Yunnan is one of the most traveled provinces in China, if not Asia. However, have you ever heard of “Xishuangbanna”? In my opinion, it’s one of the most underrated travel destinations and not many people have heard of it. When I traveled this region in the province of Yunnan this summer, it simply took my breath away and I just want to go back and explore more.

5 Best Ways to Experience Xishuangbanna

 

Where?

Xishuangbanna is the Dai autonomous prefecture in the extreme south of Yunnan Province, China. It’s capital is Jinghong, the largest settlement in the area and one that straddles the Mekong River.

Location of Xishuangbanna in China

Here are the 5 best ways to experience Xishuangbanna:

1. Stay in Jinghong

The first thing I recommend it settling down in the capital city Jinghong. It’s in the ideal location, in the middle of the Xishuangbanna area and therefore the perfect starting point for your travels. It’s not a big city but rather a big town – no real high-rise buildings and it’s divided by the mighty Mekong. There are also 2 express bus stations and an airport for easy connectivity.

Jinghong is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever traveled to. It has this magical South-East Asian flair to it and the entire city seems to be “elephant-themed” with statues of the giant animal everywhere in town. I highly recommend staying in the “traditional village” part of the city, across the Mekong from the bus terminals and airport. There are even buses that take you to Laos or Thailand!

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city1

 

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2. Eat Local Food

All around the traditional village, you can find restaurants offering local food. Some menus even have English  descriptions which makes traveling easier if you don’t speak Chinese. One of the local specialties is spicy papaya salad – and yes, it is really spicy! They also serve all kinds of fish dishes caught right from the Mekong.

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If you are looking for a cheap snack, go to the market in the traditional village. You can buy fresh fruit shakes for little money or try local appetizers right there.

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papaya


3. Visit a Minority Village

Xishuangbanna is home to numerous minority peoples, the largest being the Dai, which dominate the area even before the Chinese Han: Dai making up around 30% of the population and Han 29%. Other minorities are Hani, Yi, Lahu, Blang, Jino, Yao, Miao, Bai, Hui, Va, Zhuang and other smaller groups.

The Dai even have their own language and alphabet, which you can clearly see all over the area and especially in the city of Jinghong on every street sign or some advertisements.

I visited the Jino minority village because the Jino are the smallest minority in Chin, with only around 20,000 people. They are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic group and were recognized as a national minority by the Chinese government as late as 1979.

The village is about a 45 minute drive east from Jinghong. The entrance fee to the village is 120 RMB per person including a guided tour through the village with tea tasting, a dance performance and traditional meal.

The authentic Jino traditional marriage is rooted in this rich cultural soil. Jino’s big drum dance is the foundation of Jino’s tradition.

Jino’s other traditional crafts include tea making process, the traditional brewing process, dyeing with branches and leaves, and bamboo weaving.

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traditional Jino home
traditional Jino home

 


4. Search for Elephants

An hour north of Jinghong lies the local wild elephant valley. It is a reserve made up of low hills and wide valley bottoms with waterholes that contain enough salt to meet the biological needs of the wild Asian elephant.

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This unique valley is one of the few places in the world where wildlife, including elephants, monkeys and birds, can be viewed in its natural habitat.

The area around the entrance of the park does, however, remind of a zoo-style place where some elephants are shown for entertainment and picture taking. However, when you take the cable car up the hills into the hidden spots, you get to see wild elephants which life in the sanctuary.

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5. Don’t Forget The Temples

Temples in Xishuangbanna look nothing like the temples you find in other places around China. The architecture reminds of places like Thailand. The main temple in the center of Jinghong which also serves as a museum explaining local culture. It is simply referred to “Golden Tower” (金塔).

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inside the temple museum
inside the temple museum

 

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citycenter-temple

The most breathtaking temple located in Jinghong is the Mange Buddhist Temple. Facing east, the temple is huge featuring wooden roof-beams, thick eaves and tiled-roofs. The unique main temple is supported by sixteen red haven tree columns and there are also 16 elephant sculptures from the Qing dynasty. Climbing the top of the mountain, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Jinghong.

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One temple I had read about that seemed to be a must-see was the Manfeilong Pagoda. It takes up to 2 hours to get to the particular location of the pagoda. The temple area was under construction at the time so I didn’t spend a lot of time there. I was a little disappointed as the pagoda seemed a lot smaller than expected. If you don’t have enough time, there is no need to check it out really.

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Bonus: Beautiful Mekong views

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panorama

 

What is your favorite part about Xishuangbanna? Pin it <3

5 Ways To Experience Xishuangbanna

 

  • Rafiqua

    This place looks SO different to Beijing and Shanghai- I actually want to go here! The minority village photos are really lovely. The Mange Buddhist Temple is so big and colorful! I love it 🙂

    • Yes, it’s a completely different world there! I so wanna go back there! We should go together hehe 🙂

  • Megan Indoe

    I know so little about China so it is interesting to see the similarities this city has with Thailand and Laos as far as architecture and even cuisine! That papaya salad looked great! We want to explore Yunnan, so we will have to check out this place for sure!

    • Yunnan is one of the best areas in China for sure! perfect to travel there in spring!!

  • Laura Nalin

    This looks awesome! You have definitely posted some incredible photos of your experiences in China and it really makes me want to see more of the country. Thanks for that bit of inspiration! Also, I really like the way your outfit/hair pops with that photo of you on the temple stairs. SO colorful and badass!

    • Thanks so much Laura! <3 I'm glad I inspired you to travel to
      China!

  • Charisse

    Lovely photos! I especially like the last one which was a panoramic view of the city and the people in their traditional clothing is another favorite of mine. This city looks like a great place to visit. I hope to make it to China soon.

    • Thank you Charisse! Let me know if you go, I can give you more tips!

  • Gina Panozzo

    This place is unbelievably pretty. At first glance when looking at the pictures, I thought it was Thailand! I guess being so close, both cultures borrow from one another. How exciting to search for elephants. Receiving an elephant medallion is seen as good luck in many parts of the world!

    • Yay! Yes, it really does have this Southeast Asian feel to it!

    • Xiaomin Yang

      It’s my hometown, in the past, which is a part of Lanna country( country in the past, which including North of Thailand, northwest of Laos, Chiangtong of Myanmar and my hometown). So that is why the culture and language is samilar to Thailand and Laos.

      • Linda D.

        that’s so cool! I loved Xishuangbanna so much!

  • Wendy Flor

    Beautiful place! I love the idea of checking out elephants and on top of that cable car. The elephants I see are all from the zoo and from that famous elephant place in Thailand…. Not as free as what you have seen.

    • Thanks Wendy! You have to be extremely lucky to spot them though!

  • Such amazing inspiration. Your detailed descriptions and breadth of knowledge is intimidating but also humbling. You’ve done a wonderful job showcasing this city and your top recommended site along with providing insightful backgrounds and explanation. This post is getting bookmarked for our “Someday we will make it over to China” Trip.

    • thank you so much! you should definitely check out Xishuangbanna. It’s a breathtaking place!