5 historical villages to see near Dali, Yunnan

The Cangshan behind Dali, Yunnan

The Cangshan behind Dali, Yunnan

It’s easy to get stuck in Dali for a week and enjoy the semi-bohemian atmosphere of the town. Plans of hiking the Cangshan (苍山) or cycling through the villages on the banks of Erhai (洱海) lake are washed away by a series late nights and too many bottles of Lao beers.

It’s also very easy to let the town to the busloads of Chinese tourists who pour daily during the high season and find less touristy, more off-the-beaten path places to visit on a day-trip.

All these villages were once trading post on the old Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道) and are easily reachable by bus from Dali old town / Xiaguan 下关.

Weishan 巍山

A view of Weishan from the Gongchen Tower

A view of Weishan from the Gongchen Tower

Ancient capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom (南诏国) and important trade post on the old Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道), Weishan (巍山) is still off-the-radar to most foreign travellers in the region, yet Weishan is gaining popularity among Chinese tourists.

Visitors are attracted by Weishan’s ancient street which runs from the tower-like Gongcheng Gate built in 1390 to the remains of the south gate. The main street is lined with well-preserved Ming and Qing era buildings. It’s a true living museum.

Seemingly ‘untouched by time’, things are changing fast : old buildings are being knocked down and shops once catering to locals are being replaced by trinket stores for tourists.

Click here for more pictures and information about how to get to Weishan (巍山).

Yunnanyi 云南驿

Inside the ancient caravan inn in Yunnanyi

Inside the ancient caravan inn in Yunnanyi

Virtually unknown to most tourists, domestic and foreigners alike, Yunnanyi (云南驿) was not only an ancient trading post on the old Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道), it was also, during  WWII, the place where US soldiers flying the ‘Hump’ over the Himalaya landed with supplies for the Chinese armies.

The village consists mainly of two main relatively quiet cobble-stone streets lined with ancient buildings. One of the real highlight of the village is a museum situated in an ancient inns where muleteers on the Tea and Horse Road stopped for the night. The museum is divided into two parts : one is dedicated to the ancient trade route, the second explains what exactly was the ‘Hump’.

Click here for more pictures and information about how to get to Yunnanyi (云南驿).

Donglianhua 东连花

In the streets of Donglianhua

In the streets of Donglianhua

Donglianhua (东连花) is a Muslim (or Hui 回族 in Chinese) located in the plain between Xiaguan (下关) and Weishan (巍山). This ancient off-the-beaten path was once home to a community of Muslim caravan leaders who transported tea and other goods on the old Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道). Some of these muleteers became wealthy and have built imposing courtyards in the village.

One of these courtyard is also hosting a museum dedicated to the old Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道). Another highlight of Donglianhua is its Ming-era Chinese style mosque at the centre of the village.

Click here for more pictures and information about how to get to Donglianhua (东连花).

Xizhou 喜州

Entrance of one of Xizhou's historical residence

Entrance of one of Xizhou’s historical residence

Xizhou (喜州) owes its very existence to the local entrepreneurs and business men who took advantage of the old Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道). A few families became wealthy thanks to trade and have built impressive courtyard mansions. Well-preserved, these courtyard are still inhabited by locals or have been transformed into museums.

Very close to Dali (大理), Xizhou remains an off-the-beaten path destination of choice for those who want to admire local Bai architecture and escape the crowds. You can complete your visit to Xizhou with a bike ride or a hike to Erhai (洱海).

Click here for more pictures and information about how to get to Xizhou (喜州).

Weibaoshan 巍宝山

Linguan Temple's main hall on Weibaoshan

Linguan Temple’s main hall on Weibaoshan

Although Mount Weibao (or Weibao Shan 巍宝山 in Chinese) is not an ancient village on the Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道), it is worth going there for several reasons.

First, Mount Weibao is an interesting alternative to the Dali’s Cangshan (苍山). Then, much like the Cangshan, Mount Weibao is a mountain dotted with more than twenty Taoist and Buddhist temples that offers an easy 3 hour hike in the forest. Sure, you won’t have the same view on Erhai (洱海) and Dali, but you won’t see as many tourists either.

