There are bigger parks in Kunming and some with more enthralling histories. Yet the city's more well-known public gardens often lack the one thing people in a teeming metropolis covet most: green space. In the Spring City, sleepy Xihua Park (西华园) fills that void.
On a recent sunny and surprisingly hot day we abandoned the office in favor of the park's shady green confines. The northeast gate to Xihua sits in the shadows of the elevated South Second Ring Road. We left the blaring horns and thick air of the road behind as we entered the park.
From this entrance the park appears uninspiring as the path spills out right into the ill-conceived and badly maintained Xihua Spring Amusement Park (西华温水游乐园). Punctuating the scene was a child, bawling uncontrollably, riding a crazily-spinning carousel.
Thankfully the amusement section of the park — which includes the usual array of bumper cars, carousels and other automated, stomach-churning rides — was relatively small. We walked away from this area and its creepy life-sized fruit monsters and entered Xihua proper.
The park and its environs
The grounds nearby are set out around a series of ponds, which are home to lotus and gnarled trees bending out over the water. Cobblestone paths skirt the water's edge, shaded by eucalyptus and fichus trees. These little lanes were occasionally occupied by older people doing their daily exercise routines — some walking backwards while others slapping their shoulders in time to each step.
Where the trees ended, the path opened up onto wider, paved walkways encircling the park's meadow (大草坪). When compared to other parks in Kunming, the lawn was a revelation. Xihua has no little wrought iron fences to keep people off the grass and no signs warning patrons to stay out of green areas.
The lawn was trimmed short. Clusters of trees provided shade for those seeking it and wide-open areas were bathed in sunlight. Small groups of people sat picnicking on blankets smoothed out on the grass. Here and there camping tents were set up, one incongruously assembled in the middle of a walking path.
Although several families were out enjoying the sun, while we were there the lawn was never crowded. The loudest noises came from people playing instruments in small groups. Near the southernmost end of the knoll we approached a woman putting on a virtuoso performance on her zhongruan (中阮) — a four-stringed lute. She kindly allowed us to take her picture, the string of mellow notes emanating from her zhongruan never wavering.
The grass ends at a gorgeously kempt pond teaming with enormous carp. At one end of the water sits a series of pavilions overgrown with exploding purple bougainvillea flowers. The far end of the pond narrowed and meandered through huge boulders and what appeared to be a garden.
No bridge led to this place but a sign next to a locked gate identified the area as the Xihua Orchid Garden (西华兰花园). When we where there this section of the park was unfortunately closed to visitors.
We reached the southern end of the park and began the slow circuit back to where we originally entered. We passed the newly-painted main gate where the path opens onto Chuanfang Lu (船房路). Further on we stopped to stare up at the largest banana tree we have ever seen.
Xihua was constructed in 1987 and near its center sits a small courtyard house that clearly had not been painted or refurbished since the park's creation. It was a strange sight in an area so devoted to natural beauty. A placard nailed to the crumbling concrete of the structure explained the house was built in the Bai style. Homes of this sort are comprised of three connected buildings forming a U shape, which is then fronted by a walled gate.
The grounds of Xihua Park are covered by exquisitely arranged plants and a stunning variety of evergreen, deciduous and tropical trees. There are four tea houses and numerous places both on and off the lawn at which to sit. A quick walk around the park could take as little as 20 minutes, but the grounds are obviously designed for much longer periods of leisure.
Xihua Park is open from 7am until 8pm everyday and there is no entry fee. People driving to the park should use the Xihua Lu (西华路) entrance as it has an adjacent parking lot. The nearest bus station to this entrance is, not surprisingly, the Xihua Lu stop (西华路站), which is serviced by bus numbers 183 and 184. If taking a bus to the northern gate, get off bus number 51 bus at the Xihua Yuan/Second Ring Road South (西华园/二环南路) stop.© Copyright 2005-2021 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.