hall. The surrounding 500 Buddhist Arhats who are carved in the walls are rare treasures noted for their perfect proportions and lively appearances. Also in this hall are two ten meter high pillars from the Ming Dynasty that are each engraved with a dragon.  Their bodies and claws are extended into the air as if they are ready to fly.

Faded frescos on the back wall of the main hall were painted in the 13th century.

In the main hall, two huge central pillars are wrapped in colorful dragons

In the main hall, two huge central pillars are wrapped in colorful dragons

Behind the main hall is a new annex with a graceful gilded bronze Buddha flanked by peacocks, donated by the Thai government.

the new annex in the back of Yuangtong Temple

the new annex in the back of Yuangtong Temple

curving rooftops on the annex

curving rooftops on the annex

multi-layered roof

multi-layered roof

Inside the annex

Inside the annex

curvature

curvature

Alex and the guards

Alex and the guards

guarding the annex

guarding the annex

Me & the guards

Me & the guards

a little pond filled with turtles and frogs

a little pond filled with turtles and frogs

colorful eaves

colorful eaves

Main Hall at Yuangtong Si

Main Hall at Yuangtong Si

Main gate through the tropical foliage

Main gate through the tropical foliage

The main gate to the temple

The main gate to the temple

incense sticks

incense sticks

After leaving this gorgeous temple, we go next door to a Bank of China, where I need to get $500 (USD) for my trip to Myanmar.  I’ve been told we should have crisp new large US dollars to exchange for the local Myanmar currency, the Myanmar Kyat, in order to get the best exchange rate.  Foreigners in China are only allowed to exchange yuan for a maximum of $500 USD each day.  I only had time before leaving Nanning to get about $500, plus Mike brought me $600 from home, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get crisp new large US bills from China.

After leaving the bank, it happens to be rush hour.  We cannot for the life of us find a taxi.  We wait and wait, trying to flag down numerous taxis, but they’re all occupied.  We decide if we walk to the major north-south road in Kunming, Beijing Lu, and walk about 10 blocks, we can eventually make our way back to our hotel, which is right on that street.  We walk and walk and walk and we’re getting exhausted from the hike.  Finally, we catch the eye of a three-wheeled taxi.  We show him the address of our hotel from my Chinese translation from Booking.com on my phone, and we’re off for an agreed 15 yuan.  Alex thinks it’s a real adventure as he’s never ridden on a contraption such as this before.

In the bar area of our hotel, we order two pizzas, Mexican and Vegetarian, and share them both.  We are too exhausted from our day of travel to do much else, so we relax in our hotel.  I get some night shots of Kunming from our hotel window.

Downtown Kunming at night from our room at Kai Wah Plaza

Downtown Kunming at night from our room at Kai Wah Plaza

Nighttime view of Kunming from our hotel window

Nighttime view of Kunming from our hotel window

In the morning, we’ll be heading to the Stone Forest in Shilin.  We know it will be a hassle as we have to go to the East Bus station to catch a bus, but little do we know how much of a hassle it will be.

Categories: China, Dali, Kunming, Travel, Yuantong Si, Yuantong Temple, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

a bicycle ride to erhai lake & the three pagodas of dali

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.

Courtyard at Dali Mountain Delights

Courtyard at Dali Mountain Delights

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.

views on our bicycle ride

views on our bicycle ride

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.

Cangshan Mountain in the distance

Cangshan Mountain in the distance

Alex and our bicycles

Alex and our bicycles

Alex along the roadside

Alex along the roadside

The countryside between Dali and Erhai Lake

The countryside between Dali and Erhai Lake

More of the countryside

More of the countryside

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.

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Paintings found on many buildings in Dali

Paintings found on many buildings in Dali

Hotels along Erhai Lake

Hotels along Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Alex finds this little pavilion a perfect place to do a handstand.

Pavilion on Erhai Lake

Pavilion on Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

View from the pavilion to the shore

View from the pavilion to the shore

Erhai Lake

Erhai Lake

Shore of Erhai Lake

Shore of Erhai Lake

Trees on the border of Erhai Lake

Trees on the border of Erhai Lake

Boat at Erhai Lake

Boat at Erhai Lake

Boats at Erhai Lake

Boats at Erhai Lake

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.

restaurant at Erhai Lake

restaurant at Erhai Lake

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.

Courtyard of the restaurant near Erhai Lake

Courtyard of the restaurant near Erhai Lake

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.

business along the walk to the Three Pagodas of Dali

business along the walk to the Three Pagodas of Dali

We get our first glimpse of one of the pagodas from one of the side streets.

First glimpse of one of the three pagodas

First glimpse of one of the three pagodas

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.

Three pagodas of Dali

Three pagodas of Dali

Three Pagodas of Dali

Three Pagodas of Dali

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.

Categories: Asia, Cangshan Mountain, China, Dali, Dali Mountain Delights, Erhai Lake, Three Pagodas of Dali, Travel, Yunnan Province, Zhonghe Peak | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

arrival in dali & a stroll around town

Tuesday, February 10:  At Cato’s Inn in Shaxi, we have our breakfast at the hotel’s detached cafe down the lane.  Afterwards, I print out some of my confirmations for my Myanmar flights and hotels, because I never had time to do it before I left Nanning.  Luckily, Cato’s Inn has a laid-back vibe, and Nancy and Cato are happy to accommodate me.  It’s something that’s been worrying me, so I’m glad to get it done so I can relax.

