Dongping Forest Park

The last four weekends I’ve visited the four forest parks in Shanghai : SheShan , GongQing , BinJiang , and now DongPing Forest Park. I fell in love twice and ate some BBQ in this latest journey. What better way to enjoy the tail-end of summer? Already the nights have turned chilly , and the humidity has been dispelled with crispness. Mmmm , almost hoodie weather!

DongPing forest park is the hardest to get to , the furthest away from the city center , the most expensive (by far) , but I like it the best. It just about captures the real forest vibe I’ve been searching for , the skies are blue , the air is fresh , plus the bus ride to get there is long but has some pretty cool parts to it.

The forest park is located in the center of Chongming Island. It’s easy to forget just how long the island is. From the Eastern part with the connecting bridge to the middle port town of Nanmen is about an hour. Add this time in with the metro ride to the bus , and the following connecting bus ride from the port town to the park and travel time from my house is hitting about 3 hours. Yikes. I can make it to other cities in China via bullet train in much less time. Working in the park’s favor is that for a minimal fee you can pitch a tent and sleep overnight , there is a huge central fire pit available for the highely overpriced fee of 500rmb but with enough people throwing down it would be okay.

The gamut of entertainment from the electrical boat rentals , to the water ball rolling , grass skiing , and paintball are all available here. I didn’t do any of these , and instead choose to barbecue , and take in the nature. The nature part is awesome! So not Shanghai. Tall pine trees that stretch on and on , and after 5 o’clock there was a not a soul around. 20 minutes walking around in trees without seeing a person is pretty much the antithesis of my China experience. More please!

Earlier I mentioned falling in love.

First is Stubbs

I coaxed her out of the woods to discover a missing tail! Looked like it had been somewhat recently lost and healed. I tried to give her food but she just wanted a scratch.

The next time was with Wild Goldfish

It took her a bit to get her to come out from her bamboo grove but after I started petting her she wouldn’t let me leave. AFter walking away , her cries brought me back 3 times before I could bring myself to leave.

In between meeting these two kitties , the wild BBQ cats entertained me. Immediately after people are finished and leave the grill , the cats move in. A group of 5 moved in and made off with every scrap of food possible. I spied a cat waiting in the bushes for me to finish , and I made the move to give her some food. She ran off , and I discovered she had already been devouring an uneaten fish on a skewer.

Yea , I ignored the ziplines , paintball , and rollercoasters to play with a bunch of cats.

This park is seriously great. I will be back , and next time I’m bringing a tent and “roughing” like this group.

The three-hour trip is do-able for a day trip but I would recommend staying overnight. If tents aren’t your style there are plenty of hotels in the port towns , and country-style farm stays everywhere else.

To get to the park :

1. Take the metro to line 6 JuFeng Lu

2. Just outside the metro is a bus station , hop on the NanMen 南门 bus (18 rmb each way).

3. A 9 kilometer underwater tunnel , and a nearly as long bridge ride later , plus an hour on the island travel and you will arrive by the NanMen travel bus station. Walk a bit forward from where the bus stops and you will see the 远客站 or bus station。

4. Hop on the NanDong Xian 南东线 and tell the conductor you are going to 森林公园 senlingongyuan。 Ta da you made it!

For return trips the last bus back from the park leaves at 7 , there are plenty of illegal taxi guys to negotiate a price with if you miss the bus , but expect to pay a premium , and the last bus back to Shanghai from NanMen leaves at 9.

Now that I’ve made it to all the forest parks of Shanghai , what next?

I’ve been scouting google maps and have located plenty of forest parks in nearby cities ! This will last until the winter settles in. Then it’s mad DVD time.

The True BinJiang Forest Park Experience

I finally made it back to BinJiang Forest Park. The first time I went was with 130 or so kindergarten kids. A fun time but not exactly optimal for seeing the park and finding a peaceful little patch of woods for myself.

Like the rest of Shanghai’s forest parks, it’s a long ways away from the city center. This journey requires a trip out to the northern most stop of Line 6. I’ve never had any occasion to use Line 6 until now. Somewhere along the journey the subway emerges from the underground and we are rewarded with amazing views of crappy buildings , smoke stacks , shipping containers , and a brand new shiny customs and tax building. Awesome! It all makes sense really , as we are headed to the GangCheng ( Harbor City) metro station.

