Friday, January 3, 2020

A Trip to Stone Forest and Jiuxiang, Yunnan China

Stone Forest or Shilin (石林) and Jiuxiang (九乡) are considered two must visit places in Kunming, Yunnan (昆明, 云南). We visited both places on the first day of our trip to Yunnan. We spent another day visiting several attractions in Kunming city as well. The arrangement was done by Saksoon Travel Agency.

Both places are really beautiful, and really require a lot of walking. Comfortable clothes and non-slippery footwear are really important to ensure an enjoyable trip, especially in Jiuxiang, where we had to walk through wet and slippery ground and climb more than one thousand steps of stairs. Anyway, these stairs should not be an obstacle for those with good physical fitness.

Stone Forest (Shilin)
Stone Forest is around 90 minutes drive from Kunming city. We reached the ticket counter at around 11 am. The sky was cloudy in October. The cooling weather was just nice for an enjoyable stroll in the park.

The park is filled with uncountable natural limestone rising above the ground, spreading over an area of 400 km square, resembling a huge forest of stones. Actually, the whole area was once under the sea. It started to emerge and rise as a highland area due to the movement of earth's crust and upper mantle. The extensive erosion and weathering carved the limestone into a trunk-like pillars.

There are two major areas within Stone Forest- Major Stone Forest Scenic Area and Minor Stone Forest Scenic Area. We went through some part of the major scenic area by foot, and then toured around the minor scenic area by electric car (battery car). We stayed in the area for 2 hours 30 minutes. We left the site at around 1:30 pm for lunch before we continued our trip to Jiuxiang Scenic Area.

We would recommend to spend more time at the major scenic area, as we could see more interesting stones there. The scenic areas in Stone Forest is far away from ticketing counter. Thus paying RMB 25 for the electric car transit service is really necessary. Detail of entrance fees for Stone Forest are available at

The ticketing area is nicely decorated.

From the ticketing area (upper left), we have to walk around 200 meters to the electric car shuttle station (upper right). The ride took around 5 minutes to the entrance of the Stone Forest (lower right). There were many visitors using the shuttle service.

Stone Forest is an UNESCO heritage site. 

Karst at the major scenic area.

The major scenic area is beautiful with the combination of natural and man-made landscapes.

The words "林后" (pronoun as lin-hou), was calligraphed by Yun Long- a general who once ruled Yunnan from 1927 to 1945.   

There are several beautiful lakes in this area as well. This lake is called Lotus Lake, with a stone resembles lotus flower erects at the middle of the lake. 

Although most of the foliage are still green, some have turned yellowish in October.

There are many other interesting stones around the scenic area. One of them is called eagle stone. Anyway, it looks more like a dinosaur than an eagle to us.

Some of the area were full with visitors.

We took our lunch at a restaurant nearby Stone Forest Scenic Area. Then, we continued our trip to Jiuxiang Scenic Area.

Jiuxiang Scenic Area
Jiuxiang Scenic Area is located 50 kms north of Stone Forest Scenic Area. From Stone Forest, we took about 1 hour drive to reach the scenic area. Unlike Stone Forest, where the limestone erected from ground, the limestone at Jiuxiang formed caves and tunnels deep into the ground. 

We have to descend 53 meters straight down into the Grand Underground Valley with elevator. Then we need to walk for around 1 km along the valley before entering the cave, which leads us to Grand Lion Hall. Food, beverages, and resting area are available there. The path turns challenging from Grand Lion Hall. First, we have to go a long way down the stairs to Twin Waterfall. Then, we have to climb up and down through Fairy Field. Finally, we have to climb around 300 steps to go back to the surface.  

Although the cave is filled with cooling air, high humidity and a lot of walking will cause the whole underground trip sweaty and sticky. Thus, we would recommend to go light with sportswear. We could get some refreshment and restore our energy at Grand Lion Cave. We stayed at the site for 2 hours. Detail of entrance fees for Jiuxiang are available at

The entrance to Jiuxiang cave system. We can see the water gushing into the Grand Underground Valley (left to right).

We walked through Grand Underground Valley. The valley is around 1 km long, leading us right to the entrance of the cave.

Grand Lion Cave is named after this stone.

