By Norm Kummer.
The Old Town of Dali has the Cang Mountains (苍山) on one side, and ErHai (洱海) lake on the other. The mountains run from north to south and tower 2,000 meters above the town, reaching a height of 4,000 meters above sea level. The lake, to the east of the town, is the second biggest in Yunnan province. It is roughly 50 km long and 5 km wide and runs parallel to the mountains.
One of the best ways to see the lake and its surrounding villages is to take a bicycle ride around the lake. The total ride is roughly 130 Km, and can be done in one day for the adventuresome, or an easy 2 days with an overnight stay in ShuangLang. As there are only four hills on the entire ride, and even they are quite small, it is not a challenging ride.
The most interesting sections of the ride is from Dali Old Town to ShuangLang. It is full of life along this section, and one will see nice Bai villages, local markets, many other tourists, super views of the lake and the mountains, and usually the unexpected.
The most scenic road is the West ErHai Lake Road. Along this road you will see everything, however it is also the longest road as it weaves in and out along the water’s edge. If you enjoy any one of the following, this tour is for you:
- Nature: lakes and mountains
- People: local and tourists
- Life Activities: markets, workers and building construction
Certainly, if you are a photographer, there is plenty to keep you busy.
From the Dali Old Town, head towards the water (CaiCun) and look for the ErHai Lake Road. Near Dali it’s about 1 Km set back from the lake. Turn left and enjoy the ride. This first section runs between the farm fields. The mosaic pattern of the fields is especially charming near harvest time.
[02 Fields – Typical fields with the mountains in the back ground]
As you ride to the north end of the lake you will pass through several villages. Take the time to stop and explore a few of them. If you left early enough and are looking for something to eat, make sure to grab a “baba” (粑粑) from the local food stand. Alternatively, there are many Chinese restaurants along the route that serve Chinese breakfasts.
As you progress further north you will see several temples and city gates. Most are worth a quick look and a few pictures. There are also several places along the way where the road runs completely along the lake, offering you spectacular views of the lake and the mountains beyond. Don’t forget to look left at the CangShan Mountains. Some of the best views of the mountains are from the lake. You will also see several retreat guesthouses way up on the mountain.
[03 Road A – West ErHai Lake road running next to the lake.]
[04 Temple A – A small Temple on the west side of ErHai Lake.
Depending on your time and energy, there are several side attractions you can do on this trip. In fact, if you only have one day, this is all you may want to do.
The most common stop is XiZhou, approximately 25 Km from Dali. XiZhou can be found near the S221 Highway, about 3 Km from the lake. It is an “old town”, like Dali. Depending on your interests, you can spend a few hours there.
Further along is ZhouChen and Butter Fly Springs. ZhouChen known for its batik fabric while ButteryFly springs is a scenic little village.
Depending on how many stops you made, and how far you have cycled, it may be about lunch time. All along the way there are plenty of Chinese restaurants. Here you can have everything from a full Chinese dinner to some casual Chinese snack (ex. Baozi). Of course, for those of you on the move, there are also lots of convenience stores where you can grab a quick drink and some munchies.
On the top of the lake you have the only real decision of the whole ride. You can either “turn right” and follow the lake, or go straight and head through some bustling village life. The route following the lake is a relaxing one, with the lake on one side and farm fields on the other. It is about 4 Km longer than the direct route through the village, but there are very few places to stop and eat. On the other hand, the “village” route offers you everything. As you progress across the top of the lake the village (ShangGuan, 上关), life becomes busier until eventually you are in the centre of a commercial area. If you happen to be there on Market day, Saturday, it is a good place to stop and watch the action.
[05 Market A – One of the many local markets around the lake.]
[06 Market B – Two local women having a discussion]
Once you have completed the top of the lake you will “turn right” and head towards ShuangLang. This part of the trip is quite easy and relaxing. For most of the ride the lake will be on your right, and you will have a nice view of the lake and Cangshan Mountains. Around 4 Km from ShuangLang is a temple. It also so happens that this is one of the best spots to see the ShuangLang, the lake, and the mountains, so a stop here is in order. Spend a few minutes to walk the temple and take pictures. Of course, the market next door may also be worth a walk through. From here it is a quick ride into ShuangLang.
[07 Temple B – The larger temple near ShuangLang.]
ShuangLang is a picturesque village on the far side of the lake, situated approximately 45 Km Dali. It is a great place to spent at least part of the day, with many places to shop and eat. If you are doing a two-day trip around the lake, this is a great place to stop for the night. You should have plenty of time left in the day to explore the village and enjoy a great meal.
[08 BBQ – Enjoy a BBQ dinner from one of the many stalls along the water front.]
The east side of the lake has several nice villages and offers the best views of the lake and the mountains. Along this road you can enjoy some quiet time as you are away from most of the hustle and bustle of the west side of ErHai Lake.
[ 09 Road B – View of the lake road on the east side of ErHai]
There are several places to relax and enjoy a fruit drink, while sitting in comfortable chairs and overlooking the lake. Along with these small restaurants, specially built to cater to the tourist, are also some scenic look out points.
[10 Look Out – One of the many scenic lookouts on the east side of ErHai].
One notable stop on the east side is Little Putuo, near the village of WaSe. This is also one of the stops for the lake ferry. The market across the street from the lake contains many food stalls and is an excellent place to replenish your energy.
[11 Putuo – Putuo looking out to the island. The passenger ferry is unloading.
Further along you get to TianJing Scenic Area. This is situated on a peninsula and offers a great view of the surrounding areas. It is a bit of a climb to the best viewing areas, but well worth it. If you are in Dali and look across the lake, you can see the TianJing Tower.
Eventually you will make it around the lake and to XiaGuan, the big city at the bottom of the lake. Depending on your available time, you can explore the city, or come back and other time to spend time here.
[12 XiaGuan – The view of XiaGuan as you cross the river.]
If you go:
If you would like to do this trip on your own, there is a guide available which provides detailed instructions on the routes you can take around the lake. It can be found at https://insightdali.com/definitive-guide-cycling-erhai-lake-dali-china/. While the guide was written for cyclists, it applies equally well to any mode of transportation you use.
If doing it on your own is not for you, there is also a Grand Lake Tour offered by the people at the Jade Emu Guest House. In this case, you will be driven around the lake in a van.
However you go, be aware of the unexpected on the roads.
[13 Unexpected – Some of the things you may encounter on the roads]