Yunnan is the most southwest province of China and borders Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar. The name means « South of the Clouds». It's a diverse province when it comes to ethnic minorities and natural wonders. The Stone Forest is a natural phenomenon. This «forest» is made of dense stone peaks that stands upright, grey as steel. These intricate stone formations are certainly one of natures own masterpieces, formed millions of years ago. Acording to the Sani legend it was the gods who smashed a mountain so that young lovers could find privacy...

Last year I was visiting China, traveling through several of the provinces. Kunming and the Stone Forest was the first place we went to.

The tickets are bought at the visitor center. The area is huge, but we had the option of walking two kilometers to the entrance or take the motorised car. At the entrance we bought tickets to another motorised car to take us into the area. It is a kind of hop on hop off transportation! We never quite figured out how this system worked, so we came to the same place twice. English is not widely used by the staff, which made it very difficult to get information about how it worked. We ended up doing a lot of walking, which turned out to be very rewarding.

This stone forest is the only karst landform located in a subtropical area and is the most unique in the world due to it's long history. The various shapes of the limestone were formed due to millions of years geological evolution. The area includes not only the rock trees, but karst caves, waterfalls, underground rivers etc. It has been known since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) as the «First Wonder of the World» and since 2007 it has been listed a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The «forest» look like petrified trees which creates the illusion of a forest – made of stones. It's a massive «forest» of limestone formations where it is easy to imagine they look like animals, flowers, humans...

Sani dance performance

The area is home to the one of the Yunnan's 25 ethnic minority groups, the Sani people. The music and dance performanses, do add lots of color to this forest of grey. Yunnan has the most ethnic minorities in China. They actually makes up 1/3 of the population in the province. All these minorities make Yunnan the most colorful region in China.

Several information boards in English

When it comes to the stone forest, there are many legends, passed along by the Sani people. One of those legends is saying that Ashima, a beautiful girl of the Sani people was kidnapped by en evil landlord's son and forced into mariage. Her lover (or brother, depending on the storyteller...) made every effort to save her. But on the way home, Ashima was swept away by a flood and turned into what is known as the Ashima Rock.

Park View Pavillion perched on a peak

The Stone Forest is well worth a visit and can be done as a day trip from Kunming. It is one of Yunnans most popular tourist attraction, so an important thing to do, is to get away from the main tourist centre. Just a few kilometers walk away from the centre there are secluded walks where we were much more alone. Because of it's size – twelve square kilometers, be prepared to spend at least half a day here.

Yunnan is not only the most colorful region because of all the ethnic groups. The province also offers ancient towns, rice terraces, snowcapped mountains, gorges etc. Our travels continued to the ancient town of Lijiang, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-la for more adventures.

Sources: www.chinahighlights.com and www.yunnanadventure.com

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