Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Yunnan: Shilin Stone Forest 石林

What happens when you try to turn beautiful natural landscapes into a mass-tourist attraction? The result is stone forest 石林 located in Yunnan, China. This majestic landscape attraction showcases the best of karst landscape in the province while having all the amenities (and prices) that tourists can wish for. Oh yes, 石林 (shilin) is also a AAAAA grade attraction in China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to shilin is to take a long distance bus (客运) from Kunming. You can find such buses from the major bus stations or railway stations. Alternatively, you can take bus 99 (RMB8) from Shilin West railway station (石林西站). Most visitors are part of large tour groups and the transport will be arranged by the tour agency. As such, the public transport options are not very comprehensive.

P)arking information at Shilin
 Because the karst landscapes of Shilin is a protected area. Most public vehicles are not allowed to enter. Public transport, private cars, etc have to stop at a parking and transport area about 20 minutes walk away from the entrance of Shilin. If you are lazy to walk, you can also pay RMB25 for an electric buggy ticket which will bring you right to the attraction entrance.

Map of the while stone forest area. Note that the parking area (top right) is quite far from the actual stone forest (bottom left)

Electric buggy tickets cost RMB25 and is valid for rides both to the carpark (外环) and within the attraction area (内环)

Ticketing Info

Ticket for adults is RMB175, or about SGD36. It is comparable to many large theme parks in China such as 长隆欢乐世界 (RMB250) and 欢乐谷 (RMB200). Because this is an educational attraction, students with a valid student pass, including international students will get a 50% discount. Tickets can be purchased on site or via the shilin website, though I do find their website a bit hard to use.

Finally, your group can also hire a tour guide (RMB80) who can explain to you about the key features and legends surrounding shilin. The guides wear traditional Yi people (彝族) costumes and add to the atmosphere of the visit.

[NOTE]: Shilin is very particular about checking your student pass. At the entrance, you need to show 1 student pass for each student priced ticket in order to enter. 

Yet another reason to justify charging you high admission fees

The Entrance Area

The entrance of shilin already has many nice photo spots. There are also small booths selling food, drinks and souvenirs at a surprisingly reasonable (yet still expensive) price. There are also some information boards that explain the geology of the area.

OMG! Finally there is a sign in English!

This is the most iconic rock formation at the entrance area. It resembles an eagle (or the 101 airborne insignia, if you ask me).

The souvenir booths are a blend of modern "pasar malam" functionality and traditional Yi culture architecture.

大石淋 Greater Stone Forest

The greater stone forest is the main attraction of Shilin. It consist of a large towering limestone structures, with lots of caves and crevices for people to explore. Don't worry, the paths have been laid with modern bricks and concrete (painted to look like limestone) so you don't have to be an adventure geek to complete this attraction. However, some steps are steeper than normal and hand-holds are not always available so seniors and children should move more slowly.

And of course, MIND YOUR HEAD!

Remember when I told you about mind your head?

ok...Interesting sign here

In addition, many of the rock formations have historic significance and legends. For example, sitting on the limestone bed (near the "better to rest here for a while sign" above) for 3 seconds will bless you with 桃花 (Chinese slang for getting married). However, the tour guide also told me some rocks are cursed, so be careful of where you touch!

良心石 (conscience rock). Legend has it that if you committed a major sin, the rock will fall onto you when you walk under it.

刀山火海 is very dangerous, thats why no climbing. Just kidding. There are no climbing signs all over the stone forest.

Finally, there are a few other interesting features. Firstly, there are a small pavilion at the highest point of the stone forest. It is a good place to take a photo but is too crowded for resting purposes. Secondly, because stone forest was once located under the ocean millions of years ago, there are signs of fossilized remains at some areas of the attraction. Or rather, the signboards are there but the fossils are worn out after being touched by tourists for many years.

I am not sure if you can tell where is the fossil. IT IS GONE!

As I told you, the peak pavilion is crowded. And I went on a weekday BTW.

View from the top of Shilin

小石林 Lesser stone forest

The lesser stone forest is a smaller karst formation. However, the main attraction of this area is the Ashima rock. Ashima (阿诗玛) originally refers to a beautiful girl of the yi people. The word can also be used as a greeting to a woman. Yi people is the predominant ethnic minority in the Shilin area. Okay, now for a bit of yi culture vocabulary

  • 大黑哥 (da hei ge): big black brother, refers to a man who is hardworking and down to earth
  • 大白哥 (da bai ge): big white brother, refers to a man who is lazy and relies on manipulating or other means to achieve his desired goals
  • 阿诗玛 (ah shi ma): beautiful girl

Other features

Nice SOS phone.

Recycling bins...interesting. Actually, I find shi lin surprisingly clean.

erm...if you can read chinese...you get what I mean

Why not show off your sight singing skills by doing an impromptu performance of an Yi people traditional song?

The Verdict

It is very difficult to pass a verdict for this attraction. The landscape is really beautiful and the operator did a good job of incorporating some elements of Yi culture into the attraction. However, the attraction is relatively expensive for considering that it can be finished in about 3 hours. Also, transport cost will be very expensive unless you are part of a tour group. As such, I think stone forest is only worth visiting if you are really a nature geek or part of a tour group.
  • Preservation of natural landscape: ☆☆☆
  • Ease of walking: ☆☆☆☆
  • Transportation: ☆☆
  • Pricing: ☆☆☆
  • Service: ☆☆☆☆
  • Crowding: ☆
  • Overall: ☆☆☆
My main complaint for stone forest is the crowding. Being a AAAAA attraction, it is hugely popular among locals and there are a huge number of visitors even on weekdays. This makes me concerned that the tickets may be fully sold out on weekends, so it is good to call and check with them.

Want to know more about Yunnan, you can check out my other blog post on Yunnan Nationalities Village 云南民族村, which I think is much better value than stone forest. If you like this post, don't forget to like the Second Drop Facebook Page