Of all the provinces I have visited in China the Yunnan Province in Southwestern China was without question one of the most interesting.  Renowned for its incredible diversity in geology, people and culture it has fascinated travelers since Marco Polo and before.

 

 

Tom  Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative.  Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels aroundThailand and you can get your copy here!  I've got a copy of this book and Ican tell you it's well worth it, especially for first timetravelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.Tom  Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative.  Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels aroundThailand and you can get your copy here!  I've got a copy of this book and Ican tell you it's well worth it, especially for first timetravelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.

When Tom agreed to become part of our small select product review team I was both excited and grateful.  I hope you enjoy this and future reviews by Tom.  For those whose plans include extended travel in Thailand and China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books.  Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at: tomsds@austin.rr.com

 

 

Of all the provinces I have visited in China the Yunnan Province in Southwestern China was without question one of the most interesting.  Renowned for its incredible diversity in geology, people and culture it has fascinated travelers since Marco Polo and before.

While staying in Kunming we had a chance to take a tour to the Shir Lin, the Stone Forest. It is a very interesting geological formation of small jagged Karsts, pools and manicured lawns. I had seen a few pictures of it when planning the trip and those were enough to put it up there on my “To Do” list.

To get there we took a Chinese Day tour.  Just being a part of the tour in and of itself was an interesting experience (that need not be repeated).

We started out in what at the time was the standard Chinese Tour bus.

 

Designed to seat 16 locals (but frequently packed with 22+). All the other tourists were Chinese, so this was a real “authentic” experience.

 

Designed to seat 16 locals (but frequently packed with 22+). All the other tourists were Chinese, so this was a real “authentic” experience.

The ride to the Stone Forest was surprisingly smooth, especially in comparison to my previous experiences over roads that only a tire salesman would love.  We went up into some mountains and through some very nice countryside.

 

Designed to seat 16 locals (but frequently packed with 22+). All the other tourists were Chinese, so this was a real “authentic” experience.

 

Crops were intensely cultivated throughout the countryside but not nearly with the same pressure or intensity Taiwan or Eastern China.

 

Much to my surprise our first stop on the trip was not at our destination (which was allegedly 45 minutes away) but at a Jade Shop in the middle of nowhere.

 

Much to my surprise our first stop on the trip was not at our destination (which was allegedly 45 minutes away) but at a Jade Shop in the middle of nowhere.

 

I was soon to learn that shopping at predetermined places was in fact the main focus of any Chinese tour. Yea, you’ll spend some time at the place you wanted to go but you’ll log far more hours at the shops and restaurants that the tour operator has an “arrangement” with (they get a cut or bounty for each sucker they deliver).

 

I was soon to learn that shopping at predetermined places was in fact the main focus of any Chinese tour. Yea, you’ll spend some time at the place you wanted to go but you’ll log far more hours at the shops and restaurants that the tour operator has an “arrangement” with (they get a cut or bounty for each sucker they deliver).

After the jade stop we went through some more countryside before stopping at a restaurant.

 

The food was decent and I was somewhat surprised by the speed at which it was sucked down by the group.   Fortunately I didn’t have to use the “facilities”.

 

The food was decent and I was somewhat surprised by the speed at which it was sucked down by the group.   Fortunately I didn’t have to use the “facilities”.

 

There were also some tourist stalls to blow a bit of RMB at.

 

There were also some tourist stalls to blow a bit of RMB at.

 

The Stone Forest

We arrived at the Stone Forest a short while later.  At first I wasn’t too impressed; it looked a lot like a garden.

 

The overwhelming majority of visitors here were part of organized tour groups, which is actually the norm for many places.  Chinese tourists like to travel in groups, not individually.

 

The overwhelming majority of visitors here were part of organized tour groups, which is actually the norm for many places.  Chinese tourists like to travel in groups, not individually.

Each group was lead by a tour guide.  Some of them were dressed up in the traditional costumes of the Yi people.  They are one of the ethnic groups native to the area.

 

There was a pond with a LOT of fish.  A common feature in many Chinese parks.

 

There was a pond with a LOT of fish.  A common feature in many Chinese parks.

 

As we got deeper into the park.  Things started to get more impressive.

 

As we got deeper into the park.  Things started to get more impressive.

 

Our tour guide hurriedly took us from attraction to attraction.  She actually teamed up with another tour guide and group.  One would take the front and the other the back.

 

Our tour guide hurriedly took us from attraction to attraction.  She actually teamed up with another tour guide and group.  One would take the front and the other the back.

Their primary objective seemed to be to keep us together as a herd and shove us through the park as quickly as possible.

The Park contained many different stone formations made of some type of igneous rock.  They were often covered with vines or other foliage.

 

Many of the more interesting rocks had stories attributed to them.  There was a common theme through the park linking many of the rocks which was the story of A Shir Ma. It was a tale of a lovely young girl who was in love with a man.  For various reasons they could not be together and they had to struggle against many things to be together.  In the end the heavens took pity on them and turned them into these rocks so they could be together always.

 

Many of the more interesting rocks had stories attributed to them.  There was a common theme through the park linking many of the rocks which was the story of A Shir Ma. It was a tale of a lovely young girl who was in love with a man.  For various reasons they could not be together and they had to struggle against many things to be together.  In the end the heavens took pity on them and turned them into these rocks so they could be together always.

