Every year millions of tourists (mostly Chinese) visit the Stone Forest (Shilin 石林) in China’s South western Yunnan Province 云南省. They are whizzed in on tour buses that cruise along the motorway from the Yunnan capital of Kunming 昆明 in two hours.
On arrival they are met by a troupe of singing and dancing Sani Minority 撒尼族performers all dressed in their finest costumes.
Just 13 kilometers away and never seeing any of the tourists is the dusty Market town of Lunan 路南 (on Google Maps I can only find the Lunan toll Gate) where a large Wednesday and Saturday market brings in the Sani from surrounding villages to buy and sell their wares.
The Lunan market is one of the best places to see the Sani away from the tourist circus at the Stone forest.
Who are the Sani Minority 撒尼族?
The Sani Minority are a branch of the Yi minority group 彝族. The Yi are one of China’s biggest minorities with a population of over two million and have an officially recognized language; Nuosu / or in Chinese Yi Yu 彝语.
The Sani minority mostly reside in Yunnan province in the towns and villages in the vicinity of the Stone Forest / Shilin 石林 such as, Lunan and Luxi.
Sani villages tend to be stone villages with sturdy brick buildings. It seems the government, in its attempts to boost rural incomes and the rural economy, has earmarked some Sani villages for tourism development.
One such village is Danuohei Village – (大糯黑村) some 35 kilometes from Luxi. Click here for more information.
Sani costumes are colorful and the hats can be spectacular. The dresses are long with vibrant and flamboyant embroidery.
The hats are round, slightly turban like, with embroidery and what seems to resemble a folded napkin on top.
I particularly like the men’s blue and white sleeveless waistcoats and purchased one in Lunan market.
If you can’t make Lunan market you will see the Sani in their Costumes at the Stone Forest where you can pose with them for photos and buy trinkets from them in a theme park ambience.
Lunan Market on the other hand is where you will see and meet the Sani in a natural setting and they won’t be pursuing you with souvenirs: There aren’t any on sale in the market.
Lunan Market is a small town farmers market. Arrival is a bit underwhelming. The market is not as bustling as some of the Guizhou markets such as Rongjiang, or as colourful as some of the southern Yunnan Markets such as Laomeng.
However, find a place to stand aside and obseve the comings and goings and you’ll be well rewarded with a feeling that you are in real rural China. Many of the Sani come dressed in their gorgeous ethnic costumes, it is possible that there are other Yi minority groups as well as some of the costumes differ quite widely.
If you enjoy seeing artisans at work the market is a real treat. Many of them making household wares in the same way their ancestors did.
The highlight of the market is the opportunity to watch the embroiderers making the Sani costumes. There is one section of the market dedicated to this craft. People are friendly and we were invited to take photos.
I am afraid the eating options are quite limited. The food stalls are basic but the noodle soups are great.
It is easy to visit Lunan and the Stone Forest on a day trip from Kunming. It takes two hours by bus. While the Stone Forest is one of China’s number one tourist attractions, when you arrive back in Kunming you’ll probably have fonder memories of Lunan’s farmers market.
Go to Lunan first. The earlier you get there, the more market activity there is. The market tends to fizzle out by late morning and dead by midday. We took a taxi to the Stone forest afterwards. It is about 13 kilometers between Lunan and the Stone Forest.