Kunming to Jinghong
First Stop: Kunming
Called Spring City for its moderate year-round climate, and a growing, sprawling metropolis today, Kunming was originally the center of the ancient Dian Kingdom in the 4th century BCE. It was the most important eastern outpost under the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdoms and after the Mongol conquest in 1253 became the permanent capital of Yunnan Province. Today, the old city walls are gone and so are most of the old neighborhoods. Yet Kunming has retained enough of its historical vestiges, preserved and restored, to give visitors a good idea of the look and life of the city in past centuries.
Much of this is in the city center. We will visit the 9th century East and West Pagodas, which now stand in an area reconstructed with classical style wooden shop-houses and a replica of the massive Ming Dynasty gate that used to be the southern entrance to the walled city. From here we will proceed north to Jinbi Square and see more classic buildings and reconstructed old gates and arches. We will pass by the old Hui quarter and continue to the Bird Market and then Green Lake and the former French Consulate. Our final stop on this route through Old Kunming will be Yuantong Temple, originally built in the late Yuan Dynasty. The compound contains the major flowering trees of the province, each blooming at a different time of the year.
To further appreciate the historical legacy and contemporary assets of Kunming and Yunnan we will visit the most relevant museums. The Yunnan Provincial Museum houses artifacts from the Dian period and earlier, a display of ethnic clothing, sample paintings from the late 20th century Yunnan School and a marvelous collection of ancient bronzes. The Ethnology Museum features more extensive sets of ethnic clothing and jewelry, plus exhibits of minority cultural life, such as looms, baskets, household tools and implements, religious paraphernalia, books and artwork. The small Kunming City Museum contains an original Nanzhao-era pagoda and a model of ancient Kunming.
We will spend two nights in Kunming. The exact schedule of our exploration will depend upon what time you arrive on the first day.
Second Stop: Tonghai
On the morning of our third day we will drive to Tonghai County, stopping first at nearby Xingmeng. Lying at the foot of Peacock Hill, Xingmeng and its two adjacent villages are home to Yunnan’s Mongolian minority, remnants of the descendants of Kubilai Khan’s army. When Ming Dynasty forces defeated and expelled the Mongolians, a small group escaped the dragnet and eventually settled in Xingmeng, adopting fishing and later farming as a lifestyle. Nowadays most of the men work on construction projects outside the area. Unless it is planting or harvesting time, we will see mostly women and children in the village. We will walk through the streets, with their thick-walled houses, visit the temple honoring the first three Mongol Emperors, and have lunch in Xingmeng, perhaps trying one of the two famous local specialties—eel hotpot or roast duck.
After Xingmeng we will go to Qilu Lake for a quick look at the Hui settlement of Najiaying and then turn back to Tonghai, where we will stay one night. In the afternoon we will visit the wooded hill immediately behind the city called Xiushan—Beautiful Mountain. Paths on the slopes lead to twenty pavilions, numerous arbors and five Buddhist temples, the oldest dating to the Tang Dynasty.
Third Stop: Jianshui
Our fourth day begins with a drive to Jianshui, a city that is notable for the large number of officially preserved old buildings—altogether over fifty in the county, with most of them in the city or its suburbs. After our arrival we will spend the rest of the day seeing some of the most impressive of these. First is the massive, three-tiered Chaoyang Tower with its long red wall. Formerly the eastern gateway to the city, it is the grandest Ming era monument in the whole province. To the north is the remnant old town, two temples and Yunnan’s first mosque. A little south of the tower stands the thin, multi-tiered Chongwen Pagoda, from the Qing Dynasty.
To the west, in the heart of the city, is the Zhu Family Flower Garden, a vast complex of compounds within compounds, rooms with carved screen doors, ponds, flower arrangements and a photo exhibition of the county’s attractions. We will spend the night in Jianshui and in our evening meal we can try the local specialties—a tuber called caoya, because of its shape like an elephant’s tusk, and qiguoji, a chicken soup cooked in an earthen pot.
