A comparison of the two ancient towns
First, I would like to do a comparison between the two ancient towns, Dali and Lijiang. Dali is smaller, more rustic, and more like an ancient town. Lijiang (the ancient town itself) is bigger, well refurbished, much more touristy, looking more like a shoppers' pedestrian mall you can find in many places in China. So, Dali has more character. Anyone who wants to soak in the atmosphere of an ancient town should spend more time in Dali.
Fig 1: Dali ancient town
Fig 2: Lijiang ancient town
Seeing through a scam
Tourist's traps are aplenty in both towns. Every other shop is selling silverware/jade and Chinese herbs/tea. Every local is trying to sell you the wonder Chinese herb, Maca. In one instance, as I was walking close to a store selling Chinese herbs, almost immediately out of nowhere, a tanned man with dark glasses on appeared next to me and demanded the staff manning the store to show him some superior Maca. He claimed he is a Chinese physician from the Shandong Chinese Medical Institute and pulled out a pass to prove his credential. Although he was supposedly talking to the staff manning the store, he made sure that I could see his proof of identity.
I told myself that this is a scam.
1) His approach is too well-timed.
2) His accent is typically local Yunnanese.
3) His complexion is typically local Yunnanese. As Dali and Lijiang are on higher altitude, the UV light is strong and hence, the locals are quite tanned.
So, I walked away. Almost immediately, the 'Shandong' Chinese physician also walked away. When I walked past the same store half an hour later, I spotted the same 'Shandong' Chinese physician waiting for his prey.
So, please resist from buying any silverware/jade, Chinese herbs, tea or anything expensive.
In Lijiang, I had booked a taxi, a proper licensed taxi, to Jade Dragon Mountain. The driver a middle-age woman, duly arrived to pick me up on time at the hotel. By the way, many taxi drivers in Lijiang are Naxi women. The driver told me that Jade Dragon Mountain is too cold in the morning and I should go to Lashihai first. I was not keen in going to Lashihai, a lake and wetland just outside Lijiang city as I had read that Lashihai is not worth visiting. But it did sound logical that the mountain is cold in the morning so I relented. On reaching Lashihai, I was brought to a kiosk and introduced to a horse riding/tea drinking/boat rowing package that costs RMB1300 (one thousand three hundred). Then I fully realised why the driver was so keen in bringing me to Lashihai. I refused and walked away. Then my taxi driver and the Lashihai guy entered into a conference. I was then offered the package for RMB240. Yes, two hundred and fifty.
So, please don't go to Lashihai. If you want to go, make sure you pay RMB240 and not RMB1300.
Trekking the Tiger Leaping Gorge
The key attraction at Tiger Leaping Gorge is the Tiger Leaping Stone. Most tourists will take a ride by car to the spot to view it, take photos and then go back. On 7 Feb, I started my trek at the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge (TLG) at Qiaotou, went up the mountains, spent a night at a mountain lodge and reached Middle Tiger Leaping Gorge the next day. As a result, I got to enjoy an exhilarating experience and the breathtaking views.
Fig 3: A view from the top at Upper TLG
Getting there and away
From Kunming to Dali - I took a bus from the Kunming south bus station. Travelling time was supposed to be about 4 hours. However, there was a 1 hour traffic jam on the highway due to an accident. The bus station and the train station in Dali are located at downtown Dali which is some 20 minutes travelling time away from Dali Ancient town. There is no reason why anyone should stay in downtown Dali since the attraction is Dali Ancient town.
From Dali to Lijiang - I took a bus from Dali Ancient town station which is just 5 minutes outside the the Ancient town. The travelling time to Lijiang is about 2 hours. One can also take a train from Dali downtown to Lijiang. However, that is not advisable because you have to travel 20 minutes to downtown and the train departure is not as frequent as bus.
From Lijiang to Kunming - Originally, I had wanted to take an overnight train with a travelling time of about 10 hours. However, I found out that the cheapest flight departing at 1 am with a travelling time of under 1 hours costs only RMB350, barely RMB100 more than a soft sleeper on the train. The only problem was that I arrived at the hotel in Kunming at 2.30 am. Fortunately, the hotel gave me a room at 6 am without charging me extra. The hotel is Lake View Hotel.