Near the shores of the Erhai Lake (洱海) in Yunnan province, the ancient walled town of Dali (大理古城) has been a prime destination for the bohemian backpackers, Chinese and foreign alike, since the town was officially opened to tourists in the mid-1980s.
Yet, for a must-see travel destination that receives millions of tourists every year, the ancient town of Dali does not have any bus terminal and, depending where you arrive from, you will have to transit in Xiaguan (下关), the larger town at the southern tip of the Erhai Lake which acts as a transit hub in the region.
There are 5 bus stations in Xiaguan and to confuse first-time non-Mandarin speakers foreign backpackers, Xiaguan (下关) is also sometimes referred to as Dali (大理). In this article, I will always make the difference between Xiaguan (下关) and the ‘Dali old town’ (大理古城).
This is a post for foreign backpackers or expat in China who want to make the best of their journey in Yunnan without the hassle of wondering how to get to Dali and further without too many headaches. The goal of this article is to present Xiaguan’s five bus stations, the different destinations they cover, give indications regarding bus schedule and frequencies as well as travel time and price. In this article, I explains how to go from Xiaguan and Dali old town and finally how to take a bus from Dali old town to go north. Do check my other ‘how to get around in China‘ articles about bus and train travel in other parts of Yunnan and China.
About the timetable below
The following timetable, which includes bus frequency, travel time and prices, is for indication only. Like everything else in China, it will change in the future. I have used my personal experience (I went to all five of these bus stations to take a bus) and information gathered from the hard-to-navigate Chinese travel websites to help foreign travelers go around in the Dali / Xiaguan area and beyond. Double-check upon your arrival in the region. If you have any additional information to submit, please do so by leaving a comment at the end of the article or contact me directly.
Xiaguan Xingsheng Bus Terminal
It’s an important bus terminal in downtown Xiaguan located on Xingsheng Road (兴盛路41号). All taxi drivers know it. In addition to frequent buses towards Kunming, Lijiang, Yunlong which is the gateway to the village of Nuodeng (诺邓), and towns of Baoshan and Dehong prefectures in western Yunnan, there are frequent buses towards Dali ancient town in front of the terminal (left hand-side when you face the main entrance).
To Kunming 昆明 | Every 30 to 40 min between 7 AM and 7 PM | 4 to 5 hours | 145 RMB
To Lijiang 丽江 | Fives buses daily from 8.30 AM to 7 PM | around 3.5 hours | 80 RMB
To Tengchong 腾冲 | Three buses daily at 10 AM, 1 PM and 8 PM (sleeper bus) | 7 hours | 140 RMB
To Baoshan 保山 | Every 30 to 60 min between 8 AM and 7 PM | 2.5 to 3 hours | 70 RMB
To Mangshi 芒市 | Departing at 10.30 AM, 12 Noon, 6 PM (sleeper bus) | 6 to 7 hours | 150 RMB
To Ruili 瑞丽 | 8.30 AM and 8 PM (sleeper bus) | 10 to 12 hours | 190 RMB
To Yunlong 云龙 | Every 30 to 40 min between 7.30 AM and 4.30 PM | 3.5 to 4 hours | 40 RMB
Xiaguan Express Bus Station
Located a few blocks from Xingsheng bus terminal (take a taxi not to get lost), it’s the place to go if you need a bus towards Kunming, Chuxiong 楚雄 in central Yunnan, which is the gateway to the ancient salt town of Heijing 黑井, Liuku 六库 and Fugong 福贡 in the Salween River Valley aka Nu Jiang 怒江. Also well known from taxi drivers, it’s located near the intersection of Huancheng Road 环城路 and Longxi Road 龙溪路.
To Kunming 昆明 | One bus every hour between 7.30 AM and 7 PM | 4 to 5 hours | 145 RMB
To Chuxiong 楚雄 | One bus every 20 to 40 min between 7 AM and 6.30 PM | 2 to 2.5 hours | 70 RMB
To Liuku 六库 | One bus every 40 min between 6.40 AM and 2.40 PM | around 5 hours | 70 RMB
To Fugong 福贡 | One bus daily at 11.30 AM | 9 to 10 hours | 120 RMB
Xiaguan Southwest Bus Station
Located very closed to the highway, Xiaguan Southwest Bus Station is the place to go if you need to catch a bus towards Weishan 巍山, Dacang 大仓 where you can catch a horse-carriage to Donglianhua 东莲花, Xiangyun 祥云 which is the gateway to get to the ancient village of Yunnanyi 云南驿 east of Dali, or Yangbi 漾濞.
To Weishan 巍山 | One bus every 10 to 15 min between 7.30 AM and 7 PM | 1.5 hour | 20 RMB
To Xiangyun 祥云| One bus every 15 min between 7.30 AM and 7 PM | 1 hour | 20 RMB
To Yangbi 漾濞| One bus every 15 min between 7.30 AM and 7 PM | 1.5 hour | 20 RMB
Xiaguan North Bus Station
Situated in the northern part of the Xiaguan on Yuhua Road 榆华路, it’s the bus station to go if you are headed towards the north of the province. If you are heading to the Shaxi 沙溪 Valley, take a bus to Jianchuan 剑川 and change. If you are heading towards the upper-Mekong Valley to visit the catholic village of Cizhong 茨中 you may head to Weixi 维西 and change bus.
