A thirty-minute local bus ride north of Xiaguan, DALI draws swarms of holidaying middle-class urban Chinese seeking an “old China” experience, while foreign backpackers drift through a Westerner-friendly theme park of beer gardens and hippified cafés. It’s not hard to see why people flock here: despite the tourist overkill along the main streets, Dali is pretty, interesting and relaxed, full of old houses and an indigenous Bai population rubbing shoulders with local Yi and Muslims. To the east lies the great lake, Er Hai, while the invitingly green valleys and clouded peaks of the Cang Shan range rear up behind town, the perfect setting for a few days’ walking or relaxation. Some visitors, seduced by China’s closest approximation to bohemia (and the local weed), forget to leave, and plenty of resident Westerners run businesses here.

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