Tucked away between the majestic snow-capped Mt Cangshan and Dali city, Erhai Lake is amongst the 10 largest freshwater lakes in China and the second biggest in Yunnan province. It is perhaps for this reason it is named as Erhai meaning ‘Sea shaped like an ear’ when it is in fact a lake. The lake is renowned for its beauty and a trip there will show you why.
With 2 kms between Dali city and the lake, it is most convenient to take taxi or bus no. 2, though with the fair weather throughout the year, you may even prefer to walk. There is a RMB30 fee for resource protection although there is no admission fee for Erhai Lake Park. There are many attractions along the lake, which can be viewed on a bike ride circumventing the lake shore. You can get magnificent views if you go hiking on the Cangshan mountain. The mellow weather makes it a nice idea to trek around the area and maybe even go along with one of the local fishermen on their daily run and witness their unique fishing methods with the cormorants. But the most splendid way to get a close up of the lake and the many little treasures upon its body and shores, is to get aboard a local cruise ship.
Make sure to have sunscreen, comfortable shoes and wear mild weather clothes with a shrug or another layer for the evenings, when it gets a bit chilly. It takes around 6 hours for a worthwhile trip. The best time is late spring/early summer when blooming flowers are at the peak of their glory.
Sights to see upon the Erhai lake include the 4 islands namely Xiaoputuo (the smallest with a temple on board), Luoquan Peninsula (RMB30 entry; great views of Mt Cangshan and the lake and many Buddhist sites), Jinsuo (has the Jade Dragon Palace and a chance to taste Bai special ‘Three Courses of Tea’) and Nanzhao Folk Island (RMB50 entry; entertainment venue).
Around the lake, the best attraction is Erhai Park (get some classic shots of the scenery from the viewing decks), followed by Xizhou Ancient town (a Bai minority culture representative town with traditional architecture and rich history), Zhoucheng (wonderful opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind tie and dye souvenirs right from the source) and Shuanglang town (enjoy the flora and maybe tag along with a fishmonger and his bird companion).
Of course, it is a lot to take in on foot or even bike, which is why cruises are so popular. For a price of roughly RMB150 you can board a ship from Daligang, Longkan or Taoyuan wharf. The standard fare includes scrumptious tea and a dance show during the trip, along with stops at 2 islands for great photo opportunities. Not that you won’t have enough of those during the duration of the cruise! The journey is generally for 3.5 hours and gets crowded during weekends and holidays. Planning around that will give the most memorable experience.