Dali Food Tour: Artisanal Eats and Traditional Drinks

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7 Days
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
About this Journey

As chronicled in WildChina founder’s book, Travels Through Dali: with a leg of ham, Yunnan, at the southernmost tip of China, is a cradle of cultural and culinary diversity. Many people know it as the origin of Shangri-la, but it is also home to the region of Dali, a place that has become synonymous with the province. If you go to Yunnan, you must go to Dali.

The region is cherished for its unique food – famed Ham, mushrooms varietals, cheese-making (a rarity in China), and rare herbs; temperate climate, surrounding rivers and mountains; ethnic diversity – bordering Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar it has been a cultural blotter; and overwhelming hospitality – many a traveller has settled in Dali having fallen in love with the Old Town.

What we love
  • Catching the sunrise over Erhai Lake before the rest of the city wakes
  • Watching the a local folk musician perform in Shaxi
  • Visiting the locally acclaimed family-run Weishan pickle empire
Where you're going
Yunnan map

Day 1 Arrive in Dali

First Stop: Dali, Yunnan Province

Yunnan Province—which literally means “South of the Clouds” due to its location just south of the Tibetan Plateau—is home to some of the most diverse cultures, ecology, and terrain in China. With verdant low-lying valleys, spectacular white-capped mountains, rustic towns and villages, and a lively mix of ethnic minority communities, Yunnan has long inspired poets and travelers alike.

Tucked between Cang Mountain and Erhai Lake, Dali is a Ming-era town that has retained much through the ages. It was once the chief city of Yunnan and the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom, an empire that at its peak, stood up to the imperial Chinese armies . Though the Nanzhao Kingdom fell long ago, the indigenous Bai ethnic minority who comprised its population still accounts for the majority of the residents of Dali and surrounding villages.

Your Journey Begins

Today is the day, the start of your WildChina adventure. Step off the plane in Dali and meet your local WildChina guide in the airport arrivals hall. They’ll be waiting to welcome you and will have your private vehicle on standby, ready to whisk you off to your hotel for check in.

Welcome Dinner in Dali

Join your fellow guests for a Welcome Dinner. During dinner, you’ll get to know each other, your WildChina guide, and learn more about the journey ahead. Your guide will give a short lecture on the history of Dali and introduce you to the local cultures and customs that we’ll see throughout the trip.

Meals included: dinner

Day 2Dali

Sunrise at Erhai Lake

Nestled between mountains, 2,000m above sea level, the shimmering waters of Erhai Lake are so vast it is easy to see why in Chinese it is known as a sea. A major source of fish for the Bai, who still use cormorants to help with their catch, Erhai is an otherworldly experience, made especially beautiful at sunrise when the first rays of light turn the reflective waters into a sea of vibrant hues. Get an early start on your day and watch as the world comes alive on this vast lake-side shore.

Flower Cake Lesson

Pluck soft petal from thorny stem at this organic rose plantation and manor nestled in the protective shadow of Mount Cangshan. Petal-picking is possible between May and November when the sea of roses here is in full bloom, but learning about Dali’s unique weather and how it favors the flowers’ growth is a worthwhile experience year-round. Follow up the theory with a practical masterclass on how to transform the petals into a unique style of vibrant cake, shaping, baking and tasting your way through a fragrant experience that takes approximately two hours.

Bai Tea Ceremony

Enter the traditional world of the Bai Tea Ceremony, an important ritual performed at weddings and festivals and governed by strict rules of etiquette. The water is boiled and tea steeped in a clay pot in front of you, before you are given the chance to sip three varieties which range from bitter to sour to sweet, this fixed order itself a metaphor for life’s journey through hardship to happiness.

Zhoucheng Village

A resplendent artisan village resting at the base of Cangshan Mountain, Zhoucheng is a major center of Bai culture renowned for its unique tie-dye products. Alongside the locals, you’ll use indigo-based dyes to transform white cotton fabric into a dazzling variety of patterns and scenes, using the same simple stick tools and rubber bands as their predecessors centuries before.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 3Dali to Weishan

Drive to Weishan

The ride from Dali to Weishan will take around 2 hours.

