May 26-27, 2009
After a few days in Chengdu we took off. Most tourists follow a well-beaten path going south to Leshan and Emei Shan. We decided to be rebels; we took a detour to visit a park called the “Shunan Bamboo Sea”, near Yibin.
Getting to Shunan was a bit confusing, but we had help from some very friendly locals along the way.
This couple, Qing Ke and Yang Dongmei, helped us find our way in Yibin. We got off our train and had to hunt down a bus to take us the rest of the way. This was confusing because the bus station was on the other side of town, and we had no map. But Qing Ke and Yang Dongmei took a full one-hour detour from whatever it was they were doing to make sure we caught the bus, and they even surprised us with a gift – some baozi (steamed buns) as a snack for the road!
Pnina with Yang Dongmei and Qing Ke in Yibin:
Then when we reached the town by Shunan, another gal, Jane, walked around town with us to help us find a good hotel, and even spoke to the manager in our name to bargain down the price.
Me standing with Jane (on the right), her parents, and another passenger from our bus who wanted to help:
Did we mention that Chinese people are awesome?? 🙂
The Shunan Bamboo Sea
Shunan is a really huge park and, as it turned out, it’s not really set up for cheapskate independent travelers like us. The park is really huge, and its sites are scattered all around. Most tourists come here on organized trips, with a bus, or else hire a car and driver for the visit. When we entered the park (on foot), we were approached by a number of drivers offering their services for the day for 200 yuan (about $30). It’s probably not such a bad price considering that you’re basically getting a private taxi for several hours, but we weren’t interested. For one thing, we were still in minor shock from paying yet another big entrance fee (85 yuan), and besides that we just wanted to wander around on our own (the last thing we wanted was a Chinese-style “get off here, take your photo, drive there, take a photo” tour).
So we waved good-bye to the drivers and started marching into the park. But this was a stupid move, and the drivers knew it. We’d have several miles to walk before we reached anything. So, one of the drivers offered to give us a free ride to the first major stop, where you can take a cable-car to the top of a hill. We think he figured that once we were deep in the park we’d have no choice but to hire him; or maybe he was just being nice. Whatever the case, we took him up on his offer.
We continued playing unabashed freeloaders for the rest of the day. We got one other ride for free, and in the end we only paid 20 yuan to get a ride on a motorcycle out of the park.
So was the park worth it? Hmm, we’re on the fence about that. We had foggy weather, so we couldn’t really see the “sea” of the bamboo sea. On a good day we would have seen “waves” (hills) of bamboo stretching out to the horizon, but in our case we only saw the closest hills, and even they were shrouded. It was definitely interesting to walk through the forest. The bamboos had bigger trunks than we’d seen before, and they were more spread-out than we’d seen elsewhere. From above they looked nothing like what we’d expected. But again, it’s logistically complicated to be a cheapo independent traveler here, so perhaps it’s not worth the detour.
One more thing, according to our book, the bamboo sea is a popular place for Chinese directors to shoot period films, so it’s not uncommon to see actors dressed like Samurai running through the forest. I was really hoping to see this, but we had no such luck.
Walking into the Shunan Bamboo Sea, along the road. This is where one of the drivers took mercy on us and gave us a free lift to the first stop:
Our book claimed there was a trail to reach the top of the hill, running under the cable car. The locals claimed there’s no such trail and we must pony up the money to ride the cable car. Well, we showed them! 🙂 We did find a trail, but then we lost it and we ended up scrambling up a steep, muddy, mosquito-filled hill. I was cursing Pnina for choosing this path (when there are mosquitoes around, I’m not human). Eventually we located the trail and found our way:
The cable car we chose not to pay for:
One of the easier stretches of our hike; it really was very beautiful:
Out of the forest and back to the road, we passed by a home where a family had two pets – one dog, one pig:
And back into the forest. This time we found a trail that lead to some villages deeper in the woods. These people have small farms, though we’re guessing there are not allowed to just clear cut the bamboo in the park:
There were a few restaurants serving mushroom dishes. Each of these bins had a different kind of mushroom. We’re not sure if they were freshly picked or dehydrated/rehydrated, but they looked good. They were also kind of expensive, though, so we only took one:
There were also a lot of crafts shops where you could buy all kinds of artsy items made from bamboo:
Finally, we reached the top of the hill! Definitely not as fast as the cable car, but we had our adventures instead:
The view from the pagoda. If you look closely you can see the multi-color cable cars below:
Then we got another free ride to another part of the park where there was a lake and islands covered in bamboo:
Walking along the edge of a dam; a little freaky:
A very peculiar thing in China – dentists tend to have street-side clinics with big windows, so people can walk by and watch customers getting various dental services. This is so different from the US, where privacy is such a huge thing when it comes to anything medically-related.