Located amid breathtaking natural landscapes in China’s historic and culture-rich Yunnan province, Dali and Shaxi are two heritage towns that provide a glimpse into a prosperous and intriguing bygone era. Positioned in Southern China, close to the border with Myanmar, the area is known for its Bai cultural heritage, one of 56 ethnic groups recognised in China.

Dali is set on Erhai Lake and consists of a modern town at the southern shore and its ancient city on the western shore. Bordered by the dramatic Cangshan Mountain, the scenic surroundings and old landmarks are the main draw for visitors. Dali’s long history began in 738, and by 1000, Dali was one of the world’s largest cities, before being destroyed by the Mongols and rebuilt in the 1400s. The resulting make-up of the city is what attracts people today, with its old Chinese houses, charming temples and narrow streets evoking a romantic charisma.

Located 150km north of Dali, the ancient town of Shaxi is historically a key trading hub on the old Tea Horse Road, and today is the site of one of the best-preserved historic market hubs in Asia. Like in Dali, the rich cultural heritage of the Bai people defines the character of the town, while Shaxi’s vibrant Friday market provides a memorable hint to its former glory. Discover temples, shops, alleyways, houses, gates and bridges dotted throughout Shaxi, including the atmospheric main square with its ancient stage.

These small towns in the Yunnan province feel a world away from the frenetic cities with which most people associate China. I loved visiting some of the local people’s homes and learning more about the traditional crafts from which they still make a living today, including tie-dye and cheese making!

Rachel O'Leary
Travel Designer

What to do

  • Stroll through Dali's ancient town
  • Explore the beautiful Cangshan Mountain
  • Admire Dali's famous Three Pagodas temple
  • Experience the bustling Shaxi Friday Market
  • Absorb Shaxi's main square and ancient stage
  • Learn about Shaxi's role along the Tea Horse Road

When to go

Neither Dali or Shaxi experience any extreme seasonal weather, ensuring that both destinations are pleasant and rewarding throughout the year.