The park is situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Huangpu River. It’s on the opposite side of the Huangpu as the previous Paotaiwan Park post

On the car ride from the metro stop ( there is a bus but we weren’t quite sure where the stop was and got a good deal from an illegal taxi) the driver pointed out previous fortifications and cannon mount points to defend against attacking Japanese. Driving through the area it seemed a bit suspect there was a park nearby. BinJiang is a vast green oasis tucked inbetween shipping and industry. It’s a windy road to the park , passing big rigs , rundown restaurants, laughable laundromats, and shady accommodations. If I hadn’t have been there before , I might have gotten a little nervous the driver was taking us for a ride.

This park is a little more nature orientated than Gongqing Forest Park but still features an outdoor laser tag arena , BBQ zone , and has the standard kids rollercoaster with accompanying pirate ship ride currently under construction.

The park is split into different regions including “Ecological Forest Zone” , “Wetlands Area” “Coastal Viewing ” ,”a 7 acre Azalea Garden” , “Eastern Park Zone , and “BBQ”!. Heading out on foot will take a while to totally wander across the park , and may take more than a day’s trip to totally explore all the side paths . I really love the Ecological Forest Zone with the wooden boardwalks that meander into the Wetlands Area. It’s the most peaceful and secluded I’ve ever been to in Shanghai. Definitely more foresty than the other parks. I’ve yet to make it to the Chongming Island Dongping Forest Park , and that may be the final contender for king of Shanghai parks.

We started with a spicy squid and duck breakfast in a lovely flowered area. (Anyone sensing a pattern with my weekend breakfasts yet?).

After, we wandered through the Wetlands and Ecological Forest zone.


We learned about the science that goes on in the parks to created such a blissed out experience.

And visited the not-so-pretty coastline view.

At this point the clouds were rolling in and we saught shelter in a pavilion in the woods.

The heavens rained down and we zoned out in this pavilion for an hour without seeing a single soul . We were all wasted on those previously mentioned free ions. Wheeeee!

After the rains stopped , it was time to grab some food and rent a tandem bicycle.

We explored the rest of the park , and while veering off on some stone paths that we probably shouldn’t have been riding on , we lost traction on the slippy stones and had an awesome crash.

Then the saw this monster crawling through the grass!

After the bike time was up ( don’t be a minute late or its a 50% charge on the next hour) (Whatever happened to Socialism?) we decided it was time to head back to the city. We will definitely be back. Hopefully we can drag a bunch of friends and chip in together to rent one of the popular BBQ pits. Hooo rah!

The best part is that this is the 120 hectacre stage 1 of the park. Stage 3 is expected to have 300 acres. YESSSSS! Who knows when it will be done but I’ll most likely still be here!

Luang Prabang

Let’s cut to the chase , Luang Prabang is amazing. Everything about the town comes together perfectly. From the old wooden Lao traditional structures to the colonial mansions , the French food influences to the Lao style sticky rice and fish, the Laotian culture to the influx of foreign cultures all around the world. Hell , the entire town is classified as a UNESCO world heritage zone. I did not want to leave.

Hard to believe that this sleepy village was once the capital of the first Lao kingdom and more recently the seat of the once ruling Kingdom of Laos.  However, after the communist takeover in 1975 it lost this title. Now it’s all about tourism, tourism and Buddhism. Guesthouses , travel agencies, restaurants , and cafes all cram the streets. In between all those are many little Buddhist Wats , or temples. There are a huge number of practicing monks living and studying in the temples. Walking around on the streets it’s a common sight to see 4 or 5 orange robed monks walking amongst the hippie-type travelers dressed in similarly odd fashions. Bright colors, fisherman pants, beads , jewelery, and a smattering of dreadlocks are everywhere. There are even a good amount of foreign travelers who have settled down in Luang Prabang and now operate their own guesthouses and restaurants. Close work with UNESCO and keeping out large corporations have done this place well. Pretty much every store is locally owned and operated, there are no corporate hotels, no McDonald’s , and no resort developments.

