Five minorities at One Market: Laomeng Sunday Market 老勐 市场

Enjoy these photos taken at Laomeng Market August 2oo6. If you have been recently, tells us how it has changed.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场 Jinping Yunnan.
Click here to see the photo video with music: https://youtu.be/H0NaaHfpLaA
Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

(Yunnan Province)

The hotel owner in Yuanyang had told us to get there early, as many of the hill tribe people have to walk all the way back and the market starts breaking up at around noon.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

So we got to Laomeng at about 8.30, where we were among the first to arrive. We walked once round the town and had a look at the few stalls already set up by a small number of colourfully dressed Miao ladies and some older Yi women.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Most of them seemed as curious about us, as we were about them. By the time we got back  to our starting point, dozens of vans, carts and other vehicles had already arrived, unloading hundreds of passengers and all kinds of goods.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

They brought with them a kaleidoscopic mix of colours, as ladies from the Hani, Yao, Yi, Miao and Black Thai ethnic groups spilled out from the back and descended upon the market for a few hours of frenzied buying and selling.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

For the next 3 hours we were treated to a visual feast that left us drained and out of film. Our driver had filled us in on some of the intricacies of the local costumes, so we were more or less able to distinguish between the women from the different ethnic groups. The men on the other hand were fairly indistinguishable, wearing pretty much the same peasant clothes and large wide-brimmed hats.

The Miao 苗族

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The most colourful group are the Miao. The women of this ethnic group wear short, pleated skirts in electrifying colours such as bright orange, turquoise, yellow, pink or neon green.

苗族Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The skirts are held in place by tight, embroidered belts and further embellished by lavishly decorated aprons, worn at the back (to protect their clothes when they are carrying loads, or sitting down on their haunches).

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Their lower legs are covered by leggings, usually black, although the trendiest young ladies can wear coloured ones, adorned with dangling pieces of silver, or coins. Their outfits are completed by a final, embroidered strip of cloth, wound around the head as a kind of turban, peaking at the front.

Miao with different style hats Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Given the vibrant nature of their attire, it isn’t surprising that their Vietnamese relations are known as the Flower Hmong. 

The Yao 瑶族

In stark contrast with the Miao, the Yao are probably the most fascinating to look at. Their all-black outfits of loose, flowing tunics and trousers, topped by incredible black boxed hats (resembling a Fez) lend them at once a forbidding and mysterious aspect.

瑶族 Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The stern black of their costume is only livened up by tresses of fuchsia coloured wool, pinned to the front of the ladies’ tunics, and the heavy silver earrings and necklaces they wear. The proud Yao ladies stride through the crowds mostly unsmiling and they are reluctant to have their pictures taken.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The Hani 哈尼族

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Hani women also tend to wear a tunic or jacket over trousers, like the Yao, though their tunics are shorter and tighter. And like the Miao, they wear a  protective apron at the back.

Hani and Miao buying apples Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Their colours are subdued, blue and black are the favourites, but some green and petrol- blue can be seen too. If a Hani lady’s headdress is very colourful and decorated, this means that she is single. On the other hand, if her jacket is decorated with silver coins, she is married.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The Yi 彝族

The Yi ladies are almost as colourful as the Miao, but they wear trousers, not skirts. On top, they wear brightly coloured jackets, often with short sleeves.  The colours can vary, but light blue, pink, yellow and mauve appeared to be all the rage.

Yi and Hani Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The top part of the jacket is covered with a semi- circle  made of embroidered flowers. At the back, instead of an apron, they tend to wear two embroidered lozenge-shaped appendages.

Black Thai 壮族

Black Thai Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Finally, the Black Thai were the least in evidence and dressed very simply in black, as their name suggests. Their ladies wore straight black skirts and short-sleeved blouses.

Black Thai Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

As to location, the market spreads out all over the town, which is small enough to be explored thoroughly in a couple of hours. Like most markets in China, each area or street is dedicated to a different product.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The square given over to vegetables and fruit is one of the highlights, with colourful ethnic women squatting down behind their wares, mostly small piles of exotic-looking vegetables, herbs or spices, spread out on a piece of cloth.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Purchases in this section are usually wrapped up in banana leaves.

