Travel guide to the Sichuan towns of Yibin and Luobiao, the access points to the Hanging Coffins of Bo archaeology site in southwestern China.
The Hanging Coffins of Bo — 僰人悬棺 (Bórén Xuánguān) — are one of the more unique ancient wonders to be found in China. Despite lacking the grandeur of more famous nearby sites like the Dazu Caves or the Leshan Giant Buddha, the Hanging Coffins provide a sense of awe and reverence all their own.
The most famous Hanging Coffin site, as well as the location of the Bo Culture Museum, is Luobiao in southern Sichuan.
If you’re ever looking for a middle-of-nowhere town in China, Luobiao certainly qualifies. The nearest town of any significance is Yibin, and calling that significant is being kind. Yibin is about a 4-hour drive to either Chongqing or Chengdu, and upon arriving to Yibin, you must take another minibus another 3 hours south to Luobiao.
When I got to Yibin’s main long-distance bus station, I was told there were no buses heading from there to Luobiao. I would need to take a bus into the city to the local bus station, where I could catch a smaller bus to Gongxian and Luobiao.
Yibin, Sichuan | 宜宾市
Yibin was a curious place. The small city is sectioned into 3 primary areas, each separated by merging rivers. The north of the city is the university zone, and home to a lot of new development and transportation terminals. The southwest is the old section of the city, and probably has the most of historic interest in the city.
The southeast side of town is the most active area and where most tourists and passersby will find themselves. He is where the city’s main commercial district, shopping malls, and hotels are located. This is also the area where, when I visited, the smaller bus station to Luobiao was located.
If I were to do the trip again, I would have tried to stay at least one full day in Yibin, considering there are a number of historic sites scattered around the town. Although, even a visit to the museum would have been worthwhile, in hindsight.
However, something felt off about the town at the same time. It’s not any quality I could put my finger on, but I never quite got used to the atmosphere in the town.
Arriving in Yibin
Getting to and from Yibin is a simple enough matter. It’s a town of relative size and there are direct buses connections with the major cities of Chengdu and Chongqing.
The main long-distance bus station is located on the north side of the side near the university area. From this bus station, you can get a bus into the city. There are no buses from this Yibin bus terminal to Luobiao, where the Hanging Coffins are located. Instead, you must take a local bus or taxi into the city.
Get off when you see a modern-looking shopping mall. You’ll know it when you see it, complete with a McDonalds and KFC. The bus to Luobiao is located across the street from this mall.
Lodging in Yibin
China maintains an archaic and often infuriating policy of only allowing foreigners to stay at specific hotels. In practice, this means that any hotel could potentially turn you away upon arrival, even if you have a pre-paid online reservation.
This is what happened to me in Yibin. Not only the first hotel, but the second and the third. The staff at the final hotel were quite apologetic about this, helping me to find a hotel a few blocks away where I would be allowed to stay.
I advise looking into this hotel to avoid the headache of searching around. As of this writing, it still appears to be in business.
The hotel was nothing special, but for $20 per night, it provided a comfortable and convenient place to sleep for the night. It’s a block away from Yibin’s main mall and the bus station where I would go to Luobiao the following morning.
Leaving Yibin for Luobiao
There are a limited number of buses that run to Gongxian and Luobiao each day. This is the reason I ended up in Yibin unexpectedly for the night.
The buses to Luobiao leave from a small, inconspicuous bus station across the road from the single large shopping mall of Yibin, the Yibin Oriental Times Plaza (宜宾东方时代广场).
The bus schedules may likely change seasonally, so it’s best to check the schedule when you arrive. I ended up taking a mid-afternoon bus, which took around 3 hours to reach Luobiao from Yibin.
Luobiao, Sichuan | 洛表镇
Luobiao is quite literally the end of the road for these buses. Aside from locals, who would regularly travel between towns, the only reason anyone else would venture out here is likely to see the Bo Hanging Coffins.
The town is built over a mountain valley that houses numerous rice fields as well as a few other crops such as cabbage and corn. The single road leading into the town splits in two at a small monument that could be considered the town center. There isn’t much need to venture beyond this intersection.
Arriving in Luobiao
The buses stop right before the town center and main intersection,. You’ll recognize the this area by the fork in the road and a open town square leading to a large modern-looking building. This building also has one of the available hotels.
Lodging in Luobiao
I found only 3 hotels in the town and most a very inconspicuous. You’ll also want to be searching for the characters of “guesthouse”, (binguan 宾馆) rather than hotel (旅馆) to find them.
I ended up getting a room at a guest house, a small ways back past the main bus station The cost was 60 RMB (plus 10 for air conditioning). The room was very basic, but comfortable. It had a squat toilet, hot shower, and a sink that kept spewing water with specks of something in it.
Another hotel exists in the main plaza near the town center. Although most of the building seems empty, if you walk back past the restaurant you’ll find a small hotel lobby with rooms also starting at 60 RMB.
Another small guesthouse advertising wifi on a large poster on the building’s outside wall is near where buses from Yibin drop off passengers. It will likely be the first one you see on the walk toward the town center.
Food in Luobiao
There are very few restaurants in the town and most of the ones you do see will look quite unappealing, reflecting the general uncleanliness of the town.
However, I did find one diamond in the rough in a small air-conditioned restaurant run by a friendly couple. Their meals average around 20-30 RMB and I highly recommend the huiguorou. It’s probably the best one I’ve had in China.
Aside from the restaurants, you can find small venues or individuals selling fruit daily.
There is also a supermarket in the basement of the town plaza building. It has the largest selection of items in the town, but not a large variety of food.
Nightlife in Luobiao
You won’t find anything for nightlife. There is a KTV place next to the town center monument and most of the restaurants will serve local beer or bailie from their coolers.
Sights in Luobiao
Luobiao of course, hosts the Hanging Coffins of the Bo People, which range from 2000 to 500 years old. The cliffs in the valley below Luobiao were once filled with hundreds of coffins suspended from the cliffside. The technique by which this was done, and the Bo people themselves, were exterminated by the Ming Dynasty in 1573.
Luobiao’s Town Center Monument is a memorial to the Bo people. This small pillar stands at the divergence of the two roads into Luobiao. Ther area around it was recently rebuilt as a town square, containing a number of small businesses, a hotel, as well as many vacant storefronts.
The bus station a small distance from the town center monument. It’s easy to spot with several minibuses parked outside at any time of the day. From here multiple buses per day go to Gongxian, the next town about 2 hours north. However, the buses are strangely marked with Xunchang instead of Gongxian.
To get anywhere else, you’ll need to return to Yibin, 3 hours north of Luobiao. This bus leaves at 6 am every morning and will go through the main street of the town, including the bus station, picking up anyone that waves it down. The price is 30 RMB.
I was also told of an afternoon bus to Yibin at 4:30 pm, but I wasn’t able to verify this.
An ethnic group that once inhabited southwestern China. They were exterminated by the Ming Dynasty in the 1600s, leaving little knowledge of their culture or language behind.
Hanging Coffins (悬棺)
A burial custom of the Bo people in which wooden coffins were suspended from sheer cliff sides by still inconclusive methods.
“Twice-cooked pork”, a cuisine from southwestern China
Small town in southern Sichuan province where the largest concentrations of Bo hanging coffins are located.
The ruling dynasty of China from 1368-1644 CE. Ming doctrine was characterized by isolationist policies and focus on internal matters and expansion.
Province in southwestern China made up of mountains, river valleys, and sections of the Tibetan Plateau.
A large district located in southern Sichuan province.
Province in southwestern China consisting of many ethnic minorities, with landscapes ranging from jungles to snow-capped mountains.