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Xishuangbanna is just one of three names for Yunnan’s southernmost prefecture – peopled and named by the Dai. Over the borders in Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, travelers may hear Sipsongpanna or even Sibsongbanna.
Whichever you hear, it will lead you to the same prefecture, to the jungles south of the southern clouds that hug the Mekong as it makes its way out of the mountains.
Those same mountains and jungles that kept the region isolated over the centuries have become a destination unto themselves. Yet, their spectacular scenery and welcoming people are still relatively undiscovered by Southeast Asia’s legions of travelers.
Banna remains, as it always has been, a hidden enclave, tucked away in the greenery of southern China.
Upon arriving in Xishuangbanna, your local WildChina guide will meet you in the arrival hall with your private vehicle on standby to take you to your hotel.
Many have heard that, when dining in China, it is considered rude to finish all the food on the table. What hardly gets mentioned is the fact that it is nearly impossible to polish off the entire spread at a typical Chinese group meal; portions are huge and the variety of dishes is seemingly unending. Tonight, celebrate your arrival in the Middle Kingdom during a feast for your eyes and stomach as you get to know your guide and fellow travelers.
Meals included: dinner
We’ll drive along the Mekong River to Ganlanba. Ganlanba, or “Olive Dam,” is a complex of several villages where the Dai community’s bamboo “hanging tower” homes are a highlight. Designed to help promote air circulation and heat elimination, the upper story is about two meters above the ground and is made accessible by a wooden ladder. Here we’ll drop in local family to discover facts about their authentic life and culture.
After meeting with villagers and learning about Dai culture and traditions we’ll continue our journey to a Jinuo village.
The Jinuo were the last to be named a “national minority” in China in 1979. The Jino used to be organized in matrilineal clans, and still consider the maternal uncle (and not the father) to be the most important person in the family who is consulted on all major decisions. You’ll spot a Jino village as soon as you arrive as the women generally wear their hair in a white hood and the men wear a predominantly white outfit, jazzed up with some strips of color.
No visit to Xishuangbanna is complete without a trip to Menglun Botanical Garden. Pass under banyan tree outgrowths, which fountain upwards only to spill surrealistically back to earth. Familiarize yourself with giant lotus plants capable of suspending a child above water atop a single broad leaf. And try some miracle fruit, which is capable of temporarily confusing your taste buds into mixing sour and bitter sensations with sugary sweetness. This sprawling paradise is the perfect place to spot a variety of tropical flora, both familiar and new.
For foodies, visiting a night market in Xishuangbanna is a must. The region has been home to Han, Dai, Hani, Lahu, Bulang, Jinuo, Yi, Yao, Miao, Hui, Zhuang, Jingpo, and Wa people for centuries, and each minority’s ‘te se’ as we say in Chinese or ‘delicacy’ in English will be roasting on a BBQ or frying in a wok, ready for you to try at Gaozhuang Night Market. We’ll wander around the stalls, chat with the vendors, and try some local cuisines. There will be plenty of opportunities for taking photos and people watching this evening. And, if you’re in the market for some souvenirs, you’re also in luck. As well as food stalls, there will also be plenty of local handicrafts for sale.
Meals included: breakfast and lunch
Dadugang, is not just the largest area of tea plantations in China, it’s the largest in Asia. Terraced fields of pu’er tea plants fill your line of sight in Dadugang and the techniques for tea growing and picking that are passed down through generations can be seen in action. In 2018 alone, this tea planting area of Jinghong reached an output of 22,600 tonnes. We’ll also walk walk into rainforest to explore waterfall.
Xishuangbanna is the last place in China where Asian elephants still roam in the wild. Approximately 130 elephants call the Sanchahe Forest Park home, and the lattice of observation towers, tree house, and cableways ensure an up-close yet unobtrusive look at these majestic, endangered animals. Relaxing walk along plank bridge and take cable lift for view of jungle.
Meals included: breakfast and lunch
This morning, we will visit the Menghai local food market, where indigenous people from the nearby mountains and valleys converge to sell and barter their local specialties, which range from wasp larvae to local swamp eels (and some of the best Pu’er teas available). The market is a photographer’s paradise and an excellent place to witness the unpretentious hustle and bustle of local commerce.
Make your way to the industrious village of Manzhao, known throughout the region for its traditional papermaking techniques. In an age where most people are so far removed from the origins of even the most commonly-used objects we come across in our daily lives, it is fascinating to witness strips of mulberry bark boiled, pulverized, and dried into something as universally relatable as a simple sheet of paper.
Trek to a secluded Dai minority village and discover a local monastery hidden in the hills. Related to both the Lao and Thai ethnic groups, the Dai people are known for their vibrant culture, colorful clothing and varied fusion cuisine. Inside the village, small bamboo huts seem to blend in perfectly with Buddhist pagodas standing in the shade of mango and pineapple trees. Nestled in a lush tropical landscape, the village is the perfect rest stop for travelers on the Ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road.
Nannuo Mountain is the home of the Hani ethnic group, who are famous in Xishuangbanna for their harvesting and tea production. Accompanied by your WildChina guide, you will take a leisurely 2-hour hike over flat trail-like terrain. During the hike, you’ll stop by a local family home and learn more about local culture. You’ll also stumble across some of the oldest and largest tea trees in China. The oldest of these being the 800-year-old “King Tea Trees.”
Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner
Your WildChina guide will escort you to the airport and help you check in for your flight home.
Meals included: breakfast
Anantara Xishuangbanna Resort has 103 spacious and well-equipped rooms and pool villas overlooking the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. The 5* service offered by Anantara and an unrivaled setting on the banks of the Luosuo River makes this hotel our favorite in Mengla County. The resort features a number of restaurants that serve international, Dai, and Thai cuisines, and the infinity pool overlooking the botanical gardens is a must-experience.