Into the Wild with China's Rave-Happy Hippies

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In Yunnan, we dance our way into spring with an all-night party in the middle of nowhere.

In the lakeside villages and fields that surround Dali’s ancient city centre, nobody uses street names. Which meant finding the Equinox Party a few weeks ago was like following a treasure map: "Head to the wharf, turn at the sign, and look for the second sign."

We were so busy drinking in the view, sun setting behind rolling mountains and the neat patchwork of green crops, we completely rode past the second sign. We backtracked and spotted the rickety chair lying on its side. No problem, scenic detours are just part of the vibe in southwest China.

Dali has always been a magnet for China's alternative set. Hippies and artists rub shoulders with twentysomething rat-race dropouts. On any given day you'll find them eking out a living selling trinkets on the side of the town's cobblestone streets. The older ones run guesthouses and tiny cafes that pipe in Indian music and serve Chai.

But tonight, young or old, they were converging in the rice fields for an all night (and all morning) rave. After Hours Athletes had been trickling in throughout the day, and by 22:00 the craft beer (provided by local bar Bad Monkey) was flying off the counter and the dance floor was filling up.

A couple of fire throwers, a belly dancer, and a juggler added to the weirdness, and a blend of hard house and trance set the rhythms. It was sexy and freaky, and if it all got to be a little too much, you could chill out in a giant dome with a crackling fire. We met up with a few new teammates outside, who, being low on cash, had sneaked in their own drinks, and a couple of pet dogs as well.

By 1:00 the dance floor was heating up and a dash of folk was being thrown into the electronic mix with a DJ that managed to play the flute as well as the turntables. A strange combination but, hey, in Dali anything goes.

Photos courtesy of Monica Tan.