Fourth Stop: Yuanjiang
On the morning of our fifth day, before leaving Jianshui, we will visit the fine old Confucius Temple and its lovely pond in the western part of the city. Afterwards we will drive out to Double Dragon Bridge (Shuanglongqiao), beside a rural village that makes gravestones. It is one of the three old Ming-Qing Dynasty bridges in the county, but easily the most picturesque, with 17 spans, a three-tiered tower in the center and a smaller tower over the north bank entrance.
Following this excursion we will return to Jianshui and go on to Yuanjiang, a somewhat smaller city lying beside the Red River in one of the lowest altitude valleys in the province. The city has a stately old pavilion next to a pond in the center, but its main attraction will be the possible presence of colorfully dressed women from the minority nationalities. Yuanjiang is an Autonomous Hani, Yi and Dai County and while the former two live in the mountains, the Dai dominate the river plain. We will spend the night in Yuanjiang and visit Dai villages next morning.
Fifth Stop: Mojiang
Our sixth day begins with a morning journey upriver to Dai villages. The Dai sub-group here is the animist Huayao Dai, which means Flowery Waist Dai, derived from the elaborate color embroidery on the women’s clothing parts around the waist. We will notice a different kind of domestic architecture, for the Huayao Dai, the oldest inhabitants of the county, live in mud-brick houses with flat roofs. Where their villages lie close to hills, they built terraces on the slopes and engineered the streams above them to run through the terraces all year.
In the afternoon we will drive to Mojiang, a pleasant city surrounded by low mountains, with a couple of small hills in the center and a nice park in the eastern quarter. Mojiang is an Autonomous Hani County, but city residents are nearly all Han and the Hani are only around on market day. Mojiang’s main claim to fame is that the Tropic of Cancer runs right through the city. A park on the southern hill, with Stonehenge-like buildings and big carved sandstone pillars, honors and identifies the precise route of the line. You can even walk along it.
Sixth Stop: Jinghong
On our seventh day we will leave Mojiang in the morning and drive to Jinghong, capital of Xishuangbanna Autonomous Dai Prefecture. We will arrive late afternoon, but in time to appreciate the attraction of downtown Jinghong, its streets lined with royal palm trees, Peacock Pond and other neighborhoods. In the evening we can dine at one of the restaurants in the elegant, Dai-style establishments along the river. Xishuangbanna’s population is one-third Han, mostly in the cities, one-third, Dai, mostly in the plains and valleys, and one-third other minority nationalities, mostly in the hills. We will stay four nights in Jinghong and use it as a base to explore various parts of the prefecture.
Day Eight: Jingne and Mengyang
Four kinds of Dai live in Banna and on this day we will meet three of them. The largest is the Shui Dai, so named because they live by the water (shui) of streams. They call themselves Dai Lu and are Theravada Buddhists. In the morning we will visit Dai Lu villages in Jingne district north of Jinghong, that feature outstanding examples of traditional Dai stilted wooden houses. In the same area we will visit the small animist sub-group called Han Dai, whose women wear heavily embroidered, hand-woven sarongs and turbans. Han in this case means ‘dry land,’ for their villages, of one-story mud-brick houses sitting on the ground, lie away from the streams.
In the afternoon we will return to Jinghong after a stop en route at Mengyang, a district home to a couple of Han Dai villages and several of the Huayao Dai sub-group, a branch of the same Huayao Dai we encountered in Yuanjiang County. We will visit Huayao Dai villages, where the older women still dress in their colorful traditional apparel, similar to that in Yuanjiang, but live in houses like those of the Han Dai.
Day Nine: Menghai County
Out first stop going west to Menghai will be Nannuoshan, an Aini village famous as a tea production center. The oldest cultivated tea tree lies further up the mountain, while a museum across from the village houses a very comprehensive cultural exhibition of the Aini minority, a branch of the Hani, known in SE Asia, and among themselves, as Akha. Descending the mountain to Menghai valley, we make a short stop at Manluanhui, home of the fourth kind of Banna Dai—the Muslim Dai. They also live in houses on the ground and the mosque is an attractive blend of Chinese and Arabian architecture.
