Xishuangbanna Travel Guide, Yunnan
A lush tropical spread of virgin rainforests, plantations and paddy fields nestled 750km southwest of Kunming along the Burmese and Laotian borders. The mystic rain forest is a rare oasis on the tropic of cancer. The stretch of vast and fantastic green world is of tremendous vigor.
Despite recent resettlement projects to affirm Han authority, 13 of Yunnan's ethnic groups constitute a sizeable majority of Xishuangbanna's 500,000-strong population. Foremost are the Dai, northern cousins to the Thais, whose distinctive temples, bulbous pagodas and saffron-robed clergy are a common sight down on the plains, particularly around Jinghong.
The region's remaining 19,000 sqkm of hills, farms and forest are split between the administrative townships of Mengla in the east and Menghai in the west, peppered with villages of Hani, Bulang, Jinuo, Wa and Lahu; remoter tribes are still animistic, and all have distinctive dress and customs.
Cultural tourism aside, there are a number of marginally developed wildlife reserves inhabited by elephants and other rare beasts, plenty of hiking trails, and China's open border with Laos to explore.
Today, the area's importance is increasing steadily as the country drives for trade with Thailand and the situation improves further down the Mekong.
Jinghong, the sleepy capital city of the Xishuangbanna region , straddles the mighty Mekong river. It's the traffic hub and travel base in the region.
Tropical scenery / Dai villages and coustom
Getting there & away
Jinghong is the arriving and departing port of Xishuangbanna tour.
By Air - Jinghong's airport connects to numerous destinations in China and some in South East Asia (particularly Thailand). Although you can buy tickets at the airport, you're probably better off taking advantage of the larger selection of ticket vendors in town. Flights to Dali leave daily at 5:10PM. Flights to Lijiang leave daily at 9:40PM.
The Xishuangbanna Airport is 6km south of Jinghong city. It costs approximately RMB15 and takes 20 minutes to travel from the airport to the town by taxi.
The air ticketing office is on the intersection of Jingde Xi Lu and Mingzu Nan Lu.
By Bus - 3 long distance bus stations provide services to cities throughout the province. The most popular services with travellers are sleeper-buses with Kunming in the north and bus and minibus services southeast to Ganlanba, Mengla (near the Laos border), Menglun (Y14) and Guanlei (China's major Mekong port).
Mostly people walk or cycle about. Bicycles can be hired at a number of cafes around town, or purchased for a couple of hundred yuan. If you're going a bit further, you can take a bus, motorbike, or taxi.
Route #2 takes you from the city center to Jiangbei District, the area north of the Mekong. Route #3 takes you in a loop from the center of the city to Manting Park, then back in to town via the south bus station.
Hiring a motorcycle taxi or moto costs Y1~Y3 anywhere, depending on distance and your bargaining skills. Motos are good for one passenger only, and you must wear the helmet provided.
Motorcycles with covered seats fixed behind for Y3,and although slower afford more protection from the elements than regular motorbikes.
Regular taxis cost Y5 to almost anywhere within the city proper, however a slight increase in fare may be justified if you travel from one extreme edge of the city to the other. They can also be hired on a daily basis if you want to visit places outside of the city, though be sure to bargain hard. Roughly Y200/day.
The Jinghong Port offers cargo boats downriver to Ganlanba, Guanlei, Laos and Thailand. Few boats come this far upriver, however.
- The NaMuYa Cafe & Guesthouse - a new place run by a Korean woman. A little further out of town it has the breakfast-time advantage of being opposite a major fruit market. It's in something of a red-light district, however. Room price varies seasonly.
- The Dai Style Guesthouse - traditional Dai wooden houses, though it seems to be full throughout much of the year. Bathing and toilet facilities are shared.
- Jinghong Guest House-located smack bang in the middle of town, next to the government on Xuan De Da Dao. The rear building (further down the drive) is the one to go for, offering relatively peaceful rooms, Y50/dbl and Y80/tpl with bathroom, air conditioning, plus ample space for bicycles and other luggage.
- The Law Court Hostel -across the road and down a different driveway, a bit cheaper at Y40 but hidden across a large expanse of carpark so not quite as pleasant. Few customers means good, friendly service and peaceful evenings.
- The Ai Hua Hotel - Around the corner, opposite the city square on on Meng Le Da Dao,Y25/rm, aircon. and hot water are said to be provided, though these could bear checking out first.
- Fruits-In the shade of the city's tree-lined avenues locals sell tropical fruits, such as coconuts, pineapples, jackfruit, rambutans and bananas. Pineapples can typically be purchased cut and skinned for between Y1~1.5. Grapes from elsewhere Yunnan are also available.
