Going from Xi'an to Chengdu, I decided to stop in an "unknown" city, looking mostly for a non crowded Chinese touristic place. And this was a great choice.
First thing: xianxi caves are really easy to get to, even in a city where I met no one speaking English, jump into any taxi, they'll know where it is, few km only from city center, expect around 10yuan fare from anywhere in the center.
Taxi will most likely take you all the way to the entrance. If you can speak Chinese, you can also ask him to drop you at the beginning of the road taking you there. A walkway has been built all along this road, giving you nice views of the scenery around Ankang. You can also try asking the taxi to stop as soon as you see some tourist buses lined up on the side of the road, right after leaving for a main road on the right side (coming from center).
Entrance fee is cheap, and first thing that struck as you get inside : there's no one, especially if you avoided tour hours (early morning and around 2pm). Very few tourists all around. The place has lots of signs to indicate every major attraction inside, it's quite easy to get around.
What you'll see :
- caves, lots of caves. Every single small cave on the mountain has been turned into a mini buddhist temple. Don't expect fancy gold statues and things like that. Just standard statues, paintings, etc.
- temples : a few temples to see around, you're always welcomed by priests or even by an hermit living in one of them. Temple on top (Sanqin hall) is particularly beautiful. Doesn't pales in comparison to major cities temples, though a little smaller.
- stairs : stairs everywhere, as in many Chinese touristic sites. Don't expect all paths to have some though, some remote places have "western style" paths instead of the classic Chinese concrete paths
- water : small streams of water, small lakes, ponds, etc.
- if foreigner : Chinese people looking at you. I know it's common in China, but the difference here is that none of them took pictures or tried to talk to me, they just seemed to wonder what I was doing here.
- Tea : you can stop at a tea house in the middle of the park.
- Chinese people/families enjoying some time out of the city, doing sports, talking or playing some games.
You can go quickly to all major sites in 2 or 3 hours, but I'd suggest taking a little more time to see more remote places, and go into smaller paths without specific signs. You'll most likely end up finding some less visited remote caves.
Don't expect everything to be as "clean" as AAAAA Chinese places (this one is "only" AAA). Less traveled paths have vegetation starting to take over again.
Going back can be a little more complicated, you might not find a taxi at the entrance depending on the time. No worry : follow the path along the road and enjoy the scenery. This road ends up right into a major road of Ankang. You'll find a taxi there easily (or walk the last 3km to the center). Hint: if you want to see some Chinese cemetery, you can get out of this path and cross the road (be careful with traffic: taxis/buses drive really quick there). On the other side of it you'll find numerous tombstones scattered all around the hills around small paths.
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