From here we will proceed to Menghai and then on to Jingzhen, a little further west, site of the unique Octagonal Pavilion. The adjacent temple features an array of exterior wall murals and the village itself produces the little ceramic figurines affixed to the roofs of temples and houses. We then head south for lunch in the Dai-dominated city of Menghun, with a stop first in Manzhao, a traditional Dai paper-making village. After our meal we go further south to an Ake village along the road. Considered a branch of the Aini, they also live in stilted wooden houses and the women dress similarly, though perhaps more splendidly. Out next stop will be a Bulang tea-growing village. The Bulang are a Mon-Khmer minority, but converted to Buddhism many centuries ago, the only hill people to do so. With the conclusion of our visit we return to Jinghong.
Day Ten: Dai Park and Manting Park
On this day we will drive downriver to Menghan, a Dai town dominated by traditional houses, many of them employing the peacock, the Dai mascot, for their decorations. We will proceed to Dai Park, at the eastern end of town, consisting of five villages that have preserved their traditional Dai domestic architecture of stilted wooden houses with sloping tiled roofs. We will visit Manchunman Temple, the most beautiful temple in Banna, other temples and exhibits, and have a typical Dai banquet in one of the Park’s restaurants.
After our meal we will return to Jinghong and go to Manting Park, south of the city center. This park features a stage for frequent ethnic minority dance performances, a yard full of peacocks, a pond where people can ride a zipline across, and a Dai temple at the far end. After this we will take a look at other sights in the city.
Seventh Stop: Menglun
In the morning of our eleventh day we will visit Jinuoshan, home to the Jinuo minority nationality, a small ethnic group that only resides in Xishuangbanna. They are supposed to have arrived here in the 3rd century CE and are among the most ancient inhabitants of the prefecture. We will also stop at Bapiao, a roadside village erected in the traditional style for resettled Jinuo after a landslide buried their original village. From here we will take the road east through a tropical rain forest and eventually arrive at the Botanical Garden next to Menglun.
With its sub-tropical environment, more akin to northern Southeast Asia than the rest of Yunnan, Xishuangbanna is hone to a host of flowering trees and plants. The vast grounds of the Botanical Garden include groves of trees indigenous to Banna, flowering plants galore, species introduced from other sub-tropical zones on the earth, and ponds with large lily pads on which small children can easily sit. We will stay the night here.
Eighth Stop: Mengla
On the twelfth day, our final one in XIshuangbanna we will go east to some of the interesting sites in Mengla County. We will drive first to Yiwu, a hilltop tea-producing center, with a great view of the mountains to the west form the tea gardens adjacent to the town. After a tea break in Yiwu we will return to the highway and head south, with a stop at Mengyuan, with its traditional Dai villages set in a landscape of craggy limestone hills. We then proceed to the Dai village of Manlongdai, a little north of Mengla city, famous for its cuisine, and have our afternoon meal there.
After lunch we drive north along the Nanla River to the turnoff to the Aerial Ropeway. Here you can walk several meters high off the ground right through a pristine tropical rain forest, with views up and down of the lush vegetation and ancient trees. Following this we go to Mengban, a Dai town frequently visited by Yao from nearby villages and Miao and Aini from the hills to the east. Then we return to Mengla to explore the city, dine in one of the Dai restaurants in the old quarter and stay the night.
Day Thirteen: Return to Kunming
This morning we drive back to Jinghong in time to fly from Jinghong back to Kunming. Our Banna schedule could alter if we will be in the prefecture on a Sunday. In that case, we will make our Menghai County excursion on that day, for Sunday is market day in Menghun.
Kunming-Tonghai 110 km, Tonghai-Jianshui 71 km, Jianshui-Yuanjiang 166 km, Yuanjiang-Mojiang 86 km, Mojiang-Jinghong 273 km, Jinghong-Menglun 65 km, Menglun-Mengla 80 km, Mengla-Jinghong 145 km