Dali

It was a lot of hassle to get from Yangshuo to Dali overland. After a couple of hours on a bus from Yangshuo to Guilin, I boarded a train which would be my home for the next 20ish hours. I don’t mind long train rides, but this was the first one I would experience in seated position, having booked my train too late to get a bed.

The carriage was packed with people.

As well as taking bookings for a seat, they allow people to book a “standing” ticket, which means that the carriage was overflowing with people. Kids were sitting on their parents knees, people were sharing seats and lying on the floor between them. Normally I like trains because you can walk around, enjoying the freedom you cannot get on a bus. But this train was not like that, I got up only a handful of times to get hot water (which, as always is provided free at the end of the carriage – great for tea and noodles!) or to go to the toilet. Every time I got up it required mass organisation as people squeezed out of my way or moved their kids out of the way.

Whats worse than being stuck on a train like this for 20 hours?

Being delayed by two hours just a couple of kilometers outside of your destination.

There was some major problems in or near Kunming station which meant that all of the trains into and out of the station were delayed. As I don’t speak Mandarin I had absolutely no idea what was going on…but got increasingly frustrated as time ticked by.

I missed my next train but was luckily allowed on another for no extra cost or hassle, and arrived in Dali Old Town several hours later than I had promised my friend, Dylan, who was picking me up, swearing that never again would I make that journey!

Luckily, he had guessed the train must have been delayed and kindly he had waited until I arrived at 8.30pm to eat with me.

The visit started well with “Muslim Noodles” – a popular restaurant throughout China serving the traditional food of western China, handmade (and utterly delicious) wheat noodles.

I didn’t realise quite how high Dali is, but it means that the weather is more similar to the UK than it is to the tropical feel of Yangshuo. Unfortunately this meant it rained every day for three days while I was in Dali and whilst this might have spoiled some people’s visit, I was lucky enough to be staying in an amazing place.

Dylan lives with a group of other musicians and climbers who are currently renovating a house not far from the city centre. It is a beautiful and old, traditional building with dry stone walls and big wooden beams in every room. The rooms are built around an open courtyard. This creates a lovely space and means that every day, whether raining or not, you are forced to engage with the wider world.

We drank home-pressed hemp milk and fruit smoothies for breakfast, ate delicious “Baba” bread and drank home-brewed Kombucha (a fermented tea popular in Asia for it’s taste and probiotic and healthy properties).

Dylan and his housemates own a particularly special dog called “Lucky”. Lucky was hit by a car when he was just a puppy, and since then has not had the use of his two back legs. Instead, he has abs of steel. He moves about using just his two front legs to pull himself around. He lives in their courtyard most of the time and is one of the cutest and happiest dogs I have ever met. They have fashioned a piece of rope to go under his back legs and lift them so that Lucky can now be taken for walks up into the mountains. He loves his walks, and moves with considerable speed – so much so I almost had to run when I was holding the rope lifting his back legs.

Dali is set in a beautiful valley with mountains all around. There is climbing nearby, but thanks to the rain we didn’t make it to the crag. I was secretly pleased, having spent the last two months in Yangshuo climbing a lot, I was really enjoying a change of scene and some proper mountain walking on small trails through beautiful woodland.

On the evenings we drank home-brewed beer in Dylan’s kitchen or courtyard before heading into Dali Old Town for some live music. Dali is famous in China for it’s alternative culture and music scene and I can see why it draws so many interesting people. I had a complete blast on an evening, drinking and dancing, and riding home on the back of a motorbike!

Living in Yangshuo is amazing, and in many ways a perfect life, but I find being immersed in the climbing scene too long doesn’t suit me. I love the variety life has to offer, and my short trip to Dali allowed me to embrace other elements of my life. I was re-inspired to write, to draw and as always, had some amazing conversations with interesting people.

I left without a single photo, but with a strong desire to go back to this interesting place again.

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