In this tour we focus on one of Yunnan’s chief characteristics—its ethnic diversity. Minority nationalities comprise one third of the province’s population and occupy two-thirds of its territory. We will explore the Red River counties of Honghe Prefecture and then Xishuangbanna, places where the variety of ethnic groups and sub-groups is at its greatest. You will observe their daily activities and meet them in their villages and at the market days. We journey through the spectacular rice terraces in the hills south of the Red River, including the section selected as a World Heritage Site, the first time farms ever won such recognition. We also visit old Chinese cities that have preserved much of their architectural heritage, an ancient salt center and the villages, gardens, hills and rain forest of tropical Xishuangbanna.
DAY 1 – Thursday the 17th of October 2019 – “Hekou”
Arrival in Hekou. Guided walking tour of riverside Hekou followed by welcome banquet.
October is the end of the rainy season, but occasional showers are still possible. Travelers should bring along a light raincoat or umbrella. Temperatures average 20-29 degrees C. (68-84 degrees F.) in Xishuangbanna and the lower parts of Honghe Prefecture and.15-24 degrees C. (59-75 degrees F.) for Jianshui and destinations in the hills (Jinping, Xinjie, Honghe).
The trip starts in Hekou, the border city opposite Lào Cai, Vietnam. At 78 meters altitude, this is the lowest city in the province. So every stop afterwards is higher and cooler. But the highest points on our route are rarely above1500 meters and you will have no trouble at all adjusting to the differences.
We have ranked this expedition in the “EASY” category. This means accessibility is relatively high altitude is low (500 – 1,900 meters) and there are no challenging trails or exposed terrain. There is no camping on this tour. All you need to carry is a day pack. All of the expeditions in the EASY category are suitable for outdoor lovers found of walking. We will provide very detailed information about all the distances and changes in elevation. We travel with a small group, so we can give a very customized service.
We’ll stay mostly in county towns not usually visited by a lot of tourists. In these towns we’ll stay in the cleanest and best managed hotels in town. In Jianshui, we’ll be able to stay in a boutique hotel housed in a renovated/upgraded courtyard. In Yuanyang and Jinghong, we’ll be able to stay in comfortable Chinese 4-star accommodation.
We’ll be traveling with an 18-seat officially registered tourist van, operated by an experienced driver accredited by the tourism authorities of China.Yin Guangtao.
We begin our journey in the border city of Hekou, sited on the Red River at its confluence with the Nanxi River. In the late 19th century Hekou was a stronghold of the Black Flag bandit gangs that marauded the area for several years. In the early 20th century it was the headquarters for the French company in charge of building a railroad from Hekou to Kunming. We’ll see relics of those days when we walk by the old customs house from 1847 and the bridge across the Nanxi, connecting Hekou to Lào Cai, Vietnam. Trains no longer cross the bridge, but it is still in use by pedestrians, especially Vietnamese with bicycles loaded with market goods. For most, the destination is the warren of markets called Vietnam Street on the Hekou side. At 78 meters altitude, Hekou is the lowest city in Yunnan and likely to be our warmest stop.
On this day we drive northwest to Manhao and then south to the hill town of Jinping, taking us immediately into the main features of the southern counties of Honghe Prefecture—mountains and ethnic minorities. Hekou is an Autonomous Yao County and our morning drive to Manhao will go through the hills and pass Yao villages around Yaoshan. At Manhao we’ll have a fine view of the Red River and then turn south for Jinping into hills full of rice terraces in rows of yellow, for this is harvest time. In Jinping the weather will be slightly cooler and we will arrive to observe the last hours of market day, the streets graced with the presence of both Hani and Yao minorities from nearby villages.
The following day we’ll get a good exposure to the ethnic mélange that characterizes this part of Yunnan. Jinping is an autonomous Yao, Miao and Dai County and our destination is Jinshuihe, also known as Nafa, a small border town holding its colorful market day. The event attracts White Dai and two sub-groups of Miao, Yao and Hani. Following this scene, we’ll head for lunch at the nearby hot springs, where the villagers in the vicinity are Buddhist Shui Dai immigrants from Xishuangbanna. Afterwards, on our return to Jinping, we’ll stop at a traditional Sha Yao village in the hills.
Another wonderful market day awaits us in Laomeng, on our way west from Jinping into Yuanyang County. Laomeng has the greatest ethnic variety of any market scene in Honghe Prefecture. We will see two kinds of Dai, several branches of Yi and Hani, all dressed distinctly different from each other, as well as Miao and Zhuang. From Laomeng we cross into Yuanyang County and begin climbing into the mountains again. We soon come to Panzihua, a Hani village on a ridge with a view of ‘the Tiger’s Mouth’—a spectacular array of rice terraces on the slopes of the hills that has been recognized as a World Heritage Site, the first time farms have won the award. We will take a hike near here and learn about what makes these terraces, already ancient when Tang Dynasty chroniclers first wrote about them in the 8th century, so unique. We will pass by more picturesque Hani and Yi villages en route to Xinjie, a hill town also with a strong ethnic presence, where we will spend the night.
