Cang Shan (Green Mountains)
Running down the west side of Dali, the 42km-long (25-mile) Cang Shan mountain range with its 19 peaks (a number of them permanently snow-covered), 18 streams, and acres of verdant forests, is well worth exploring, even though an army of old men is scattered throughout the mountain area to make sure that tickets have been purchased. The easiest way to ascend the mountain is by chairlift (8:30am-6:30pm), a lovely ride ¥30 up, ¥20 down, that offers some of the loveliest vistas of the old town and the shimmering blue Er Hai Lake in the distance. (From the western gate of the old town, head north until you see the sign for the chairlift; or take a taxi for ¥10.) At the chairlift's upper terminus is Zhonghe Si, a not particularly memorable temple. The sign for the Highlander Guest House (tel. 0872/266-1599; www.higherland.com/index2.htm) says 100m (328 ft.), what it doesn't say is that it's 100m (328 ft.) straight up. At the moment the place has superb potential and will one day be a star attraction, but not yet. Several trails branch out from Zhonghe Si. Hiking options in the Cang Shan range include trips to lakes, waterfalls, mountain peaks and temples. For those looking for a leisurely hike, the Cloud Pass is an easy choice. The stone path is fairly flat and winds around six mountains, past five waterfalls and three temples. Side trails jut out from the Cloud Pass near the waterfalls and lead upward to clear pools, more waterfalls, and excellent vistas. Stretching about 20km (12 miles), Cloud Pass can also provide a nice workout. With road signs and plenty of other hikers there is no danger of losing your way. Another option if you don't have time to make a day of it is the trek through pretty terrain to Fengyan Dong (Phoenix Cave), which takes you through the back of Longquan Mountain (about an hour each way). There's also a vigorous 11km (7-mile), 4 1/2- to 5-hour hike to Gantong Si, a temple first built in 900 on the southern slope of Yingsheng Peak. The road down the mountain from Gantong Temple will take you back to the main road, from where you can take a taxi or bus no. 4 back to Dali. Another trail leads to the lovely Qingbi Xi in the valley between Malong and Shengying peaks. Flowing through three large ponds, this stream eventually empties into Er Hai.
Er Hai Hu (Er Hai Lake)
East of Dali and north of Xiaguan, Er Hai Hu, literally named after its resemblance to a human ear (er), is one of the seven largest freshwater lakes in China and the second largest in Yunnan after Dian Chi in Kunming. Originating in the Heigu Shan mountains to the northwest and fed partially by the 18 streams of Cang Shan, the lake spans 42km (25 miles) from north to south, and 7km (4 miles) from east to west, and has an average depth of 10m (33 ft.). Many settlements and towns are scattered around the lake, along with some tourist traps on the eastern side. Warning: Some recent travelers have reported that the lake was unsafe for swimming as it contained the schistosomiasis (bilharzia) parasite; unfortunately, accurate up-to-date information on the situation is hard to come by.
However, a boat ride on the lake is an option. Giant tourist boats charge ¥90 to make a 3 1/2- to 4-hour run of the lake from the Taoyuan Matou (dock) in Zhou Cheng to Xiaguan, stopping along the way at Putuo Dao, Guanyin Ge (Guanyin Pavilion), and Jinsuo Dao, an island full of caves and caverns and inhabited by Bai fishermen. You can also negotiate with smaller private boats, which charge an average of ¥100 to ¥200 for the round-trip; or get a travelers' cafe in town to help you with any special arrangements. Do not be tempted to stay on the other side of the lake. The area around Shuanglang has horrendous roads and poor transportation connections. Even worse, the accommodation in this area is extremely mediocre. Sky and Sea Lodge (Dajianpang Village; tel. 0872/246-1672) is hidden away in a maze of back alleys and dead ends. The Lady Four Hotel (tel. 0872/246-1468) is the pet project of local celebrity Yang Li Ping, famous for her peacock dance, but with rather dreary lake-view rooms costing a massive ¥680 and rats running around all over the place, this too should be avoided.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.