The Stone Forest (Shilin 石林 in Chinese) near Kunming is an incredible set of enormous rock formations resembling a rock forest that tower over you as you walk through them.
Visiting the Stone Forest will not give you much in the way of travel bragging rights but it is a fascinating site and worth visiting if you have a day free in Kuming while waiting for your plane or train.
The Stone Forest was declared a world heritage site in 2007 so you can tick it off on your list of visited heritage sites at the end of the day.
What is the Stone Forest?
The Stone Forest is a set of Karst formations that date back roughly 270 millions years when travel in China was a lot less developed than it is now. These formations were formed by the dissolution and erosion of soluble bedrock such as limestone that left a residue of much harder rock.
Karst formations vary in shape and size and can range from enormous underground caverns to lakes and lime stone pavements. As spectacular as the Stone Forest is, it is not unique and similar formations have formed around the world at places such as Herault in France and El Torcal in Spain.
The Stone Forest’s grounds and features
The Stone Forest is a part of the Shilin National Scenic area that covers 350 square kilometres and is divided into seven different sections. The actual karst formations only cover a very small part of this area and generally you will only see one of the seven sections when you visit the Stone Forest.
As impressive as the stone formations are, they become a little repetitive after the first 2-3 hours and you’ll be more than happy seeing just two of the scenic area’s seven sections. Most tourists to the Stone Forest only stay there for a couple of hours and leave feeling very satisfied with the experience.
The Stone Forest is an important part of local folklore and there are folklore interpretations of many rock formations in the Stone Forest. I have listed below photos and interpretations of two of the more interesting ones I saw during my visit.
Waiting for Husband – A local man Azhe left home to shoot down 9 of the world’s 10 suns that had destroyed his home and damaged the local community. His wife Awo is standing beside the road waiting for him to return home.
Wandering mother with child – A woman and her child of Sani nationality are wandering through the stone columns
Bushao 5 Gates – Not exactly folklore but the Bushao 5 Gates are another very interesting part of the Stone Forest. The Bushao 5 Gates is a path that goes through 5 natural stone gates. Each stone gate is formed by the erosion of the center part of a stone column. The gates are very narrow and I had to take off my small day pack and turn side ways to squeeze through several of them.
The Stone Forest is 120 kilometers out of Kunming and takes a two hour bus trip to get there.
The buses for the Stone Forest leave Kunming’s Dong Bu long distance bus stop which is on the east side of Kunming and takes a 20 minute drive to get there. A taxi trip to the bus stop is a little expensive so catch one of the public buses such as the 193 bus that go to the Dong Bu long distance bus stop.
The fare for the bus is 27rmb and the bus will drop you off at a bus stop near the main entrance of the scenic area. When you get off the bus and leave the bus stop, turn left and the entrance will be clearly visible around 100 meters down the road.
Tickets and Opening Times
The ticket to the Stone Forest scenic area costs 175rmb which is a little excessive but inline with the higher prices (price gouging) found at most travel spots in Yunnan.
English speaking guides are available inside the scenic area just after the entrance that cost 80rmb.
The scenic area is open from 8:30am to 6:00pm
Travelling time to the Stone Forest and back is at least 4 hours and enjoying the key sites in the main section will take at least 3 hours so you will need a full day to visit the Stone Forest.