The four days before and after my Kung Fu training at the Shaolin Monastery, I stayed in the small town of Dali, China – located in the far west, near the boarders of Myanmar and Tibet. Although no one speaks English, the people in Dali are extremely friendly and welcoming. I’ve split this post into the first and second halves of the trip.
On my first day in the hostel, I met my new best friends for the week! Hostels are great for exactly that. Everyone is there for the same reason, excited, and looking for people to explore with.
“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.'” -C.S. Lewis
The first day, we went hiking up a nearby mountain and attempted to find a temple. We got pretty high up and ran into some people who said we were nowhere near any temple. Strike one. Luckily though, they told us we weren’t far from an amazing waterfall! So off we went. After about an hour, we came to the realization that we were probably very off track again… Strike two. But as we turned the corner, even though we didn’t see a waterfall, we saw a truly magnificent view – one of the best I’ve seen. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but it was magic. Home run!
My favorite part of Dali was their famous Three Pagodas, built for a very interesting reason… To fend off dragons! Really! Legend says that dragons inhabited the land of Dali before humans, and the dragons sent natural disasters to expel humans from the land. To deter the dragons, the reigning kingdoms built the Pagodas in the 9th and 10th centuries to save humanity!
When we went, we biked over expecting to see three large towers and that it would be a short trip. Oh were we wrong! When you walk into the complex, yes there are three large towers, but there are also long steps to a temple. Okay… so we get to the temple. Beautiful! And then we walked through to the other side of the temple, and hm… we see more stairs to another temple! This happens temple after temple after temple. I swear there were at least ten, with a million stairs total. Overall, totally worth it!
The second big attraction in Dali is Erhai Lake – so on the second day, we hoped back on our bikes and made the trek. Plainly, for being a main attraction, the lake was not that impressive, but perhaps we were spoiled by the Three Pagodas. There was one interesting part. When we were randomly walking around, we came across this colorful, playground-like structure. Apparently Dali is known for random corky things like that. Funny!
Lastly, there is no talking Dali without mentioning their very unique nightclub, Sense Club. The club has TRAMPOLINE FLOORS. It was so cool. You’ve never been in a mosh pit until you’ve been in one with a trampoline floor!
On the second half of the trip, I spent most of my time with the people I met in the Shaolin Monastery. Since we had already experienced all the touristy things, we enjoyed this time with the locals. To be more specific, we spent this time eating their amazing street food! I don’t like spicy food, but I couldn’t stop eating it in Dali! You would never guess how cheap it is either. You could easily eat to your heart’s content for under $5 a meal. And did I mention the hostel prices? $4 per night! Our favorite food was this type of dough stuffed with meat and vegetables, flattened on the grill. We never knew what we were eating half the time, but it was always good, and maybe we didn’t want to know anyway…
The locals also taught us how to bargain with the street vendors. Always half the price and accept a tiny bit up! Want that $20 bracelet? Start with $10, and don’t give them a dollar over $12. If they say no? Walk away, and they will run after you in a heartbeat! Didn’t fail once. Another hint? Their first sale of the day is good luck! So if you are their first customer, they will always give you a good price!
And that’s Dali. Off to Tokyo! I’ve added three new wolves to my wolfpack. Three guys I met in Dali decided to spontaneously come along to Japan. Why not, right? That’s one of the beauties of long-term travel. Plans can change daily!
Curious about any part of Chinese culture? Ask away in the comments below!