Dali showcases hidden heritage

CHIANG RAI, 26 April 2019: Dali in Yunnan province China will host tourism leaders from neighbouring Mekong Region nations, 28 to 29 May at the annual Mekong Tourism Forum.

It’s an opportunity for the undervalued destination to show off its attractions as Yunnan province promotes ancient towns on the legendary Tea Horse Road.

Dali is accustomed to playing second fiddle to Lijiang the province’s famed World Heritage town that is frequently listed as the fourth most important heritage site in China, but that might be about to change due to high-speed rail links.

Fortunately, Dali stands on the ancient Tea Horse Road, a northwest trade route from Kunming to Lijiang that is now served by high-speed trains. They get you in Dali’s bustling new town in two hours flat. Beyond, Lijiang is a short 50-minute transfer on high-speed trains that zip by at 250 kph.

Dali is one of those destinations you think you know well possibly because the name is easy to pronounce, but it presents a few surprises when you step off the train.  For starters, there are two Dali towns, the ancient version on the west coast of the Erthai Lake and at the southern end of the lake, Dali’s bustling new town officially named Xiaguan.

Erthai Lake, so vast visitors could easily mistake it for an inland sea, sits in a narrow valley 2,000 metres above sea level flanked by 4,000 metre high mountains and ridges.

Visitors usually head for Dali’s old town 17 km up the west bank of the lake to stay in boutique hotels and enjoy a 21st-century replay of ancient heritage with modern comforts.

Another 20 km north on the west side of the lake the more authentic ancient town of Xizhou will host Mekong Tourism Forum delegates on the event’s second day.

This year’s Mekong Tourism Forum, described as a boutique event, has capped attendance at 250 of which half will be delegates from China.

The remainder will come from the other five Mekong Region countries, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar Thailand and Vietnam.  China’ Yunnan and Guang Xi province are members of the six-country tourism group and under the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Yunnan plans to showcase its two ancient townships that are part of greater Dali.

Adopting the same meeting format introduced in Luang Prabang in 2017, presentations will be squeezed into a single day, 28 April, at a typically practical convention venue next to the Dali International Hotel overlooking Erthai Lake in Dali’s new town (Xiaguan).

However, the forum’s highpoint unfolds on the second day, a field trip to Xizhou ancient village that will probably be judged the most compelling reason for attending an otherwise low-profile MTF.

Located 37 km north of Dali’s new town, Xizhou is billed a living heritage village reflecting the architecture of the Bai ethnic minority restored and thriving in a maze of cobbled streets lined with traditional houses, restaurants and shops.

Delegates will spend a day here touring the town on foot and dining on the local dishes in small restaurants with heritage presentations delivered between sweet and savoury dishes.

The Xizhou experience for MTF delegates will be organised by the ‘Linden Centre The Commons’ an upscale boutique hotel with 14 rooms located in the heritage village.

Probably at the close of the visit you will agree with reviewers on TripAdvisor that the next time you venture to Dali you will skip the rest and chill out in Xizhou on the west side of the lake most possibly from the terrace of the Linden.

One reviewer describes Xizhou as a step back into history and in a 21st century China that is a refreshing travel experience.

“You can take a horse cart tour to see fishermen hauling in their nets. Or walk along the streets and visit a noodle factory, and step around food drying out on tarpaulins to be taken to market later. You can purchase authentic Bai clothing, headdresses and goods, or stop in the town square for a Bai pizza.”

That’s sound more like it a workable option than spending another day in a convention hall where delegates will talk about “experiences” that they don’t have the time or the inclination to enjoy.

Top marks to the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office for breathing freshness into a convention programme that enables delegates to explore the destination’s top tourism assets.