It has just that right mix of exotic and comfort, and is mostly unfrequented by Western tourists. You can spend a day in the center of town and not see ten of them. Here are a few points:
1. Except for the rainy season, the weather is perfect pretty much every day, all year round. Unlike much of China, there is virtually no air pollution.
2. The town is set on a gorgeous lake, backed by lovely green mountains. Dali has about one million people, and so it feels very manageable. Yet it offers virtually every amenity and convenience.
3. Driving to the local villages around the lake is highly worthwhile. Track down the local ceremonies and rituals.
4. The town and the surrounding region is full of ethnic minority groups, most prominently the Bai. You can eat their food and buy their crafts. There are other minority groups too, including various kinds of Muslims. This is where Han Chinese and southeast Asian and Tibetan influences intersect.
5. The local cuisine features fish soups, cured ham, flowers, lotus root, and mushrooms mushrooms mushrooms. For breakfast, bread is served with honey. You can’t get these dishes anywhere else, not even in other parts of China, and yet none of this food is expensive.
6. You can stay at a luxurious five-star Hilton for $130 a night, or spend less and still do well.
7. The old town has crafts and curios and clothes shopping at very good prices.
8. The level of crime and other mishaps is extremely low.