Back to blog index

All Smoke, No Lava: Tengchong Volcano Park 腾冲火山公园

Ever since the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii and saw volcanoes I’ve wanted to see a real volcano too, glowing with lava and occasionally letting off spurts of sulphurous steam. Like Indianna Jones faced with the Temple of Doom, the thought of a sacrificial pit filled with bubbling lava was very thrilling to my fourteen year-old self, although I wasn’t as keen on the human sacrifice component involved. 

Suffice to say I have a highly romantic and somewhat idealised mental vision of volcanoes, dented somewhat when Mount St Helens erupted, completely lava free, killing fifty seven, and rekindled after recently re-reading Mark Twain’s American travel odyssey Roughing It, with a description of a night-time walk across the three-mile wide crater of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii:
“Under us, and stretching away before us, was a heaving sea of molten fire of seemingly limitless extent. The glare from it was so blinding that it was some time before we could bear to look upon it steadily.
It was like gazing at the sun at noon-day, except that the glare was not quite so white. At unequal distances all around the shores of the lake were nearly white-hot chimneys or hollow drums of lava, four or five feet high, and up through them were bursting gorgeous sprays of lava-gouts and gem spangles, some white, some red and some golden—a ceaseless bombardment, and one that fascinated the eye with its unapproachable splendor.”
Mark Twain, Roughing It, 1872
自从布雷迪去夏威夷看到那些我也曾如此期待的火山,伴着火山岩浆喷发耀出红光,喷射出硫磺。就像印第安纳琼斯面对末日殿堂一般,想到一个充满熔岩沸腾的献祭深渊令14岁的我不禁毛骨悚然,虽然我不喜欢有人类牺牲这样的内容掺和进去。我只想说我的确有一种高尚的浪漫主义情怀,把火山理想精神化了,削弱了当圣海伦斯火山爆发,完全的熔岩释放,致使57人遇难又重新复燃的实情,在最近重读马克吐温的美国人在奥德赛旅行,艰难岁月一书中有一段描述是在夏威夷徒步走夜路穿越基拉韦厄火山的一个三英里宽的火山口。
“在下面,我们面前是一条绵延至远方的道路,一片起伏的火海看起来没有尽头。耀眼的光芒使人目眩,带我们平稳的看清下面还需要一定的时间。就像是在正午时分直视着太阳一样,除了刺眼的光不是那么白以外。沿着湖岸边不规则的距离都是白热化的烟囱或是中空的鼓形熔岩,四五英尺高,在它们之上是一团团熔岩华丽爆炸的喷雾还有像闪烁发光的珠宝一般,一些是白的,一些是红的,还有一些是金色的一连串的爆炸,发出的无与伦比的光彩吸引着你的眼球。” 马克吐温艰难岁月1872


So after hearing that western Yunnan is home to China’s own volcano cluster, we took an almighty detour towards the Myanmar border to the centre of the action at the Tengchong Volcano Park, or more properly and Chinglish-ly named the National Geo Park Of Tengchong Volcanic And Geothermal. I guess that covers everything.
My expectations of volcanic satisfaction were high, given that in China everything is big. This was going to be major, and we could also say it was educational and therefore justify the four days’ round trip out of our way to see it.  
The whole Tengchong region is a hotbed of seismic activity with volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and reasonably frequent earthquakes. We thought it might be an exciting place to take the kids to maybe see some science in action, but just in case we saw a bit too much science in action we made a family pact not to tell anyone back home until after we were safely somewhere else. Which we now are.
I’d built up quite an exciting level of risk in my mind, imagining walking Twain-style across a just-cooled crater of lava, but my first niggling doubts that the experience might be just slightly underwhelming came when we arrived at the Volcano Park and purchased tickets.
“Would you like tickets to Big Empty Mountain, Small Empty Mountain, Black Empty Mountain or all three?” the ticket seller asked. 
Empty? I thought. Empty? Surely not. 
We opted for Big Empty Mountain, being the biggest, but first took a turn through the Volcano Museum where they displayed an out-of-work geiger counter and a battery-operated volcano replica at least as tall as a person, rivers of red cellophane lava flowing endlessly down its sides. This was going to be GOOD.
Outside beyond the impressive five flagpoles Big Empty Mountain looked decidedly small up close, so I checked the map just in case we had detoured to Small Empty Mountain by mistake. We hadn’t, because the flat tree-covered hillock off to our right was, in fact, Small Empty Mountain, and Big Empty Mountain was dead ahead.