Jianshui was an important trading center as far back as the Nanzhao period (7th to 10th centuries) and today has proudly preserved much of its traditional architecture. After our arrival we’ll see the massive Chaoyang Gate and the multi-tiered Chongwen Pagoda and wander for some time through the extensive Zhu Family Gardens. For our evening meal, we can try two of the local specialties: qiguoji—chicken pieces cooked in broth in an earthen pot, and caoya—the tasty white tuber shaped like an elephant tusk.
Our second day in Jianshui begins at Yunnan’s biggest temple to the sage Confucius. A large and quiet compound behind the attractive pond called the Sea of Learning, it still draws devotees, indicating the continuing influence of Confucius in modern times. Then we will see traditional Han villages in the vicinity, one for making bricks, one for making gravestones, etc, on our way to Shuanglongqiao, Double Dragon Bridge. With 17 spans it is one of the longest in the province and certainly one of its most beautiful. Then before returning to the city we will walk around the well-preserved old Han village of Tuanshan, not far from the bridge.
We will make our way to Honghe by first going west to Yilong Lake, south of Shiping. We will have lunch here or in the city, perhaps try the famous Shiping bean curd and have a look at Shiping’s old quarter. Then we go south, crossing the Red River again, to Honghe city, another hill town with a bit of an old quarter left and a fine view looking south.
In the morning we will attend one of the county’s market days, highlighted by the presence of other sub-groups of Hani and Yi. In the afternoon we will travel to Leyu and Baohua for a last look at the amazing rice terraces covering the slopes of the mountains in this part of the province.
Leaving Honghe we drive west, descending to the Red River Valley around Yuanjiang, the second lowest city in Yunnan, and stop for lunch at one of the fruit gardens near the city. Then we head south on the fast highway through the h8lls to Mohei in Ning’er County, one of Yunnan’s ancient salt production centers. You will learn about the salt business in Imperial China and admire the fine old houses of the city’s former leading merchants. While in Mohei we will also visit the Yang Likun Museum, dedicated to a famous Chinese actress who played Ashima in a film about the Sani Yi heroine and one of the Five Golden Flowers in the film of that name about the Bai in Dali. Afterwards we will continue south to the prefecture capital Pu’er city, surrounded by tea gardens, where we will spend the night.
After breakfast we leave Pu’er and drive south into Xishuangbanna, the Tropics of Yunnan, where the landscape and ethnic make-up of the prefecture strongly resembles that of its Southeast Asian neighbors Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. We’ll arrive in Jinghong around noon and after lunch visit scenic spots in the city such as Peacock Pond and Manting Park, with its groves, gardens, lake and peacocks. In the evening we will dine at one of the beautiful riverside restaurants.
Much of Menghai County is covered with tea gardens, so next morning we will begin our exploration with a stop at the tea-growing center of Nannuoshan, an Aini minority village on the mountain just inside the county line. You will learn about the cultivation and processing of Pu’er tea and visit the Aini Museum here for an introduction to the mountain people’s way of life. Then we descend to the plain around Menghai, make a brief stop to see the mosque at the Muslim Dai village of Manlanhui. From here we head for the town of Menghun, arriving at the peak of its market day, featuring Dai, Lahu, Aini, Bulang and Ake ethnic groups. After the market we will drive south to an Ake village and following our visit return to Jinghong with a brief diversion to Jingzhen, a village specializing in making ceramic figurines for house and temple decorations and the site of a beautiful Dai temple and the unusual Octagonal Pavilion.
Besides the Paxitai—Muslim Dai—Xishuangbanna is also home to two animist Dai sub-groups, Huayao Dai and Han Dai, living in Mengyang and Jingne districts north of Jinghong. We willvisit them the next day. ‘Huayao’ means ‘flowery waist’ and refers to the multiple bands of color around the upper part of the woman’s sarong and hems of the jackets. This group dominates the villages around Mengyang and the women are frequent visitors to the city’s markets. The Han Dai mostly reside around Jingne, dress less colorfully but still different from the Buddhist Dai. We’ll also spend time walking around Jingne and Manzhao, Buddhist Dai villages notable for their variety of exquisite traditional stilted house architecture.
Much of the southern half of Mengla County is devoted to rubber production and we’ll see plenty of rubber forests on the highway ride to Mengla city. We will have a look around the city and up the Nanla River to the aerial ropeway adventure. Here we will walk on planks mounted twelve meters up in the trees, flanked by netted sides and a railing to hold while walking. It’s a perfectly safe way to appreciate the heart of the primeval rain forest and its magnificent tall and straight tree trunks, creepers, vines, epiphytes and a hundred shades of the color green, ending at a jungle waterfall. Our next stop is Manlongdai, halfway back to Mengla. This is a well-preserved traditional Dai village with a couple of old temples and is famous for its cuisine. After a hearty meal here we will take a different, more scenic road to Menglun to stay the night.
Our morning in Menglun will be spent among the flowers, trees and bushes of the Tropical Forest Park across the river from the city. We will enjoy the sights and scents of Xishaungbanna’s incredible variety of flora, with flowers of one kind or another blooming every season of the year. After lunch we will drive to Jinghong via Jinuoshan, the district that is home to the small Jinuo minority nationality, the last ethnic group in China granted such recognition. We will visit Bapiao, a village relocated after a landslide wiped out the original settlement, designed by local Banna architects as a modern version of the traditional Jinuo style. We will then proceed to Jinghong, where we will enjoy a final Dai-style banquet.
The tour has come to an end. We have one last breakfast together.