Dali, China: Beautiful Scenery, Dead Butterflies and I Get Lost and Hitchhike

I woke up in Kunming this morning and had a fight with my VPN for way too long to actually admit to, so let’s just say it was a long time.

Took my hotel’s airport shuttle to the airport and checked into my flight to Dali.  The flight was a short 57 minutes but I screwed up everything about it.   I thought it was leaving at 9:35, but that was the time it was arriving.  I also at some point thought we were leaving an hour late because it was 8:30, but that is the time my flight was supposed to leave (and I thought it was 9:35 so wouldn’t 8:30 be an hour early and not late?)  Yeah.

We land in Dali and I am picked up by a prearranged driver for my hostel.  This is a luxury I love affording myself because it sure beats figuring out where I have to go.  Which as you read on, you will see why it is probably best I am not left to fend for myself.

I checked into my room at the Dragonfly Guesthouse.  There are so many places to stay in Dali, all with amazing reviews.  How do you choose?  Easy.  Pick the one with the Gilmore Girls related name. Easy, peasy.  Lorelai would be proud.


I guess I should also show you my journal for this trip.  Isn’t it beautiful?

Now back to Dali.

Today’s plan was to go to Butterfly Spring and Er Hai Lake.  Both of these things are near each other.  Actually Er Hai lake is near everything, it is so HUGE.  But I wanted to visit up top and Dali is at the bottom.  My hostel was super helpful with telling me how to get there.  What they did not account for was me being an idiot.

I got totally lost looking for the bus I needed to take.  Dali is small.  OH YEAH AND – Dali is known as the begninng of the banana pancake trail, which means it is a regular stopover for backpackers.  So it should have lots of English, but does not.  It is also supposed to be a lovely place to get lost in. Maybe it would be if I had gotten lost on an interesting street, rather than in what appeared to be military housing.  I am not kidding.

Unlike most of China, no one is yelling “HELLO” at me and I cannot find anyone who speaks English.  Finally I find where I need to be.  Or so I thought. But once I am there, I don’t see the bus I need.  Every person I show the Chinese writing my hostel wrote out for me, doesn’t seem to know anything other than a random direction to point.  I don’t know how the hell I ever found this bus.  It was down some street and up some road and honestly, I was really just following the dude in the pink shirt that said “U WILL NEVER WALK ALONE’ because he had a guitar and leather boots in 80 degree weather.   At this point, I figured he would lead me to a more interesting place than Butterfly Spring.  But I found the bus!  And I went.

When you walk into Butterfly Spring, there is a whole park in front of you and an exit to the left.  When you walk towards the exit, you walk through a basic outdoor shopping mall of so much flea market type crap, hello typical China.  But the thing is, I did not realize this was the exit until I walked through all of it.  Up and down aisles, looking for the lake.  In and out and around and then back to the entrance where now of course, I see the exit sign.  Sigh.

I made my way up to the lake.  I caught a live show going on.

butterfly spring dali chinaHere is a walkway of wishes:

wishI went to “Butterfly World’ which is where all the butterflies live. When you walk in, there are tons of glass mounted dead butterflies and some freshly dead ones on the walking path.  If you know anyone who loves butterflies, do not take them here.

My very first photo using my wide angle lens:
butterfly spring lake dali china

Now the true clusterfuck begins.  Er Hai lake.  Okay this is my fault. Because I kept trying to say “lake” and no one knew what I was talking about.   I should have been saying “Er Hai.”

Pointing on a map got me nothing, which was really just COME ON NOW because this lake is so huge.  But I think the problem was that I kept pointing to a specific spot on the map while saying “lake” and no one would drive me.  Except for one taxi driver.  Who drove me to somewhere, with a ticket booth, that was not the lake.  He then took off and left me there.  I don’t even know what this ticket booth was for.  I kept saying “lake” and the response I got was “no English.”

So I began walking for about half an hour before asking someone “Er Hai?”   From what I could gather, the lake was nowhere near where I was and no one would tell me where it was.  Everyone kept saying “taxi” which would have been fine at this point except that these were really tiny streets and the “taxi” was actually a horse carriage. And being China, the carriage was actually a flimsy metal cage.  Mother fucker.