Luang Prabang , like Laos , is all about taking it easy. No fast pace of life , no jammed packed subways , no rush hour, and no stress. The electric system will suffer brown-outs from time to time and when this occurs joyful shouts ring and then candles are lit. A further testament to the chillness of the people is that one time the little family run convenient shop had the little 5-year-old girl cash me out on a beer while her mother was gone. Another time the mother calmly stopped breast-feeding her baby , slowly covered herself , and helped me!  Looking for something to do? Grab a big bottle of ice-cold Beer Lao and watch the Mekong River flow by. Grab a cup of coffee and watch a film screening in a little cafe. Peruse the used bookstore for books left behind by fellow travels. In short , RELAX!

Physically Luang Prabang is located in between the mighty Mekong River , and the slightly less magnificent Nam Khan while spiritually it’s located somewhere on the way to nirvana. There are 4 main roads , count them , yes 1,2,3,4 main roads , on the little peninsula between the rivers. Outside the town proper are opportunities for hiking , kayaking , swimming in waterfalls , and cave exploring. The main water attractions are the Kuang Si Falls , a multi-level waterfall with natural pools for swimming , the amazing Tad Sae waterfalls also with swimming, a rope swing, and elephant rides!, and just taking a boat down the rivers. I went to the Tad Sae waterfalls , hiked in the surrounding jungle , swam in the pools afterwards to cool off , and then relaxed with a big bottle of Beer Lao. Oh yea and this waterfall is accessible by boat! So we had to take a low-lying long fisherman style boat just to get there! Other natural options include hikes/treks to neighboring traditional Lao villages ,and the Pak Ou caves. The main non-natural sights include the various Wats(Buddhist temples) ,the Royal Palace museum , the Wat Xieng temple , and don’t forget to climb the main hill in town to check out the temple and more importantly the view from the top.

The night market is also an integral part of the experience. Before sundown part of the main road in town gets shut down to traffic (which there isn’t much of anyways) and vendors slowly start to set up for night. Foldable tent like structures are pitched, blankets are set on the road, and all the goodies come out! Vendors sell all sorts of handmade arts and crafts, t-shirts , jewelery , local coffee , local clothing , Lao firewater(conveniently named Lao-Lao so you won’t forget the name after no matter how many shots) , medicinal liquors with bottled reptiles inside , and all sorts of other things. Unlike other parts of Asia where the vendors can be loud , obnoxious , pushy , prone to rip foreigners off , and overall not pleasant , the Lao chilled out mindset prevails and one of the most pleasant street bartering experiences around. I got to try several shots of the snake whiskey before I bought it , people helped out with t-shirt sizes ,and everything was conducted with a smile! It’s amazing the amount of space that the market takes up. There are just tents after tents after tents all lit by single hanging incandescent bulbs and in the middle of it all – food!

Finally on to the food! All types of food can purchased here . There are Indian restaurants , pizzas , Swiss fondue , Chinese , traditional Laos food , pretty much everything you could want. Due to French colonization you can find amazing fresh-baked loaves of bread , and there are street stands with griddles that pump out crepes like you wouldn’t believe. In between all that eating enjoy French coffee , local coffee , bottles of Beer Lao (which you can walk around with in the street due to the whole no open container laws thing) , and fruit shakes. There are also tons of stands that have plastic cups with different combinations  of fruit sitting out. Choose between mangos , apple with lemon , dragonfruit with papaya , banana , and more. Then watch as they take the cup , pop the contents in the blender , add some ice , and WRHRHRHRH your smoothie is ready!

I did find some really cool restaurants/bars/lounges that I loved but mostly my food came from the local market. Off the main road (in the middle of the night market if the time is right) is an alley with the local foods. Walk down the narrow alley and observe the tables entirely covered with giant bowls of goodies , choose hunks of meat and entire fish on sticks and watch as they are grilled to perfection right in front of you. Pop down onto the crowded soup table and eat a 10,000 Kip ($1.80) bowl of steaming noodles with veggies elbow to elbow with travelers and locals alike. Season that soup with fish sauce , squeeze fresh lime for that extra zing , pop in fresh chilies for that extra kick , add crisp crunchy beans, oh my god the food is good. Come back later and pay another 10,000 Kip for a plate that you can load as much food as humanly possible onto and then get a fresh bag of sliced pineapple chunks and mango for dessert. I’m seriously making myself a little depressed, my mouth is watering ahhhh!

