Xishuangbanna aka “The Thailand of China”
Is It Worth a Visit in the Gem-Filled Province of Yunnan?
If you’re familiar with Chinese geography and with some of the well-known tourist hotspots for Mainland Chinese tourists, then you will have heard the name Yunnan. Located in the southwest corner of China, Yunnan contains a bounty of historical cities and lush landscapes that are all worth a visit. One name that always tops the list? No, it’s not Dali and Lijiang. It’s Xishuangbanna, also known as the “The Thailand of China”. Located down in Jinhong Municipal County, Xishuangbanna doesn’t give you the same imperial feel as many Chinese cities do. Instead, it seems like you’re spending a weekend in Southeast Asia. Even with my three days of Xishuangbanna attractions I wasn’t able to check everything off my list.
After hearing about how enjoyable Xishuangbanna was, I finally got the opportunity to go spend a few days in Xishuangbanna myself with a few friends. These are the Xishuangbanna attractions I was able to come across and check off on this trip.
5 Xishuangbanna Attractions I Visited
- How to get to Xishuangbanna
- Gaozhuang Night Market
- Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
- Dai Minority Park
- Dai Food
How to get to Xishuangbanna
If you’re in Kunming you can take a flight or a bus all the way down to Xishuangbanna. A bus ride is about 8-10 hours. Otherwise you can always rent a car and find some Chinese friends to drive you down. If you have the option to drive in a private car, I would highly recommend it. Along this highway are a ton of cities that are worth checking out. From Pu’er to Yuanyang, the south of Yunnan province contains many of the picturesque photos you’ve come across online.
As I drove over from neighboring Honghe County, I was able to stop in the cities of Moujiang and Pu’er, all smaller cities with their own stories to share. Plus, you get to see for yourself many of the tea plantations and lush landscapes that make Yunnan once of the most beautiful provinces in all of China. You’ll know right away when you’re near Xishuangbanna as the landscape becomes even more tropical and humid.
When you finally get past the county line, you’ll instantly start staring at the Southeast Asian looking hotel structures and unique city architecture. The Dai minority make-up the majority of the ethnic population in Xishuangbanna. Therefore, you will immediately notice their cultural influence throughout the city. Hence, you may also see the area listed as Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. From the outside Xishuangbanna doesn’t give off the vibe of a regular Chinese city. However, once you start strolling through the narrow city streets you’ll witness the rowdiness and bustling city feel that we all know makes China such a fun place to live in.
Gaozhuang Night Market
My first day was mostly traveling to get to Xishuangbanna. Once we arrived and found a hotel we decided to take a peek at the nearby night market, Gaozhuang. Along the way you’ll come across countless fruit stalls, noisy restaurants, and people trying to sell you a vacation home. A single person selling you both a meal and homes? Believe me.
The main landmark here is the towering temple across from the Gaozhang Night Market. Take some scenic evening shots as the temple is let up very elegantly and make your way to the sprawling night market. It looks and feels as if a traveling caravan planted here for the night. Take a walk around, try some of the local foods (mostly sour-spicy), and gather in the amazing view. We checked out some live performances and had some Beerlao, a popular beer in southern Yunnan.
Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
The area is well known for its diversity of plant species, in part due to the tropical temperature and natural environment. As a result, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden is worth a visit if you’re into the botanical scene. If want to feel like you’re walking through a subtropical jungle then thats another reason.
The Botanical Garden is split into an east and west part. Therefore, you could easily spend a whole day here if you don’t take the small tour bus. I highly recommend paying for the service at the ticket gate. You will be extremely happy especially if you’re there on a sweltering hot summer day. Door tickets are around 80 Rmb a person. It was a really scenic visit with a large variety of unique plants. However, it’s not something I believe you’ll want to spend more than a couple hours at. The Tropical Botanical Garden is considered among the top Xishuangbanna attractions, so it is worth checking out.
Dai Minority Park
As mentioned, the Dai Minority are the majority ethnic group in Xishuangbanna. Wherever you are, you will definitely notice the impact of their culture in the area. Not too far up the road from the Xishuangbanna Botanical Garden, you will notice the Dai Minority Park. Both of these sites are among the must-see Xishuangbanna attractions. It consists of around 300 Dai minority residents who still live within their Dai style and Burmese designed architecture. They mostly look like double-decker bungalows with strong wooden beams and an open first floor design. The Dai Minority Park is rather large as there are multiple temples and a variety of sites to further understand Dai life. Unfortunately, when I went some of the major temple areas were under renovation and I had went right after the Water-Splashing Festival that happens in mid-April.
At the front of the Dai Minority Park are only a couple small temples. After scouting out the front you will follow a long, narrow road to the back end of the village where the main attractions are at. In the back part you will come across the elephant area, water splashing fountain, major temples, and witness some of the higher-end Dai style homes. There is plenty of food to test out if you’re a foodie and on the eastern side can check out the Mekong River. You could easily spend a half-day here and if you come during the holiday time period (and non-coronavirus time) could probably spend even longer.
Dai Minority Food
As mentioned earlier, there will be plenty of options to try out the Dai minority food. With its unique blend of sour-spicy spices, Dai food has easily bumped itself up to the ranks of some of my favorite food. From different grilled fish dishes to glazed ribs and scrumptious chicken wraps, definitely find the opportunity to try out a few places. We were lucky enough to meet some friends who took us to an authentic-style Dai restaurant that they frequent.
Wrapping Up 3 Days of Xishuangbanna Attractions
Spending three days in Xishuangbanna was plentiful in terms of both sites to see and food to eat. I would love to visit the area again to see some of the activities I missed. The big two that I will come back for are the Elephant Valley and the Water Splashing Festival. From the amazing Dai Food to the unique Thai-Burmese architecture engulfing you throughout the city, Xishuangbanna is definitely worth a trip. Just make sure to plan an appropriate time to visit, as the sweltering humidity does get a little overbearing at times. However, for the amount of attractions within Xishuangbanna and feeling that you’re visiting a different part of China, make it very memorable.