Erhai Lake, Dali, Yunnan Province, China

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:

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.

God rays shining down on Erhai Lake
God Rays are a common occurrence on Erhai Lake; GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/1600sec f/6.4
Small island near Shuanglang
GFX100S 32mm ISO-200 1/350sec f/8
Night scene from Shuanglang and Erhai Lake
GFX100S 80mm ISO-1600 1/27sec f/1.7

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. 

Rental bikes around the Erhai Lake
We rented these bikes for CNY20 which is about US$3; GFX100S 32mm ISO-200 1/1100sec f/4
Local housing architecture around Erhai Lake
The perfectly paved and empty bicycle route; GFX100S 40.3mm ISO-100 1/340sec f/8

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.

Local housing architecture around Erhai Lake
Gorgeous local houses along the bicycle route; GFX100S 80mm ISO-100 1/240sec f/8
Local housing architecture around Erhai Lake
GFX100S 80mm ISO-100 1/240sec f/8
Scenery along the bike route around Erhai Lake
Endless lush scenery along the bicycle route; GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/400sec f/8

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.

Local buildings in Shuanglang
GFX100S 32mm ISO-200 1/450sec f/8
Erhai lake at sunset
GFX100S 64mm ISO-200 1/850sec f/8

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.

God rays shining down on Erhai Lake and boater
GFX100S 35.6mm ISO-200 1/850sec f/8
Scenery along the bike route around Erhai Lake
GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/420sec f/8
Trees growing from within Erhai Lake
GFX100S 33.8mm ISO-200 1/400sec f/8
Trees growing from within Erhai Lake
Can you spot the bird that photobombed the image? GFX100S 64mm ISO-200 1/1300sec f/4
Scenery along the bike route around Erhai Lake
GFX100S 64mm ISO-200 1/600sec f/8

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.

Man in chair posting for Internet Red with Erhai lake in background
Me, taking in the breathtaking scenery; GFX100S 52.7mm ISO-200 1/800sec f/8

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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.

2 thoughts on “Erhai Lake, Dali, Yunnan Province, China”

  1. They are always perfect. I’m now intrigued by the 80. My wife says her favorite China photo is her with a Polaroid surrounded by kids. It shows we always font need a Gfx 100S .Thanks Neal

    1. Thank you Neal. The 80MM is the perfect balance between size, weight and image quality. The only downside is that the AF is a bit slow. However, I’m more than willing to accept the tradeoff in order to make it smaller than the 110MM.

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