“Vicki and I stayed in old-town Dali in southwest China for 10 days,” writes intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst. “It’s such a comfortable, livable place. Some 50 or so Westerners have already retired here. If you’re looking for an easy-going lifestyle in an exotic, scenic, and charming place, consider doing the same.
“Old-town Dali dates back thousands of years; at one time Dali was the capital of Yunnan and a key trading point on the Silk Road. The cobblestone streets and local architecture (see pictures at www.terragalleria.com) remind you of that period, yet Dali carries on a vibrant life today, too. There’s a small market, restaurants and bars, supermarket and a bank, hardware stores and pharmacies.
“The well-preserved, ancient town measures 1 square kilometer. A restored wall, frequently pierced by decorative gateways, wraps around the city. Retirees typically live inside or near the wall and can comfortably walk to every place in the old town. There’s a large lake just 3 kilometers down the hill to the east and mountains to the west.
“Old town offers most of what you need, but the big, modern version of Dali, called either Dali City or Xiaguan, is only 12 kilometers down the road, 30 minutes by bus. Dali City (Xiaguan) has a university, hospitals, an airport, a wholesale market, even a Wal-Mart. (Keep the two Dali’s straight. Old-town Dali is called Dali Gucheng, about 12 kilometers north of Dali City/Xiaguan.)
“Dali’s altitude at 1,900 meters helps ensure a mild climate, with bright sunny days but never too hot. It’s wintertime now, cool but not cold. A sweater and light jacket at night are enough.
“Old town these days caters mainly to Chinese tourists, but restaurants often have English menus and many locals speak at least some English.
“That sets old-town Dali apart from the rest of China. Here in Dali, they speak English today; in the rest of China, they’ll speak English tomorrow.
“Last year, the Chinese changed both the property and the visa rules, and they’re still working them out. Before, overseas Chinese and others were buying up properties in the big eastern cities (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen), and prices were soaring. To calm the speculation, the government decided that only residents could buy property. I’m told that in Dali, though, it works the other way around–that is, you can still buy property to become a resident.
“The government changed the visa rules last year, too, primarily to keep people away from the Olympic Games. On this trip, Vicki and I picked up our visas in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We got double-entry visas to be used within six months, each entry good for a 30-day stay. We met up with a Canadian friend here who got multiple-entries with each entry good for a 60-day stay. If you work on it, you should be able to get a three-month stay and extend the stay for two, one-month periods.
“That’d mean you’d have to leave–fly to Hong Kong, say–every five months.
“The old rules also provided for a six-month visa to study Chinese, a business visa if you invested under certain conditions, and a resident visa if you bought property.
“I emphasize that the Chinese are still working out both the property and the visa rules. You’ll have to comply with the new guidelines, whatever they turn out to be, or wait a few years until the rules change again.
“Meanwhile, come on over and take a first look at this exciting possibility. You’ll be a pioneer.
“I can recommend your initial place to stay: the Jade Emu Guesthouse, brand new and highly recommendable. Downstairs there’s a courtyard, pool table, corner bar, and living room with books, free computers, and some 30 English-language stations on a fine TV. Upstairs there are dorms and single and double rooms, all with televisions, electric heaters, free WiFi, and water boilers. There’s hot water in the shower and even in the sink tap, a rarity in traveler’s hotels in Asia. Best of all, the Australian owner Dave and the bilingual staff are happy to help with directions, maps, bus routes, trips around the lake, and transport to your next stop.
“Our room cost US$17 a night, surely one of the best hotel deals in China.
“Vicki found the Jade Emu Guesthouse on the Internet (www.jade-emu.com) and fearlessly copied down the Chinese directions for how to get there. When we arrived at the bus station, Vicki showed her work to the taxi driver, who nodded and promptly drove us directly to the place. Remarkably, it seems Vicki can write Chinese.”
“Just back from San Pedro Sula and the Lenca highlands,” reports roving Central America Correspondent Michael Paladin. “San Pedro Sula is the tail that wags the dog in this country, the dog being Tegucigalpa, the seat of government.
“San Pedro is vibrant, new, modern. There is a hum of energy. It’s also hotter and more humid, thanks to its proximity to the Caribbean coast. Tegucigalpa is high and gray, withered and wrinkled.
“I’ll send my full Honduras report when I’m back in Antigua next week. Good photos and good stories to go with them.”
“I apologize in advance if I’m not able to respond to your e-mails immediately this week,” writes new Editorial Assistant Rebecca Tyre, living in Las Tablas, Panama. “It’s Carnavalito, and I’ve got a house full of family guests.”
“Carnavalito?” we replied. “Never heard of it.”
“It’s celebrated only in Las Tablas,” Rebecca explains. “Las Tablas is the Carnaval destination in this country, so people come from all over to spend Carnaval week here. The little town is so overwhelmed that the locals can’t really enjoy the regular Carnaval celebration.
“Carnavalito is their second chance–it’s Carnaval just for the townspeople. It offers just about everything regular Carnaval does: culecos, queens, bands, parades, outdoor discos, etc. The main difference is there are about 100,000 fewer people filling the streets.”
“Could you please tell me more about the South of France, including any possible contacts?”
— Steph L., United States
Correspondent Lucy Culpepper’s full report on Languedoc, our top South of France retirement choice, is featured in the March 15 issue of the Overseas Retirement Letter, in production now. As Lucy explains:
“As I drove into the Languedoc heading toward the village of Cessenon-sur-Orb, the warm, golden glow of fall bathed the surrounding hills. The famous vines of the area were impressive even without their leaves, and each twist and turn of the road revealed glimpses of the great River Orb rushing through the valley. I pulled over to absorb the countryside at the top of the last hill before reaching the village, just next to the inspiring Chateau Bousquette. Across the Orb Valley, the rolling countryside of the Haut Languedoc National Park stretched out in front of me, reaching toward the foothills of the Montagne Noir (Black Mountains).
“As I approached Cessenon-sur-Orb, superbly tall maple trees lined the road, guiding me toward the heart of the village. At one end of the Place du Marché (central square) is the robust 19th-century Mairie (town hall), while at the other, stands a glorious 12th-century church. This is one of Cessenon’s great attractions…its heart. There are many other villages in the area that seem similar–perhaps even prettier–but they don’t have the heart and ease of living that Cessenon offers.
“Cessenon-sur-Orb is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Sometimes called the ‘other’ south of France, it lies between the regions of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur to the east, the Midi-Pyrenees to the west, and the Auvergne to the north, while Spain is only a few hours drive to the south. It may not be the cheapest place to retire to in the world, but it is colorful, eclectic, always changing, never following a formula, and very open to retirees. The village dates from prehistoric times, but the main ‘feel’ is medieval, with the church dominating the center and the tower of Le Donjon looking down from above.
“With every step around the village, I found more that appealed…”