所以听说云南西部也是重活本土火山群的故土时,我们毅然决然的绕道前往缅甸边界进入腾冲火山公园的活动中心,更适当的讲,中英文名字叫做腾冲火山和地热国家地理公园。我想这名字包含了所有信息了。我对于火山印象期待很高,因为之前已经有一种中国每件东西都很巨大的印象。这次也一定不同凡响,我们也可以讲这是很有教育意义的,因而也能见证我们偏离正常路线绕行4天的旅行专程来看它。
整个腾冲就是火山活跃带的温床,温泉,间歇喷泉还有适度频率的地震。我们原以为这应该是个可以带孩子们来的很有意思的地方,也许可以看看运动中的科学,但是以防万一,我们看这种运动的科学有点多,我们达成一个家庭协议。直到我们安全了才会在回家之后告诉其他人。也就是现在。
在我脑海里形成这一点确实比较冒险,想象走在一个刚刚冷却的台湾风格的火山岩坑口,但我首先零星的怀疑竟是当我们到了火山公园买票的时候这种经历无足轻重。
“你想要去大空山小空山, 黑空山或者包含三种的门票吗?” 卖票人询问.
空的? 我想了一下. 空的? 当然不要了.
我们选择大空山,因为是最大的,但先转个弯浏览一下火山博物馆,那里陈列着废弃的盖革计数器和一个和人一般高的电池供电的火山复制品,红玻璃纸做的火山熔岩沿着边界流下。这个真的很不错。
走出外面,印象深刻的五个旗杆旁边的大空山看起来真的很小,所以我检查了一下地图,以防万一我们误绕到了小空山,但是我们没有,因为在我们右边平坦的树木覆盖着的小丘事实上就是小空山,而大空山就是面前这个。
Big Empty Mountain. Be very afraid.




The climb up Big Empty Mountain’s 648 stairs was just the thing for building anticipation of what a real volcano crater would look like. Never mind that the volcano itself was small. The crater would be black. Crusted with ancient lava. Perhaps occasional little puffs of high-pressure steam. Maybe.

Huffing and puffing, we arrived at the top to find this:

爬上大空山648级台阶就像是不断建立期待中真正的火山口是什么样的,无所谓火山本身多小。火山口很黑,远古时期陈旧的熔岩。也许偶尔会有高压蒸汽产生的小小喘息,也许。气喘吁吁的我们到达顶峰时发现:

Possibly the boring-est photo of a volcano ever taken. Ever.

At least the view from the top was lovely, and for a very brief minute we were able to convince the kids that the far off hill was smoking, until the cloud moved and destroyed that illusion.

I asked the girls how they thought it might have been better.

The older one favoured a scorched earth approach to volcano improvement:

“They should have taken away all the trees and grass so it looked more like a real volcano” (volcanoes in her mind being blackened cones of rock glowing red from within).

The younger one felt some lava inside the crater would have been better than “a bunch of trees” or failing that “at least a lake you could swim in”.

In summary, they named it a “spectacular disappointment” and didn’t even stop to look at the lava souvenirs carved into fish shapes, something they may one day regret.

至少从山顶看下去很美。有一刻我们可以向孩子们确认遥远的山峰还在喘息,直到云朵移开,打破了我的幻觉。我问孩子们她们觉得怎样会感觉更好点。大一点的孩子赞成用焦土的方法改进火山:“他们应该把树和草都移开,让它看起来像一个真的火山”(在她印象中火山应该是内部闪着红光的黑色锥形石)。小一点的觉得火山口里面的熔岩应该比“一丛树木”更好些,或者就算不是的话“至少是一个你能在里面游泳的湖”。总之,她们把这个称作是“无比的沮丧”(坑爹),甚至不想停下来看看雕刻成鱼的形状的火山纪念品,也许有一天他们会有点遗憾的。

The Sea of Heat 热海
Which is how we ended up later that day at the fabled Tengchong Sea of Heat, acres of boiling waters, geysers, bubbling mud and noxious gases. At least, that’s what we all thought it should have. We did know there was an outdoor swimming pool heated with therapeutic underground spring waters, and if there’s one thing that makes up for pretty much any disappointment when you’re a child, it’s the thought of splashing around in a swimming pool for a few hours.

