Dali, and Shilin's Stone Forest

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June 6th 2012
Published: June 6th 2012
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The 7 hour bus trip from Shangri La to Dali was quite pleasant and I was pleased that we bypassed Lijiang for fear of adding more time onto the journey. We went through some nice towns and scenery, and it is obviously rice planting season at the moment because it seemed that everyone from the towns were in the fields helping in some way. Once arriving in Dali I headed for a cheap family run guesthouse called YouYu that Aleksei recommended just inside the north gate. I got a great little room with wifi and bathroom( and a couple of free meals over my stay) for $8.50 a night and the location pleased me by being just outside the tourist area.
I spent 4 nights in Dali and everyday I was there it rained. I was planning on maybe riding around or some of the way around the lake but due to the weather I gave it a miss. On one afternoon I caught the local bus down to the lake which had a nice short path along the waterfront and I spent about an hour there chatting to a few Chinese tourists that could speak a little english. The thing that got me about the towns around the lake were how built up they were, I guess I was hoping for another Lugu Hu. Another day I walked up the hill toward the cable cars and after finding out the price, and also with the threat of rain I decided to give it a miss as well. The other thing I didn't do was go into see the famous three pagodas, again the price was a bit steep and I guess I wasn't that interested anyway so I just walked through the old streets and took a couple of pictures. On my last full day I caught a bus to an old village which was okay but again nothing great. After all those negative things I found the town of Dali to be a lot nicer and more enjoyable to walk around than Lijiang. Lijiang definately has prettier streets but they are a little hard to see with all the tourists jampacked and shoulder to shoulder. Also Dali is nowhere near as touristy with a lot of the town being just normal life and thank god I didn't see as many chain stores as there are in Lijiang.
On tuesday morning I caught the local bus to Dali City where I eventually found the long distance bus station and caught a 5 hour bus to Kunming. About halfway through the trip an argument broke out between the driver and a passenger. The driver stopped the bus and started telling off the passenger who responded with equal passion. After a few minutes I got bored with it and was hoping that they would either fight or the driver kicked the passenger off the bus. Of course these things never happened and a few minutes later we were off again. I have seen a few of these yelling matches in China and they never seem to come to any conclusion. We arrived at the western bus station on the edge of the city, and after telling the people at the office that I wanted to go to Shilin they pointed out a bus that was going to the eastern station where I could catch another bus. At the other station I boarded a bus for the hour and a half journey to Shilin, which is famous for its' stone forest. I should have gotten off the bus at Shilin but wasn't 100% sure where the centre of town was so I stayed on the bus a few more minutes and I ended up at an expensive hotel next to the Stone Forest. I then walked back to town and caught the bus to the nearby large town of Lunan ( Lonely Planet says it is a small town with better accommodation than Shilin). Once seeing the size of the town I hopped back on a bus going the other way and returned to Shilin where I walked around for a while until I found very good motel style accommodation for $10 a night.
The following morning after watching the NBA playoffs I walked the short distance to the ticket office for the park and bought the somewhat expensive ticket for the park ($29) and shuttlebus ($4). After a short shuttlebus ride and short walk I was finally in the Stone Forest. I followed the masses of Chinese tourists to a couple of scenic spots where I took a couple of photos, and then I just started wandering around the limestone rocks on my own. One of the things I liked about the park was that there were so many paths around and through the rocks that it was quite easy to find a place to be alone. I especially liked the "deep and narrow valley" where I didn't run into anyone else and also enjoyed the coolness of being at the base of some of the large pinnacles. Once I was sick of walking up and down the stairs I hopped on the bus that does a circuit of the park. We passed a couple of nice views for photos and I communicated to the Chinese tourists that I wanted to get off, they asked the driver and she just shook her head and more or less said the bus doesn't stop. I couldn't understand this because we passed a few viewing platforms around the 3km or so circuit and it just seemed to make sense that there should be a couple of stations to hop on and off along the way. Once the bus had dropped all us passengers off near where we had hopped on it, I wandered over and hopped on one just leaving and as it passed a couple of scenic spots I jumped off while it was still moving (admittedly they go very slow and it was very safe to jump). I heard a couple of gasps from the Chinese tourists and I was very proud of my rebellion. Once I reached the far side of the circuit I noticed a path leading away from the main area to mushroom rocks. I walked a circuit around this area for about an hour following the path and I didn't see any other tourists. I eventually made it back out on the road where I headed back to the main entrance and then to my hotel for a rest. Although I didn't find the Stone Forest spectacular I still thought it was pretty good and definately worth a visit if you are in the area.
The following morning I caught the local bus to the bus station in Lunan hoping to catch an onward bus to Jianshui which is on the way to the terraces near Yuanyang. When I asked the lady at the ticket counter for the bus she motioned that I had to take a taxi to another stop to catch the bus. No problem, $1 and about 10 minutes later I was boarding the bus to Jianshui. The bus trip took about 4 and a half hours and I found the scenery quite boring except when we had to wait 20 minutes for a crane to pull up a truck that had gone off the road and down the embankment about 20 metres. From the bus station I hopped on the back of a motorbike and asked him to take me to the old town, but unfortunately he dropped me off in front of some new buildings due to a flat tyre. A lady then helped me find the right bus and ten minutes later I was at the east gate. I found good accommodation within a few minutes at the YHA which has nice rooms for $10 a night. I spent the late afternoon having a look around the town which I quite like having a mix of mostly old and some new buildings and very very few tourists. Tomorrow I am off to the rice terraces.

Additional photos below
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6th June 2012

English only?
Tell me, do you speak Chinese? I ask you this question because I have always thought that travelling China without a single knowledge of Chinese might be a nightmare. Maybe I am mistaken. China is in my plans but maybe on a package, which I donĀ“t like, but because I think it might be nearly impossible to go from place to another. Thank you. Graciela, from Argentina.
7th June 2012

Hi Graciela
No, I don't speak any Chinese and I have found getting around quite easy. I highly recommend that you travel independently to get a better experience, also take a guidebook which has the Chinese characters for the towns you want to visit, and even better a small Chinese phrasebook with the characters. If you want to ask questions seek out young Chinese in their early 20's, preferably other tourists that generally come from the east and are well educated. I have found they are very helpful and get a kick out of practicing their english. You will also pick up some words along your travels that come in very handy. And above all, be confident and you will have no problems.
7th June 2012

Pity it rained for you in Dali but lucky you didn't venture onto Lake Erhai in bad weather...can be treacherous. Nice pics of Shilin Stone Forest. I think your "Chinese tourist" shots are actually Sani girls who would be Shilin locals!
13th June 2012

Hi Dave
The girls in the photos could easily be local Sani girls but they also hire out the costumes to Chinese, so I just assumed they were tourists. I think you will be interested in the photos of a market in Sheng Cun, Yuanyang in a blog I just posted. jason

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