Grand Lion Cave is huge, with a small exhibition on the discovery of early human settlement in the cave.

Twin Waterfall in the cave. This was the filming site for the movie "Myth" by Jackie Chan.

The underground terrace from above at Fairy Fields.

The terrace from another angle.

The terrace from below.

We started to climb back to the surface via Bat Cave.

It would be a disaster if we have to walk back to the car park from another end of the cave. Luckily, cable car service was provided to bring us back to the entrance point.

Nice view from the cable car.

We returned to Kunming for dinner and stayed overnight at Xin Sheng Da Hong Sheng Hotel (鑫盛达宏晟酒店). We started our long journey to Dali early the next morning.

More about our trip in Kunming are available at:

[Attractions in Dali][Tiger Leaping Gorge- A Must Visit Site in Yunnan]
[Short Trip to Shangri-La][Attractions in Lijiang] 

Attractions in Kunming City

Kunming city is the capital city of Yunnan Province. With the average altitude above 1600 meters above sea level, the weather is cooling, especially after rain. We visited several attractions in Kunming in our three days' trip there. The city is old, with a history of more than 2400 years.

The places of interest in Kunming that we visited are Golden Horse and Green Rooster Archways (金马碧鸡坊), Jinri Lou (近日楼), Guandu Ancient Town (官渡古镇), Yuan Tong Temple (圆通寺), Green Lake Park (翠湖) and Dounan Flower Market (斗南花卉市场) . We visited Stone Forest and Jiuxiang Scenic Area as well. We shared our experience there in another post.

Kunming is a metropolitan with population of more than 7 millions. Our trip was arranged by Saksoon Travel Agency, therefore our transportation and accommodation had been well taken care of. Anyway, it is easy to move around the city as the city is well connected by public transports.

Kunming Old Town (昆明古城)
Most of the Kunming old town was demolished for development. However, several structures have been restored, including the East and West Towers (东寺塔和西寺塔), Jinri Pavilion (近日楼), and Golden Horse and Green Rooster Archways (金马碧鸡坊). We spent around 40 minutes at that area, before proceed to the shopping area. We had the chance to dine in the restaurant, which was once the governor's residence. It is convenient to walk around the old town area.

The old town area has lost most of its historical values. However, the Golden Horse and Green Rooster Archways are still worth a visit. Both archways are still the symbolic structure of Kunming city.

Golden Horse and Green Rooster Archways are located at the middle of the old Kunming City. According to the legend, once in 60 years, the sun shines on the Green Rooster Archway while the moon shines on the Golden Horse Archway, forming one overlaying shadow for both archways. The archways that we can see today are built in 1998 according to the original design of the old archways. We can see many modern skyscrapers nearby the archways.

Green Rooster Archway. 

We visited the East and West Towers at Sima Alley (司马巷). The east tower is called the Tower of Eternal Joy (永乐寺塔), while the west one is called the Tower of Kindness Light (惠光寺塔). Both towers were built more than 1200 years ago, and had been restored several times over time. We can see bronze statues on Sima Alley showing the street of the older days. The west tower can be seen in this photo.

Jinri Lou was the south gate of the old Kunming City. 

We dined at the old residence of the governor of Kunming city. The restaurant is not far away from Golden Horse and Green Rooster Archways.

Guandu Ancient Town (官渡古镇)
The ancient town is located beside Dian Lake (滇湖), 15 kms from Kunming City Center. It is around 20 minutes drive from our hotel. The town is believed to be the birth place of Yunnan culture. Kunming was called Dian in older day.

Despite its historical importance, the town has been rebuilt to fulfill the need of tourism. Shops selling souvenirs, clothes, food and beverages are lined up along the streets with beautiful local houses. We strolled around the streets for around 1 hour and tried several types of local delicacies. It is an interesting place to visit in Kunming. Must visit or not? Well, we would say yes, only if you have time to spare in your trip.

One of the entrance to Guandu Ancient Town.

Bronze statues show the activities on ancient street.

Street along the main entrance. 

Shops houses.

Miaozhan Tower (妙湛寺双塔) is one of the oldest religious relic in the town. The tower marks the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in Kunming area.