This rock was supposed to be Ai Shir Ma. Holding flowers from her lover.

 

Another somewhat less distinct rock was supposed to be her lover.

 

Another somewhat less distinct rock was supposed to be her lover.

 

The rocks in this picture were supposed to represent the teeth of one of the giant beast the lovers faced.

 

The rocks in this picture were supposed to represent the teeth of one of the giant beast the lovers faced.

 

Some of the rocks had broken and fallen over the years.  This rock appeared to be precariously balanced.

 

Some of the rocks had broken and fallen over the years.  This rock appeared to be precariously balanced.

 

There was a rock above a pond that had been struck by lighting and the top of it had broken off (or so said the tour guide.)

 

There was a rock above a pond that had been struck by lighting and the top of it had broken off (or so said the tour guide.)

 

In several places in the park they had what some might consider graffiti on the rocks.  Some famous official had some words carved in and painted red. It seemed to fit in well oddly enough.

 

In several places in the park they had what some might consider graffiti on the rocks.  Some famous official had some words carved in and painted red. It seemed to fit in well oddly enough.

 

One of the rocks looked almost like boiling lava.

 

One of the rocks looked almost like boiling lava.

 

The High Point of the place was a walk up to a pagoda which gave you a commanding view of the park.

 

The High Point of the place was a walk up to a pagoda which gave you a commanding view of the park.

 

However this is also where the crowds were at their worst.  One you got going there was no turning back.

 

However this is also where the crowds were at their worst.  One you got going there was no turning back.

 

The surge of humanity was crushing.  You were propelled along whether you wanted to or not.  Despite being the highest place and relatively open the collective heat of the crowd made it pretty hot.

 

The surge of humanity was crushing.  You were propelled along whether you wanted to or not.  Despite being the highest place and relatively open the collective heat of the crowd made it pretty hot.

After the high point was over we did a little exploring on our own, much to the dismay of our tour guides.  They extolled us to have “Team Spirit” and stick with the group.

The grounds of the park were really very nice and well manicured.

 

We soon saw why. They had a small army of groundskeepers attending the place.

 

We soon saw why. They had a small army of groundskeepers attending the place.

 

We also got a good look at one of the roto-tiller cars that are ubiquitous in rural China.

 

We also got a good look at one of the roto-tiller cars that are ubiquitous in rural China.

 

After our tour guides had run us through the Stone Forest I wondered what was next.  We were not due back to Kunming for many hours.  That question was soon answered when we got herded into a “Tea demonstration”.

 

After our tour guides had run us through the Stone Forest I wondered what was next.  We were not due back to Kunming for many hours.  That question was soon answered when we got herded into a “Tea demonstration”.

 

We got to sit there for quite a while with several chain smoking men and their wives while a local extolled the virtues and gave out samplings of many of the different tea’s that were for sale.  I’ve never been a big tea guy but I have to say this stuff was way better than what we got at restaurants back home.  Much stronger with different flavors.  In the end we bought a few bottles of some of Yunnan’s finest.

 

We got to sit there for quite a while with several chain smoking men and their wives while a local extolled the virtues and gave out samplings of many of the different tea’s that were for sale.  I’ve never been a big tea guy but I have to say this stuff was way better than what we got at restaurants back home.  Much stronger with different flavors.  In the end we bought a few bottles of some of Yunnan’s finest.

After the Tea sampling we were herded back to the bus.  We spent some time driving back through the countryside.  I found it interesting that along the way we passed through small villages that had very large hotels in them or under construction.  I found out they were to support gambling operations that were being set up in the area.

Our next stop was temple on the side of a hill. It was supposed to be a very old temple though it looked very newly remodeled.

 

They had a decorative wall that was reminiscent of the 9 Dragon Wall at the Forbidden City.

 

They had a decorative wall that was reminiscent of the 9 Dragon Wall at the Forbidden City.

 

It was interesting to check out and it gave a good view of the surrounding countryside.

 

It was interesting to check out and it gave a good view of the surrounding countryside.

 

Coming back we saw many signs of road construction and maintenance.  There was very little automation or machinery and most of it was done by hand.

 

Coming back we saw many signs of road construction and maintenance.  There was very little automation or machinery and most of it was done by hand.

 

We also saw one of the local specialties, smoked duck, being prepared.

 

We also saw one of the local specialties, smoked duck, being prepared.

 

We arrived back in Kunming about 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival time. It had been an interesting day and an interesting experience traveling with a Chinese Tour group. I learned that Chinese tourists have a very different focus than westerners, something I would come to understand in greater depth in my further travels.  But it was a good trip.  The Stone Forest is defiantly worth seeing, just don’t go with a Chinese tour group and be prepared for the crowds.

 

We arrived back in Kunming about 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival time. It had been an interesting day and an interesting experience traveling with a Chinese Tour group. I learned that Chinese tourists have a very different focus than westerners, something I would come to understand in greater depth in my further travels.  But it was a good trip.  The Stone Forest is defiantly worth seeing, just don’t go with a Chinese tour group and be prepared for the crowds.