Shilin, or the Stone Forest, is as it sounds – a massive area covered in equally-massive stones. You could say it’s a forest of stones. Located in southern China about 1.5 hours from the city of Kunming, and also [more-importantly] located on my list of sights/oddities, we set out on a day trip to see it.
We took the metro to the East Coach Station. Seeing no English signs whatsoever, my sister got in line while I went out front and snapped a photo of the sign that said “Stone Forest Express Bus,” which we then showed to the ticket lady so she knew our destination! One of our creative communication methods as English was not common and our Chinese skills are…limited. We were soon approached and followed by a questionable bus station character named Mike, which I have written about at the end if you’d like to skip ahead.
Onward to Shilin (Stone Forest)
Tickets in hand and sketchy man ditched, we boarded the bus (again, the only western tourists) and headed to the forest. Outside it suddenly began to rain and turned very cold. The day before it was sunny and 80. First impressions were not good. Hordes of tourists milled about. We purchased rain slickers for ½ price, walking away when they were too pricey, but then the lady offered the discount (this was not a tactic, we really were just walking away). We opted to walk to the entry rather than pay for the “battery car,” a term we found almost funny as our horrifically ugly new rain slickers with shoddy buttons. Once inside, people swarmed and there were a lot of tourist paths around the stones with too many food vendors and too many areas to rent “folk costumes” for photos. A bit disappointing. Not the secluded amazing remote forest we imagined nor the internet promised!
Luckily, after a bit of walking a lot of group photos with strangers – many people in China approached us for selfies and photo opps, also they photographed us from afar at all times, which can be good for the self esteem – the park improved. The stones became more impressive and people more sparse. My stone-forested dream was sort of kind of becoming a reality.
The steps also became more steep, slick from the rain. While attempting to get out of the forest we got wildly lost (of course), wandering aimlessly through the stones. We passed passes so narrow we had to turn sideways and incurred a few rock-related injuries. We also passed a rogue child going to the bathroom on the path. When we passed by again a bit later (still lost), we were horrified to see the scene of the crime had not been cleaned up! We ended our day with a lovely photo shoot with the massive stones, gazing up at them in wonder…and perhaps mild annoyance.
Eventually we left the park, trudged back on the pedestrian path, and figured out how to buy tickets on the bus back using the communication method called: show the ticket you bought to come here, and follow wherever the man points (which was the ticket window).
Meeting M-I-K-E Mike
As we were waiting in line in the bus station, a man suddenly approached and started speaking to me in English. He told us his name was Mike, M-I-K-E, he knew a lot of languages, and he had a girlfriend from South Africa. His English was exceptional. His hygiene was not. He smelled of liquor as he followed us throughout the station, inviting us to his “restaurant” because it’s “not about the money but the friendship!” He told us NOT TO WORRY! DON’T BE SCARED! of him as he ignored our cues and trailed us around. Before we entered the waiting area he asked for some foreign coins for his “collection,” smiling a broad toothless smile. We told him we didn’t have any (we really didn’t), and he proceeded to lean over the balcony and yell after us to WATCH OUR VALUABLES. He promised to look for us on our way back, maybe we would visit the restaurant or have coins then! To our horror, 7 hours later we stepped off the bus and he was waiting at the specific stone forest arrival gate – literally he’d been there all day watching. At this time he demanded to know if we brought him “souvenirs,” and tried to get us to go to this alleged restaurant for “friendship” again. We hurried away this time, not rude but obviously not going with this questionable character to a nonexistent restaurant.