CHINA – Exploring beautiful Dali & Shaxi on the way from Kunming to Lijiang


Traveling from Kunming to Lijiang will take you through Dali and Shaxi which is just a short detour away, unless you fly of course. I travelled with my son of 12 for 3 weeks in China of which this overland trip was a small part of our Yunnan itinerary. We only planned to see the real highlights. We took the train from Kunming to Dali and drove further with a private driver passing Shaxi on the way to Lijiang. What to do and see I will explain you in this travel blog post with some tips and great photos. Enjoy reading!

From Kunming to Dali by train

It was 6 AM when the alarm went off and at 6:30 I finished breakfast in the club lounge of the Crowne Plaza Kunming hotel (review). Getting up early is not my thing and wasn’t feeling so well that morning but at 7:30 AM I was at the train station in the first class lounge waiting for my 8:15 train to Dali. A soft sleeper I booked for my son and myself; the lower beds so we could relax and arrive fresh in Dali. The 7 hours of train ride passed by quickly. Outside of Kunming the skyscrapers made place for rice terraces, hills, small towns and country life.


We arrived to Dali train station around 3PM and checked in to our hotel at 4PM which was situated in central old town of Dali. The May holidays in China were in full progress and we could literary walk over the heads in the streets; Dali was packed full. The Dali old town is actually a new old town and only very few old remains are left and we could explore all in a few hours.

A Dali day trip

Although the old city is actually a new old city history in the area dates back to the 8th century Nanzhao Kingdom and later in the 10th century the Kingdom of Dali. Did you know that Dali was once the 13th largest city in the world? This was the case after it got taken over by the Mongols. The current new old town is based on the design of the city like it was in the Ming dynasty. The old town is easily explored on foot with a bell tower, gate and part of the walls and many many shops and restaurants (see photo gallery below). You can also visit one of the markets in Dali, or like we did in a small town nearby. For us, Dali was just a one night stay and we continued the next day to Shaxi and Lijiang.

TIP! If you have the time (stay 2-3 nights) you can explore Erhai lake in more detail or visit the Cangshan mountains. I plan to return on another itinerary in which I have planned those places in.

Three Pagodas of the Chongsheng Temple in Dali

Our hotel did not offer breakfast so we walked a few meters down the road to get a nice noodle soup for 5 RMB! Wow, that’s almost for free! Around 10 AM we got picked up by our private driver and headed first to the Three Pagodas of the Chongsheng Temple in Dali.

These pagodas date back to the 9th and 10th century kingdoms that reigned the area during that time. They are built from bricks in a symmetric triangle. The tallest is almost 70 meters high and the smaller ones, which are built about 100 years later, stand just over 40 meters high. The outside naves are decorated with many Buddha statues carved out of marble. There is a huge temple complex behind the pagoda’s which is actually newly build and we did not visit it because it’s more of the same like other temples we have seen and its just new. We continued our journey to Shaxi where we arrived two hours later around lunch time.


Dali to Lijiang with a stop in Shaxi

We had a great lunch in one of the old streets in Shaxi after which we explored this old town. Shaxi is much better compared to Dali old town. You find here much more authentic remains. It is not big so it is easy to walk on foot and although the streets are full of shops the sellers are not too pushy. Shaxi is one of the best preserved market towns remaining of the old horse Caravan towns in China. The main sights are the Bai Buddhist Xingjiao Temple, a beautiful arch bridge and further just the quiet streets and local life. There are further some outlying temples and sights which we did not visit this time. Early afternoon we continued our journey to Lijiang and left Shaxi behind.

Our hotel in Lijiang was situated inside the old town and we would stay there for 4 nights. This Intercontinental Lijiang Resort & Indigo Lijiang Resort are located next to each other and we spend some nights in both. We went through Dali & Shaxi very quick as I know I will be back some day but Lijiang would be our base to explore that area in detail. Make sure to check my two-week Yunnan itinerary for the complete route I followed.

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Did you visit Dali or Shaxi too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Shaxi & Dali

Click an image for a full screen gallery of more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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