Adventures in Xishuangbanna

Heading into the May Day holiday, Jun and I decided to travel further afield from Guangdong province. Yunnan was one of the few places we could travel to that had reasonable COVID-19 requirements. We, thus, decided we would go back to Yunnan for the second time this year. This time we would travel to the southwestern corner of the province and visit the Xishuangbanna region. This area is home to the Dai people, an ethnic group similar to others in Southeast Asia.

Accompanying us on the trip was Jun’s cousin and a friend of hers. We also decided that since Jun’s cousin had her driver’s license, we would rent a car to make traveling around Xishuangbanna easier. This decision would prove to create interesting situations during the trip.

Day 1

The first day of the trip started extremely early for me. My annual university conference occurred on the morning of May 1, which required me to be awake from midnight to 6:00 that morning. After my conference was over, I had to take a shower and then head off to the airport for our mid-morning flight. I was extremely tired by the time we got on the plane. Sadly the flight was short and required us to deplane in Nanning to pick up more passengers before heading to Xishuangbanna. Sufficed to say I did not get much sleep.

When we got to Jinghong—the main city in Xishuangbanna—we first had to go through airport health procedures. After we had cleared the health checks, we went to find the car. When we found it Jun’s cousin had some initial difficulties in figuring out how to operate the car. The attendant there helped, and we were soon on our way to the hotel. During that drive, I learned how inexperienced Jun’s cousin was when driving. She drove through a red light at one point thinking it had turned green. That incident made me nervous about what would happen next.

Fortunately, the hotel was close by, and we soon had our room keys. What should have been a time to rest in our rooms, however, soon turned into a frustrating situation.

When we got to our first room—yes, the first room—we found that it wasn’t ready and needed some time to be cleaned. We went back to the front desk, and they changed our rooms. Our second room was nice, but it had taken up some time to go back and forth. We decided that we had wasted enough time and we should go out and explore a bit.

We decided to visit a small temple nearby called Mannuan Longcun Temple. The grounds of the temple are quite small, but the central structure is gorgeous. It’s a white stupa with gold statues and silver candelabras and incense holders surrounding it. It was sublime to be there in the late afternoon, early evening sun. Jun and I enjoyed being there as it was relaxing and calming. Something I needed due to my exhausted state.

From there we next went to a local restaurant for dinner. The grounds of the restaurant were gorgeous, and the food was amazing.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel. When we got to our room, we noticed that it was quite warm. We turned on the air conditioning and realized that it wasn’t working. Jun called the front desk and they sent someone from maintenance to check it. The maintenance person found that the air conditioning unit was broken and needed to be replaced. That resulted in us moving to our third room. Fortunately, this was the last room change we needed to make. After taking a shower I was in bed and asleep for the next ten hours.

Day 2

After a wonderful night of rest, I woke up feeling more myself and ready to explore Xishuangbanna. Jun and I got ready and then went down to have breakfast. After we ate, we then went for a walk around the grounds of the hotel. As we walked, we saw that the hotel had several peacocks, including white peacocks. For Jun and me, it was the first time to see white peacocks.

When Jun’s cousin and her friend were ready, we then went out to explore Gaozhuang. Located next to the Lancang River, Gaozhuang is known for its night market. There, though, is also a temple—Shuangjing—located within it that we wanted to visit during the day. The temple had an ornate pagoda that in parts was covered in gold. The surrounding courtyard was also quite magnificent. We ended up taking a significant number of photos there.

Afterward, we then went to have lunch at a local restaurant that was decorated with cattle skulls, which was an interesting choice in décor.

After lunch, we walked a bit around Gaozhuang. While Jun’s cousin and her friend took pictures, we took a walk by the river. When we met up again, we decided to go visit Manting Park.

The drive to the park was uneventful. When we got there, however, we had to deal with a lot of traffic. Jun’s cousin got nervous and decided to drive further ahead to see if she could make a u-turn. It ended up she had to travel over a kilometer before she could. Finally, however, we were able to park and enter the park.

Manting Park is over 1,300 years old. It was once an imperial garden to the Dai royal family. Remnants of those structures still exist within the park. Besides the historic importance of the park, the grounds are gorgeous. We enjoyed walking around the park and visiting the different areas within it and around it, such as our visit to Jiebajie temple.

