Jinghong, Xishuangbanna

We got through Dali’s smart new airport and flew with Lucky Air to Xishuangbanna‘s smart new airport. Did I mention the proliferation of smart, new infrastructure?

For once the airport wasn’t miles out of town and the taxi-driver’s universal estimate of “20 minutes” was not a comical underestimate. Which was a good job because it was a small saloon car and once again I was under the luggage.

Jinghong, the city of Xishuangbanna, is a long way South, right on the edge of the tropics. We were at a much lower altitude as well. It was humid, but the rain mostly held off.

There are elephants in the forests around here, but we didn’t go and see the reserve. We didn’t miss out though – there are models of elephants everywhere and it is (with peacocks) the default building decoration (click on an image to enlarge it).

We had a taxi-trip into the hills around Jinghong. We got taken to some pretty expensive places. If you’re looking to tour the area it’s probably best to head for some of the tourist cafés and book some tours or treks from them. You will get more control over itinerary and price and you might get to see some less touristy places.

Our trip took us on a long climb through the rainforest on a smart, new highway. We went into a rainforest park and after that to a tea processing plant. A lot of the rainforest is being lost to tea and rubber plantations. You also see a lot of roadside factories churning out bricks.

The rainforest park was very much a theme park. There are a lot of ethnic minority groups in this area (the Dai and the Jino for instance). Some of these had a compound on the trail where, wearing their ‘native costume’, they would put on a short show for the visitors. They were employees of the park, but there was a slightly patronising / demeaning air to it all.

Jinghong itself is a busy, modern city with a few quieter parks to walk in. There is the Big Buddha statue at the Menghan Chuman Dafosi (or Galanba temple), but we never got there. There’s a good night market and plenty of bars and cafes that cater to Western as well as Chinese tastes.

The city is close to Laos and Burma and you feel the cultural influence in the background. The proximity to the border means the area is also associated with smuggling. The riverside walk along the Lancang (Mekong) river is very pleasant.

We had a couple of days in Jinhong and were then expecting a quick air hop back to Kunming for two relaxing days there to round off a fantastic holiday. If only things were that straightforward…