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September 18, 2009

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A forest of retreats on your doorstep

PARKS in downtown Shanghai are not large by Western standards but venture further out into the suburbs and you'll find a wealth of green areas where you can forget the cares of city life, Jiang Kunyang discovers. Shanghai is liberally sprinkled with public parks. However, you may find senior citizens' morning tai chi and evening ballroom dancing in the downtown parks don't offer much respite from the urban environment, or chances to connect with nature. Fortunately, Shanghai has many larger and greener forest parks in its suburban areas.

Gongqing Forest Park

Yangpu District's Gongqing Forest Park, one of the city's largest, is bordered by the Huangpu River to the east and Jungong Road to the west.

Although the park itself features the closest thing to a real forest, the surrounding area is still very much an urban environment. Its uniqueness lies in its fairly large forested area.

The park was built almost 50 years ago on reclaimed land and was designed from the outset to provide Shanghai with a place for enjoying various scenes of "nature" that feature hills, streams, a bamboo forest and various themed areas that provide both scenic appeal and places to enjoy outdoor leisure activities.

Although it is 30 minutes' driving ride from downtown, it is a popular attraction for its display of flowers every spring when the buds of the trees and plants begin to swell and burst into flower.

It has also become one of the best places for newly weds to take their wedding photos.

The heavily forested park holds an annual flower show where visitors can expect to see and smell wonderfully fragrant blooms from hyacinths, freesia and pansies, as well as the less-fragrant but still lovely blossoms of tulips, anemones, ranunculus, crocus, scilla and the Chinese rose. The park has around 220,000 tulips of 200 species.

For barbecue lovers, the park has created the perfect spot for a summer outdoors gathering - this extra-green, extra-big destination with lakeside grassy shores and trees. You can't bring your own barbeque set, but can rent the park's own grills.

Address: 2000 Jungong Rd

Admission: 12 yuan

Tel: 6532-8194

Binjiang Forest Park

Shanghai Binjiang Forest Park is situated along Pudong's coast where the Huangpu River, Yangtze River,and East China Sea merge into one muddy wetland.

The city's largest suburban forest park, covering 3 million square meters, is in Gaoshatan, Gaoqiao Town, Pudong New Area. The park provides visitors with a wide open place for sightseeing, recreation and education.

The park tries to operate a perfect eco-system and highlight the wildness and the original flavor of nature. It provides a natural green land for visitors, while creating a suburban forest resort by making full use of its nurseries.

At present, there are more than 200,000 trees and thousands of square kilometers of plants, including an azalea garden, a magnolia garden and an area of aquatic plants.

A wandering wooden path was among the first facilities completed in the first phase of construction. Made from camphorwood, a bridge crosses the stream in the aquatic plants area which features long corridors and Chinese traditional-style pavilions.

An annual azalea exhibition opens each spring, with some shrubs more than 100 years old. The park has more than 6,000 outdoor azalea shrubs.

Address: No. 3 Gaoshatan, Gaoqiao Town, Pudong

Admission: 20 yuan

Tel: 5864-4791

Dongping National Forest Park

Take a 50-minute boat ride and experience a bit of magic - downtown Shanghai disappears into the mist while a green island emerges - Chongming. The island is just beyond the city's sprawl - but still within the city limits. On the center of the island lies the Dongping National Forest Park.

Billing itself as being "the largest man-made forest in eastern China," the park in many ways is less a nature park than an amusement park. Rock climbing, rides, go-carts and horse riding are just a few of the activities on offer.

Thankfully, though, at 358 hectares, Dongping is large enough to provide an escape from all these activities, which are concentrated on the eastern side. Varieties of birds and winding paths lead deep into the brooding mountains and tempt visitors to linger. A 10-minute walk west from the main entrance will carry you into a lovely land with abundant trees, bamboo groves, flowers, grass and orchards.

The national forest park includes 20 hectares of flowers and plant nurseries, where you can find more than 500 species of trees and flowers.

The air is clean and fresh, and climate is pleasant during the period from March to November.

Address: Beiyan Highway, Chongming Island

Admission: 40 yuan

Tel: 5933-8028, 5933-8280

Sheshan National Forest Park

Typical Shanghainese always have a special relationship with the Sheshan Hill, 35 kilometers from the downtown area in west suburban Songjiang District.

Since Shanghai's average altitude is only 4 meters above sea level, Sheshan Hill, with its highest point at 97 meters, is often jokingly termed a "mountain."

So if any Shanghainese says he/she is going to climb a mountain in Shanghai, the destination will definitely be Sheshan National Forest Park.

As one of the earliest forest parks in Shanghai, Sheshan is a good place to free oneself from the hustle and bustle of the concrete forest.

There are two main hills among the 12 hills inside the forest park: the West Sheshan Hill and the East Sheshan Hill.

The East Hill is 74 meters high and famous for its bamboo shoots. In spring, there is a bamboo shoot festival. The park will provide tourists with tools to dig out the shoots and, if you like, you can take them home to cook a typical Shanghai dish - bamboo shoots stewed with pork.

The West Hill is the geographical top point of Shanghai, and maybe it's also the reason that the biggest Marian Basilica in the Far East and the Astronomical Observatory were built on top of the hill.

Address: Sheshan, Songjiang District

Admission: West Hill, 30 yuan (including the Astronomical Observatory and the Maria Basilica); East Hill, 45 yuan (including sand sculptures, the Birds' Heaven and Butterfly Garden)

Tel: 5765-1666, 5765-3235


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