As it got closer to evening, we decided to go back to Gaozhuang to visit the night market. When we got there, we first stopped to have dinner at a small rooftop restaurant. The food there was nice, but there were a lot of smokers outside. Our first table had a guy who kept blowing smoke into my face. It was not intentional, but it got to the point where I started using the menu to blow it back to him so I wouldn’t choke on the smoke. He was surprised that I didn’t enjoy the smoke. He, unfortunately, was unwilling to stop smoking. The staff at the restaurant helped and moved us to another table inside the restaurant.

After dinner, we went for a walk around the night market. There were a lot of people there, which was quite a different experience from the morning. After walking and exploring the different stalls, we decided to head back to the hotel.

Our second day was fun, and it was great to explore the different parts of Xishuangbanna.

Day 3

Our third day had us venture outside the city to explore the natural side of the area.

We first visited the Xishuangbanna Primeval Forest Park. The park is typical in its design of a nature park in China with paved walkways. There are several cultural and natural sites to see, such as the Ai’ni village and the indigenous monkeys. The best part of the park was walking through the forest on the bamboo walkway mid-way up through the tree canopy. Jun and I enjoyed that experience.

From the park, we next went to the Chinese Academy of Science’s Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. The drive there was interesting as we had to stop at a health checkpoint to make sure our negative COVID-19 test was valid. It was, but I couldn’t use the electronic system and had to get out of the car and fill out the paperwork. Joy … After that was taken care of, we soon arrived at the park and took a little tram to the western area.

The tram dropped us off at an orchid exhibition. That was neat as they had orchid mantises. I had never seen them, and it was fun trying to find them in the orchids. The rest of the exhibit was quite impressive even though they were being watered when we got there, and we had to use our umbrellas to walk through the exhibit.

Jun and I decided to explore the rest of the park by ourselves. Jun’s cousin and her friend wanted to take pictures. Jun and I first decided to eat something since by then it was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Then we went around the park and explored different areas. We ended up visiting the water gardens. We saw huge lily pads. We walked through a fun hedge maze. And we generally just enjoyed being in nature.

By early evening we were ready to go back to the hotel. When we arrived back in the city, we first had to get a new COVID-19 test. We found one near Gaozhuang that was located inside a construction site. That was a bit strange, but it went quickly. We then decided to go back to the hotel for dinner. I was a bit tired and wasn’t interested in having a large meal. I decided to go back to the room to have a snack and catch up on some of my research for my dissertation. It was nice to have a relaxing evening to end the day.  

Day 4

Our fourth day was more relaxed than the previous days. We drove southeastwardly down to the Daizu Garden, which is a cultural area of five villages that were combined for cultural preservation. I enjoyed walking around the different villages and seeing the locally constructed bamboo buildings.

The temples within the different villages were also quite impressive. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Mansunman village temple. I was impressed by the intricacies and ornateness of the temple buildings and structures. One of the things I particularly found fascinating was the bamboo Buddha statue. Jun and I had never seen anything like it before, and we were quite impressed.

The food in the village was also wonderful. We had local Dai cuisine in the inn of a local family, and it was delicious and inexpensive.

Lunch gave us the energy to continue exploring the remaining villages for the rest of the afternoon. Before we left, Jun’s cousin also got us to take some pictures of her at one of the temples.

By the late afternoon, we were headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner. We decided to take a shared car to Gaozhuang and eat at a Laotian restaurant. The food there again was delicious, especially the first dish we had. After dinner, Jun and I got a coconut mango dessert as we walked around the night market. Soon, though, we all decided to go back to the hotel for the night as we were all tired by then.

Day 5

This day was our last one in Xishuangbanna before heading home. In the morning we decided to visit the Xishuangbanna Tropical Flowers and Plants Garden in the city. The park was interesting in that it had a lot of fruit plants within it. We saw figs, pineapples, lychee, and many more different fruit plants. We also enjoyed some Thai tea and coffee as we walked along the parks’ paths. It was a nice last stop for our trip.

Soon, though, we went back to the hotel to collect our things and drove to the airport to return the car and check-in. Everything went smoothly and we were soon back in Shenzhen getting our COVID-19 test and taking the metro back to our apartment. The trip was great! It was nice to visit a new and unique place in China when compared to the other parts of the country. It was a welcomed and needed escape from Shenzhen.

