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Volunteer in Kunming, Yunnan,
a city with year-round Spring weather. Trips to 26 cultures &
5 nearby countries.

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Xishuangbanna

Xishuangbanna is one the earliest sites in Yunnan which has been appreciated by people from other parts of China and around the world, both for its tropical ambience and strong ethnic cultures. Its full name is Dai Minority People's Autonomous Prefecture. Located in the southwest of Yunnan Province, Xishuangbanna borders on Laos to the east and Myanmar to the west. The name "Xishuangbanna" is the transliteration for Sipsongpanna in the local Dai language. Sipsong literally means "twelve", and panna has the meaning of "thousand rice fields". So Sipsongpanna literally means "twelve thousand rice fields".

The region is located at a lower altitude than most parts of Yunnan, and has a tropical climate. That is what makes Xishuangbanna special. There are no obvious four seasons in this area, only two seasons--rainy season (May through October) and dry season (November through April). It is pleasant to travel all year round, though the temperature is higher compared to other places. Plenty of rainfall and warmth provide tropical plants and animals with their best habitat, which makes Xishuangbanna reputed as the Tropical Fauna & Flora Kingdom. Xishuangbanna is one of the few habitants for the last few Asian elephants still in China. The species have roamed over a large part of this region as late as a few hundred years ago. If you are lucky you can see them wandering around on the highway without much care about traffic laws. As the only tropical rain forest nature reserve in China, Xishuangbanna can boast of its biodiversity in Yunnan Province. 

Theravada Buddhism is a predominant religion here. Temples and pagodas are scattered around the countryside and towns. Buddhist monks, especially young males in training, are a common sight, clothed in traditional orange costumes, and often riding motorbikes to the temple.

In recent years, as the traffic and communication conditions have improved, and with the advantageous geographic location (connected with Laos and Myanmar, crossed by the Mekong), Xishuangbanna has become one of the gateways of China to Southeast Asia. 

For a long time, Xishuangbanna has been famous for its rich tourist attractions in China because of the picturesque tropical sceneries and exotic ethnic traditions and customs. Xishuangbanna has long been listed as a State Scenic Area, and the most precious tourism resource in Xishuangbanna is the colorful culture of different ethnic groups. 

Three Major Administrative Cities

Jinghong
Jinghong is the capital of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province, China. It is the historic capital of the ancient Tai kingdom of Sipsongpanna. The city has a good public transportation system which connects travelers to nearby cities, towns and villages. The Lancang-Mekong River, running through China and five other Southeast Asian nations, is called the Danube River of the Orient. The river runs right through Jinhong. There are a couple of flights from Kunming daily. A newly-built expressway shortens the bus ride from Kunming to Jinghong to 8 or 9 hours from the previous 12 hours. There are also sleeper buses from the major bus stations in Kunming.

Menghai
Menghai has long been known as the hometown of "Pu-erh Tea", and is one of the earliest places that produced tea. There is a wild tea tree which is now 1700 years old and is praised as the "King of Tea Trees", and another man-cultivated tea tree has a more than 800 years history. The border town Daluo, is one of Yunnan's most important provincial ports to Myanmar and Thailand, and is famous among other things as a promising place for border trading and tourism. The common vehicles here are buses. 

Mengla 
Mengla County, situated at the very south of Yunnan province, borders with Laos and Myanmar. It is one of the most prominent border towns in Yunnan. The Kunming-Bangkok Road, which links the capital city of Yunnan Province in the southwest of China and the capital city of Thailand, passes through this county before entering into Laos. The Lancang-Mekong River goes through here and flows into the border area of Laos and Myanmar.

Main Tourism Spots in Xishuangbanna

Ganlanba Dai Region
Ganlanba, 26 KM (16 miles) away from the Mekong River south of Jinghong City, is a small basin by the Mekong River. It has long been the traditional habitat of the Dai people, and is the place you should go to experience the most authentic Dai culture. Buses are available for transportation.

