Oct 13, 2006


Xishuangbanna was a good place to go during the October 1st holiday week in China. This period is the so-called Golden Week during which Chinese tourists bend over and take it from hotel owners who jack up prices five or six hundred percent for a week. I was initially a bit worried that there would be throngs of Han Chinese tour groups buzzing about taking pictures of themselves while doing the two-finger "peace" gesture. Fortunately this was not the case and the entire region was pretty relaxed during the holiday period. Hotel prices rose at some places, only at some places in Jinghong, the major city. On average I ended up paying about Y30 for my own room during non-holiday times and Y40 or Y50 during the holiday in Jinghong, and quite a bit less in the more rural areas.

Map of China and Xishuangbanna region

Location of places within Xishuangbanna region


Since I wanted to see the 800 year old Manfeilong pagoda in Damenglong, just a few miles from the Burmese border, I took what Lonely Planet claims is a two and a half hour bus ride from Jinghong. In reality, this bus ride was along one of the bumpiest third world roads I've ever been on in China. I don't think our speed ever topped 25 MPH for the entire ride. On the ride down, I had the misfortune to sit in the last row of the bus since the other seats were occupied. Several times I was launched a good two feet vertically when cruising over chuckholes and bumps. On the way back, I made sure to claim a seat further towards the front of the bus. In total the trip was 3-1/2 hours of actual driving, plus another 1 hour or so of stopping to pick up or drop off random passengers and goods.

At the start of the journey, the bus pulled over to the shoulder in Gasa, a small town on the outskirts of Jinghong. A man carrying a 3 ft x 3ft x 2 ft white styrofoam cooler hiked up onto the bus and threw the box into the center aisle in front of where I was sitting. The lid popped off and I saw the contents of the cooler: a freshly butchered, bloody carcass of some kind. Since it was too wide for the aisle, the cooler was laying diagonally. I feared that whatever juices and blood were in there would leak out and run all over the bus.

Damenglong itself is a town of cowboys and yokels. There is one main street straight out of a western movie. The eight hundred-year old temple and monastery in town were worth a look, but driving for four hours each way over a bumpy road was a steep price to pay to see them.

The center of town in Damenglong. Yee-haw!

Manfeilong Pagoda, and not a soul around

Shucking sugar cane near Damenglong


All of the guidebooks mention that Ganlanba is a great place to rent a bicycle and roam around the countryside. This may be true, but I did the bicycle trip after having been to countless other villages and having trekked through the jungle for two days, so the effect was lost on me. I think that a jungle hike or walking around Xiding are better than villages around Ganlanba.

Dai women at the Ganlanba market

Man waiting for the Mekhong River ferry in Ganlanba

At the Ganlanba market, there was dog meat for sale.
Seriously though, they did sell fresh dog meat there. If you really have a burning desire to see what one of the butchered dogs at the Ganlanba market looks like, see this. Skip it if you're sqeamish. It's not a pretty site, and a shame that this is being done to man's oldest animal companion.


Jinghong has an abundance of what are proclaimed to be Burmese jade stores. Indian looking men with stringy little goatees and ankle-length skirts sit in these stores and harrass Han Chinese passersby with shouts of "来看看吧" (come take a looky-looky). From one of the locals, I later learned that most of these so-called Burmese vendors are actually Pakistanis that went to Burma to get citizenship and then bounced over the border to China to open jade shops. Burmese jade is a must have for Han Chinese tourists coming to Xishuangbanna, and saying that it is Burmese improves marketability.

Man carrying a water bong in Jinghong

The Mei Mei Cafe in Jinghong is a great place to meet up with other hikers or travellers, or even book a small tour of some kind. The Mekong Cafe has more relaxing surroundings and is a better place to hang out and have a leisurely western breakfast or lunch. The stores in Jinghong have a reasonable selection of goods from Thailand, including authentic Red Bull, Mekhong whiskey, candies, and some other foods.

Backpackers that I met were of the opinion that the areas surrounding Jinhong were not that great for bicycling. It's much better to head several hours away and base yourself out of a small town if you want to see more of the region.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't visited your blog for a while. Looks like you are still having a great time! I enjoyed your Xishuangbanna series. -gil

2:09 PM  

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