Family Travels: Dali

Friday, 20 March 2009

Travelers: Dutch couple Ralph Lange and Anouk Turksma, and their daughters Noa (7) and Mindel (3).

The plan: Wanting to see this remote part of China, the family planned a five-day trip, flying via Kunming and taking tours to minority villages before flying home.

How to do it: Anouk organised the trip through a Dutch woman named Henriette who runs www.china-travel.nl and Jim’s Tibetan Hotel with Chinese partner Jim. Their agency specializes in trips to minority areas in China and can help you plan an appropriate itinerary that suits kids.

Dali city: Dali Ancient City is one of China’s top historical sites. Once a gateway to the Silk Road in Southwest China, it features Bai minority houses and cobble-stone streets. The snow-iced Cangshan mountains are famous for their vistas of clouds, springs and marble. A ropeway and horse riding makes mountain outings easier for kids. The stunning Three Pagodas at the foot of the mountains are over 1,800 years old (120RMB, 8am-7pm daily). Visit Yan's Compound just outside town to see magnificent Bai-style architecture (40RMB including ethnic performances). Also outside Dali is the beautiful “Butterfly Spring”, an enormous pool shaded by dense foliage and flocked with thousands of butterflies when spring turns to summer (62RMB).

Minorities rule: Acting as their guide, Jim took the family to several minority villages (both Bai and Yi), where they walked through rice fields, rode in an open truck to a local hospital, had lunch on boats and in a local family’s courtyard, and scoured local markets. The kids loved the adventurousness of the trip, complete with lumpy roads in horse carriages, and colourful people everywhere.

What to buy: Dali is a busy city, with many shops full of Chinese tourists. Minority clothing is a specialty, along with marble, silver jewelry, and blue and white tablecloths, all at great prices. Try some traditional Bai snacks and treats on Foreigner Street. Anouk was delighted to find a traditional minority outfit in a Yi village, as well as a large rattan basket which is worn on the back.

Where to nap: The family loved Jim’s Tibetan Hotel in the old town, decorated in Tibetan style, with great Western breakfasts (around 400RMB for 3 beds, Lu Yu Xiaoqu, Yu Yuan Xiang, 0872 267 7824; also see www china-travel.nl).

Highlight: Anouk says having a local guide is priceless because you get the chance to see how people really live – looking inside their houses, viewing schools and really local places you could never go by yourself.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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