Surrounding the fertile confluence of the Yangzi and Min rivers 250km from Chengdu, where Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces meet, southeastern Sichuan has some intriguing attractions. The town of Zigong is a treat, with some well-preserved architecture, dinosaurs and salt mines, especially worth checking out during its Spring Festival lantern displays. Some 80km farther south, Yibin offers access to the aptly named Shunan Bamboo Sea. Both Zigong and Yibin are easily accessible by bus from Chengdu, Chongqing and Leshan. An interesting way out of the region is by bus east to Luzhou, and then over to another bamboo forest at Chishui in Guizhou province.Read More
Yibin and around
Yibin and around
A crowded, grubby port with a modern veneer, the city of YIBIN (宜宾, yíbīn) sits where the Jinsha and Min rivers combine to form the Chang Jiang, the main body of the Yangzi River. There’s nothing to do here in between organizing transport to surrounding sights, though Yibin produces three substances known for wreaking havoc: enriched plutonium; Wuliangye bai jiu, China’s second-favourite spirit; and ranmian, “burning noodles”, whose chilli content has stripped many a stomach lining.
Around 75km southeast of Yibin, the extraordinary Shunan Bamboo Sea (蜀南竹海国家公园, shŭnán zhúhăi guójiā gōngyuán) covers more than forty square kilometres of mountain slopes with feathery green tufts, and makes for a refreshing few days’ rural escape. It’s a relatively expensive one, however – if you want to see similar scenery at budget rates you’re better off heading to Chishui in Guizhou province. The main problem is simply getting around within the park; bus services are unpredictable and you’ll probably end up having to charter taxis for the day. Having said this, Shunan is a beautiful spot, if a bit spooky given the graceful 10m-high stems endlessly repeating into the distance. There’s pleasure in just being driven around, but make sure you have at least one walk along any of the numerous paths – the trail paralleling the cable car is steep but superb, taking in a couple of waterfalls – and get a look down over the forest to see the bowed tips of bamboo ripple in waves as breezes sweep the slopes. The surreal atmosphere is enhanced by it being a favourite film location for martial-arts movies and TV series, so don’t be too surprised if you encounter Song-dynasty warriors galloping along the roads.
ZIGONG (自贡, zìgòng) a thriving industrial centre, has long been an important source of salt, tapped for thousands of years from artesian basins below the city. In the fourth century, the Sichuanese were sinking 300m-deep boreholes here using bamboo-fibre cables attached to massive stone bits. By the 1600s, bamboo buckets were drawing brine from wells bored almost a kilometre beneath Zigong, centuries before European technology (which borrowed Chinese techniques) could reach this deep. Natural gas, a by-product of drilling, was used from the second century to boil brine in evaporation tanks, and now also powers Zigong’s buses and taxis.