Shuanglang Ancient Town, Dali, Yunnan Province, China

As the pandemic continues to rage around the world, we’ve been relatively fortunate here in China with minimal shutdowns and restrictions, with one exception, we can’t leave China. As a result, I’ve been trying to visit all the cities on my bucket list before China opens its borders again. Since I returned to the mainland in October, I’ve visited Xishuangbanna, Lijiang, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Mutianyu.

For this short trip, I ventured back to Yunnan Province in Southwestern China to visit Shuanglang Ancient Town in the Dali area. While Shuanglang was our residence during this trip, we explored a number of places and sites around the famous Erhai Lake. Erhai literally means “ear lake” because the lake looks like an ear.

View of Shuanglang from above during sunset
Shuanglang at dusk; GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/340sec f/8
People on the streets of Shuanglang
Shuanglang; GFX100S 55.5mm ISO-100 1/90sec f/8
Local ethnic minorities ladies hanging out under a tree in central square Shuanglang
Bai minority locals enjoying some shade; GFX100S 80mm ISO-1600 1/58sec f/1.7

Erhai Lake is so large that home-stays and hotels perched along its shores give the impression of being oceanfront. Erhai Lake covers an area of 250 sq. km so it truly does look like an ocean. We stayed on the north east side of the lake in an ancient town called Shuanglang. This ancient town isn’t as commercialized as Dali Ancient Town or Dayan Ancient Town in Lijiang. It turned out to be a great place to call home for five nights.

Empty alley with Chinese sign in Shuanglang
GFX100S 64mm ISO-200 1/140sec f/4
Lady walking with flowers in front of scooter draped in western flags
These European themed bikes were everywhere; GFX100S 48.2mm ISO-200 1/170sec f/4
Vendors selling products on the streets of Shuanglang Ancient Town
GFX100S 64mm ISO-200 1/58sec f/8

Most of the hotels along the lake are either home-stay style or small boutique hotels. I didn’t see any major chains along the lake, so there must be some sort of regulation against it. This has pros and cons; you get a unique experience, very often catered to your needs, but you also may not experience the consistency of service expected for the relatively high prices charged around the lake. We paid around RMB 1,800 per night (USD 275).

Woman cooking spicy fries with cumin on the streets of Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/250sec f/1.7
Spicy fries with cumin and coriander on the streets of Shuanglang
One of my favourite street foods, seasoned potatoes with mint and coriander; GFX100S 32mm ISO-100 1/10sec f/8
Barbecue beef in Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-500 1/58sec f/1.7
Local plum wine in Shuanglang
Local Yunnan plum wine is a must try; GFX100S 32mm ISO-100 1/2sec f/16

For this trip, we stayed for five nights, which is quite a long time for this area. I think you can cover the same things we did in three days, without having to be stressed or rushed. I won’t cover the itinerary day by day, since you can easily visit any of these locations from Shuanglang and can orient your trip to your own requirements. However, I will split this into a few posts to make it easier to consume for my mobile visitors.

I hope that you’ll enjoy this series from Yunnan Province. As I’m sure you can tell, I’ve totally fallen in love with this part of China, having visited it three times in less than 12 months. I hope to make it four times soon with another visit to Xishuangbanna or exploring new areas like Pu’er and Shangri-La.

View of Shuanglang from above during sunset
GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/300sec f/8
Cleaning crews watering down the streets at dawn in Shuanglang
This is why the streets are pristine, they clean them several times a day; GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/2400sec f/2
Wild coloured rental cars for tourists in Dali
A favourite tourism destination is to hire a bright coloured convertible, park along the lake and take pictures for Xiaohongshu, WeChat, and Instragram; GFX100S 80mm ISO-200 1/600sec f/2.8

There are a number of ancient towns around the Dali area that you can call home. We chose Shuanglang as it’s quite developed for amenities but not so much that it’s highly commercialized like Dali Ancient Town. Shuanglang has a good number of food choices, some nice hotels, and it’s big enough to enjoy walking around, while not being so big that you need to spend the whole vacation there (as it was in Lijiang).