I am opposed to horse drawn things.  It is okay if you want to do this, but I do not.  But I did not have a choice at this point.  I am in the middle of nowhere, getting eaten alive by flies, with no way to get where I am going and no way to get back to where I came from. So horse cage it is.  This was brutal.  I was in that thing for at least 45 minutes until we finally saw the lake.  I jump out and try and pay the guy.  He does not understand that I am getting out and staying out.  He thinks that we are stopping for photos.  I cannot pay him because I don’t know how much to pay him, because he doesn’t understand me.  Finally some girl comes out of nowhere and translates.  Then she asked me how I am getting back to Dali and saying “I don’t know, can you help me” would have worked better than what I actually said, which was “I don’t fucking care, I am not getting back in that thing.”

I would venture a guess that maybe after half an hour of walking, I find some guy on a bicycle who is very concerned when I tell him I need to get back to Dali.  He names a town that is nearby but tells me that it will take me at least an hour, if not longer, to walk there.  I don’t have a choice so I am kind of okay with this.  But not really. I have no water, I am burning, I am starving and I am sweating.  The entire time I am walking, all I can think of is that poor horse and how I deserve to live though this for making him live through that.

I keep going.  It gets hotter, I get sweatier and more dehydrated.  I don’t know how much further this town is, or what is going to happen when I get there.  Do they have taxis?  Will I find anyone who understands the word “bus”?

I then start doing the opposite of what a 40-something should do in this situation and I begin telling myself that I need to quit my job and travel full time.  Stay with me here:  The reason I am busting my ass to get back to Dali is that I need to get up tomorrow and go see Cangshan Mountain.  If I did not have a job, I could stay here an extra day.  Then I could be free right now, take this walk leisurely, soak in the sights and whenever I found a town, I could figure out my options.  Or fucking hell, I could fucking walk all the way back to Dali and sleep all day tomorrow and then go to Cangshan the day after.

But I do have a job, which means my time is limited.  So I have to plan my trips rather than just go about it day by day.  And since this trip is planned, I have to go to Cangshan Mountain tomorrow because I have to leave Dali the day after, to stick to my “I am too much of a pussy to quit my job” schedule.

As I am getting madder at me, I decide that fuck it, let’s start hitch hiking.  AND IT WORKED.   A tuk tuk driver pulls over with a full tuk tuk.  I try to wave him off because the back is overflowing with Chinese girls and they all move to sit on each other’s laps to make room for me.  Oh China, I love you so much.

He drives me to the Dali bus.  This was such a long drive.  I never, in a million years, would have found that bus.

Then it is back to Dali where I do not technically get lost, but I have to keep stopping for directions to make sure I am walking the correct way and I can find no one who speaks English.  But luckily for me, my room key has directions on the back so I just hand people that and they point me in the direction I need to go.

My Fitbit registered seven miles today.  About 6.5 of those were me being lost.  Sigh.

I got back to my hotel and typed this up while sitting on the roof, with this as my view.

Dragonfly roof

Life is the coolest thing ever.

OH AND:  Er Hai Lake erhai lake dali erhai lake dali china er hai lake dali


And the area I was lost in.  Not too shabby, eh?


7 thoughts on “Dali, China: Beautiful Scenery, Dead Butterflies and I Get Lost and Hitchhike

  1. nancy

    love your pictures.. and you make me so jealous — I am not a solo traveler and you do so well.. getting lost, being in areas where no one speaks English, hell, I would be crying but you jut walk on… so glad you are sharing your trip :)

    1. jenniferjennifer Post author

      Thanks Nancy! There were definitely times in my past I would have been frightened and ready to go home. But as I once told my mother, no one has ever gone on vacation, gotten lost and had to live there forever because they could not find their way back. :)

  2. dewey089

    My poker buddy’s father took photos during WWII in Kunming that became an amazing rare collection which ten of thousands have seen now in Kunming. They have become the oldest colored photographs in China and Gregg has had quite a good time with them and the folks he has met through developing the showing. You might like his website http://www.greggmillett.com/
    dewey089 recently posted…NAVIGATIONAL NOTEMy Profile

  3. dorrie

    holy Lord. I would have been scared, and then I would have just laughed. China sounds and looks amazing!!!

    1. jenniferjennifer Post author

      Thanks Dorrie! China is so amazing. I cannot believe I still have so much time left here, all spent seeing beautiful things.

  4. Pingback: Cost of Traveling in China: Dali, China - i put my life on a shelf

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