Dai ethnic minority influence still present in Xishuangbanna
Jinghong (景洪) is the capital of Xishuangbanna Autonomous Prefecture (西双版纳). Located southwest of Yunnan, 400km from Kunming, Xishuangbanna borders Laos and Myanmar.
They call it the “little Chinese Thailand” thanks to the cultural and architectural heritage left by the Dai ethnic minority. At the time of feudal China, because of continuous wars, much of the Dai population emigrated to the south and settled in what is now Thailand and Laos.
Xishuangbanna is characterized as one of the prefectures of Yunnan with the most variety of ethnic minorities (thirteen, of which the Dai minority remains the most abundant). It is also famous for its good tropical climate (average 18-22 degrees per year) and for its large forests full of biological diversity. In addition, the Mekong River (in the area, called Lancang River) crosses the entire prefecture.
How to go to Xishuangbanna?
Trip from Kunming to Xishuangbanna
Kunming is the provincial capital of Yunnan. From Kunming you can go to Xishuangbanna by plane or bus from the south station. If you plan ahead you can go by plane for a small fee.
We always plan everything at the last minute so we end up taking the bus. It is 7 hours of the trip plus 3 hours that the driver has to stop by law to rest. The ticket costs about 200Rmb (25 euros).
Where to stay in Jinghong?
We arrived around 8:00 in the morning. Just arriving in the city one has the feeling of having left China. The city of Jinghong is full of trees and green areas, the signs and the architecture of the houses and restaurants are reminiscent of Thailand and Laos. The summer climate encourages one to relax.
So we decided not to make big trips around the area and to stay the three days in the center of the city, in the Manytrees International Youth Hostel. It is a good enough hostel for backpackers but not suitable for those who demand a great service.
If you’re looking for a hotel with a little more quality but also a price that won’t go away, you can look at the Dalian Hotel. It is in the city center, has spacious rooms and offers good service.
What to see and do in Jinghong?
Peacock Lake Park
To take advantage of the first day we went to Peacock Lake Park. Just enter the park there is a very nice lake where at different times of day feed the peacocks. You can see how they arrive in flocks flying to the shore of the lake.
Then, following the tour of the park, one can witness a tiger show or go directly to visit an old Dai village. The village, transformed into a museum, still retains the charm it would have had years ago. If you dare, apart from visiting their cabins, you can also dance with the locals in a traditional dance.
Finally, there is a large fountain to commemorate the New Year’s festival Dai which is usually held between 12 and 17 April. It marks the beginning of the new solar year, which ends the dry season and begins the wet season.
The way it is celebrated coincides with the Thai New Year (Songkran), Laotian (Pimai), Burmese (Thingyan) and Cambodian (Chaul Chnan Thmey). The custom of throwing water at each other is to “purify” themselves and wish each other a happy new year.
Although it was not the indicated date, we decided to try. We messed with the locals (park employees) who were already inside the fountain throwing water at each other. Immediately we started a water war, or rather, a all against foreigners. Without a doubt it was the funniest thing of the day. Happy, exhausted and wet, we decided it was time to leave the park and return to the hostel to rest after a long day.
Visit to Dai Villages
The second day we wanted to visit Dai villages. Some are so famous that they even make you pay 100Rmb (12 euros) to get in. We intended to avoid parks and tourist sites so we paid a taxi driver to take us to an authentic village, away from the city.
After driving a half hour we arrived at the village with quite enchanted. With temples and pagodas surrounded by nature, with old houses made of wood and/or bamboo and with children playing barefoot in the streets.
On the way back, after stopping to buy food, drink and a couple of grills, we told the driver to leave us on the banks of the Mekong. Just down to the river we found a perfect place for a barbecue and got down to work. It was a unique moment in a unique place. Not every day you have the privilege to enjoy of barbecue with your friends in the Mekong.
The Manting Park and the Big Buddha
If you come to Xishuangbanna one should not miss a park located south of the city: the Manting Park. Entry costs 100Rmb. You can see a show of traditional minority dances. Enjoy a good boat ride on the lake. See a couple of temples, pagodas, parrots, monkeys and even a 30 min. elephant show.
Also is very famous the Da Fo Temple (Big Buddha) and the Mengle Temple, the largest temple in Xishuangbanna and the largest Theravada Buddhism temple in China.
The Dai society, influenced by Theravada Buddhism built the temple in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In 1848 it was destroyed by the Japanese and in 2005 began its restoration. It is undoubtedly one of the most impressive temples I have seen so far.
Tired, but very happy with the trip, that same afternoon we took the bus back to Kunming. During part of the return trip I had the feeling that I would return. This was not a “goodbye”, but a “until the next time, Xishuangbanna”.
We spend a lot of time making a living, but not enough time living it.
– Teresa de Calcuta –
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