Stone Forest, Shilin
The Stone Forest, near Shilin in Yunnan is one of the main tourist attractions in Yunnan, if not in the whole of China. Located 85 km east of Yunnan's capital Kunming, the Forest of strange rock formations is an unimaginable and unique sight. Some even call the area: "One of Earth's Natural Wonders". Others find it a turn off, some say, "yes, there's a lot of stones, a little strange, but still stones".
What most people see is the park which is reasonable small though nice layout area near the Shilin village (where you can stay).
It is usually the park that turns people off as they don't like the way the Chinese have build the park with all it's souvenir shops and ladies in traditional costumes. It's busy and if you ask me, way too touristy.
More interesting but a bit more work is what lies outside the park. This is what most people never see: a huge area of strange rocks of many hundreds of square kilometers. The Stone Forest is in some ways indeed a forest.
During my first visit I didn't realize the size of the area but a few years later I cycled through it. What knocked me out was that the Stone Forest already starts 20 km before the park!
It's a spectacular light, if you ask me. Archaeologists estimate the rock formation is about 270 million years old. In those days this part of China was ocean, we call this period "late Perm".
It was during this period in time the rocks were worn off by water and shaped in the way we see them today.
The ocean is since long gone but the worn off rocks are still there. It is those rocks that still play with the imagination of people. Chinese poets and foreign guests alike felt humble while walking in the rocks forest.
Some rocks even got names, the rock of Ashima in the Small Stone Forest is the most famous. The rock of Ashima resembles a girl of the Sani people, a branch of the Yi minorities, with a kerchief on her head, and a bamboo basket on her back.
Close to the park there are other scenic spots such as the Black Stone Forest, the Dadieshui Waterfall, the Changhu Lake (Long Lake), and the Ziyundong (Purple Clouds) Cave.
As the Stone Forest is an extensive area you will find lakes, mountains, caves and more strange rock formations almost everywhere.
Every year, in the 6th lunar month on the 24th day the Yi people celebrate their Torch Festival . The festival includes traditional activities such as wrestling, bull fighting, singing and dancing always last throughout the whole night.
Cycling through the Stone Forest
The only way to enjoy the massive area is to go out on foot. A good day spending starts with a hike to one of the hilltops in the area (supposing you stay in Shilin). It really doesn't matter much in which direction you move.
Once up on a hill you will find out how massive the area really is. And if you realize you only see a small part, it makes you even more wonder how the rock formations were formed.
I have visited the Stone Forest twice. The first time I came by bus and visited the park. That was a great experience. The second time I came by bicycle and spend a night in Shilin.
Another thing is that when you are cycling to and from Shilin, along the way extensive fields with strange looking rocks pass by. Many of them are right at the road side.
Shilin is easy to reach in a day's bicycle ride as the road is not difficult though it does contain here and there a few short climbs. And if you don't want to cycle, buses to Shilin leave from the Dongju bus station. They start as early as 8am and then roughly every 30-40 minutes. The last bus leaves at 6.40pm.
Buses from Shilin to Kunming operate from 6am until 6.40pm, every 30 to 40 minutes. The journey should 1.5 to 2 hours.
The Stone Forest, not only the park, is a must see in Yunnan and China. Highly recommended!
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