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Getting Away: Songming's Crystal Palace

By in Travel on

Editor's note: Contributor Luan Hanratty lives and works in Kunming. He also writes about all things English-language instruction on the website Teflideas. If you have an idea for a story or other contribution, get in touch with GoKunming via our contact form.

None of the taxi drivers outside of a Songming college were willing to take me to Haichao Temple (海潮寺) so I hitched a lift from a slightly drunk old man on a motorbike. My destination was 12 kilometers away on the eastern end of the Yanglin basin (杨林) in Songming county (嵩明县).

The road weaved among scattered factories and farms while we weaved our way through trucks and then a herd of ponies and goats being shepherded along the dusty highway toward the hills. We came to a new residential development called The Aqua — ironically named as you'd be hard-pressed to find a more parched piece of earth.

Nevertheless, it was a sight to behold — hundreds of multi-colored condominiums with nobody living in them sitting in neat rows with perfectly-kept lawns. Despite the name, the development is well-placed in a sleepy backwater between the Songming mountains and the pile of hills east of Yanglin. The complex, roughly 30 kilometers northeast of Kunming, also has stables and a race track, a small fishing spot and a golf course.

The whole area is intensely agricultural. Locals drifted around, getting on with life in a relaxed and cheerful way. Imagine a sort of Chinese Trumpton but rather more rough and sprawling, with baiju breweries, foundries and open cast mining. To be fair though, the place is also dotted with mountain lakes and the rugged hill terraces that are so iconic to Yunnan. Perhaps 30 percent of Kunming's reservoirs are in this region as well.

The temple I had come to see is primarily a Daoist one and sits two-thirds of the way up Haichao Hill (海潮坡) in a spot of masterful fengshui. It overlooks what was an inland lake called the Yanglin Sea (杨林海) which is fed by a little spring on the hillside.

Thus the name Haichao – or sea tide — the slim remainder of which fills the paddies on the plain below. I was told by my garrulous chauffeur that the local government had given up on the idea of turning the place into a tourist attraction because of the lack of visitors. But the area is well worth a look if you find yourself in Songming.

The big surprise about this little limestone outcrop are the caves that lie tucked beneath it. These are called Shuijinggong (水晶宫), or Crystal Palace. When I arrived, the lady at the gate charged me 40 yuan to enter and an extra 20 yuan to see them. And what a sight they were! A real hidden treasure. I spent twenty minutes looking around at the stalagmites and stalactites and getting freaked out by the bats.

After that, I climbed the steps to the temple and then circled the mountain. To the south I could see trains approaching from Kunming before they disappeared into a tunnel below, on their way to Qujing. To the north and west there are a couple of hills serenely towering over the plain in the distance. One of them is the majestic dome of Yaoling Shan (药灵山), or Medicine Mountain.

I had intended to visit the village of Shangmafang (上马方), which sits beside the reservoir behind Haichao. It was slightly far to walk in the beating sun so I negotiated the terraces and pine trees which encircle the place and came up around the back of the hill.

The path gave way to rather more of a moonscape, as the place has been completely carved up in preparation for some sort of development. Who knows what kind? Let's hope they do something clever with it, because the place has huge potential as a scenic area.

Getting back, I was lucky enough to be just in time for the bus, which traveled along country roads to the newly-built campus town at Gongshang Xueyuan (云南工商学院). The trip was a great little find in the back of beyond and if you fancy getting out of Kunming for an afternoon, it's easy to get to on the Yanglin bus from Kunming's North Bus Station. It takes you all the way there for 16 yuan.

Images: Luan Hanratty

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Good story Luan, I think i'll have to get out there sometime soon.

Thanks Sean. There's a lot of hiking to be done up there and a lot more hidden gems to be found too, I'm sure!

The caves look very unspoiled for a tourist attraction. Worth a look.

Nice. Thank you.

These are the places worth visiting without the comercial atmosphere, thanksInteresting geology in a north/ south line from the yangtze to fu xian lake.
This part of yunnan with underground rivers feeding countless lakes has yet to e explored.
Fu xian lake has caves which are entreances to this under ground river system which i estimate lead northward in a geological fault to the yangtze.
The fault line is Visable on google earth

Have you heard of the sunken city at the bottom of Fuxian Lake? Supposedly, it was a regional capital and it slipped into the lake after an earthquake about 2,000 years ago. It could be China's Pompei, but very tough to explore and excavate.

Songming is a goddamned polluted city, you can see dozens of chims puffing out black smoke.

The town is a bit rough around the edges but it's not very big. Just a little bit outside of it are some nice places including Fajie Temple and the surrounding mountains with some good trails and views. Not much black smoke here <a href="tinypic.com?ref=2dm83yc" target="_blank"><img src="i45.tinypic.com/2dm83yc.jpg" border="0" alt="Image and video hosting by TinyPic"></a>

Just checked out the Crystal Palace today! Got there on foot from the Yanglin Bus Station. It is about a 1.5 hour walk, but I was able to stop at the Yanglin Feijiu Factory located about halfway there. Couldn't tour the factory, but there is a factory store that has the goods. Couldn't resist picking up a few bottles of the green fairy.

Also, I only paid 20RMB to see the temple and the caves. I asked the woman, and apparently I was the only visitor they had that day (this was about 4pm, too).

Also, there are a LOT of bats in that cave! Very beautiful though and an easy day trip from Kunming. I left my house at 1130am and was back at 7pm. Yanglin is interesting, too. Quite dusty, but instead of taxis they have horse drawn carts. Pretty neat!

Excellent! Amazed that you on paid 20 — seems I got rather diddled!

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