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The next day we took the bus to Dali. We took a cab to the bus station and hopped what Kelly’s dad called a “pirate” bus. It wasn’t air-conditioned and it struggled to go up the steepest hills, but there was ample legroom and it wasn’t all that uncomfortable. That is until about 3 hours into the journey, I started to smell something foul.

I looked over and noticed the lady in the next row holding her daughter over a plastic trashcan in a squatting position. The kid was peeing. She held her there for a few minutes so maybe she was trying to do something else. I don’t know and I try not to think about it. The mother thought nothing of this maneuver and didn’t even take the “trash” out at the next stop! I was happy to be near a window but a few people in front of me were not so lucky and they didn’t seem to appreciate the situation.

The bus driver had said it would take 5 hours and go all the way to Dali, but in fact it took almost 7 hours and only went to Xiaguan, and then the taxi driver dropped us off on the wrong side of the old city, but we found a nice Youth Hostel that was clean, cheap, and was staffed by incredibly friendly girls who helped us with all of our questions without trying to pitch us on all their different services. We did look at a couple places mentioned in the Lonely Planet but they were dirty and overpriced and throughout our trip in Yunnan, we would learn that our generally trusted bible would be horribly inaccurate and out of date. We no longer feel too bad about buying a “copy” from a bookstore in Ho Chi Minh city for $2 USD.

Yes, I’m sure Mr. Chow, born in 1942, felt a little strange being surrounded mostly by a bunch of backpacker kids, but there were a few older Chinese there and the rooms were much cleaner than anything local that we found and after a few months, we’ve generally decided to spend a little bit more to have a modern toilet, warm bed, and clean room, even it means not having a true “local” experience. 

Dali IS a tourist destination, though most tourists here are Chinese and while there is a small pocket of foreigners, it isn’t anything like some of the tourist hubs of SE Asia. The girls at the hostel pointed us to a “garden” restaurant where we had some of the best meals of our trip and we spent the next couple days visiting the brand new “ancient” Three Pagodas that while built just a few years ago, are very impressive…and massive…and riding bikes around the countryside, which was filled with farmers working their fields and made for a very peaceful afternoon.

We really liked Dali. Yes, it is touristy, but not ridiculously so and it is easy to escape the old town on a bicycle, which still has a lot of charm. In hindsight, we probably should have spent another day here. But we were worried about getting to Shangrilia to late to get our Tibet permits made in time to catch a flight on the 19th and so we left the next day on the morning bus to Lijiang.


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