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.