Qingming in Kaiping

Spring finally arrived in Guangdong! Jun and I decided we needed to get out of Shenzhen. During the Qingming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival, we decided to visit Kaiping on the other side of the Pearl River Delta. We had last visited there for a day trip in 2015. During that trip, however, we felt rushed as traveling to and from Kaiping took a lot of time. We ended up only seeing some of the many sights in the area. This time we planned on staying the night so we could see more. Additionally, one of our friends would be joining us on the trip.

Day 1

The trip started early on Monday morning. We had to catch the 7:35 train to Guangzhou, where we would transfer for the train to Kaiping. Everything went smoothly, but all three of us were tired.

When we got to Kaiping we negotiated with a driver to take us around all day for a reasonable price.

We first ventured to Jijiangli Village. There we walked around the small village and went up two of the towers there. Kaiping is known for watchtowers (diaolous) that were built in the early 1900s as residences and watchtowers. Chinese immigrants in South Asia, Australasia, and North America would send money back to their families in Kaiping—and in some cases would travel back and forth between China and their foreign homes—to build these towers. Along with the money that was sent, many would also send postcards of the places where they lived, traveled to, or simply famous buildings they liked. Their families back in Kaiping would use these images to inspire them to build the towers in a hybrid architectural style of Chinese and foreign decorative forms.

The intricateness of the designs on these buildings served as a reflection of the wealth of the family. In Jijiangli, the Ruishi building is an example of an ornate and richly decorated building. Unfortunately, it’s privately owned; we were unable to visit the interior. But the outside of the building is quite a sight.

After walking around Jijiangli the driver took us to a local restaurant for lunch. We ended up on a street known for selling dumplings, which we ate and enjoyed. The food was quite good and helped us wake up a bit for our next stop: Majianglong.

This next stop is the largest site of watchtowers in Kaiping. It is comprised of a series of hamlets connected via a bamboo-covered path. The walk itself was nice as it shaded us from the afternoon sun. The towers here were scattered throughout the hamlets and from the top of them, you could look over the bamboo to see some of the other towers. We enjoyed walking around and visiting the different towers. I think, however, we were more interested in the gardens, orchards, and fields as they were teeming with new vegetation. It was nice being out in nature after having been cooped up in Shenzhen for almost two months.

From the village, the driver took us to look at the Chikan Ancient Town which is part of a revitalization and renovation project. The entire village is one large construction zone. It’s a shame we weren’t able to see what the village looked like before the project.

The driver then took us to rest a bit where we could get a drink. Afterward, he took us to our hotel. We thanked him for his help and said goodbye to him.

Our hotel—the Pantower International—was quite nice. The room was comfortable and offered us views of the city and river. After resting a bit we went out to dinner at a local restaurant. My exhaustion from the early start caught up with me as my patience with people ended when we got to the restaurant. They had us move three times before we could sit down and order. At one point they wanted to sit us in a room that was having a party! I told Jun to order whatever he want as I tried to collect myself. The food was great! It helped put me back in a better mood. The service at the restaurant could have been better, but at least the food was delicious.

After we finished, we took a car back to the hotel and went to bed.

Day 2

After an amazing night of rest, Jun and I woke up feeling refreshed and revitalized. After going down for breakfast, we met up with our friend to plan the day.

Our first stop was to visit the village of Zili. Jun and I visited here in 2015. There were several differences between the visits. The last time we had come it was overcast and the lotuses were in full bloom. During this visit, it was sunny. The lotuses also were only starting to bloom.

Walking around Zili was enjoyable as the watchtowers are more exposed than they were at Majianglong. And they are more concentrated in one area. Walking through the different towers you could see the wealth of some of these families with the items they had in possession and the ornateness of the decorations they used.

From Zili we next went to Li Garden. Xie Weili built this complex based on the design of Daguan Garden described in the novel A Dream in Red Mansions. The different buildings in the compound were built for different family members. The ornateness of the buildings shows a mix of Chinese, European, and North American designs. The richness of the decorations also exudes that this family was wealthy. The place is impressive and a great place for us to end our visit to the diaolous and villages of Kaiping.

Before heading to the train station and heading back to Shenzhen, we stopped at Mountains Café and Bar. We got some drinks and desserts that were quite lovely and fortified us for the trip back to Shenzhen.

The journey back to Shenzhen was unremarkable until we got to Shenzhen and had to wait in a slow line to get a COVID-19 test. We ended up near the end of the line and had to wait almost an hour. When we were done, we were ready to go home and have dinner.