My favorite nicer sit down restaurants/bars I went to where Dyen Sabai and Utopia. It’s fun to reach Dyen Sabai. In the summer when the Nam Khan is running high you may notice a guy standing next to the store handing out flyers on Kingkitsarath Rd. He will take you in his boat across to the other side for free. From here you have to walk up a staircase carved from dirt. It was rainy when I was there so that dirt path became a pure mud slide mess. Very fun for coming down in the dark after a few tall brews. This beautiful restaurant has many different areas for eating. There are several larger open air thatched roof structures and a few smaller ones that more secluded for some more intimate moments. The eating areas have very low tables and one sits cross-legged on scatter cushions , there are even mats so you can lay down , prop your head up , and enjoy the food while looking out at the muddy river. The owner is a very friendly French woman who speaks excellent English as well as Lao!  Like pretty much everywhere in Laos you must take your shoes off before entering and pop a pair of their plastic slippers. If you go you must eat the eggplant dip with sticky rice!

Utopia is another fantastic place. It is also located by the water and also is fun to reach. You must follow many signs down several long and winding alleyways trying to find it. The inside is also similarly adorned with cushions and low tables. However, this place features a huge hut with a large projector screen and a HD projector! One night they played the movie Baraka , which is an amazing video showing various scenes around Asia , cities , landscapes, and rituals. The movie has no dialogue and is stunningly beautiful. Often it goes in slow motion , or quick time-lapse , which provides some surreal views of the rush of cities, the mourning of death in India , etc. Go check this movie out! They also had a huge folder full of random YouTube videos that would play at random. Watch a 5 minute skateboard clip , followed by some Parkour , followed by little children getting attacked by house cats. This made for some hilarity after drinking. This place also has a fully decked outdoor sand volleyball court , and there was an intense game going on while I watched. Bars in Luang Prabang promptly finish taking orders at 11pm and are fully shut down by 11:30. The owners of Utopia said the police are pretty strict on this and come around to check some nights. This makes for a funny scene at night when everyone is trying to leave and find their shoes ,which are left by the door , all at the same time.

If you find yourself still trying to party the only place still open late at night is oddly enough the local bowling alley. It’s a short tuk-tuk ride from town and a bit weird but you can keep going there! I myself was sound asleep midnight or before everyday. If you can wake up at the crack of down it’s well worth it to watch the monks walk through town asking for the daily alms of food from the villagers.

Another great thing about this place is all the cool people and friends you can meet. I ended up spending some time with South African musicians , a middle-aged South Korean artist, as well as a British girl who lived in Singapore traveling with her Danish ( I think it was , I really need to write these posts right after the fact) boyfriend. One of my favorite experiences was hanging out with Mr.Kim by the river drinking brew and then ending up lost wandering around at night trying to find our guesthouse and hoping that it wouldn’t be locked (some places shut their gates at midnight). We ended up going through an alley and meeting a group of Lao guys eating a late meal. They invited us to sit down try some food and drink . This is where I ended up eating some spicy dog. Yum dog meat is good. Don’t knock it if ya haven’t tried it. We all tried to communicate in a broken down version of pidgin English utilizing hand motions. The whole group burst out laughing when they called Mr.Kim , Kim Jong-Il. Hahahaha.

Other good times involved talking politics with the South Africans and watching as some drunk French made buffoons of themselves. Which reminds me , due to previous French imperialist efforts , there are many signs that have French underneath the Lao script, many businesses boast of French-speaking capabilities , and there was a bounty of French vacationers everywhere! I love knowing Spanish but I swear it seems like I hear French more than any other language when I travel.

When it finally comes time to go there are a variety of options. Buses leave to go to Thailand , Vietnam , Cambodia , you can take a boat downriver , buses to the capital ,Vientiane, and there is an airport in Luang Prabang as well . I love having the option of being able to choose between several different countries. Next stop for me however was a 6 hour windy road trip to the party town of Vang Vieng.