Located just 1.5 hour south of Dali, Mount Weibao is with the Chicken Foot Mountain (鸡足山) and Shibao Shan (石宝山), one of Yunnan’s major mountain temple cluster.

Click here for more pictures and information about how to get to Weibao Shan (巍宝山).

Welcome to Mount Weibao, a sacred mountain of Yunnan province.

Welcome to Mount Weibao, a sacred mountain of Yunnan province.

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Leave your feedback, comments or questions below.

There are 22 comments

  1. Taisiya Nasretdinova

    Hello Gaetan! Firtst of all, big thank you for sharing all of your research, articles and photos, its an amazig source of inspirtion for any traveller.
    I am currently travelling around China, right now in Kunming and deciding wether it will be OK to visit ancient villages/Hike some of the mountains of Tea and Horse Road under the rain, because the foreasts for the next couple of weeks dont look very hopeful and unfortunately I cant wait for too long in Yunnan. Do you think it will affect the transportation?
    Any advise will be appreciated.

    Thank you!

  2. emmawomble

    Just discovered your blog! wish i’d seen it before I left China! From the look of your posts I’ll have to go back to visit Yunnan province. These photos are beautiful.

    1. Gaetan

      Thanks you Emma. Yunnan is definitely worth coming back to China for a couple of weeks … specially if you are still in southeast Asia. And with the Mandarin you’ve learnt at HKU, travelling in the countryside should be easy for you 😉

      1. emmawomble

        If only I were still out there! Unfortunately my blog is rather out of date, and im not in Asia anymore – just catching up with a big back log of posts. For the foreseeable future, I’ll be in England and then the Netherlands, but who knows what opportunities may come up. I definitely intend to put learning mandarin to good use one day.

      2. Gaetan

        Well, hopefully, you’ll be back in Asia in no time. You’re website looks really good!… and I’m sure the Thai countryside will never be out of date 🙂

  3. yprh

    Glups! All the places you go look amazing. It is like you live in a different China I live… Thanks for sharing the info.
    I read in Yunnan there are thieves that attack the solo travellers, in the West mountains and so on. Do you think they exagerate in the Lonely Planet or it is real danger?

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you for your comment.
      I’ve been travelling solo to Yunnan for a long time and never had any problems. I never been to the West mountains. If you stick to populated places, there are no problem, but if you go solo on a trek through mountains, I’d recommend you bring someone with you.

  4. jamoroki

    Reblogged this on jamoroki and commented:
    I don’t like to re-blog too much as it feels like I am stealing other peoples hard work. But I love Gaetan Green’s travels off the beaten track in China so much that I must bring you some of his discoveries from time to time. In this post, which he has kindly allowed me to re-blog, he gives us a mini insight into 5 villages. I’ll close now and let you enjoy the post.

  5. Mei & Kerstin (@OOOpenUpNow)

    Hello Gaetan! This is yet another great post (and amazing photos)… as usual!! 🙂 Very instructive and inspiring. We’ve just started to plan our trip for next year. We’ll probably travel through China in November 2015. Still have lots of time, but I’ll be reading all your posts again to decide which historical villages we want to – or can – go in Yunnan, since we have to make a choice. Cheers, Mei

    1. Gaetan Green

      Hi Mei and Kerstin. Wow! You are some serious travel planners. Good to hear my posts are inspiring your travels. I’ll be posting more about Yunnan in the next couples of months, so stay tune. Also, if you have questions concerning traveling in Yunnan and southwest China, do not hesitate to write me an email. Happy travel planning!

      1. Mei & Kerstin (@OOOpenUpNow)

        Haha! Well, we never plan ahead when travelling through Europe or North America. But Asia is a bit different.. haven’t been there quite often. I do have a bunch of questions about southwest China, but I think some of them will be answered in your old posts. Will email you once I’ve read them all! 🙂

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