Day Trip to Xi Shan, Kunming, China

Getting to Xi Shan

Today was a sort of practical mini quiz in following directions. As part of class on Friday MW and another teacher gave me directions on how to take the bus to West Mountains (Xī Shān 西山), a recreational area just outside of Kunming. The directions were relatively simple; take the K2 bus on Renmin East road to the last stop, Mĭn Shān Chē Chăng (岷山车场), and then take the No. 6 bus to the last stop, Gāo Qiao, at the entrance to the park.

Aside from both buses being packed at 8AM on a Saturday morning, and having to stand the full hour to the park, the trip was uneventful. Lots of people were headed to the park to enjoy the cool morning air in the mountains. The sky was overcast but this meant cooler temperatures, so I wasn’t complaining.

Walking through the Forest

The whole day would have gone amazingly smoothly (considering my general illiteracy and minimal language skill) if only I had paid more attention at the start of the walk. Just past the gate is a big sign with a map of the road leading up to Dragon Gate (Lóng Mén 龙门) and the temples you can visit along the way.

I instead blindly followed the Chinese up a dirt track not 20 yards before the map and two hours later ended up in the small town of Mao Mao Qing. It was a pleasant walk through the forest, crossing the main road leading to the town several times before finally merging with it. Many of the Chinese on their way down were carrying bags of produce and munching on cucumbers, carrots or sunflower seeds. Not surprisingly, In Mao Mao Qing was small farmers market. Some of the biggest sunflower heads I’ve ever seen.

I found the road to Long Men and continued on my way. It wasn’t until I got to the intersection with the main Xi Shan park road that I realized my mistake. Fortunately it only added about 45 minutes to my walk and made for a nice loop instead of taking the same road up and back.

Long Men and Sanqing Palace

Long Men and Sanqing Palace (currently under one 40 yuan ticket) is a staggering complex of pavilions and grottos built over a span of decades around 1800 into the side of a cliff. The climb to the top first passes through a web of pavilions belonging to Sanqing Palace. Think Chinese version of Swiss Family Robison only up the side of a cliff instead of in a tree. The complex was first built as a country villa and was later turned into a Taoist temple.

Past the pavilions begins Long Men grotto, a series of caves, corridors and stairways carved into the upper section of the cliff. Long Men itself is a rather small doorway that I carelessly missed my first time through and had to go back and to find. I was practically standing under it when the last person I asked laughed and said “there it is” and kindly took my photo under it. On a Saturday afternoon the complex was packed with Chinese tourists, making the narrow passageways that much harder to negotiate. Despite the crowds the views and painted caves are worth the effort.

Other Temples

On the way back down the main road I stopped at two Taoist temples. First, Taihua Temple (Tàihuá sì 太华寺, admission 6 yuan), a lovely complex of pavilions and green spaces. It is currently under restoration but is a pleasant place to hang out and rest a while with the few Chinese there playing cards or mahjong.

Huating Temple (Huáting sì 华亭寺, admission 6 yuan) is huge, one of the largest in Yunnan. A beautiful compound of pavilions and garden spaces. Don’t miss the back hall filled with rows of golden arhats. It’s a little creepy walking through these narrow aisles of frozen smiling golden faces. Taihua Ancient Passway, a stone walkway through the forest, connects the two temples and gets you off the main road.

Back in Kunming

Dead tired by the time I got back home – thankfully I had a seat on both buses back – I opted for one of my favorite snacks instead of going out to dinner. A pork sandwich with cucumber and a tangy hot sauce for 3.5 yuan ( about $.50). That and a cold beer hit the spot.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Kunming page.