26 October 2014 (Sunday)
I woke up early as usual, packed up and checked out before 6:30 a.m. I walked to the blue passenger van parking lot. It looked like I was the only passenger at that early hour. There were two blue vans, with one ready for business. I decided to take my breakfast of baozi and soya milk while waiting for other passengers to fill up the blue van. Even as I finished my breakfast, there were no other passengers.
Anyway, I approached the driver and told him I wanted to go to Xin Keyun Zhan. He said the fare was CNY20. I nodded and waited outside the van but later decided to just sit inside the van. The driver asked me whether I was waiting for someone and I said no. Instead, I asked wasn't he waiting for the van to fill up? He said no, and we were soon on the way.
At Xin Keyun Zhan, I approached the ticket counters which were already opened and asked in English for a bus ticket to Dali. The ticket officer answered in English, which surprised me. No passport was required. She just asked me whether I wanted to take the 7:30 a.m. regular bus or the 8:30 a.m. large bus. I said the large bus as I wanted to be able to nap comfortably on the way to Dali. The fare was CNY87.
As the bus neared Dali Old Town from my gps reading, I reminded the driver that I wanted to get down at Dali. He asked me not to be too excited. He finally stopped and announced that passengers going to Dali Old Town should disembark there. The surrounding area looked anything but old. In fact, there was no sign of old building. I got off, got my back pack and was approached by touts, all private vehicle or hostel operators and only one taxi. I ignored and rejected their offers. I just walked and crossed the highway to escape them and did not know where I was heading to. I then saw someone in front of me walking in the same direction and I just continued. Then, I saw an old gate under renovation on my left and I decided that this was the street to the old city.
I went in search of a hostel to stay, but I did not see any English signage to indicate a hostel. There was in fact very few building with English signage. My thigh was beginning to hurt again. While searching for a hostel, I bumped into Bruce with a few girls. We chatted for a while and took a photograph for souvenir. They were looking for lunch and we parted way. I walked and walked and still, I could not find a single hostel sign in English. Later, I found one, but the reception could not understand English. I walked away and I continued searching again. Then, I saw Old Town Hotel in an alley and decided to check it out. I asked the reception the room rates. She could not speak English but could understand me. She asked me to take a look at the rooms first. It was okay. When I asked again, she said it was CNY80. It was already 12:45 p.m. I decided to take it as I was already very tired walking for 5.4 km searching for a room, i.e. since my arrival in Dali at about 11:15 a.m.
After taking a quick shower, I was out on the streets. I had not had lunch yet and would explore Dali Old Town and look for a meal at the same time. While exploring the Old Town, I met with the Dutch couple who sat in front of me on the way to Tiger Leaping Gorge in Lijiang. They were waiting for their food at Bad Monkey. The guy told me he visited the Three Pagoda in the evening a day earlier. That gave me the idea to visit the Three Pagoda that same afternoon.
I was soon on the way to Three Pagoda with the aid of my Garmin eTrex 20. The problem was the routable map gave me a long, winded route to the Three Pagoda instead of a short route. I didn't know about that until I was close to the pagodas. I met no other visitors and that was odd for a famous tourist attraction. I reached the back of the walled up temple ground and at an entrance where I wanted to enter, the security guard asked me to walk to the front to buy the entrance ticket. On the way to the entrance, I saw tourist buses and visitors loitering around. That confirmed my guess that the gps had not shown me the short route. On hindsight, I should have opted for the off-road straight line route instead of the on-road route. This was another lesson learnt in using my gps. By the time I got my entrance ticket (CNY121), I was dead tired already, having walked an unnecessary additional distant of 1.5 km.
I had always thought that the Three Pagoda was contained in a small area. Instead, it is just a small part of the Chongsheng Temple & Three-Pagoda Cultural Tourist Area covering a very large area.
While at the temple ground, I asked a gentleman to take a photograph of me with the Three-Pagoda in the background. He was with his wife. I spoke to him in English and he replied in English too. Curious, I asked him where he was from and he said he was from Fuzhou of Fujian Province, surprising me further. He was as a retired tourist guide and he used to bring Chinese visitors to Malaysia. We chatted for a while when I told him I would be taking the night train to Kunming the following night. He advised me to buy the train ticket to Kunming that same day for the next night's travel as the train tickets would sell out quickly.
Having learnt my lesson of over-reliance on my gps routable map which showed the long and winded route, I decided to turn off the on-road route and turn on the off-road straight route on my walk back to my hostel.
I heeded the advice of the Fuzhou gentleman and at the hostel, I tried to get the advice from the reception but she said there should not be a problem getting a train ticket. Her advice to me was to catch a Dali - Xiaguan bus, disembark at the Express Bus Station and buy an express bus ticket there. It would be more convenient and faster than train.
I was in a dilemma. Taking the train meant having to leave Dali by noon tomorrow to be able to get a train ticket and wasting precious time in Xiaguan waiting for the night train to depart. At the same time, I would not have the time to fully explore Dali.
The other option was to stay in Dali for another night and go to Kunming early the next morning. In this case, I would have to give up Shilin in Kunming.
That evening was spent exploring Dali and getting myself familiar with its orientation.