<A> Mesmerizing Xishuangbanna

Written by Apr 30, 2005 14:04
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Xishuangbanna is located in the south of Yunnan province. It borders with Laos and Myanmar. I have heard about the Dai minority who live in this region. I was drawn here in search for their unique and exotic culture. To get to Jinghong, the capital town of Xishuangbanna, I took a night sleeper bus from Kunming.

When I reached Jinghong in the morning, I was amazed that the town was definitely more modernand bigger than I had imagined. Walking on the street, I was awed by the wide roads and modern luxurious hotels. The architecture was very different from Chinese style. In this town, Chinese style architectural is hardly visible. However, the buildings had strong Burmese and Thai influences. The climate was certainly different from Kunming or the most part of China. The temperature was high. Even the vegetation was different. On the main street of Jinghong, big palm trees lined up to welcome visitors.

I headed towards Manting Lu. My information and map had shown me there would be the interesting Dai people and Dai villages in the area. When I finally arrived, I found some guesthouses and Dai style restaurants. Other than that, I didn&#8217;t see anyone who dressed in their traditional Dai dress as I had imagined in my head. I felt a bit disappointed there.

I really wanted to see some traditional Dai village and their simple lifestyle. So I decided to take the bus to Dai Minority Park in a small town, Ganlanba (Menghan). The road from Jinghong to Ganlanba was winding along the Lancang River (Mekong River). Lancang River was wide. The bus route was quite scenic. The land on both sides of the river was high and green.

About an hour and a half later, I arrived in Ganlanba. The bus driver dropped me off at the main street. It was a really small town. I definitely liked it here more than the modern Jinghong. I saw a few Dai ladies dressed in their long dress with their long hair tied into buns on their heads. A few people were selling fresh fruits and barbeque on the street. Once I got off the mini bus, I took a three-wheeled motorbike carriage to Dai Minority Park, which was a bit out of town. When I arrived at the park, I paid and got into the park.

The Dai Minority Park consisted of 5 Dai villages. The villagers combined their villages and made them into a tourist attraction. The three-wheel motor cart driver dropped me off at a square where there was a Dai dance performance going on. I went into the amphitheater and enjoyed the performances. There were many Chinese tourists in the audience. The dances were certainly very colorful and interesting. After the show, there would be a traditional water splashing celebration at the square. However, I left before the show ended and decided to walk around the park instead because I it was getting late.

First, I visited a Buddhist temple nearest to the dance theater. The architecture style was a blend of Thai and Burmese style. The structure of the temple was made from wood. It&#8217;s very simple structure. There was a big Buddha statue at the end of the temple. The head of the Buddha almost reached the underside of the gable roof.

In the village, there were a few Dai families that put a sign outside their house to welcome visitors. I entered one of them to check out the way of living in a Dai house. The Dai house is like traditional style of South East Asian houses. The house is on stilts. The lower level is for animals like chickens and pigs. The people live on the upper level. It&#8217;s interesting to find out that bathrooms were quite modern. The family had invited me to stay in their house for a night. Too bad I had to refuse because I had paid for my hotel in Jinghong. The homestay would cost Y20 per night. I thought that would be interesting and reasonably priced.

The village has a feel of tropical. I saw coconut trees, and tropical plants everywhere. It was so green and unusual in China. As I was walking, I came across a small path in between houses. Out of curiosity, I followed the dirt path. At the end, the road suddenly opened up to Lancang River. It&#8217;s a bit hazy but mystic. I continued walking about the village. I walked pass a school and saw some shy children were playing basketball. Among them are a couple boy monks in their orange robe.

There were a couple more temples in the village. I was walking and suddenly saw a place with some tourists, I knew it must be one of them. I had found Manting Temple. It was bigger than the first temple I visited. It had a white pagoda in front of the compound. At four corners of the pagoda were four beasts guarding the sacred ground. The pagoda was most certainly built with strong architectural influence of the Mekong river region. The main temple hall was made of wood with a sharp rooftop. I walked inside and saw found that it opened up high to the underside of the roof. There were many colorful tungs hung down from the roof. Tungs are colorful decorative cloth panels that represent ladders that lead the deceased to heaven. At the far end of the temple hall was the Buddha statue. The style of the statue was also of Thai or Burmese influence. It showed a strong connection between the Dai minority and their cousins in neighboring countries in the Mekong river region.

As the sun was setting, I found a taxi to bring me back to town. On the way out, I accidentally found the last and probably the most beautiful temple in the village. I stopped the taxi driver to take a look at it. The temple was different that it had a dark stained wood panel on the outside. The wood structure was decorated with golden ornaments that almost seemed too bizarre to be seen in this modest village. The temple was called Man Chunman Temple. It was ashamed that the temple was closing while I arrived that I could not spend much time in it.

On the way back to Jinghong, I couldn't stop thinking about the beautiful village that I just visited. I was mesmerized and would be haunted by it for a long time.

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