Entrance fee is the biggest obstacle in China to budget travelers. You have to make the decision based on how much you are willing to pay to see/do. It’s over USD10 most of the time, no matter what it is.
Three pagodas, the symbol of Dali, Yunnan province, China are not the exception. The entrance fee to see the pagoda is 121 yuan (USD20) and if you want to see the rest of the temples in the park, it costs 191 yuan. (USD30) Compare to living expense in China: 6 yuan for a bowl of noodle, 50 yuan for a double room, 1yuan for a city bus, the entrance fee is over the top.

The typical thought; ‘this is my only chance to see the pagodas and they are the most famous landmark in the city. I should go in.’ kicked in, but ‘I’ve decided to not to pay and find the other ways at the end.

The reason why is…

Ÿ * The only advantage that I get with the ticket is to see the pagoda closely. The pagodas are sealed. You cannot go in.

Ÿ * The surrounding temple is newly built later in 2005.

Ÿ * Frankly, you can see the pagodas quite well outside of the park.

Here’s how I got nice photos of the number 1 attraction of Dali for free.

What you need is…

Ÿ * Ability to walk.

Ÿ * Camera and a zoom lens (preferably).

You’ll see Three Pagodas from afar. The tallest one is 67 meters high and two others are 42 meters. Yes, they are pretty tall. And there are no tall buildings in Dali, so it makes easier to spot the tall pagodas. I started to walk through West Gate, and I could spot it right away. It locates about 1.5km north from the city center. Follow the street toward the pagodas, and you’ll see the souvenir shop. They don’t charge you to pass the souvenir stalls. So go in, and snap some shots.

Three pagodas from afar
The view of Three Pagodas, on the way.
Three pagodas on the side way
Finding my way to souvenir shop
Three pagodas from the giftshop
Three Pagodas from the souvenir stalls.

I couldn’t go any further from there. There was a guard every door. So I started to walk around. From the big souvenir shop, try to go around west. You can follow the wall up the hill, and you’ll see a good view eventually. I enjoyed to walked around the neighborhood and took photos of San Ta with surroundings.

Three pagodas on the side
Three Pagodas from the neighbourhood
Three pagodas on the side
Three Pagodas from the neighbourhood
Three pagodas around
Three Pagodas from the neighbourhood

From there, you can follow the wall of the park. The wall will lead you to the hill, and you’ll see the good view of San Ta and the temples along the way. This is when the zoom lens will kick in. Mine surely worked well. The Pagodas with the city make a good view for the photo. I could see Erhai Lake and other villages afar.

Three pagodas from the hill, on the way
Three Pagodas above the wall
Three pagodas from the hill
Three Pagodas above the wall. Taken with a zoom lens.
Three pagodas from the side
Three Pagodas above the wall while walking on the hill
Three pagodas from top
Three Pagodas above the wall while walking on the hill. And with military equipments.
Three pagoda around
Three Pagodas in the neighbourhood

You’ll see there’s no way to go further, and realize there’s no point to climb the hill anymore. So I walked down. And I found the actual entrance of the park where you can buy the ticket or a tour program. And the best shot came from there.

There was a screen in the window in the waiting room at the ticket office. I sneaked back to the screen to see if I could see the pagodas from there, and certainly I could. And just like that, I got the money shot.

Three pagodas from the entrance of the park
Three pagodas from the entrance of the park

So yes, it’s your choice to make whether pay or not to get in the park. The only shot I missed is the famous reflection shot with the lake inside of the park. But I’m happy with my photos and glad that I made an effort to see the most of them. Even though I refuse to pay to go in, they are pretty awesome to look at and see the history behind it. The tallest one in the middle was built in 9th century. When you are in Dali, make sure to check them out from various locations. The last photo is from when I was hiking in Cangshan (the Cang Mountains), looking down Dali.

San Ta from Cangshan
Three Pagodas from Cangshan

23 thoughts on “How to Visit Three Pagodas for Free in Dali, Yunnan, China”

  1. I was there a few years ago and thought the entrance fee was out of lint too. I didn’t go in either. I just stopped in front took a few photos and kept on riding my rented bike. Wish I had read this post first. It looks like and interesting walk around the area and you got some nice pictures of it too. I didn’t.

  2. Nice shots. I like all the different viewpoints.

    It’s a shame they charge so much to enter these sights. They are unaffordable for 95% of the Chinese population and for many budget travelers.

  3. I love the shots you have here and I am sure a lot of people let this be their inspiration…Thank you for the shared post here…

  4. Your persistence is impressive! But you are right about how expensive entrance fees are, they don’t seem anyway justifiable compared to how cheap everything else is in China (accommodation, transport, food etc.). But in this case, you did manage to get the money shot without paying! 🙂

  5. Love the first photo! I think the entrance fees are indeed unreasonable knowing that you cannot enter the pagoda itself. The only advantage is to go closer so I think its not worthy to pay for the entrance fee.

  6. Wow! Visiting this beautiful spot of China is truly the best… I love to explore my self and capture beautiful places this vacation day…

    1. Thanks Christy! There are many awesome spots in China for sure. I had some difficulties everyday, but it’s worth to explore it here.

  7. It is a shame that visitors are charged exorbitant prices for seeing such a beautiful place. I guess the people who made that policy should realize that they can get more visits if the entrance fee is more reasonably priced.

  8. Looks like an interesting place…Anyway, thanks for the great photos shared here and for me , those are great shots…I want to go there someday…

  9. I just loved this post. I was in China and been looking for Pagodas like these but can’t find them even in Beijing. So much fun are the impressive photos! I love them!

    1. Yeah? I was in Beijing many years ago, and I remember everything was so big there. Forbidden city, great wall, and the city… I liked Dali because it’s small city, and very intimate. Of course, this pagoda is cool too. 🙂

  10. The neighborhood shot with the red building in front is absolutely lovely! Also, this is a great idea for a post. Sometimes tourist attractions are way too expensive. I prefer the cheap sightseeing, too. 🙂

  11. Discover the Beautiful Yunnan

    wonderful pictures! I do love Dali especially the three pogodas, er lake and mt.cang. The bai people there is friendly

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