Guandu Baba (官渡粑粑) (upper left), traditional art on sweet (upper right), and local escargot (lower right) are some local delicacies available in the ancient town. Souvenirs can be bought with discounted price at the pedestrian street nearby Miaozhan Tower.

Yuantong Temple (圆通寺)
Yuan Tong Temple is located in between Kunming Zoo and Green Lake Park. It is one of the oldest Buddhist temple in Yunnan. The first house of worship was built in 1319. Today, temples for different branches of Buddhism are available within the area. 

For us, nothing is really interesting there, except the peaceful and quiet environment in the middle of busy city. It is a good place for us to rest our feet for a while, and, the entrance is free. So, why not just take a short visit there? 

 The entrance to the temple.

The oldest temple structure in the middle of a lake.

We were surprised by the presence of  the prayer hall for in Thai Buddhist there. 

Panoramic view of Yuantong Temple. Please click on the photo for larger view.

Green Lake Park (翠湖)
Green Lake Park is huge leisure park in the middle of Wuhua District- the busiest district in Kunming. The lake has been a place for leisure since early Qing Dynasty. There were many visitors in the park during our visit, mainly locals, singing, dancing, rowing boats, calligraphy writing, jogging, riding bicycles and having their own activities in the park. The relaxing atmosphere was contagious. We roamed around the park for 40 minutes.

It is a good place to stroll in case you are visiting somewhere nearby. It is a beautiful place, but not a must visit place in Kunming.

A part of the lake park. We walked along the side of the lake and enjoyed the beautiful lakeside scenery in the middle of busy metropolitan.

People rowing boats on the lake.

People dancing on the open space in the park.

Dounan Flower Market (斗南花卉市场) 
The flower market is one of the biggest in China. The flowers and young trees are sold to whole China. We took a short visit to the market on our way to Guandu Ancient Town. It is located nearby our hotel. We spent around 45 minutes at the flower market. Interesting? Yes. Must visit? Nope. 

 Visitor center of the flower market.

 Beautiful flowers for sale.

 Flower trees are available.

One of the entrance to the flower market.

Accommodation in Kunming
Wan Jin An Hotel (万金按大酒店) is nearby Kunming Changshui International Airport. It is a good place to stay if we arrive in the middle of the night. The hotel is clean and quiet. It is a good choice for a comfortable stay. We stayed one night at the hotel.

Xin Sheng Da Hong Sheng International Hotel (鑫盛达宏晟国际酒店) is located 40 minutes from Kunming City Center. It is a 5 star Muslim friendly hotel. The room is big, well-designed, with enough amenity for a comfortable stay. The services and the food are good as well. The hotel is not far away from the Dounan Flower Market (斗南花卉市场) and Guandu Ancient Town (官渡老街) We stayed 2 nights there.

We stayed in Wan Jin An Hotel (万金按大酒店) on our first night in Kunming (upper left). The hotel was  not far away from the airport. The hotel is tidy and clean (upper right), with comfortable room (lower right). The restaurant is a bit small with limited variety of food served.

We stayed at Xin Sheng Da Hong Sheng International Hotel (鑫盛达宏晟国际酒店) for 2 nights (upper left). That is a big hotel with nice lobby (upper right). The room is well decorated (lower right). Wide variety of food and beverages were served at the restaurant. 

Our sharing about our trip in Yunnan are available at:

[Attractions in Dali][Tiger Leaping Gorge- A Must Visit Site in Yunnan]
[Short Trip to Shangri-La][Attractions in Lijiang] 

Friday, November 1, 2019

Getting Around Sandakan, Sabah

What is the must try food in Sandakan? What is the best place to stay in Sandakan? We would like to share our experience getting around Sandakan.

Sandakan is the second largest town in Sabah, with a population over 400 thousands within the municipal area. It is a peaceful coastal town with nice seafood, nature beauty, and friendly people. The airport is nearby the old township, the place where tourists stay. New township is now extending into the hilly area, far from the sea. We visited several tourist attractions in Sandakan, and share it in another post

What to Eat
The biggest attraction in Sandakan, beside orang utans, is the seafood. We tried several eateries- Sim-Sim Seafood Restaurant(森森海鲜食店), Ocean King Restaurant, seafood noodle stall at Kampung Pukat, food stall at Sandakan Central Market, and many more.