Menglun Tropical Botanical Garden
Menglun Tropical Botanical Garden, 80 KM (50 miles) away from Jinghong, is a miniature of a so-called flora kingdom due to the vast variety of tropical plants in this region. You can find more than 5000 species of higher plants in the tropical rain forest.  This actually is a research center that belongs to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and is regarded as the biggest tropical botanical garden in China. The beautiful view of the garden also makes it the most popular tourist attraction in Xishuangbanna.

Manting Park 
Manting Park, which means Garden of Spirit, is a public park located at the end of Manting Lu Road, Jinghong City. It is the oldest park in Xishuangbanna. It was built around 800 years ago when the Dai regime was first established in Jinghong, and it served as the private garden for the Dai royal family. When the Dai New Year starts, a grand festival fair takes place here for people to enjoy.              

Manfeilong White Stupa
White Stupa is located in Damenglong County, which is about 70 KM (38 miles) away from Jinghong. It is the oldest building in Xishuangbanna, as well as one of the three most famous Theravada buildings of Yunnan. Around 800 years ago monks from India helped design and built it. Around this time Buddhism was first introduced into this region. This stupa is well known in Southeast Asia.

Jingzhen Octagonal Pavilion 
The Octagonal Pavilion is in Menghai County, about 80 KM (50 miles) west of Jinghong. Back in 1701, it was built for the purpose of providing a meeting room for senior monks in this region. Han architectural elements were incorporated into the building. The building itself reflects Buddhist ideas.  The ten roofs on the upper part symbolize the different levels of self-cultivation in Theravada Buddhism. Eight attics are arranged around its roofs, which stand for eight disciples of Buddha. The pavilion is the embodiment of the Dai people's traditional architecture arts; it has long been regarded as one of the three most well-known Theravada Buddhism buildings in Yunnan.

Wild Elephant Valley
Thanks to its vast and dense tropical rain forest; Xishuangbanna has become the ideal habitat for a large variety of animals, among which the wild Asian elephant is one of the most typical indigenous species. Wild Elephant Valley is located 50 KM (31 miles) north of Jinghong. Being a nature reserve to protect tropical rain forest and wild Asian elephants in the past, it has now been opened to the public as a park. Xishuangbanna is the only habitat region for wild elephants in China, and Wild Elephant Valley is the only place where ordinary people can get the chance to observe them. Within the valley park, there is a 2 Km (1.2 mile) long cable lift above the jungle area which allows visitors to get a nice view of this entire area from the air.

Mekong River
The Mekong River originates from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in northwest China, winding its way across eastern Tibet, into Yunnan, then downward through the whole southeastern Asian peninsula.  Finally, it flows into the Pacific Ocean in Vietnam. Its full length is over 4500 KM (2796 miles). The Chinese part of the river has a different name--Lan Cang, from the Dai language which means “River of Millions of Elephants”. This is a very important river in Southeast Asia, not because of the name indicating millions of elephants, but in the sense that literally millions of people live along this river and are nurtured by it. Mekong in the Thai language means Mother River. Xishuangbanna is the last stop of the Mekong in China before its journey into Southeast Asian nations. The Mekong has been opened by the Chinese government as one of the international ports; a transnational exploration trip by boat is becoming accessible.

Colorful Countryside Markets
In the countryside of Xishuangbanna, especially in some small towns where minority people are in the majority, markets show the liveliest side of rural life. For the minority people who live around here, these market fairs not only provide a place where they can sell their domestic products and purchase necessary daily commodities, but also serve as occasions for them to make simple and pristine social contacts. They take this opportunity to exchange information with each other, to greet old friends or make new friends.  