Lunch

Food Stalls Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Another, larger square combines meat and simple food stalls with stands selling clothes, cloth, wool and other items necessary for sewing, embroidering or knitting. The latter are particularly popular with the younger ladies.

Yao Lady having lunch Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Lunch is a simple affair, with stalls selling noodle dishes with plenty of meat, vegetables and spicies.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

On the outskirts of town, there are corners dedicated to selling chickens, piglets, or watch dogs. 

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

It’s a great place to watch and take photos as well, because once the market is in full swing, nobody will pay much attention to you, even though you may be the only foreigner in town, which is what happened to us.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Don’t come to this market looking for souvenirs; there are few things for sale that would interest tourists, which should hopefully keep tour groups away. We had a look at one of the colourful Miao skirts and were a bit taken aback by its price: although it was handmade and weighed a tonne, we thought that 300Yuan was a bit steep.

Going home Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

True to our landlord’s prediction, by midday the market began to wind down and the vehicles filled up again with their multi-coloured cargo.

Heading Home Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

As we were driving away, we could see lines of people heading off into the forest and up the mountain paths, back to their villages.

Packing up for the day Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Practicalities:

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Laomeng is situated in the south of Yunnan, not far from the Vietnamese border. As the town lies in a river valley, the climate is hot and humid and the surrounding countryside is extremely green and fertile, allowing for two rice harvests a year.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Regarding its ethnic composition, Laomeng straddles two prefectures, Yuanyang and Jinpin. Of these, Yuanyang is home to many Hani and Yi who tend and cultivate the stunning rice terraces the area is famous for, while Jingpin is home to the Miao, Black Thai and Yao.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

The first two live low down near the rivers, in the sub-tropical fertile lands, while the Yao dominate the high mountain areas and ridges and therefore the poorer lands.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

As for Laomeng town, there are a couple of basic hotels, small eateries and shops, but not much more, and the buildings are definitely on the drab side.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

However, the market converts the town into festival of colours and sounds and it would probably make a good base for exploring the area.

Coming and Going:

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

From Yuanyang there are plenty of mini buses to Laomeng. The journey can take more than 2 hours, depending on how many passengers the bus stops to pick up and drop off.

Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

You can hire a minivan for about 150 Yuan to take you to the market and back, including several hours waiting time. Buses from Laomeng also go to Jingpin and surrounding villages.

Rural Scene Outside Laomeng Laomeng Market 老勐 市场

Coming next: Laomeng Market, Jinping, Yunnan

Next week we’ll be publishing an updated article on Laomeng Market.
The incredible market near the Yuanyang Rice terraces.

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Various ethnic minorites buying and selling at Laomeng Market

Jianshui建水 (from our Diary): last stop before the Hani Rice Terraces at Yuanyang.

The historic town of Jianshui is the last stop on a facinating route from Kunming to the Hani Rice Terraces at Yuanyang.

Yi Musician jianshui 建水

Jianshui 建水

Between Tonghai and Jianshui the road drops dramatically and with such an incline that numerous crash barriers and emergency escape routes have been constructed, in case of brake failure.

Confucian Temple 文庙 jianshui 建水

We actually passed a lorry that had just been forced to use one of these; its fortunate occupants were busy talking on their mobiles, while inspecting the damage to their clapped-out vehicle, its nose buried deep into a safety barrier of spare tires, which had probably saved their lives.

Yi Lady jianshui 建水

The land around here has been seriously eroded and there are numerous rock formations, shaped like fingers, poking up from the red earth. This is apparently how a ‘Stone Forest’ comes into being.

Arrival:

The bus station in Jianshui has been moved to the outskirts of town and a taxi for  4 to 5 Yuan is the best way to get to the centre.

Things to See:

Confucian Temple 文庙 jianshui 建水

China’s relentless modernization drive has hit Jianshui too, and the main thoroughfare Jianzhong Lu, connecting the East and West Gates, has been spruced up, though buildings have at least been kept in the traditional style. Fortunately, you can still find many historical buildings dotted all over the town, some of which serve as government offices or schools, while others have been opened to the public.

Confucian Temple 文庙 jianshui 建水

The Confucian Academy and temple is Jianshui’s largest architectural monument; it consists of a whole collection of halls and courtyards, set inside a large park at the back of a Lilly-covered lake and accessed through some imposing arches and gateways.