The trip was a nice excursion. It was great spending time with our friend outside of Shenzhen, as well as for us to visit and explore more of Kaiping.

Welcoming the Year of the Tiger in Yunnan

Planning for our Chinese New Year holiday was complicated by recent cases of COVID-19 in Shenzhen. The place we originally had planned to visit has in place strict policies related to visitors from outside the province. As such we would only be allowed to enter the province if we were quarantined for two weeks, which would have been the entire holiday!

Jun and I decided to go somewhere else. After discussing things, we chose to visit northwestern Yunnan. Both of us had visited the area a long time ago separately. Now we could do it together.

Day 1

The start of the trip had us fly into Kunming, the capital of Yunnan. Everything went smoothly and we soon checked into our hotel. Since we arrived early in the afternoon, we had time to visit some places in the city.

Jun wanted to visit Dianchi Lake. We went to Dianchi Haigeng Park along the northern shore of the lake. When we got there, the first sight we saw was seagulls flying all over the lake. I was surprised, but Jun knew that we were likely to see them. We walked around the park and saw the birds flying overhead and heard the waves crashing along the shore. At the western end of the park, we visited Longwang Temple. The temple was quaint with a lot of plants situated around the complex. Afterward, we walked back along the route we came from to the entrance.

From there we decided to visit Guandu Ancient Town. One of the more important historic locations within Kunming, Jun and I enjoyed walking around the town to see the different structures. One thing we noticed was that there were a lot of restaurants and food kiosks there. One of the things we decided to try was spicy potato chips. They were really good and inexpensive.

Soon it was getting dark. Jun and I decided to go get dinner. We decided that we had to try Yunnan food, so we had southwestern Yunnan Dai Food at Yunse Daixiang. The food was great; it was a nice way to start our journey in Yunnan cuisine.

After dinner, Jun and I walked around the city center and enjoyed seeing the city lit up at night. We walked around the area until we turned to go back to the hotel. It was a nice walk before turning in for the day. 

Day 2

The second day of our trip would have us later that day take the high-speed train from Kunming to Dali. Before then, though, Jun and I had most of the day free. One of the things I had learned about Kunming after I visited there the first time was that there were three World Heritage sites near the city. One of them was a stone forest in Shilin. Given that we were here, we decided we would visit the park.

We hired a driver to take us from Kunming to Shilin. The ride went quickly, and we soon found ourselves in the town of Shilin. The driver, however, took us to the wrong part of the park. We ended up having to get another driver to take us to the entrance. When we got to the right place, we found ourselves the only guests buying tickets and taking the tram to the main entrance of the park. As we were on the tram, we passed by the place our first driver had dropped us off.

When we entered the park Jun and I marveled at the beauty of the stone forests. We also liked that there were only two other people there. Jun had been here once before and all he remembered from that time was how busy it was and that he didn’t enjoy it. I had to convince him to visit the place again.

From the entrance, we walked towards the Lesser Stone Forest. These limestone pillars are fairly spread out and the park has kept this place full of flowers and green grass. As we walked around the forest, we slowly made our way to the Greater Stone Forest. The stones here are more densely packed together and without a map and signs, it would be easy to get lost in the Greater Stone Forest.

As we entered the forest Jun had to take a call from work, I ventured around the forest until I started to feel that I might get lost and not be able to retrace my steps. So, I went back to find Jun and waited for his call to end.

We continued our trek to the forest and found ourselves on top of Wangfeng Pavilion, which gives a nice view overlooking this part of the park. While there we took a break and ate some of the fruit we brought.

Then we continued our walk around the Greater Stone Forest and ended up at Jianfeng Pool. I liked this part of the park since there was a boardwalk that meandered across the water and around the rocks. I found it quite peaceful.

From the pools, we walked along the edge of the Greater Stone Forest towards Liziyuanqing. The view along this walk was wonderful! We were lucky as well as the weather started to change with rain clothes rolling into the area.

One of the more surprising things we saw in Liziyuanqing was some rock art. It was interesting to see the images that the ancient people who had lived in this area drew.

From Liziyuanqing we continued our walk toward Wannianlingzhi. The stones in this part of the park generally have a narrow bottom and a wide top. By the time we got to the main section of this area, it was starting to drizzle. Jun and I decided that it was an ideal time to leave. We did still have a train to catch.