On the Way: Donglianhua Muslim Village

Islamic culture may more often be associated with China’s arid northwest, but in the fertile valleys of western Yunnan is a beautifully preserved village whose inhabitants descend from soldiers who settled here after the Mongol army conquered the area 700 years ago. Mingle with traditionally dressed locals en route to Yunnan’s largest mosque, who are always eager to stop and get to know their rare international guests.

Weishan Old Town

In the midst of overdevelopment in Yunnan’s well known destinations, Weishan Old Town still keeps its original charm. About two hours south of Dali, Weishan’s buildings, as well as the artisan traditions of their residents, keep to the old ways of when the town was a cozy outpost along the ancient Tea and Horse Road. Today you’ll get a taste of the town’s history by learning the unique process of making “one noodle soup”, and then devour your very own bowl.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 4Weishan

Visit Weishan’s Famous Pickle Empire

For decades, Yin Family Pickles has ruled the roost when it comes to pickled vegetables. From daikon radish and black beans in winter to broad beans and string beans in summer, the family business has a recipe for every season. Go behind the scenes to discover what it takes to keep the pickle venture booming, gazing upon rows of jars working their magic and family members busily snipping away at colorful vegetables (and, of course, tasting). You may even be lucky enough to happen upon the pickle empress herself: the entrepreneurial octogenarian Madame Chen.

One Noodle Soup

Today you’ll get a taste of the town’s history by learning the unique process of making “one noodle soup”, and then devour your very own bowl.

Meditate on Weibao Mountain

Step back in time on Weibaoshan, a sacred mountain dotted with ancient Taoist temples, just 70 kilometers from Dali and virtually untouched by modern tourism. Enjoy a moderate hike up the picturesque mountain (2 – 2.5 hrs) before finding tranquility at a temple atop the mountain. Here, sip green tea with a Taoist master as he unveils the mysteries of his religion, before finding out how to balance your yin and yang with a round of tai chi in the spiritual grounds of a temple hidden deep within the forest. Hike the 45 minutes back to your private transport or, for the hiking enthusiasts who want to immerse further in the area’s pristine nature, complete the five-hour return journey to the summit and back.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 5Weishan to Shaxi

Drive to Shaxi

The ride from Weishan to Shaxi will take around 3 hours.

Next Stop: Shaxi

Shaxi, a beautifully preserved market town nestled in the idyllic rural landscape halfway between Lijiang and Dali. The town was once a bustling outpost where horses and tea, among other exotic goods, changed hands en route to Burma and Tibet. With Buddhist grottoes, lively weekend markets, and delightfully simple rural cuisine sourced straight from the surrounding farmland, Shaxi is packed with cultural intrigue and pastoral charm.

Make Authentic Shaxi Cheese

Step into the home of a local cheesemaker’s and discover how region boasts its own unique cheese culture, a remnant of earlier Mongolian influence. Here we get up a close look as the host steams milk on a wood-fired stove before separating the curds from the whey. Wait for your delicious cheese snack to cool and chat with with the host getting to know about the local life in the town.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 6Shaxi

Shaxi Market

Friday is market day in Shaxi. Every Friday morning, Yi, Bai, Lisu, Naxi, Hui, and Tibetan ethnic groups from the surrounding mountains gather in town to buy and sell produce, livestock, and handicrafts. Men and women will be dressed in their traditional colorful clothing and we’ll see them carrying large baskets and leading pack horses and mules down the network of narrow lanes leading to Shaxi’s central square.

Hike Through Shibaoshan

The magnificent rock carvings of the 1,300-year-old Shibaoshan Grottoes showcase the dissemination of Mahayana Buddhism along the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail from Tibet to Yunnan province. We uncover each of the five grottoes on a 90-minute hike, new statues waiting in each. Then, we’ll end our hike at the Stone Bell Temple, its curved roofs and red walls clinging to the mountainside.

Stone Dragon Village

Visit Stone Dragon Village where ‘Those who can walk, dance; and those who can talk, sing.’ Meet the region’s Folk Music King and watch a captivating musical performance full of longing and lust, wantonness and excitement.

