Zigong, in the South of the Sichuan province, China, is known as the Salt City of the country. Though it’s not on this aspect that we’ll focus today. Instead I’d rather talk about Zigong and its relationship with lanterns. I’ve always been fascinated by lanterns so when I heard that Sichuan had its own Lantern Festival I had to go and see. I remember being told about the ones in Taiwan and in Beijing, but the name “Zigong” had never been mentioned. But this town from the South-East of China is one of the originators of the Chinese Lantern Festival.
While it doesn’t get a lot of international attention, the Chinese seem to appreciate said festival. Running for a month (this year from February to March 15th), last weekend was the last days of the festival and a last chance to observe what Sichuan has to offer to its visitors. I decided to brave a long journey filled with a 2h bus and a 5h train to get to this quiet town of the South that felt much more tropical than the rest of the province. It’s easy to notice that the area is not very touristy and that foreigners don’t make it very often there. English isn’t spoken by many but, as usual, you can get around. But let’s go back to the festival. Foolish me didn’t expect what was waiting for me. Last weekend meant crowds, real Chinese crowds. Surrounded by thousands of people, crammed into local buses, I made my way to this festival and got in. I felt pushed most of the way (I thought for a moment about lifting my feet and let the crowd carry me around) but once arrived in the central area realised that maybe it was worth braving all of those people for that sight.
Zigong is known to be one of the most traditional Lantern Festivals and while the “Dinosaur” area didn’t really deliver on that part (but made sense. After all Zigong is also famous for many palaeontological discoveries) the rest did follow the traditions of red lanterns and diverse legends from Chinese history. There is something for everyone and if you don’t enjoy lanterns so much join the fair on higher grounds and slide in the air on top of the lanterns. After all it’s China: you can do anything during a festival.
The park is big and one can easily spend a few hours in there to explore it all. While the festival is from 6pm to 10.30pm, night only falls around 7pm at that time of year so don’t go too early. Lanterns aren’t as much fun without the lights on.
A recommendation: pay the extra 20RMB to pass on the water bridge, in between the lanterns, not only it’s less crowded but it’s fun and a look up close to those giant lanterns. Oh and another thing: don’t make the same mistake as me, do not go for the first or last weekend of the festival if you want to avoid the crowds.
If you’re considering joining the festival next year here is our selection of photos from the Zigong Lantern Festival. We’ve added a little video. Hopefully it might convince you to add Sichuan to your itinerary in China!
And if that’s not enough to convince you, here is a short video of the festival:
Where is Zigong ?
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Have you ever been to a Lantern Festival? Would you like to discover this one and explore Sichuan? Let us know in the comments!