We spent an hour searching through the campervan’s dozen or more cupboards for everyone’s swimming costumes, unworn since the beach on Lian Island, packed them into a bag along with changes of clothes and hairbrushes, and fought our way to the ticket office through a hundred tour buses and a hundred ladies selling eggs wrapped in raffia in the carpark. Why eggs? We had no idea.

The smiling ladies behind the vast ticket counter asked whether we wanted to see everything in the Sea of Heat, or just a select few things like the Boiling Cauldron and the Sea of Pearls.

“We just want to go swimming actually” we said.

“OK, so altogether that’s one thousand and seventy two yuan” she told me.

I handed her a one hundred yuan note, thinking she’d said seventy two yuan.

“No, no, a thousand and seventy two yuan. Two hundred and sixty eight yuan each person” she replied. That’s close to a hundred and eighty dollars. Two hundred and sixty eight yuan is the same price you would pay for dinner for ten in a local restaurant, or a room in a 4 star Chinese hotel.

At this point, expensive disappointing volcano behind us and promise of swimming rapidly evaporating before us, I became one of those tourists. The one who can’t believe how expensive everything is. The one who has to make her point known to the poor dummy manning the ticket desk, the same dummy with no say over the obscene prices charged by private enterprises who have bribed their way into running a business inside a national park.

“268 yuan? Why is it so expensive?”

“It’s very, very good.”

“Can you sleep there overnight?”

“No…”

“Do you get breakfast, lunch and dinner for free?”

“No, of course..”

“So HOW can you justify charging 268 yuan to go swimming??”

“It’s very good. The waters are very steamy.”

My husband gently pulled my elbow. “Let’s just pay to see the hot springs, how about that?”

在传说中的腾冲的热海,我们结束了那天最后的旅程,这片热海有几英亩沸腾的水,间歇泉,冒泡的泥浆还释放着有毒气体。至少这都是我们认为它该有的东西。我们知道有一个室外水疗泳池就是靠地下泉水加热的,当你还是个孩子的时候,若是有什么可以弥补任何失望,唯有在游泳池里嬉戏几个钟头了。
我们花了一个小时搜索房车各个角落或者更多的橱柜,就是为了找到每个人的泳衣,自从连岛海滩之后就没有穿了,把它们打包起来和换洗的衣服还有发梳放在一起。然后我们全力前往售票厅,在停车场穿过一百辆旅行车和一百个卖鸡蛋的女人,用拉菲草包着的鸡蛋。为什么是鸡蛋?我们不知道。
在巨大的售票台后面的女士问我们是否要看热海的每一个区域,或是只是选像沸腾池和珍珠之海这样的几个景点看。
事实上我们只是 “来游泳的” 我们说.
“好的,所以一共一千零七十二元”她告诉我。

我给了她一张一百的, 想她还会说还有七十二元

“不,不,一千零七十二元。每个人两百六十八”她回答。那快接近一百八十美元了。两百六十八都够在当地十个人吃饭的饭钱了,或者是中国一家四星级旅馆了。

在这一点上,我们身后是昂贵的令人失望的火山,面前时承诺中那个雾气缭绕的游泳池,我成了那些游客中的一个。一个不能相信每个东西都这么贵的游客。一个一定要搞清楚售票处这些虚假的工作人员,还有同样虚假的毫无说明就索要的无理票价,这个票价一定是私营人员通过贿赂的手段在国家公园里面经营这种生意。
268元?为什么这么贵?”
“这个真的非常,非常好”
“能在那过夜吗?”


 不行……
“那能免费吃早饭,午饭和晚饭吗?”
“当然不行。”
“那你凭什么要268元去游个泳??”
“真的特别好,是有雾汽缭绕的水池。”
我丈夫轻轻地拉了拉我的肘。“让我们就付款看看热温泉吧,怎么样?”




So we paid the relatively paltry sum of forty dollars to see the Boiling Cauldron, an impressively scalding pool of sulfur-bubbling water where suddenly eggs wrapped in raffia made perfect sense. Why just look at a pool of boiling volcanic water when you could cook stuff in it? Genius.
因此我们就付了相当于40美元的数额去看了沸腾的大锅,一个特别令人印象深刻的景象出现了,这是个滚烫的冒着硫磺泡的水池,突然有裹着拉菲草的鸡蛋出现,感觉真是好极了。当你能填满它来煮东西的时候,干嘛只是眼巴巴的看着它?简直是天才。

The cheapskates who had brought eggs in from the carpark were relegated to a simmering puddle in a far corner, away from those who could afford to pay the premium price charged by yet another private enterprise for the privilege of having their eggs (and peanuts and potatoes) cooked in the actual Boiling Cauldron.