We, thus, walked towards a trolley station to get back to the entrance. From there we took a car back to central Kunming.

When we got to the hotel, we collected our things and went to a restaurant for dinner near the hotel. After we had finished dinner, we walked to the north entrance of the Kunming train station. When we got there, I was stopped by the security guard who said I had a fever. I didn’t. She checked my temperature again and it still said I had an elevated temperature. She called her supervisor over and had me go through a different temperature check, which indicated I didn’t have a temperature. I was allowed to go. Kind of freaked me out a bit.

After a short wait for our train, we soon found ourselves on our way to Dali. When we arrived, we took a taxi to our hotel and checked in. Our hotel room was nice, and we soon found ourselves asleep.

Day 3

On our first day in Dali and the view from our room was breathtaking. We enjoyed seeing Erhai Lake and felt ready to start the day.

Jun and I decided we would visit and explore the Old Town of Dali. A few of my colleagues who had visited Dali said it was a wonderful place and they had fond memories of visiting it. I was looking forward to seeing what we would find.

Once we got to the South Gate of the city, we started our explorations. We went down Fuxing Road and stopped at a few different places. We first visited The Warriors and Horses Marshal Mansion. There were some nice figurines made by locals in the past in one of the exhibits. The outside was equally nice with amazing views of the mountains. From there we continued our walk and found ourselves in the Temple of Literature. And then from there, we went around the area surrounding the mosque in the Ancient Town.

As we were walking around this area, we found this wonderful bakery that had cakes in flavors more reminiscent of North American than China appropriately named The Sweet Tooth. They had a mint chocolate cake that was incredibly delicious.

After having our wonderful break, we walked by the city wall and then on top of it. We then circled back into the city and visited the Dali Art Factory. This area is a repurposed factory with a lot of different stores and art organizations housed in it. It also offered some more nice views of the mountains.

Jun and I then walked eastward to the Erhai Gate. While there we got some drinks and walked towards Santa Daoying Park where we could see the Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Temple. The views from the park were beautiful in the early evening light. When we had walked around the park, Jun and I went back into the Old Town to have dinner at Dali Duan Gongzi, which served local cuisine. The food was great, and we enjoyed ending our day here.

After we were done, we went back to the hotel and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Day 4

The next day Jun and I visited Chongsheng Temple in the morning. Chongsheng Temple is a Buddhist temple that was built in the ninth century as the royal temple of the Kingdom of Dali.  The temple complex is extensive and is built on the side of the foothills of the Cang Mountains. Walking up through the parks afforded some amazing views of the mountain and the different structures inside the park. Another perk of visiting when we did during the holiday period was the lack of people at the park. It was nice to leisurely walk through the temple and explore the different areas. One thing we found nice was that there were signs indicating ideal spots for pictures.

When we had walked up and down the temple, Jun and I then decided to visit the village of Xizhou. This village is more rustic in places than the Dali Ancient Town. Xizhou is known for its production of indigo dye and fabrics in that color. Walking around the village was interesting as it was much more compact and meandering in places.

After we had explored the town, Jun and I ate dinner at Hanlin Restaurant, which is located within what used to be a mansion. The food was quite lovely and offered another culinary experience of Dali cuisine.

Dinner was essentially the end of the day of things we did. Afterward, we went back to the hotel and called it a day.

Day 5

During the night the weather in the region became cloudy. Jun and I had planned to visit the Cang Mountains in the morning and we were unsure if we wanted to go given that it might rain or snow in the mountains. After discussing things, we decided to just go and see what it was like up there. If the weather got too bad, we would come down the mountain and do something else.

Well, the weather wasn’t that great up in the mountains, but it was still nice. It reminded me a bit of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. The evergreen and overcast feel gave it a nice atmosphere for a hike through the forest. As we walked along the Jade Belt Road it started to snow. That was a nice treat for the walk. We, however, decided that it would be best if we only walked between two of the 19 peaks. Once we got to Seven Dragon Daughters’ Pond, Jun and I walked back to the Qingbi area to take the cable car back down the mountain.

When we arrived there, we decided to visit another village on the other side of Erhai: Shuanglang. Shuanglang is one of the prettiest villages I’ve visited anywhere. Located next to the lake, there has been a lot of work done to restore historic buildings and to build newer buildings that blend into the ancient villages. When we got there Jun and I went and had some snacks and drinks at Forten. It was nice to sit by the lake and rest.