how to visit shilin

How to Visit Kunming, Shilin and Dali

Today wasn’t a good day. It was one of those days when nothing went well. You know them. Well for us. That day was today. We’d only booked our tickets for the XinJie – Kunming bus at 4pm yesterday. We knew it was pretty late when we saw the numbers 31 and 32 on the tickets. That’s the back row. There are three more seats on the back row, at least we didn’t have the middle seat.



The 302 kilometer (in a straight line, as a Chinese Crow Flies, but Chinese Crows don’t go straight as we all know) trip from XinJie to Kunming takes 8 hours. The back seat is elevated above the other seats. There are no wedging in opportunities, your position is tenuous, but you do get an incredible view of the dandruff sitting in front of you. It’s also seriously uncomfortable.

AirCon stuffed with tissue paper. EEEWWW
AirCon stuffed with tissue paper. EEEWWW
Surviving the Back Seat
Surviving the Back Seat

That was the start of the bad day. I won’t bore you with the detail of the journey. We arrived at the Kunming South Bus Station to find that our backpacks, carefully loaded 8 hours ago had been moved, to somewhere underneath something wet. My backpack escaped much of the damage, but Nige’s was dripping. We neither investigated too closely, nor did we smell it.

The day didn’t get any better. We’d booked a room “20 minutes walk ” from the railway station, so set off, once the subway had deposited us there. I can’t even blame Google for the 55 minute walk that we then took. Google took us to 1 Minhang Road. That might have been the address of the hotel we were staying at ON PAPER, but in reality, it should have been about 150 Minhang Road. It wasn’t actually on Minhang Road, but several buildings in on a cross street, nowhere near 1 Minhang Road.

We weren’t talking when we finally arrived.

Or when the sign in the entrance to the hotel stated that rooms were available for 130 yuan. We had paid 180 yuan with and yes I know that the lower rate was probably for domestic tourists and we wouldn’t qualify for it, but I’m pissed off, so reasoning isn’t working.

And then the f’ing Internet. We used to have dial up that was faster than this. It would all be, hopefully better in the morning.

And it was, for a brief wonderful moment at Kunming Train Station, when we met the clerk at window number 5, who’s perfect English made this the best train ticket acquisition in China to date. Even the bus to Shilin, the Stone Forest, rated by Unesco as “one of the world’s most spectacular examples of humid tropical to subtropical karst landscapes” was relatively simple, after of course the literal fight to get on. You know I don’t like being grabbed, but Lady, when you pinch my arm and pull my backpack to try and get on the bus before me, you have clearly never seen me in a pub at last orders. This is not something you are going to win. Period.


It’s a long haul to Shilin. First about an hour on the bus to the East Bus station, competing with bag pulling, arm pinching women, then 90 minutes to Shilin, where you’ll be relieved of your 185 Yuan ( 18.70 GBP / 30. 14 USD) entrance fee, and an optional 25 Yuan to ride the electric golf buggy the 3 km to the actual entrance and back. ( it’s worth it, it’s a boring walk, with no shade).

Shilin is an area of karst (limestone formations), the tall rocks seem to emanate from the ground in the manner of stalagmites, with many looking like petrified trees thereby creating the illusion of a forest made of stone. Since 2007, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the South China Karst. I’m sure that getting the Unesco status means that the visitor numbers jump through the roof. And there were a lot of people there. A lot of loud people. But that was ok, all the National Parks and revenue maximisation locations ( oh, I’m sorry, I mean the Cultural Tourism Centers) here in China have a lot of people going to them.

And the Disney Music begins,,
And the Disney Music begins,,

From the golf cart, to the exorbitant pricing, to the entrance gates and the sappy music, this was Disney does Rocks all the way. and not in a good way. I couldn’t tell at some point if we were in an area of outstanding natural beauty or on a golf course, so manufactured did it feel.


Even away from the crowds and there were maddening crowds, it was hard to tell what was original karst and what was concrete, although Disney fans would have been pleased to hear the constant renditions of the sappy intro musak.