We don’t get underway until 10:45 a.m. to head to Dali. Cato carries our bags to the bus station on a bicycle cart.  The 45-minute bus ride to Jianchuan is just as winding and bumpy as it was two days ago, but luckily Alex is busily engaged with some of the Chinese passengers and somehow avoids getting motion sickness.  An 18-year-old young man tells us, in decent English, of his dream to study in the U.S. and build robots with his hands.  He’s waiting for offers from U.S. colleges.  He’s from Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, and, like Alex, is traveling with his mother.

Another Chinese young man also chats with Alex about school, getting a driver’s license, the drinking and smoking age in the U.S. and other things young people are concerned about.

At noon in Jianchuan, we get on the bus (36 yuan each).  The driver tells us we’ll arrive in Dali at 2:00, but we don’t get on the expressway until 12:40 and the driver is poking along at a very slow 60-80 km/hour.  It’s 126 km to Dali, so we won’t get there at 2:00.

During our drive I start getting phone calls from our hotel in Dali wondering when we will arrive.  The young lady on the phone tells us it will be difficult to find our hotel, so they want to meet us when the bus arrives.  There is some confusion as to where the bus will stop, but I hand my phone to the bus driver to sort it out.  When we get off the bus, a girl and her mother are waiting in the parking lot to drive us to our hotel, Dali Mountain Delights.  It turns out the hotel is outside of the old town, and I’m a little disappointed as I usually try to book hotels right in the thick of things.  Luckily, it’s not a long walk to Dali’s Old Town.

At the hotel, the girl introduces us to her new puppy, a Border Collie named Dali.  She’s thrilled to have Alex meet the dog, and Alex tells her about our Border Collie, Bailey, who died last summer.  After we put our things into our room, we head out to grab a late lunch in Dali.

We head into town through the Cangshan Gate and follow the directions to the food street.

Dali's West Gate

Dali’s Canghsan Gate

Dali is considered by many to be a haven for cool Chinese tourists and foreign backpackers; Lonely Planet China calls it “China’s closest approximation to bohemia.”  The town is only about four square kilometers, much of which is contained within the remains of its Ming-dynasty walls.

Vegetable cart in Dali

Vegetable cart in Dali

We head for the Western food street, and grab a seat outside at the Yunnan Cafe Bar.

Alex at Yunnan Cafe Bar

Alex at Yunnan Cafe Bar

Our view from the Cafe

Our view from the Cafe

I have a delicious baked potato stuffed with mushrooms, garlic and cheese, and Alex and I share a bunch of French fries.  After this filling lunch, I’m all potatoed out.

Alex again at Yunnan Cafe Bar

Alex again at Yunnan Cafe Bar

We take a walk through the streets, where we notice the green domes of a mosque, unusual in China.

Mosque dome in Dali

Mosque dome in Dali

All through Lijiang, and now here in Dali, there are music stores selling drums, miniature guitars and CDs that look like old 45s.  In all of the stores, there is a mellow local Lijiang song playing; I don’t think the song has an English name and of course I don’t know the Chinese name.  However, I love the song, and soon have it playing inside my head.

Music store, where the Lijiang famous song is always playing

Music store, where the Lijiang famous song is always playing

There seem to be a lot of fruit juice stands in Dali, and Alex stops to have some fresh pomegranate juice made by this man.  I have him make me a bottle too.  It’s wonderfully refreshing.

the pomegranate juice man

the pomegranate juice man

pomegranates

pomegranates

Of course the locals are out with their vegetables for sale.

vegetables for sale

vegetables for sale

vegetable market on Dali's streets

vegetable market on Dali’s streets

Streets of Dali

Streets of Dali

police mobile

police mobile

fortune tellers

some interesting things are going on!

Dali streets

Dali streets

Later, Alex stops for another fruit juice, this time a pomegranate and kiwi juice that he doesn’t find nearly as tasty as the plain pomegranate juice.

the hippie culture

the hippie culture

We continue to walk around the streets until we come to a foot massage place we’d seen earlier.  Alex has never had a foot massage in his life, and I am ready to be pampered a bit after all our travels.  We go inside and soak our feet only to realize shortly that our two masseuses are deaf and dumb.  One of them is really friendly and smiley. My lively masseuse notices the red scrape on my calf from my bicycle accident. He points at the scrape and then holds up 10 fingers; one by one, he folds them into his palm.  Then he motions as if to wipe away the scrape.  He does this several times and we laugh, knowing he’s right.  Though the scrape looks bad now, it will be gone in 10 days.

He calls it correctly, as the scrape does in fact vanish 10 days after my accident.

another gate

another gate

Alex orders a pomegranate and Kiwi juice

Alex orders a pomegranate and Kiwi juice

a bicycle built for 1 1/2?

a bicycle built for 1 1/2?

textiles in Dali

textiles in Dali

street art in Dali

street art in Dali

Dali architecture

Dali architecture

Another gate to the old town

The Cangshan Gate again

After our foot massages, we go back to the hotel to relax for a bit.  Since we ate a late lunch, neither of us is hungry.  When we go back into town, we decide we’ll look for a place we saw earlier that serves fresh mango desserts.  We walk up and down the street looking for the place, but we miss it on our first pass through.  We walk all the way to the end and then turn around to retrace our steps.  It turns out we find it not far from where we ate lunch and had our foot massages.  In this cozy place, we eat fresh mango with ice cream and tapioca balls.  Delicious!

the mango dessert place

the mango dessert place

Categories: Asia, China, Dali, Dali Mountain Delights, Travel, Yunnan Cafe Bar, Yunnan Province | Tags: , , , , | 13 Comments

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