Ethnic Minority Villages
Xishuangbanna is a multi-nationality region; villages of different ethnic groups are scattered everywhere in the countryside. Chances are that you may know these people from museums or from books, but it can never be more authentic than a personal visit to their real villages to see how their actual life is progressing or what customs they are still following. Villages from different minorities showcase different traditions and life styles, costumes and languages, different social situations and cultural backgrounds. They also have something in common--though from different ethnic groups and from different villages, the people are normally very hospitable and friendly.  They work hard and live a self-sufficient life, quite free from worries and always keep optimistic. While nowadays people are getting more and more separated from each other in towns, communal society is still well maintained here.

Major Ethnic Groups

Xishuangbanna is a multi-nationality prefecture and, besides Han, there are twelve different nationalities living on this piece of mysterious and rich land. They speak different languages, wear different costumes, practice different traditions, but share the same honest, hospitable, hard-working and optimistic attitude toward life.

Dai Minority is the biggest ethnic group in this region, accounting for 35% of the total of Xishuangbanna. Dai is the most civilized ethnic group compared with other minorities in this region. They have a written language that evolved from Sanskrit and systematic knowledge which was brought in with Buddhism around 800 years ago. Theravada Buddhism is the prevailing religion of the Dai, and temples can be found in almost every Dai village. Their religion is tightly bound together with their education and life. The Dai established their knowledge system through Buddhism, and they have been passing it down through the generations.

Main festival
Water-splashing Festival
This is the New Year for the Dai people, and is the most important festival of Xishuangbanna. The Water-splashing Festival lasts three days, from April 13th to 15th. Usually when the festival begins, the Dai people dance, sing, have dragon boat races, and fire bamboo rockets to celebrate the last day of the old year according to their own calendar. The festival reaches its climax on the last day, the 15th, which starts the New Year and is the last day of celebration. Water-splashing revels will last a full day, with barrels, basins, water guns and even fire hydrants, people enjoy their most relaxation of one year. Without difference of age, gender, or difference between host and guest, everyone in the street will be soaked and nobody will be angry; there is only joy and happiness. Dai people bid good wishes to each other through clear water, they believe clear water can purify spirits of humans, bring good luck and a happy life.

Bulang Minority is a mountainous ethnic group, mainly living in the Bulang Shan Mountain area of Menghai. They believe in both Theravada Buddhism and animism. The Bulang have their own spoken language, but no written script. The Dai people's culture and religion has quite a big influence on the Bulang people's lives. Some of them speak the Dai language, use Dai's written script, and even have similar festivals as the Dai people. The Bulang's ancestors were the earliest ethnic group to domesticate wild tea trees for consumption.

Main festival
San Gan Bi Mai Festival
The Bulang people observe their New Year at the same time the Dai do, only the celebration activities are different due to the mountainous territory. There are no dragon boat races, no fire bamboo rockets, and no splashing water on the first day of the New Year. San Gan Bi Mai is the New Year for the Bulang people, the same as the Dai people's New Year and also falls in April.  The Bulang spend this festival in a more sedate and religious way, with prayer and offerings to Buddha, and the festival revolves around the monks.

Jinuo Minority is a unique ethnic group in China, and you can find it only in the Jinuo Shan Mountain area of Jinghong, Xishaungbanna. The Jinuo believe in animism, and especially believe that the souls of ancestors and God of the sun, Sun Drum, is holy to them and indispensable in every village.  It is said that their ancestors, a boy and his sister, survived a catastrophic flood by hiding in a big drum, while the flood destroyed the world.  For survival of the human race, they married and became the ancestors of Jinuo--it's an interesting coincidence that Jinuo happens to mean “the descendants of mother's brother” in their own language.

Main festival
Temaoke  Festival  
Temaoke is the New Year of the Jinuo people, and is their most important festival.  The Temaoke Festival falls in the period from February 6th to 8th, which is quite close to the Han's Spring Festival.  A standing program of the Jinuo's New Year celebration is the Big Drum Dance. As villagers dance ardently, rhythmic drumbeats announce the arrival of coming New Year.

 

 

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