Gratuitous photo’s of Shilin follow:

These are weapons and I'm not afraid to use them...
These are weapons and I’m not afraid to use them…

It was a relief to get on the buggy, then the bus back to Kunming East Bus Station, then the private bus to the Railway Station, (no arm pinching women this time, as we took a direct to the Railway Station bus for 5 Yuan, rather than go around the houses on the 2 yuan number 60).

Yup, that's us on the way OUT!
Yup, that’s us on the way OUT!

There was a ray of hope for the bad day, which by now had extended to a bad 48 hours, when we ate at a local place close to the hotel, which is 20 minutes walk from the railway Station, if you go there directly. Stir fried chilis as a single dish was interesting, if not a cheaper end to the day, than we anticipated. Then it was on to the train station for our overnight to Dali.

That ray of hope was a ray gun destroying all hope. I take back everything I said about how great Chinese trains were. We left Kunming at 23:00, due into Dali at 0610 and literally bounced, rolled, jerked and clunked all of the 349 kilometers.

It didn’t get much better in Dali. Oh sure, the number 8 buses were lined up outside the station to take us to the old city. It was another scrum to get on. It as easy to spot our stop, there was a little getting lost on the way to the hostel, they let us check in at 7am and had washing machines, two! Bliss. We were down to Nige having to wear his swim shorts and fleece. Despite having upped the knicker allowance to six last time we were in China, I was now knickerless. It was 10 Yuan ($1.50 / 1 GBP) a wash. We settled down to catch up on the BBC and the electric went out with no fix time declared.

How many hours am I up to now?

With no knickers, the swim shorts and fleece we headed out for breakfast, and actually a damned good bowl of cold spicy noodles was acquired and consumed.

Dali was, well meh. No character to speak of, expensive, and just nothing that we could find to help it redeem itself. We walked to the Three Pagodas and took photos from outside, after the Shilin experience, 120 Yuan to get in was feeling ridiculous and we weren’t going to spend that. We ate on Foreigner Street – surprisingly good food, despite the owners worry that we wouldn’t like the spice, but mainly because they had wifi, crap wifi, but wifi all the same.

The Phoenix, Dali
Three Pagodas from the Cheap (i.e.) Free Seats

And we wandered aimlessly, like we do when we are somewhere that we don’t want to be.

Way too many hours and counting.

Dali – Ray of Hope?
Dali Sunset

We then took our first hard sleeper as hard seat train. And yes China Trains, I still haven’t forgiven you four days later. Those great hard sleepers I’ve told you about before? Well on this train, when you’re actually in a hard sleeper compartment they do not allow you to lie down, and four people have to share the bottom bunk. Urgh. If you do this, be sure to add ibuprofen to the train and sleeper bus survival kit, because you are going to ache.

At 12:32 the misery ended. That’s right, the sun finally set on the longest bad day in history when we arrived in Lijiang. Even the “well it might be this bus, let’s see where it goes” worked out from the train station. We found the hostel more easily than ever before. Even when it started chucking it down and the hostel owner told us they were full, but he was putting us up at his friends place right in the old town, we were still smiling.

Lijiang Old Town

Some places just feel right. Lijiang was that place for us. It might have been rebuilt after the 1996 earthquake, it might not be original, Unesco might have them on examination status because of the commercialization and we might have overdosed on fried Naxi (local tribe) snacks, but it is a fabulous place.

Mushrooms and Eggs
MMMM Bacon
This was just weird
Yummy sticky Bamboo Rice
Black pudding, Rice sausage thing

From the Black Dragon Pool, the consummate picture postcard image of Yunnan, where groups of Chinese tourists walked around talking quietly to each other (!!!!! – worth going for this alone!), to the array and selection of food, to the live music literally everywhere, to N’s kitchen where the coffee is good, strong cheap Yunnan coffee and the beer is 15 Yuan for a big bottle of Dali to the higgedly piggedly roof lines, red lanterns, small alleys and waterways, it was quite simply lovely.


The final word, though, goes to Lydia, the sweet little 7 year old, who we met while checking out a menu, who regaled us in perfect English of her wish to be a scientist when she grows up, of her plans for the future and her hopes. Man, that kid is smart and her future, like ours, now the bad day is done, is bright.


UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China

If you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites, then our guides to these Chinese World Heritage sites will be useful

Travel Tips for Exploring China

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