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Getting away: Stone Forest

By in Travel on

Part of the South China Karst UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Stone Forest (石林) is the closest of Yunnan's three heritage sites to Kunming and a major tourist attraction, bringing in more than three million visitors from around China and the world every year.

Comprised of 350 square kilometers of 270 million-year-old Karst topography roughly 120 kilometers east of Kunming, the Stone Forest is a seemingly endless collection of stone towers, spires and oddly shaped monoliths with occasional scenes reminiscent of Easter Island or Stonehenge.

Despite its local fame, the Stone Forest is just far enough away for many Kunming residents to put off going there forever. After years of procrastination, GoKunming finally visited the Stone Forest for the first time on a recent sunny day and found it to be full of surprises.

Unfortunately, the first surprise was how expensive it was just to get through the door. Earlier this year the price of Stone Forest tickets jumped 35 yuan from 140 yuan to 175 yuan, making it one of the most expensive sightseeing tickets in Yunnan.

The next surprise was the large number of tourists in the park, especially foreign tourists – primarily Western and Korean. As longtime residents of Kunming, it was a reminder that just because we don't see throngs of international tourists passing through the city in our everyday lives doesn't mean it isn't happening every day.

The park is divided up into several main areas - Great Stone Forest, Lesser Stone Forest, Naigu Stone Forest and 'Eternal Mushroom' – but due to the sameness of the landscapes and confusing maps, it was hard to know where in the park we were.

The park makes for a good three to five hours of leisurely hiking and photo-taking. If you're looking for good places to take photos, the Peak View Pavilion (望峰亭) and Sword Peak Pool (剑峰池) offer nice vistas and reflections, respectively. The best times to shoot are around sunrise and sunset, but you can still get good shots at midday.

Aside from the popular spots in the park full of tourists and park employees dressed in colorful Yi outfits, there are countless lesser-taken paths that offer nice views and are easy to find - just try to walk away from the sound of tourists and uphill whenever possible.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stone Forest is open 24 hours. If you choose to go at night, you might want to wait for a full moon – park employees said there was minimal lighting of the Karst formations at night.

After all that walking in the sun, we were hungry for a snack and a cold beer, which we found just outside of Stone Forest's main entrance at the Shihu Restaurant (石湖风味园), which has an English-language menu, loads of local specialties, a good selection of vegetarian options and delightfully cold beers.

We ordered cold cucumber on a bed of mint with chili and vinegar and a plate of fried local goat cheese, aka rubing. The rubing was so good, we ordered another plate.

When it was time to get the bill, we received our last surprise of the trip - the rubing was a hefty 30 yuan/plate. In the end we decided it was expensive but worth it as it was better than any rubing we've had in Kunming.

Getting there: Hiring a car and driver to Stone Forest and back to Kunming should cost approximately 400-450 yuan. It should take roughly 90 minutes one-way.

There are also several daily train services between Kunming and the town of Shilin ranging from nine to 19 yuan, with some trains as fast as 90 minutes and others as slow as three hours. For train ticket information, visit the Huaxia Train Ticket Office or call the China Rail Bureau's Kunshi Lu office at 5335764.

The area around Stone Forest has a hostel and several low-end hotels as well as restaurants specializing in local Yi dishes. There are also a handful of small supermarkets selling lufu (卤腐), a pleasantly pungent fermented tofu that might remind Western palates of blue cheese.

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the Peak View Pavilion (望峰停) should be the Peak View Pavilion (望峰亭)

Thanks, correction has been made.

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