Northern exposure

Updated: 2013-08-15 10:33

By Chen Liang (China Daily)

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A huge ice cave and an idyllic alpine meadow are among the less-known pleasures of visiting Shanxi province, but don't expect a 5-star experience just yet. Chen Liang reports.

Northern exposure

Colorfully illuminated ice turns the cave into a cool, crystal wonderland. Photos by Wei Xiaohao and Chen Liang /China Daily

Northern exposure

With a history of more than 3 million years, Wannian Ice Cave is one of the largest of its kind in China. Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

Northern exposure

Mount Luya, with more than 200 rock peaks, is the prime attraction in the national forest park in Ningwu county, Shanxi province.

Many county-level scenic spots in the country, especially those in North China, share a similar problem — poor exploitation of tourism. Symptoms include exaggerated names, overpriced admissions and accommodations, limited but expensive services, ugly buildings and few considerations for individual visitors.

They diminish the travelers' experience and have spoiled many genuine excellent natural attractions.

So when a friend invited me to his hometown, a remote county in Shanxi province, to visit Wannian ("Ten Thousand Years") Ice Cave and an alpine meadow on a locally famous mountain, I hesitated.

I don't like the name; it sounds like a gimmick. But my friend, who was born and grew up there, says these are true natural wonders and worth a visit.

His hometown, Ningwu, is only three hours' drive from Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi, where I was on business recently. So I went with him for a two-day excursion, without much expectation.

We have our dinner at arestaurantoverlooking a lake, which is one of the Ningwu Tianchi ("Heavenly Lake"). The lake is clean and peaceful. At about 2,000 meters above sea level, the breeze from the lake is cool even at the height of summer.

Northern exposure

Around the lake, however, trees are small, the slopes are gentle, and the restaurant building and yurts around it are cement and tacky.

To be honest, the scenery is mediocre — nothing to compare with the other two famous "heavenly lakes", in Xinjiang autonomous region and Jilin province. But the fish caught here is fresh and delicious.

The lakes are about 20 km from the county town. After dinner, we drive about half an hour to Dongzhai township and check into a hotel near the entrance of Mount Luya National Forest Park.

The next morning, I find our hotel to be partof a recreational area that is still under construction. At this moment, it is a little noisy and dirty.

The gate of the forest park is newly completed and quite big. The good thing: There is no admission fee yet.

The road winding into the forest park is in excellent condition.

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