Confucian Temple 文庙 jianshui 建水

If you are lucky, you might catch the Confucian orchestra, dressed in celestial blue robes and tall hats, playing traditional Chinese music in an old building, converted in a concert hall and teahouse.

Confucian Temple 文庙 jianshui 建水

Jianshui also boasts a number of grand family mansions that are worth visiting. The cream of the crop is the Zhujia Huayuan, the mansion of the Zhu clan, which doubles up as a hotel and offers visitors the chance, so rare in China, to stay in a historical building full of character. The Zhu were a successful merchants’ family who built their mansion over a number of years, during the Qing dynasty.

Zhu Family Garden

The resulting structure consists of a whole labyrinth of patios, one of them with its own floating stage, and corridors, all lavishly decked out with potted plants and Bonsai.

Zhu Family Garden

The patios are surrounded by Ancestral Halls and living quarters, lovingly decorated with period furniture. These days some of the old family rooms have been converted into en- suite hotel rooms, complete with Qing- style furniture and four- poster beds.

Margie outside our room at the Zhu Family Garden

To find out about other Mansions that are open to the public, which there are, you should ask the local people.

East Gate Teahouse jianshui 建水

The massive Eastern Gate – cum Drum Tower or (Chaoyang Lou 朝阳楼), part of the old Ming wall that once surrounded the city, stands testimony to the important role Jianshui once played as an  administrative centre in Imperial Times.

East Gate Teahouse jianshui 建水

Nowadays, the Gate has been converted into an atmospheric tea house and a great place from which to observe the comings and goings in the centre of town.

East Gate Teahouse jianshui 建水

You can look down upon people outside the gate selling fruit, playing musical instruments and cards, performing Tai Chi, or simply taking a nap under the bushes. You may also spot the odd Yi and Yao minority ladies, dressed in their finest, coming to the market.

The old hidden Pagoda

Moreover, from the Gate you can still discern many narrow old streets, full of traditional architecture and workshops dedicated to the ancient trades.

The old hidden Pagoda

We spied  an old Pagoda, which looked really close and easy to trace, so we set out to find it. Actually, the Pagoda is very well hidden, in the centre of a factory compound, accessed through a  maze of tiny alleys.

It took us nearly half an hour, and a lot of help from the puzzled neighbours, to find it. Nevertheless, finding such a great historical relic, just lying around as if it were an everyday thing, gave us a wonderful sense of continuity.

jianshui 建水

Jianshui

Places to Stay and Eat:

As we described before, the Zhujia Huayuan, an old merchants mansion, half museum and half hotel, is a fantastic place to stay. Rooms cost between 220 and 280 Yuan, which is a bit pricey, but saves you from having to fork out the entrance fee (Update; not sure if it is still a hotel). Early mornings and late afternoons, once the ticket office has closed, are a wonderful time to wander around and take photos, or just sit in one of the many secluded corners and relax!

Zhu Family Garden

Another period-style hotel, the Hua Qing, has just opened its doors, slightly further up the road. The owner, a nice, hospitable lady, who is keen to attract foreigners showed us around. Large comfortable doubles with balconies cost between 150 and 180 Yuan. The hotel has a restaurant and bar as well. Just ignore the kitsch lighting outside and the poor receptionists done up in Confucius-style robes!

East Gate Teahouse jianshui 建水

As opposed to Tonghai, Jianshui offers many places to eat, as well as some tasty food. In the streets around the Zhujia Huayuan and the Hua Qing many restaurants with English menus have sprung up recently, some of them in restored historical buildings.

East Gate Teahouse jianshui 建水

However, if it’s atmosphere you’re after, you can’t beat the ancient Lin An Fandian on Jianzhong Lu. During the day, the ground floor is packed with locals, snacking on spicy cold noodles with peanut sauce, or grilled tofu pieces, both of which go for 1 Yuan a piece. Then, in the evening, the upstairs dining hall and adjoining balcony rooms fill up with huge groups of heartily eating, heavily drinking and toasting Chinese. It can get quite boisterous and noisy, but it’s great fun! The food is excellent too.

Stinky Tofu

If you don’t speak Chinese, just go to the area by the refrigerators and point, nothing is too expensive and the portions are enormous. You  pay at a counter next to the stairs, where you can also get cold beer.

