HONGHE PREFECTURE CULTURAL-HISTORICAL ROUTE
First Stop: Kunming
As with all of our Yunnan programs, we spend the first two nights in Kunming, with essentially the same program. For this journey we will also emphasize our museum visits, in order to become familiar with the look and lifestyle of the many different minority nationalities we will encounter in our journey.
Second Stop: Tonghai
On the third morning we will drive to Tonghai County and follow the same program as that of the Kunming-Jinghong route. As a result, the first minority nationality we will meet will be the Mongolians in Xingmeng. We will learn their history, their adaptations in their way of life, visit the temple honoring the first three Mongol emperors and have lunch there. In the afternoon we will visit the Hui village of Najiaying and then proceed to Tonghai, where we will wander through the old town and the forests, gardens and temples of Xiushan.
Third Stop: Jianshui
Our fourth day follows the program of the Kunming-Jinghong route. Historically important since ancient times as a commercial stop on trade routes linking Dali and Kunming with southern and eastern Yunnan, it has retained many of its old Ming and Qing Dynasty buildings. We will see these, explore the quiet and atmospheric Zhu Family Flower Garden and learn the story of the 19th century French Mekong Expedition’s passage through the city.
Fourth Stop: Xinjie
Before leaving Jianshui on our fifth day, we will visit the Confucius Temple in the western part of the city, one of the very few in the province. After that we go further west to the wonderful, 17-span Double Dragon Bridge. After that we return to Jianshui and drive south to the Red River, first pausing to see the Wenbi Pagoda, standing alone and unadorned on a barren knoll. Named after its shape—a writing brush—from a distance it also resembles the smokestacks of a kiln, for Jianshui is also known for its ceramics production.
The road south crosses the river to Yuanyang, the county seat, which this century became appended to the existing Dai La village of Nansha. The Dai La, like the Huayao Dai upriver in Yuanjiang and Xinping Counties, are an animist Dai sub-group who live in flat-roofed houses, with settlements all along the river. We continue our drive south up the mountain and soon find ourselves in typical Ailaoshan terrain, of terraced fields climbing the mountain slopes, streams engineered to funnel water to them all year round, and villages of mud-brick houses with flat roofs, Zhuang on the lower slopes, Yi and Hani higher up. Xinjie itself, where we will stay three nights, lies on a narrow ridge in between old Yi villages, has a strong minority presence at any time of day, and views of the remarkable terraces are possible just a short walk from the urban zone.
Days Six and Seven: Market Days in Yuanyang County
Each of the county’s several districts holds regular market days. In the Dai towns it is once a week, usually Saturday or Sunday. In the hills the days are determined according to the 12-day cycle, each day representing an animal. In some places, like Xinjie, it is every four days, while in most it occurs every six days. So no matter when we arrive we can be sure of being able to witness market day somewhere within a short drive somewhere in the county.
Market days are particularly colorful in this part of Yunnan because the local minorities are still firmly attached to their traditional lifestyle. Most of those in attendance will be women and nearly all of them dressed in traditional clothing. Lower Ailaoshan, comprising the mountainous counties of Honghe, Luchun, Yuanyang and Jinping, is home to Dai, Hani, Yi, Zhuang, Miao and Yao, with several sub-groups to each, thus guaranteeing a great variety of ethnic clothing ensembles at any market day venue. In addition, the journey from Xinjie to any district destination passes by the amazing scenery of mountain slopes sculpted into farms.
Fifth Stop: Jinping
On our eighth day we will drive south to Panzihua, for what is probably the most spectacular view of the terraced mountains. This is the part of Ailaoshan that recently won recognition as a World Heritage Site. We then descend to the valleys and stop first at Huamaoling, a Dai La settlement and then Laomeng, a major Sunday market day venue next to a White Dai village of stilted wooden houses. We continue over high roads to Jinping, which lies along a slope and is about the same size as Xinjie. We will stay here two nights.
Jinping is a Miao, Yao and Dai Autonomous County, but it is also home to Hani and Yi. All of these minorities have two or more sub-groups, whose women are dressed distinctively different from each other. Within the city itself on ordinary days are the Black Hani and the Hongtou Yao, for theirs are the nearest villages to the city.
Ninth Day: Market Day in Jinping County
District towns in Jinping County host market days every six days—twice in the 12-day cycle. As in Yuanyang County, we will be within a short drive from a market day venue no matter which day we arrive in Jinping. Likewise, we will be able to observe several different minority nationalities whichever one we attend, where women dominate the scene, dressed in their best ethnic outfits.
Sixth Stop: Mengzi
On our tenth day we drive north from Jinping to Mengzi, crossing the Red River at Manhao, the furthest point navigable for boats coming up from Vietnam. Then we climb through the mountains to Mengzi, the capital of Honghe Prefecture. The city lies in a broad plain near two natural lakes. The county is home to very colorfully dressed Miao and Yi, who appear in great numbers at market day. We will stay here two nights and have a chance to try the city’s famous dish—Over-the-Bridge Rice Noodles, served in a hot broth with dishes of meat in thin slices that diners cook in the soup.
Eleventh Day: Mengzi
In the late 19th century the French established a consulate in Mengzi and in 1921 opened a railway line from Hekou to Kunming. The consulate still stands, along with a customs house, both sited around the city’s main attraction—South Lake. The lake covers 32,000 square meters and is nearly bisected by a long finger of land. Pathways lead to islands with several Ming Dynasty temples and pavilions, which were once the retreats of monks and scholars. In addition, several buildings of the famous National Southwest Union University stand nearby, dating from its founding during the Anti-Japanese War, when prestigious northern universities relocated to Yunnan. Our day will also include a look at the former French prison, used to house non-Chinese lawbreakers during the French presence, and the French railway station at Bisezhai, a little outside Mengzi.
Seventh Stop: Stone Forest
On our twelfth day we drive from Mengzi to the Stone Forest, a unique, 80-hectare landscape of eroded limestone pillars and boulders, sculpted by the wind and rain over eons to form sometimes grotesquely suggestive shapes. We will œarrive late afternoon, when the area is less congested and the waning light makes the scenery more atmospheric.
Day Thirteen: Return to Kunming
The Stone Forest is a concentration of a natural phenomenon that exists all over the county. Before our return to Kunming, which is not far, in the morning we will visit Suogeyi, a nearby traditional Sani Yi village with similar surroundings of eroded pillars. Afterwards we will take a ride through another such landscape, called the Black Stone Forest, after the dominant color of the rocks. We will have lunch in the area and then drive to Kunming.
Kunming-Tonghai 110 km, Tonghai-Jianshui 71 km, Jianshui-Xinjie 112 km, Xinjie-Jinping 164 km, Jinping-Mengzi 145 km, Mengzi-Shilin 186 km, Shilin-Kunming 90 km