At that point I could feel the familiar buzz of a bee in my bonnet but thankfully kept it to myself. We had all paid the same entry price, and yet we couldn’t all cook our eggs in the Boiling Cauldron, and we couldn’t all enjoy the view from the outdoor seats because those things were all extras run by private companies.

As we walked through the park VIP Beauty Spas and Very Expensive Tea Shops popped up at every turn. I don’t mind paying an entry ticket to see an attraction, far from it, but when most of my path is roped off to permit access only to people who’ve paid VIP prices? It’s just….just….JUST NOT VERY COMMUNIST now is it??

从停车场带进来鸡蛋的吝啬的卖家被安排在远处角落的一个水坑煨煮,远离那些付过额外费用给私人企业的摊贩,他们有特权可以在真正的沸腾大汽锅中煮他们的鸡蛋(还有花生和土豆)。
在那一点上我感觉很像是阀盖上一只嗡嗡的蜜蜂,但我只是自己知道。我们付了同样的门票。然而却不能在沸腾大气锅里煮鸡蛋,而且也不能享受从外面的座椅上欣赏这些风景,因为那些东西都是私营小店额外经营的。
当我们穿过公园顶级美丽水疗区以及每个拐角处突然出现的昂贵茶餐厅时,我并不介意付额外票价去看一个奇景,姑且不说这一点,但是当我大部分的道路都被围起来的时候,而且仅仅是允许付过会员价的人进去。这真的,真的,真的非常的不人性(共产主义),不是吗?




Unfortunately, the best view of this waterfall of boiling water and frog-mouthed geysers was roped off, obstructed by a large tent selling photos of tourists taken in a VIP position with the best view.

不幸的是,最好的观看沸水瀑布和青蛙嘴间歇泉的景观位置都被围起来了,被一个巨大的帐篷摊位阻塞,这个摊位就是以卖给游客在最佳位置拍摄的照片为主。

And the previously impressive boiling river had been diverted with a very attractive rock wall and pipe to feed the VIP Spa nearby.
之前印象深刻的沸腾河已经被改变了, 变成一个吸引众人的石墙和供养附近水疗的一个管道.
The pavilion and bridge were, unbelievably, Included in The Entry Price. I kept waiting for someone to spring out and charge me for walking on it.
We rounded a corner and there it was, the Unbelievably Expensive Swimming Pool in the midst of a Costly Private Resort, smack bang in the middle of a national park we had all paid to get into. The path through the valley was no longer passable because the resort had requisitioned all the land.
The girls made little conciliatory remarks to make us feel better, like “I bet they wouldn’t even let you play Marco Polo in there” and “people probably spit in the water”. 
We stood on one side of the fence and watched the only two occupants of the pool, men with white towels wrapped around their waists, walk past smoking. 
“You’ve been ripped off!” I wanted to yell at them, and at all the tourists around us. But they were too busy lining up to pay for a laminated copy of their geyser photos. Oh China.
亭子和桥也是一样,难以置信,都包含在门票里面。我等待着某个人能跳出来,控诉我在上面行走。
我们绕到一个拐角,就是这里了,在昂贵的私人度假胜地的中央就是这个贵的要命的泳池,在我们支付一切只为进入国家公园中心的时候又是猛然一惊,通往山谷的路径不再通行,因为度假村已经征用了所有的地盘。
姑娘们说了一些安抚的话语让我们感觉稍微好一点,像是“我打赌他们甚至不会让你在那里玩游戏的。” 
我们站在围栏边,看着泳池边的两个人,手腕上绑着白毛巾,抽着烟走过我们身边。
“你们上当(被宰)了!”我真想朝他们,朝着周围所有的游客喊出来。但他们都忙着排队支付那些喷泉照片的费用。唉,中国。





Tengchong Volcano Park 腾冲火山地热国家地质公园
Approximately 25km north of Tengchong just outside Mazhanxiang village.
Admission 60 yuan per person

Sea of Heat 热海
Approximately 10km south of Tengchong
Admission 60 yuan per person for limited access to attractions