I'm flying into Kunming on the 29th Sept (Sat) with the goal of being in Dali by the 30th Sept (Sunday) to meet some friends. I'm used to taking buses inter-city, but thought I might try booking a Kunming-Dali train ticket in advance to avoid the chance that I'll miss taking the bus, because of crowds from National Holidays.
However, I'd still prefer to take the bus as the journey is much shorter and I'm under the impression that it'll be less crazy than taking the train when everyone is trying to go home. (I could be way off the mark though.)
What do you guys think? Do any of you have experience traveling around Yunnan at the beginning/tail-end of Golden Week by bus? Could you please share? Is it possible to get from Kunming to Dali by bus by booking the day of/before on the dates I've mentioned?
Things get busy and you should definitely try to get your bus tickets as early as possible.
There are a number of bus-ticket offices in Kunming city center (e.g. near the train station; on 121 Dajie at the intersecion with Jianshe Lu; at Xizhan), where you probably will have to queue, but which are still much better than the crowded bus stations themselves. Do not assume that you can just show up at the terminal and get a bus out any time soon. However, bus services to Xiaguan (Dali City) are better able to handle the increased traffic than smaller places.
Make sure you get tickets to the part of Dali you are staying in. The new town is about 10km from the ancient city, and taxis never use the meters. Also make sure you have booked your accommodation, things can get booked up at peak season.
@ludwig @Dazzer thanks so much for your responses!! I've secured (magically) a hard sleeper seat, let's hope that goes well :) Also, point taken re: booking accomms ahead of time.