To Lijiang 丽江 | One bus every 20 to 30 min from 6.30 AM to 6.30 PM | 3 to 4 hours | 80 RMB
To Shangri-la 香格里拉 | One bus every 30 min between 6.30 AM and 12.30 PM | 8 to 9 hours | 110 RMB
To Deqin 德钦 | One sleeper bus at 4.30 PM | 12 to 15 hours | 150 RMB
To Jianchuan 剑川 | One bus every 10 to 20 min from 6.30 AM | 2 to 3 hours | 50 RMB
To Weixi 维西 | One bus at 8 AM, 9.30 AM and 6.30 PM (sleeper bus) | 8 to 10 hours | 100 RMB
To Eryuan 洱源 | One bus every 10 min from 6.30 AM to 6 PM | 2.5 hours | 20 RMB
Xiaguan East Bus Station
Located not too far from Xiaguan train station, the East Bus station is your stop if you have decided to climb the Jizu sacred mountain 鸡足山 or to explore the ‘other Zhoucheng 州城‘ . It’s also your stop if you are brave enough to go on a journey towards the remote ancient village of Lushi 鲁史 via Fengqing 凤庆 or heading south to Xishuangbanna 西双版纳 via the prefecture seat of Jinghong 景洪.
To Binchuan 宾川| One bus every 10 min between 7.30 AM to 8.30 PM | 3 to 4 hours | 30 RMB
To Jinghong 景洪 | One bus at 8.20 AM, 9.40 AM, 11 AM | 11 to 13 hours | 250 RMB
To Fengqing 凤庆 | One bus at 9.30 AM | around 6.5 to 7 hours | 90 RMB
Getting to Dali old town from Xiaguan and beyond
Once you’ve arrived in Xiaguan you have several option. If you arrive at Xingsheng bus station, just take the bus to Dali old town (usually marked with the sign 古城 gucheng). It cost 5 RMB, and drives by Dali old town South Gate (南门 Nan Men), the West Gate (see below) and to the Three Pagodas Temple (三塔寺). If you have to take a taxi to get to Xingsheng bus station, the fare usually costs between 6 and 10 RMB depending on where you get on.
You can also take a taxi all the way to the old town. Drivers will typically ask for 50 to 60 RMB for a way trip between Xiaguan and Dali old town.
If you come from a town or a village situated north of Dali (i.e. Xizhou 喜州, Shaxi 沙溪 via Jianchuan 剑川, Lijiang 丽江, Shangri-la 香格里拉), all the buses will drive pass Dali old town and finish their trip in Xiaguan. There are two main roads that bus usually take : either the Dali-Lijiang First Class Road (大理一级) which is the closest to the lake and will allow you to be dropped of by the Dali ancient town East Gate (东门 Dong Men) and the national road G214 which passes in front of the Three Pagoda Temple and will allow you to be dropped off by Dali ancient town West Gate (西门 Xi Men). In either case, tell the driver you are getting off at Dali old town (在大理古城下 zai dali gucheng xia).
Leaving Dali old town
A lot of travel agencies in Dali old town will sell bus tickets to Kunming or Baoshan. They are actually selling seats on buses which originate north of Dali. From personal experience, there are very few seats and less buses than if you go directly to Xiaguan, especially if you are heading back to Kunming.
If you need to go to Xiaguan, stand by the side of the road and catch a bus from one of the five bus terminal mentioned above. If you travel solo, there should be plenty of buses departing from Xizhou 喜州，Dengchuan 邓川, Jianchuan 剑川, Eryuan 洱源 with one seat left. Near the West Gate, there is also the blue urban bus number 4 which also goes to Xiaguan and drive by the Xingsheng bus terminal. If you are in a hurry, you can also take a taxi which you will find by the East and the West Gate. Fare should start between 50 to 60 RMB … and maybe higher.
Standing on the side of the road near the East Gate is the best way to catch a bus north towards Jianchuan (剑川) if you want to go to Shaxi 沙溪, to Shuanglang 双廊 which is a very popular destination among Chinese tourists, but also to Lijiang (丽江). It’s ideal if you are traveling solo or if you are two people. If you are going on a day trip to Xizhou 喜州, it’s the best way, as most buses will stop near this old town just 25 km north.
Beyond Dali by bus
If it’s your first time traveling by bus in China, read my articles about how to survive the China bus station conundrum and about all the things you need to know before starting your journey by bus in rural China.
Also, now that you need pretty much everything there is to know about how to travel by bus around Dali old town, check out my other articles about the 5 best places to see around Dali on a day-trip or go even further and visit one or more of the 10 historical villages to see in Yunnan beyond Dali, Lijiang or Shangri-la.
If you are traveling alone or in group, do let “civilization companies your journey”. Please do leave in a comment if you have any additional information about getting around Dali / Xiaguan area by bus.