It’s hard to say whether Shilin (Stone Forest), about 75 miles southeast of Kunming, is more Chinese amusement park or natural wonder. A spectacular array of rock formations jutting from the earth (the tallest ones about 100 feet high) over a 140 square mile area.
Those looking for a peaceful day in one of China’s most interesting scenic areas will at first be disappointed with the hoards of Chinese posing in front of named stone pillars, but a short walk past the crowds rewards with a secluded fascinating adventure.
The entrance to Shilin is just a five minute walk from the bus station. I bought the 175 yuan ticket (nearly $30) and entered a world of manicured lawns, tram carts and well dressed Chinese tourists following guides in traditional costumes.
The open area in front of the main rock formation with the big 石林 in red was crowded with tourist donning traditional costumes and posing before the inscription. Back behind this area are narrow stone paths and stairways that wind through the formations, some with special names such as “Elephant on a Platform” or “Two Birds Feeding Each Other”.
The viewing pavilion just above was also packed, but once I passed the lake the crowds all but disappeared. It wasn’t until I reached the ring road with trams carrying tourist to specific picture posing spots that I encountered many people.
Continuing past this ring road are more pathways and stairways through more and more formations, each as interesting as the one before. I walked all the way to Eternal Mushroom where I only saw a couple of local farmers. Here you have dramatic views of the stone fields beyond.
In typical Chinese fashion the full length of the pathway is laid out in stone.The entire experience is surreal, from watching the tourists to exploring the myriad formations. Explanations are given in both Chinese and English with frequent maps posted throughout the park.
Getting to Shilin
Getting to Shilin, on the other hand, was not as easy as I had anticipated. Like the day before I had gotten written bus directions from MW to the East Passenger Transport Station. I never did find where I was supposed to get off the bus – no schedule at the bus stop nor in the bus. After I was sure I had gone too far, I got off the bus and asked for directions. I don’t know what he was speaking but I didn’t understand a word.
Giving up I took a taxi. I was sure I wasn’t very far from the bus station. When I showed the driver where I wanted to go he asked me if I was going to Shilin. Great, he knows where I’m going. But after what seemed like an eternity on the expressway I asked him where we were going and if it was far. He just pointed. I thought we were going around in circles or something, but it turned out there are two East Passenger Transport Stations and the driver had indeed taken me to where I needed to go. (The station near Baisha Reservoir.)
Buying a Bus Ticket
Next problem, buying the bus ticket. I enter the enormous hall with a huge schedule – long lists of names and times in Chinese characters – above about 20 ticket windows. I really didn’t have time to read through to find my destination so I just queued up behind the Chinese.
My turn came I explained where I wanted to go and when and that I wanted a return ticket. A long conversation ensued in which I understood about a third. Around and around we went. “You can’t buy the return ticket here.” ”Ok, I still want to buy a ticket.” ”When does the next bus leave?” This was the sticky issue. After talking to MW on Monday, there are no fixed times. The bus leaves when it is full, zuoman.
It took two other guys in line and the counter clerk explaining and explaining all in Chinese before one of guys got the clerk to sell me the ticket and the other took me to where I was to board the bus. They were all amazingly quite nice and patient. Finally on the bus I could relax a little.
Bus Ride to Shilin
Shilin is just about an hour and 15 minutes from the East Station. The day started out somewhat foggy and then it started to drizzle, but by the time we arrived in Shilin the sun was shining. Before heading to the park, I wanted to make sure I understood when and how to get back to Kunming.
I asked at the bus office and she handed me a piece of paper with lines in English explaining that they do not sell tickets in advance and that the last bus leaves at 6:30pm. “Yes, but when does the first bus leave?” I understood the answer to be, “all busses leave at 6:30pm.” Great, I have seven hours to kill. If I had known I wouldn’t have come so early.
Bus Back to Kunming
By 4:30PM I had enough of the park, was exhausted from climbing up and down stairs and wandered back to town, wondering what I was going to do for the next two hours. Low and behold there were people at the bus station office. I walked over and bought a ticket and the bus left at 4:45PM. Who knows what she actually had told me. Lesson learned: Buses leave when they are full, zuoman.
Back in Kunming
Back in town I ended the weekend at my local little stir-fry bar. This time I ordered the Chinese leeks with garlic and pork with tea tree mushrooms and red pepper.
August 28, 2011
For links to all the posts in this series see the Kunming page.