Further catching-up to do, back to 1 September.
After leaving Lijiang (parts one, two, three), the top thing on our abbreviated Yunnan list was Shilin, the Stone Forest. It’s about an hour’s drive out of Kunming, and as one of China’s most popular tourist spots (among Chinese travelers at least), you’d expect that visiting it would be a breeze. That expectation would not be accurate in this case.
We arrived at the Kunming Airport in the morning and checked our bags at the storage desk. Then we went to the Tourist Information Desk and asked about getting to Shilin. I know my Chinese isn’t perfect, but the lady there basically told me I couldn’t go to Shilin, and tried to talk me into seeing the International Flower Exhibition. I bought a city map to get my bearings and gave up on her.
I had read online that there are buses for the Stone Forest that leave from the train station, so we took a taxi there and looked for the buses. I do know the characters for stone and forest. We saw some buses, but they were obviously privately run, and from what I’ve heard, they’ll take you to the destination, but only after they make you stop at a few shopping areas where they get kickbacks. I called a coworker back in Beijing who has been there, and she suggested we just hire a taxi for the day. I found one, and I managed to talk him down to ¥400. Seemed kind of steep, but he wouldn’t go any lower, and we were basically taking up more than half of a day’s work for him. Off we went.
The drive took us into some mountains that were fairly heavily cultivated. I’ve never seen corn grown on such steep slopes.
When we finally got there, we were immediately assaulted by women in ethnic garb trying to take us on tours in their little electric trams for ¥200 a person. I said “We want to walk,” and asked for directions to the ticket office. The entry ticket is ¥140 apiece, again much more expensive than Beijing attractions. We agreed on a time and place to meet with the taxi driver and in we went.
After all the hassle getting there, being inside was a breath of relaxation.
Like Lijiang Old Town, Shilin is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area just inside is a tended garden, with mowed lawns and flowering trees among the stone shafts.
If you’ve ever been in a limestone cavern like Carlsbad or Mammoth, you can think of the Stone Forest being the same kind of thing only out in the open air.
There are quite a few ponds among the spires, and they are inhabited by frogs and tadpoles.
The limestone of an ancient seabed has been uplifted and eroded (mostly by water) over the millennia, leaving behind odd-shaped spires and crevices. There are also lots of caves and sinkholes in the area.
We wandered around on the twisting paths for several hours, ending up way off the beaten path.
While there were lots of people near the entrance, not many venture into the outer reaches of the park.
The landscape is just amazing, with interesting shapes at every turn. That one is called Elephant on a Platform.
After a point, we reached Oddly Shaped Stone Overload, and the frequency of clicking the cameras diminished. Even so, we ended up with over 300 pictures.
As with most places in China, there are surveillance cameras, here disguised as trees.
One thing you can say about the park is that the high admission price is reflected in the quality of the restrooms, which were clean, functional, and almost odorless, much better than any other public facilities I’ve yet found here.
There were some very narrow passages.
Here’s one of the groundskeepers taking a little break.
Luckily about the time we were getting worn out and starving (we never did get lunch) we chanced upon one of the popular spots near the entrance.
This little lake is home to an amazing number of large golden fish, and for ¥2 you can get a little bag of food for them.
Lots of people do, and the fish go crazy.
About this time, the taxi driver called and asked if we were almost done. I told him twenty minutes, not knowing exactly how far we were from the parking lot.
Even though it was about five hours until our flight, we had him take us to the airport. Kunming had not been that friendly to us, and we didn’t feel like running the risk of going somewhere for food and not making it to our flight on time. We picked up our bags from the storage area (only ¥20 to hold them half a day), and went to the airport KFC for a much-needed meal.
That covers the scenic parts of our Yunnan trip. I’ll have one more post dealing with what it was like to travel within China during the time of the Olympics.
Pictures by D & I.