For most people living in the chaos of urban Kunming, the west side of Dianchi Lake is largely terra incognita, despite being just a short car or bicycle ride away. We recently made the trip out to Xihua Wetlands Park (西华湿地公园), where we found a pleasant getaway just a stone's throw (20 kilometers) from the city.
We parked in a cul-de-sac beside the lake and took a few moments to stroll along the shore. Dianchi still has major pollution problems, but government attempts to clean up the lake appear to be making gradual headway. We're not sure how effective the intentionally introduced invasive water hyacinths on the coastline are at reducing pollution, but they do add a nice touch of green to the area.
We crossed a dirt road and made our way into the wetlands area. There were no maps or visitor information in the free park, save for a faded sign in Chinese that contained a brief overview of the lake restoration project.
The park itself is crissed and crossed with wooden walkways. Most of them are well-marked but a few trail off into potentially perilous cement pathways a few inches wide.
Although at times the walkways felt a little artificial, the wood complemented the setting and the sole viewing pagoda we passed was unobtrusive. We passed one group of tourists taking photos and another with a long bamboo pole trying to fish, but for most part we were alone.
The pathways led us to the edge of the lake which was dotted with blossoming lotuses. Further down the path we found ourselves among tall grasses which eventually revealed a spectacular view of the park with the mountains rising in the distance.
The grasses gave way to ferns that stretched over our heads. We passed trees with orange and yellow flowers, and further onwards found purple orchid-like flowers dangling from the branches of small trees.
It would have been nice to have more information on the surrounding plants because there was an incredible diversity of plant life packed into each corner. We had many questions about what we saw but there were no resources to consult.
On the other hand, signage would have taken away from one of the most pleasurable parts of the experience: the feeling that we were completely surrounded by nature and could easily walk into the heart of the mountains.
When the walkway ended we found that we'd made a full circle and we were across the road from where we'd parked. There was a pagoda full of women selling fruits and vegetables. They were happy to chat with a foreign visitor – apparently not many come here.
All told, Xihua Wetlands Park is well-maintained without feeling overplanned. One of the better places around town to simultaneously take in lake and mountain views, it is highly photogenic and a refreshing change of pace from Kunming's better-known parks.
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