A market visit is highly recommended for an opportunity to get to grips with local culture. Many of the markets around Dali are scheduled according to the lunar calendar, so check with the local cafes before you set out. Dali itself has a market every seven days (usually on the 2nd, 9th, 16th, and 23rd days of the month). Once the most popular, the Shaping Market, held every Monday, has become a bit of a commercialized circus.
The town of Wase on the eastern shores of Er Hai Lake also has a popular market held every five days from 09:30 to 16:00. Foodstuffs and agricultural produce are the main goods here, as the market still caters to locals instead of tourists. The easiest way to visit is to sign up with a local cafe that will arrange round-trip transportation for around ¥50 per person.
Nan Yao and other Markets
Nan Yao Market is the largest open market in Kunming. This market deals primarily with local handicrafts. Located beside the railway station and the long distance bus station this market is a wonderful place to pick up souvenirs. Yunnan Curio Building, a four-storey building located on Nanping Lu Street, is where to buy artwork and handicrafts. The bird and flower market is a must-see destination in Kunming. It offers many exotic birds and animals, as well as many curios, artwork, and local handicrafts. Not touristy, this market is a great way to get a glimpse into local people’s daily lives.
The ideal place to pick up souvenirs, Foreigner Street in Dali Ancient City offers many shops selling local specialties and handicrafts. Home to the Bai ethnic minority group, many Bai ethnic crafts can be found here. Here, traditional Dali tie-dye can be bought as can engraved green plums. This traditional food of the Bai people is made from dried green plums and engraved with various patterns and designs. The fruit is eaten after months spent soaking in pickling juice made from salt, brown sugar and honey. A taste for the more adventurous, but nonetheless worth a try.
Jade objects have been crafted in Yunnan for centuries and are sold throughout China and around the world. The jade comes in a large variety of colors, and quality. Working with Jade requires many years of apprenticeship before an artisan can create a work of art. Because of its hardness Jade cannot actually be carved; it needs to be ground with diamond grit tools.
In ancient times, diamond dust was used to grind the items by hand, but now electric tools are used. Jade is made into broaches, pendants, earrings, seals, decorative ornaments, chopsticks, and much more.
Dai and Bai Tie Dye
The Dai and Bai ethnic minority groups are famous for their tie-dyed cloth. The patterns on the Dai tie dye are mainly animals, flowers, dragons and phoenix, and geometric patterns. The cloth is used for many items including; tablecloths, clothing, bags and purses, hats, and even DVD cases. Traditionally, indigo dye is used.
Yunnan Province's many ethnic minority groups have developed a form of printing cloth that is unique. They use wax to make designs in cloth, that vary depending on the minority group, but some of the more popular designs are animals, flowers, birds, and landscapes. The dying technique is surprisingly simple. Melted wax is applied to the cloth with a knife. When the wax is cooled, the cloth is dipped into dye. The parts of the cloth with the wax do not absorb the dye, leaving them bright white. After the cloth is dipped into the dye several times to reach the desired colour, the cloth is allowed to dry.
Dai Embroidery, fashioned by the women of the Dai ethnic minority group, is famous for its high quality. Most Bai woman learn the art of embroidery from an early age and it is an integral part of their culture. Dai Embroidery is known for its unique patterns, beautiful and bright colours. Subject matter for the Dai Embroidery varies greatly and themes include birds, animals, flowers, and the 'five grains' – rice, two kinds of millet, wheat and beans. Having been passed down over generations, each design and subject has a unique meaning.
Dali produces the most famous marble in China, which contributes massively to the city’s overall economy. The marble is white with black streaking, which often appears to take on shapes. Used in the construction of floor tiles and furniture inlay, it is also framed. The intricate design of the marble can often resemble landscapes, people, or animals. The marble from Dali Ancient City is so famous, that the Chinese word for marble translates as ‘Dali Stone’.