Local ethnic people playing games in Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-1250 1/58sec f/1.7
Vendors selling product on the side of the road in Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-800 1/58sec f/1.7
Bar district of Shuanglang
It always amazes me how every town in China has a bustling nightlife! GFX100S 80mm ISO-500 1/58sec f/1.7
Woman playing with her phone while tending to a vending cart in Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-1250 1/58sec f/1.7
Vendors selling products on the streets of Shuanglang Ancient Town
GFX100S 80mm ISO-1250 1/58sec f/1.7

One treat that we stumbled on was a festival held on the first Tuesday of the month. The locals were burning torches all over the ancient village. Everyone was in on this activity including very young children. It’s a bit disconcerting seeing a four year old running around with a huge stick of fire, but we didn’t see anyone or anything burning to the ground, so perhaps my conservative North American upbringing was kicking in too much! I still haven’t figured out what this ceremony was for; if you happen to know, please let me know in the comments below.

Chinese Communist Party 100 years celebration flag in Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-1000 1/58sec f/1.7
Shuanglang view from above at night
GFX100S 64mm ISO-100 2.5sec f/5.6
Scary looking mask at a boutique hotel in Shuanglang
GFX100S 80mm ISO-400 1/58sec f/1.7

In Yunnan, some of the must try foods include eating anything with the local wild mushrooms, having local hot pot, having spicy potatoes on the street, eating lotus leaf pastries, and enjoying the large selection of local teas and coffees, from within the province. There’s something for everyone when it comes to food here, and lots of western options too.

Bedroom at Baijiu Art Boutique Hotel
Baijiu Art Boutique Hotel; GFX100S 32mm ISO-1600 1/25sec f/5.6
Cat hiding from master at Baijiu Art Boutique hotel in Shuangland
GFX100S 49mm ISO-200 1/200sec f/4
Flowers in front of boutique hotel in Shuanglang
GFX100S 64mm ISO-100 1/450sec f/4
Colourful garden in Shuanglang
GFX100S 32mm ISO-100 1/90sec f/11

We stayed at the Baiju Art Seaview Hotel, which I found to be very good once they upgraded my rooms. The smaller rooms really aren’t worth the money, but for a small increment, the larger rooms are a much bigger upgrade than the cost implies. We spent most of the time outside of the hotel anyhow so the room wasn’t as important as other places I’ve visited.

Locals using fire for spiritual renewal
LEICA M10 35mm ISO-4000 1/60sec f/2
Kids playing with fire in Shaunglang
LEICA M10 35mm ISO-1600 1/90sec f/2
Empty streets late at night in Shuanglang
GFX100S 37.6mm ISO-800 1/27sec f/4

I hung out a lot late at night editing pictures in a wonderful restaurant and bar at Sisan Hotel. Based on what I could see from the outside and the service from the staff, I’m going to try and stay at their hotel in the future. The architecture is superb, and perfectly executed. 

Next up in the series will be Erhai Lake and the amazing bicycle trail around it.

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4 thoughts on “Shuanglang Ancient Town, Dali, Yunnan Province, China”

    1. Thanks Neal! For this trip, I was travelling with friends that are not into photography at all, so it was difficult to wait around one area to take photos at more ideal times (dawn, golden hour, blue hour, etc). I feel this series is less intentional than the previous ones. Let me know what you think as more locations are posted from this series.

  1. Christoph Roettger

    Thanks again for more wonderful photos accompanied by interesting comments.

    What I found astonishing is, how well the M10 photos fit in with the GFX photos.

    1. Thanks Christopher. It’s indeed interesting that the M10 can hang with the GFX. Actually the “colour science” of the M10 is very similar to the Astia “film simulation” in the Fujifilm cameras. Leica tends to saturate non-human flesh tones, which gives it that pleasing “Leica look”. When it comes to resolution however, the M10 can’t hang with the GFX, but the upcoming M11 should give the GFX a good run.

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