A Day in Xīshuāngbǎnnà
Trip Start Jun 05, 2011
195Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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XīshuāngbǎnnÓ (西雙版納) Car tour with Kevin and Mindy 8AM to 5PM
Jǐnghˇng (i景洪) is the capital city of XīshuāngbǎnnÓ (西雙版納) Region. The city is a hub for Chinese package tourists and westerners traveling onward to Laos. The temperatures here in January are as ideal as it gets. Refreshingly cool in the mornings.
People come here for trekking to the Akha or Dai villages, exploring what is left of the rainforests, observing how tea is grown and processed, or just enjoying the fine weather. We’ve done a fair share of trekking in Laos and northern China so we didn’t feel compelled to do more now. We would have loved to see the tea processing but found out they won’t be doing any until the season begins in April. Kevin and Mindy were keen on a car tour of western Xishuangbanna so we picked one of the suggested itineraries from Mei Mei CafÚ idea book. Car Tour #2 info is also on http://meimei-cafe.com/ . The car tour includes stops at a morning market, historic temple, a traditional paper making family and a handmade roof tile making area. Let’s go!
XīshuāngbǎnnÓ Car Tour
1st stop, the Produce Market
We started early and met our driver at Mei Mei CafÚ. Our first stop was the morning market at Měngh¨n, an hour and a half from Jinghong.
We drove near the town’s hill top temple and made the obligatory run up the steps for a quick look. The view of the area from there is good. The temple itself isn’t memorable. But like so much of China, the temple is under construction. Many of the old temples didn’t make it through the Cultural Revolution intact. And now there is a lot of money available, and a willingness, to reestablish them. I presume it is the same case with this one. We saw the shiny golden pagoda and new temple roof but the inside of main hall is not finished at all. This is one best seen from the outside.
Roof Tile Factory
We continued on toward Măngzaō through an area of open fields and farms. Here and there we saw clusters of a few houses and very small villages.
Handmade Paper Workshop
We continued down the same side road a kilometer or two to a paper workshop at a house. This is the place they hand-make paper from bark using an ancient traditional process. I read a placard that described a five step process and an eleven step process. It did not say which process they were using in this workshop but the process is; chopping pulp, soaking, cooking, pounding, casting, drying. The finished product is a rough natural colored paper. The paper is used for tea packaging, writing, painting, lanterns, umbrellas, photo frames and albums. They were not making any paper during our visit. They had books made from the paper and large sheets for sale. At the market in Měngh¨n, Mindy had declared that she didn’t need anything and wasn’t going to buy any souvenirs. But now she saw the unique paper and had to buy a short stack of sheets. Mindy confessed that she is also an artist and the paper sparked a few creative ideas.
Octagon Temple Stop
Octagon Temple in Jingzhen gets name from its octagonal shaped pagoda that was originally built in 1701. Here is an example of a cultural relic that made it through the Cultural Revolution. The oddly shaped pagoda was mildly interesting but I spent more time looking at the gnarly and twisted ancient tree growing next to it.
We continued on to the nearby big town and the driver pulled over to an open front restaurant that, frankly, didn’t look like much, but what the heck, we will try it. Kevin and Mindy are adventurous eaters, as are we. We were ushered over to the fridge at the back wall that doubles as the ‘menu’. Kevin Mindy and Michelle pointed out some ingredients that looked nice to include in our lunch and returned to our big round table. I don’t know my chard from a hole in the ground so I let them decide. Minutes later, plates of banana flower, snow peas, tofu soup, a pork dish, and a mushroom dish appeared and we dug in. It all was absolutely delicious. The bill? It was something like $7 for the five of us (including our driver).
We drove onward toward our next stop. None of us remembered what was next on the agenda. We followed a dirt road into the mountains and crested a high scenic ridge. We were in tea growing county.
He took us to a small village of a 50 to 100 structures bordered by large bamboo forests. I presumed this was an Akha village. The houses were traditional wood structures, most on stilts. There were other smaller huts on stilts that were used for storing straw. I examined the roof tiles, Sure, they looked like aged wooden shingles but nope, they were same as the ceramic tiles we had seen being made earlier in the day. Ahhhh, so desu.
There did not seem to be very many people in the village and the ones we saw were wearing Chinese factory made clothes. Nothing they wore distinguished them as any particular ethnic group. Perhaps the architecture of the wood houses on stilts was a clue. If only we knew the distinguishing features.
We walked though the footpaths of the village a came across the local bootlegger’s home. He was boiling something in a barrel connected to coil tube that dripped alcohol into a pan as the vapor cooled. Michelle remembered something from her childhood science class about liquid substances having boiling points differences so that alcohol can be separated out in a distilling process. We were watching the science lab in practice now. The moonshiner didn’t seem to mind us checking out his set-up and taking video. He was working and concentrated solely on his business at hand.
We circled back along the main road past a two new small temples that were, like everything in China, under construction.