- Dai food - Dai women run barbeque stands offering roasted corn cobs, skewers of fish, exotic meats and tofu. A Dai sauce made from roast eggplant and tomato is also popular. It is usually ground with chilli and other spices using a wooden pestle and mortar, while you wait.
- Beware - it's best eaten with something to take the edge away! The Dai also produce small, rectanglar, palm leaf wrapped packages of sticky rice mixed with either sweet fruits such as dates, or crushed peanuts.
- Mandian Waterfall - A picturesque waterfall set amongst rainforest in a national park north west of Jinghong.
Get there - catch public bus (#2) to the intersection at Gadong (along the old road to Mengla), then finding transport northward to Mandian. Or, charter a minibus(7 seats)for a round trip foraround Y120. The driver will wait for you.
Once arriving at Mandian, just walk through the village, over the hill with the temple and past the fields, then follow the stream until you reach the rainforest.
A walk to the waterfall takes 1~1.5hrs. Watch out for snakes!
- Ganlanba - a historic Dai settlement 35km southeast of Jinghong on the Mekong river. A short distance outside of town you can find Dai villages, rice fields and temples much as they have always been.
Discovering the five local villages of Manting, Manchunman, Man'ga, Manjiang and Manzha is the highlight of the area. The temples, traditional Dai buildings and lush fields are a joy to explore.
Getting In & Out
Ganlanba is on the Mekong river and also on the main road from Jinghong to Mengla and Laos, which gives you a few transport options.
Buses run through Ganlanba to and from Jinghong, Menglun, Mengla, Guanlei, Jiangcheng, and other destinations.
The Banna Bus Station in Jinghong has buses to Ganlanba every 20 minutes from 7:30AM to 9PM daily. The trip takes about an hour and costs Y6.
It takes around 1.5 to 2 hours to cycle from Jinghong to Ganlanba. Although the route is flat (there are some hills, but none of them are very large), the road has many vehicles and is best cycled early in the morning.
It is possible to float down the river from Jinghong, though this takes about three hours and must be specially organised.
- Wild Elephant Valley - To the Dai people, the elephant is the symbol of good luck, might and longevity. The wild elephants of Xishuangbanna mainly live in the Wild Elephants Valley (yexiang gu), at the juncture of the western and eastern part of the Menyang natural reserve. In the valley, there is an observation tower, especially built for tourists. The best time to see these impressive beasts is at dawn or dusk. There are currently 300 elephants living in the dense forest in Xishuangbanna, known locally as the "kingdom of elephants".
Get there - The park is 45km north of Jinghong by the highway linking Jinghong and Simao. You can take the bus to Simao from the main bus station in Jinghong and get off at the park.The fare is around Y10.
Admission -Y25, cable car is Y30/way. Tree house guest rooms are available for Y180.
- The Octagonal Pavilion
situated on a slope in Jingzhen Village of Menghai, 87km west of Jinghong. It represents the superb craftsmanship of the Dai Minority in both construction and decoration. The half-timbered pavilion was built in 1707 and was originally used as a Buddhist meeting chamber. It is said that the pavilion was constructed in honor of Sakymuni by the Dai Buddhists.
With a history of more than 300 years, the Octagonal Pavilion has undergone several renovations, still stands firmly with great elegance and grace. It was put onto the list of major historic and cultural sites under state protection in 1988.
How to get there: The pavilion is located 16km west of Menghai, you can take a Jinghong to Mengzhe bus and get off at the pavilion for around Y15.
Admission Fee: Y10 (individual), Y5 (group up to 10 guests)
- Manfeilong Pagoda - situated on the top of a hill near Manfeilong Village of Menglong, 60km south of Jinghong. Built in year 1024, it's a famed stupa complex in Xishuangbanna. The pagoda is dedicated to Hinayana Buddhism (a small, conservative branch of Buddhism).
There are 9 different pagodas here, with white bodies and golden pinnacles. The sculptures, reliefs and colorful paintings in the Pagodas are very impressive
Get there - From the main bus station in Jinghong, buses to Menglong run every 30 minutes from 8am to 5pm. The fare is Y10
Admission Fee: Y5
- Tropical Plant Research Institute - one of the major attractions in Xishuangbanna, situated on Hulu Island, surrounded by rivers and mountains and containing a welath of rare and unusual plants, trees and flowers.
Get there- at the main bus station in Jinghong, take a bus southeastwards to Mengla or Menglun and get off at Xiao Menglun town. Buses leave every hour from 7:30-15:00, fare is around Y15.