Ever since the `East meets West' craze hit British stores, bamboo has been "in", fashionable both for its good looks and because it is a genuinely eco-friendly resource. Lightweight, durable (it's bulletproof), versatile (it's been used to make everything from scaffolding and baskets to lightbulb filaments and Chinese food) and just about the fastest- growing plant on the planet (it can grow more than 120cm in 24 hours), its anchor-like qualities even help to prevent deforestation in China.
If you'd prefer to see bamboo in its natural habitat rather than on a Surrey coffee table, though, the place to visit is the Bamboo Sea, one of the largest stretches of bamboo forest (about 12,000 acres) in south-west China. There are around 30 types of bamboo here, including Nan, Mao, Golden, Fishpole, Turtleback and Flower bamboo, so you should find something you like.
The Bamboo Sea is a national park, set over the puddle of moist green vegetation, ink-black pools and gushing waterfalls that covers the valleys and mountains near Yibin, a 60km bus ride (about 75p) away. It is an amazing place to look at - perhaps too amazing. The Lonely Planet Guide to South- West China (pounds 12.99) warns that it has also become one of the country's "most ruthlessly efficient" tourist traps. On top of the national park entrance fee (about pounds 1.10) there are several other tickets to be paid and, in each valley, further fees and a trail of overpriced restaurants to shell out on.
Lonely Planet advises you not to be put off by all this, as it is still an extraordinary place to visit, but to "head along the trail as far as you can go and enjoy the peace and quiet away from the ticket-sellers and the carved bamboo-sellers". Get off the bus at Wanling and seek out the waterfalls at Forgetting Worries Valley and the gloomy pools of Black Brook Valley. From here, there's a cable car up to the top of the ridge (about pounds 1.50 one-way). Alternatively, head for the 20m-high bamboo at Jadeite Corridor or the Looking at the Sea Pavilion, where the view sweeps down across the canopy of wispy bamboo heads that gives the Bamboo Sea its name.
If you want to take some bamboo home with you, you will find the stuff all over China - a friend recently picked up a set of five bamboo paintbrushes in Peking's Saturday flea market for Y20 (around pounds 1.50). Alternatively, wait until you're back in Britain and nip along to Emily Readett-Bayley in south London (0171-231 3939). The covetable range of pure bamboo designs here is sleek and modern and has little to do with the mass-produced Victorian furniture or Seventies caneware that British people have come to associate with bamboo. Pieces include the bent bamboo chair, pounds 255, and two-person seat, pounds 510, shown left - perfect for lolling back on and calculating the number of bamboo paintbrushes you'd have to sell to finance a trip back to China.
If you book today, Bridge The World's (0171-911 0900) special offer fare of pounds 310 on KLM from the UK to Peking, works out at around 200 sets of paintbrushes.
Gadget of the week
Conscientious travellers need look no further than the Micromap. This is a nifty little gadget that can be worn round your neck. You read the playing card-sized maps (it holds up to six at one time) by moving the viewer around to magnify the different areas of the map in turn but you'll need both hands to do this so it's best to stop pedalling first, if you're on a bike.
Available in various series (including road maps, UK cities, Ordnance Survey maps, cycle routes, weekend walks, US cities, US national parks, London streets and London guides), the viewer costs pounds 14.99 and each series of maps costs pounds 9.99 (ring 0800 783 8740 for stockists or e-mail: info@ micromap.co.uk).Reuse content