Bai Feast

A balanced mix of Buddhist and Han cooking traditions, Bai cuisine is noted for its mix of spicy, sour and sweet flavors, hearty meat stews, peppery ham, and flaming hot pots. Recharge over a traditional meal, learn more about Bai culture and customs and hear how their culture was influenced by their role along the Tea and Horse Road.

Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Day 7Shaxi to Dali for Departure

Drive to Dali Airport

The ride from Shaxi to Dali airport will take around 2 hours.

Your Flight Back Home

Your WildChina guide will escort you to the airport and help you check in for your flight home.

Meals included: breakfast

Your Accommodations

Sky Valley Heritage Boutique Hotel, Dali


This quaint boutique hotel is not located in Dali, but rather the sleepy town of Xizhou, just 20km away. Here, residents still hold on to a laid-back agrarian lifestyle, and the town boasts well preserved Bai architecture, including this hotel. Sky Valley’s rooms are tastefully decorated with antique furniture and include either a view of lush mountains or a traditional courtyard. The suites are spacious and perfect for couples and families. Local cuisine can be enjoyed at the on-site restaurant.

Sunyata Hotel, Shaxi


Ideally located near Shaxi Old Town, Sunyata Hotel Shaxi is a celebration of the local culture. Featuring a fusion of Bai Minority design and modern Chinese garden style, four unique courtyards, and elements evoking the caravan culture of the Tea and Horse Road, this 20-room boutique hotel is ideal for travelers wanting a beautiful yet authentic haven.

With warm woods, soothing earth tones, and natural elements, the well-furnished rooms are a comfortable retreat after a day exploring. Please note that while the hotel’s client servicing team is welcoming and helpful, their English language ability may vary. Your guide will be happy to translate for you as needed.

The Dawn of Yihe Luxury Hotel, Weishan


Tucked away in winsome Weishan, former cultural centre of the Nanzhao Kingdom, this blissful boutique offers Western luxury in the shape of an opulent Ming Dynasty villa. Timber beams and elegant wooden architectural details are expertly offset by an almost Japanese minimalism in the furnishings, all of which sit comfortably amid the bamboo and historical buildings outside.

Spa, gym facilities and gardens further add to the restorative serenity of this erstwhile trading outpost on the Tea-Horse Road.


What’s Included

  • All overland transfers with private chauffeur and in-transport refreshments
  • All admission fees and activity expenses, as noted in the itinerary
  • Meals as noted in the itinerary with complimentary drinking water
  • Ground transportation, including airport transfers
  • Services of an English-speaking WildChina guide
  • Private chauffeur service to and from airport at start and end of your trip

What’s Excluded

  • International and domestic flights, domestic trains, plus relevant taxes
  • Chinese tourist visa, which is required for most foreign passport holders
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Meals, apart from those included in the itinerary, and alcohol
  • Expenses of a personal nature
  • Excursions and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Discretionary gratuities for guides and drivers
Why WildChina

We’re on the ground with you

Our team of advisors will design every detail of the trip with you through close consultation, then orchestrate your entire journey while on the ground. We’re in the same time zone as you, so we can fulfill requests and handle issues without a hitch. With over 40 staff in China and an expansive network of operational partners across the country, we have the manpower to ensure your journey is safe, reliable and comfortable from beginning to end.

Your trip, your way

Flexibility is our highest-ranking compliment. We pull off journeys for pioneers with a 6-hour layover to Hollywood’s elite, and everywhere in between. Our team regularly pulls off unprecedented logistical feats; nearly any time frame or budget is within our realm. No matter how you wish to experience China, we are here to bring that dream to life.

We embody passion

WildChina guides are carefully handpicked for their knowledge and charisma, then meticulously trained to maintain our exceptional service standards. They are expert storytellers and passionate natives of the regions where they guide, having the perfect combination of local insights and service know-how to bring you seamless once-in-a- lifetime moments all across China.

The little things, the big picture

Supporting inspired local economies allows you to experience the soul of the destination, while also protecting and cultivating China’s artisanal culture. From watching artisans creating their handcrafts, to picking organic vegetables for dinner on a local farm, our tours are designed to showcase and protect China’s heritage, both natural and human.