Sim Sim Water Village is located along Buli Sim Sim Road. The water village is located around 10 minutes drive from town center. We can see a clear signage of "Kampung Seafood Sim Sim" from the main road (upper left), with locals were selling fruits along the entrance to the village (upper right). There are several restaurants located in the water village. We visited the one on the left end- Sim-Sim Seafood Restaurant H90 (lower right). The restaurant is big and clean, with very nice dining hall facing the sea.

We tried seafood noodle (upper left), prawn with butter (upper right), and seafood in thick soup (lower right). The dishes were nice with reasonable price. We could see a row of shark jaws hanging on the wall of the restaurant.

Ocean King Restaurant was originally built by the sea. The restaurant was moved to a new location after the pirates' incident. Although it is now far from the sea, around 20 minutes drive from the town center, the restaurant is still famous among the locals and tourists (upper left). We tried steamed babylonia shells (upper right), clams in soup (lower right), and fried squid. All the dishes tasted good. The price was a little bit more expensive compared to the restaurant at Sim-Sim Water Village, maybe because of the restaurant was fully air-conditioned. 

We were recommended to the seafood noodle at Kampung Pukat, around 10 minutes' drive from town center. The village entrance is similar to Sim-Sim Water Village (upper left), and the seafood noodle stall is actually a residential unit (lower right). We tried seafood noodle (lower right) and seafood in soup. Both were delicious, with big portion of prawn, squids, and oysters. The price was around RM 15 per portion.

We also took the opportunity to have afternoon tea at San Da Gen Kopitiam(三大羹), which was nearby our hotel. The eatery was nicely decorated and fully air-conditioned (upper left). We tried several snacks, such as the salted egg croissant (upper right), tart with cream (lower right), avocado bun, and toast with black coffee. The food were special, but really not fitting our taste. 

Many local food stalls are available on the 2nd floor of Sandakan Central Market (upper left). The market is located just next to Four Seasons by Sheraton. Some of the food stalls attract many visitors (upper right). We found the stall selling "The Original Homemade Keuh Teow with Deepfried Pork" (lower right) served very nice noodle.

We visited Sandakan during the fruit season. Local fruits such as duku langsat (upper left), tarap (upper right), durian (lower right), and mangosteen were sold with very low price.

We would recommend to stay somewhere near to the old township area. The town area looks old and tired, with less people walking around. However, it is still the most convenient place for tourists like us to stay.

We stayed in Four Points by Sheraton for two nights. The hotel is facing the sea with nice view around Sandakan town. There is a shopping mall attached to the hotel. Attractions such as Sandakan Central Market and Sandakan Heritage Trail are located within walking distance. 

The hotel was overall good, with just little flaws such as the access card was not working consistently. We were stuck at the mall's entrance, the lift, and our room a few times. The reading lights were not working, and the bath tub was stuck. The problems were settled however, by the friendly staff. 

The drop point of Four Points (upper left). We can see the central market right behind the building. The hotel has a cozy environment (upper right), the room was big with good amenity (lower right), and the restaurant served nice international breakfast.

Nice town view from the hotel.

Sandakan Central Market can be seen from our room. This place is full with people early in the morning.

Sandakan Harbor Square is beside our hotel.

"I Love Sandakan" signage at Sandakan Harbor Square.

Transportation and Streets
We found that the easiest way to move around Sandakan is by Grab service. Grab is available almost everywhere, with very reasonable price- around RM 13 from Sandakan airport to town (20 minutes), and RM 23 from our hotel to Sepilok (35 minutes). 

Clean and modern-look airport with fully air-conditioned departure hall.

Streets in Sandakan old town. We can see the old "resident evil" like buildings along the streets. However, We found no problem walking around the town area, day and night. The street is clean and generally safe, with no zombies around.

The presence of these high buildings between narrow streets make us feel like little Hong Kong.

Sandakan is a great place for a short trip. The town is small with less people around, the seafood is really nice and cheap, and there are several beautiful conservation parks to visit. We share information on Sepilok, and places of interest nearby Sandakan Town as well.

More information about our trip in Sabah are available at: