For the second part in the Dali series, we cover the incredible Erhai Lake. As mentioned previously, Erhai Lake is a massive man-made lake covering 250 sq. km. All around the lake, you can find really beautiful views, especially those when coming from the airport and travelling up the east side of the lake. The sunsets are stunning with the mountains as the backdrop. I especially enjoyed the moments after sunset when the blue hour starts to kick in, and the warm hues remain on the mountains.
Other posts in this series can be found at:
- Shuanglang Ancient Town
- Erhai Lake
- Xizhou Ancient Town
- Cangshan Mountain & Three Pagodas
- Gizhou Island, Internet Red & Conclusion
For photographers, there is an endless supply of opportunities around this lake. One common phenomena that occurs around this lake are “God Rays” or when the sun shines through thinner parts of the fluffy clouds that often form above the lake as they run into the mountain range. On some days, it looks so surreal, and I found it hard to capture the scene with my camera and skills, but I think it’s best seen in person than on a screen to get the full effect.
Erhai Lake Bike Route
On the second-last day of our trip, we rented bicycles from a small town about halfway down the west side of the lake and rode along the bike trail for nearly 15km south towards Dali Ancient Town. This trail is spectacular, with almost nobody on it during the day. You’ll ride through a number of local villages and pass by endless beautiful boutique hotels and home-stays. There are also hundreds of restaurants and coffee shops that we came across and stopped at a few to grab lunch and a bite. Locals had told us that it’s worth it to do the 50km ride from Shuanglang to Dali, but since we had a six-month pregnant person with us, we chose the shorter, but no less spectacular route.
With the pandemic picking up steam in Mainland China, we received an SMS from Air China that we would need a negative COVID-19 test in order to board our flight the next day. A mad rush ensued in getting to a local hospital in time to get the result by the next morning. We had to make a decision on what to do with our bikes as we were half way through our ride. We decided to hide the bikes in the bush and then come for them later.
After four hours in the hospital, we received the all clear for all three of us, so we headed back to find our bikes untouched. With the light quickly diminishing, we jumped on the bikes and tried to return them before it got too dark. What ensued was one of those magical moments that can only happen when travelling and things go a bit off track.
As we rode back onto the trail, instead of empty roads, we found thousands of locals (considered minorities in China) dancing and playing on the trail as the sun had just set. It was incredible to see! Thousands of people dancing, singing, kids playing, parents out for a stroll, along the entire 13km stretch back. The only downside was that, as the light disappeared, we were riding pretty much blind and had to be very careful not to hit anyone, or be hit by other cyclists.
While it was a tense experience, I can assure you that we will never forget this experience of riding in pitch black, coming up on village after village of people enjoying themselves along the lake. Without a doubt, riding bicycles along the lake was one of the highlights of the trip, and I’d highly recommend allocating more time than we did to this amazing experience. When I go back to Dali in the future, I’m going to try and bicycle around the entire lake and time it so that I can capture sunset from the east side of the lake, as the sun descends behind the mountains.
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Next up in the series will be a visit to Xizhou Ancient Town, a cute town with a surprisingly commercial environment.