Around the river.
Earlier in my trip, I met an Australian/Chinese guy that was spending his retirement money on taking pictures and traveling around. He told me about Shaxi, an old medieval town between Dali and Lijiang, that was still pretty authentic. As I was already hesitating about going, this finished to convinced me.
To go from from Jianshui to Dali, I took the night train. The whole car was very curious about my whereabouts, and everyone went to say high to the fàguó (法国, French in Chinese). Once they understood I was looking for food, I was told there were no food service in the train, but they offered me some snacks. I don’t speak Chinese, so most of the communication was done using my picture book, and communication offered some fun times :p The train made a quick stop in Kunming, where most of my new friends left. New passengers came in, but they weren’t as curious as the others. I arrived in Dali early in the morning.
I joined other backpackers I met couple of days before in the mountains and we shared a cab to go to the old town. While beautiful, it is rather disappointing, as like a lot of old town in Europe, mass tourism turned the typical old center into a corny washed up version of itself (truth be told, Lijiang is even worst). I visited the 3 pagoda sanctuary, and walked around the main attractions, and while interesting, it felt too artificial to properly enjoy it. That night, I had a couple of beers with the other backpackers, and went to bed early as the road to Shaxi was fairly long.
Shaxi is one of the last outposts of the tea horse trade route. During the Chinese wars, China exchanged tea with Tibetan horses, famous for the endurance. The old town is beautiful indeed, although pretty touristy. I stayed a whole day around, walking in the mountains in the north. On the following day, as soon as I could leave the youth hostel, I went down to the river to take a couple of shots of the round bridge before the sunrise.