We know Chinese people like karaoke and good food but did you know they are nuts about Camellias?
I didn’t until I had a rare chance to meet Camellia experts in Wenzhou in 2006. They took me to small gardens squeezed in the back yards of side streets where suddenly you discover an array of colours in different pots. Except for private cultivated gardens around Wenzhou the best places to visit to find Camellias are in the gardens in and around the city. The most famous one is Jingshan Park where each Camellia has its name in English, Chinese and Latin and I still remember seeing the rare black Camellia there, an unusual colour for a plant and a beautiful shape. We went in February, considered the best time to find Camellias in bloom in China.
If you are going for the Camellia Congress in Yunnan Province this year don’t miss the Camellia Garden of the Kunming Institute as it’s known in the official literature produced by ICC ( International Camellia Congress) but more widely known as the Botanical Garden of Kunming. Also, according to the official site of the ICC you have to visit the “Camellia Garden of Kunming Golden Temple” which consists of two parts – the Golden Temple itself and the EXPO garden which is situated near the Temple.
The Botanical Garden, known as the Institute of Botany, is huge and covers 44 hectares of very fertile land. The location of the garden is in the north part of Kunming on the way to the famous Stone Forest. There are four entrances and the garden is used as a park by elderly Chinese people who you can see playing cards, or mahjong or simply relaxing in the nice surroundings. In the middle of the garden there is a Museum dedicated to the botany of the area. Unfortunately all the explanation is in Chinese but I think that may change with the ICC coming to Kunming. The Garden is known as a research institute and produces a large number of scientific papers. During my last visit in October 2011 there were not many flowers out but many rare trees.
Not knowing anything about the layout of the Golden Temple we enthusiastically set to walk to the top only to stop after the third set of narrow, steep steps. After travelling around China for two weeks our fitness wasn’t up to climbing the hill. Later we learned that the steps are hard to climb as you are supposed to leave behind all your worries.
The Temple is located at the top of Singing Phoneix Hill and if you are looking to see gold you will be disappointed – The Golden Temple is actually the largest copper temple in China and dates from the Ming Dynasty, around 1602 when it was built in honour of the Taoist God Zishi. The Temple went through some renovation over the years and the present look dates from 1890 when 250 tons of solid bronze were used.
As a typical example of a Taoist temple, to reach it you have to pass through a series of “Heavenly Gates” which are highly decorated. There are three gates at the Golden Temple and my favourite was Lixing Gate as it had very nicely decorated windows and with the autumn sun the window looked almost alive.
Once at the top of the Hill you will find it peaceful and serene but that could be because we were there at around 4pm when there were not so many tourists around.
If you are looking for Camellias you will have to exit the Temple and then cross the road to take the chairlift to the EXPO garden which was opened in 1999 for the International Horticultural Exhibition which took place in Kunming. You will have to pay an extra RMB100 to enter the EXPO garden which covers five different exhibition halls and has seven themed gardens, some being opened after the exhibition in 1999. When I went in October 2011 we didn’t see any Camellias as it wasn’t their time but I am sure the best ones will be seen during the ICC.
International Camellia Congress at Chuxiong, Yunnan Province, China will take place from the 5th February and if you are looking for a day trip to the Golden Temple, the Botanical Garden or Expo garden please email Tara@ReadyClickAndGo.com
We offer a wide range of day trips, sightseeing tours, excursions and activities throughout China. Please check our website at www.ReadyClickAndGo.com