Standing beneath these behemoth rock formations brings perspective of size, age, and beauty found in few places. There is a reason these three natural bridges have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and why one of China’s great filmmakers and one of America’s blockbuster filmmakers chose this location for climactic, epic scenes in their movies. The Three Natural Bridges of Wulong are magnificent!
Perhaps you saw the most recent installment of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies when the Autobots are fighting the Decepticons in Hong Kong. Optimus Prime goes for help and ends up in a spectacular setting where he meets some Dinobots. Bay leads viewers to believe that this takes place on the backside of Hong Kong Island when in reality it was shot in Wulong at the Three Natural Bridges.
Right after I saw the movie and, once again, Bay’s blatant disregard for geography (Giza is not anywhere near Petra.) I searched where that scenery could be found because I knew it wasn’t in Hong Kong. When I found out where, I added it to my list of places to see in China.
Bumblebee, one of the robots from the movie, welcomes guests as they exit the shuttle bus from the visitor center in Xiannushan Town. He stands next to the World Heritage plaques and a stone etched with Michael Bay’s declaration that this scenery is one of the most beautiful places on earth.
At this point, we got in line to go down an elevator to the pathway under the bridges. There is allegedly a way to hike down, but our tickets included the elevator. So, why not have the added adventure? The elevator looks out at the first of the three bridges. At this point I started getting really excited as I truly began to grasp the size of what we were about to experience.
Tianlong (Heavenly or Sky Dragon)
I got off the elevator, and my jaw dropped. It was astounding! It immediately put Tonto Natural Bridge into the baby category. We walked down into the mouth and were consumed by the dragon. If it weren’t for the people yelling for echoes the whole experience would have been magical. It still borders on magical but not quite with the discourteous behavior of a handful of others. I’m glad we visited in the off season. I couldn’t imagine the place during a Chinese high season.
Tianlong is a ginormous portal into a lush ancient wonderland. At the base of this bridge is a reconstructed ancient mail post. Zhang Yimou had it made for the only scene shot out of a studio in Curse of the Golden Flower. It is a historic replica and was left there for visitors. Some may think that it would detract from the scenery, but it is lovely and doesn’t harm the experience.
What does take away from the scenery is the photo station toward the bottom of the bridge for people to get official pictures taken of their visit. However, we escaped this momentary intrusion with a side jaunt into the second opening of Tianlong. It was a dead-end path when we visited, so no one was going that way. But at the end of this part of the bridge were some spectacular water spouts, lush green moss and plants clinging to the walls, and quiet.
Qinglong (Azure Dragon)
We followed the paved path toward the next bridge with a quick stop at the post station. I even sent a few postcards direct from there to nieces and nephews back home. Then in the open space between the first two bridges stands a dwarfed statue of a Dinobot with Optimus Prime on his back since this is the spot used in the movie. From there we followed the left path at a fork. There were lots of plants on either side, and beautiful birds flitted back and forth while warbling and whistling.
A little stream led us to the next two bridges. We saw Qinglong in the distance from Tianlong, but didn’t get a real sense of grandeur until we got closer. It reflects in the stream and perfectly frames the scenery behind it. A sign under the bridge states that it is the tallest and thickest natural bridge in the world. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is the biggest I’ve ever seen. Water droplets and mist trail down from this giant’s doorway creating an almost mystical experience.
Heilong (Black Dragon)
The stream runs under the bridge and leads to a view of the next one, Heilong. It is the most ominous of the three as it is tall, narrow, and jagged. The walls are covered with black residue from water, and springs of water shoot out in several places with thick green plants trailing below them. We couldn’t see the sky or canyon on the other side of this one as with the others because it twists like a tunnel through the rock.
At this point the trail takes a gradual climb that passes through some lovely scenery including passed an emerald pool. We passed the pavilion where souvenir photos can be collected and continued up the path. Just before it starts a major ascent, there is a station for shuttles back to the visitor center buses. For an extra 20 RMB, we zipped up the mountain instead of trudging up while watching others zoom by on their carts. It was worth it.
This concluded our visit to the Three Natural Bridges of the Wulong Karst, but it doesn’t even begin to sum up our day. Let’s just say, if it weren’t for the astounding natural wonders we experienced, the day would go down as a pretty mediocre day in China. I’ll explain why in a follow up post. Maybe it will help a few other adventurers not run into the same issues we did. Until then, adventure is out there, so go have one!