East Gate Teahouse jianshui 建水

Update

Near Jianshui there are a number of interesting villages, bridges and caves. When we visited, Jianshui was well off- the -beaten track, and we didn’t have any information about what to see and do around the town so we never got round to visiting them.

Swallow Cave: On the 8th of August local Yi lads risk life and limb to collect the prized Swallow’s nests.

Tuanshan Village: An ancient Yi minority village with traditonal Ming and Qing dynasty architecture

Twin (Double) Dragon Bridge 双龙桥: a spectaular Qing dynasty bridge with towers and 17 arches. The bridge spans the confuluence of the Lu and Tachong Rivers.

Tuanshan Village and the Twin Dragon Bridge can be visited on a tourist train from Jianshui.

Coming and Going:

Outside the Chaoyang Gate

There are plenty of buses to and from Kunming throughout the day. There are also regular buses to Tonghai, which take 2½ hours, and to Nansha, which take 3½ hours and where you need to change buses for Yuanyang and the rice terraces.

Yi Lady jianshui 建水

Update:

There are now daily trains to Jianshui from Kunming.

Sani Musicians at the Stone Forest: Photo of the week

The photos are from the Stone Forest in Yunnan 2007. Local Sani minority dancers from nearby Lunan and surrounding villages perform local folk dances. The Sani are a branch of the Yi nationality.

Sani musicans in action
Sani Musician tuning up
Admiring Sani ladies watching the performance
Sani minority singing and dancing at the Stone forest Yunnan 2007

Ruili 瑞丽 is open: From our diary 1991

Burmese Style Temple near Ruili

The Rumour /道听途说 Ruili 瑞丽 is open!

Gweilo or gwailou (Chinese: 鬼佬; Cantonese gwáilóu, pronounced [kʷɐ̌i lǒu] is a common Cantonese slang term and ethnic slur for Westerners.

The rumour spread like wildfire around the gweilo* hangout cafes in Dali: Ruili 瑞丽 was now open to foreigners. Margie and I looked at a map and thought:’ why not give it a go?’

The legendary First Jim’s Peace Cafe where early China travellers in Dali swapped travel news

China in 1990 was a very different place. Many areas still remained firmly shut to Western visitors, which is why the opening of any of these previously closed off areas caused an immediate stir in the small backpackers’ community. Travellers trying to ‘out-travel’ each other would excitedly head for these newly opened areas, chasing adventures and cool anecdotes to share in the next gweilo café they’d find themselves in.

The Pleasure Garden Restaurant; another classic Dali hangout

Getting there

Deciding to go to Ruili 瑞丽 was one thing. Actually getting there quite another: in those days Ruili was a two day bus ride away from Xiguan 下关 / Dali City大理, with the bus overnighting in Baoshan 保山.

Last day in Dali

It is difficult to remember everything from the long trip down to Ruili 瑞丽, but I remember the incredibly polluted river running out of Xiguan 下关 and passing through several rural markets. And I’ll never forget the incredulous faces of the receptionists at the Baoshan transport hotel保山交通宾馆 when two foreigners joined the other Chinese passengers for the overnight check in.

Rural Market Yunnan

Descending rapidly after Baoshan 保山, the road then crosses the Nujiang 怒江 / Salween River and you can begin to smell and feel the sweltering heat of sub-tropical South East Asia.

Suddenly the scenery becomes South East Asian

 I remember a strange incident at a check point just before crossing the Nujiang River: Military Police, obviously looking for drugs or other illegal goods, boarded the bus and almost took it apart; nuts, bolts and all. They then dragged a passenger, a young soldier, off the bus and gave him a vicious beating, before dumping him back on the bus. At one point, I feared he would never be seen again.

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Street Scene Ruili 1991

Arriving in Ruili 瑞丽

We eventually arrived in Ruili at 12.00 midnight on the second day and no sooner had we got off the bus than we noticed there was something different about this town. In spite of the lateness of the hour, the whole place was buzzing: bars, restaurants and dodgy ‘massage parlors’ were all doing a brisk trade. The streets were filled with Chinese, Burmese and ethnic minorities milling around the open shops and street markets where hawkers were still touting their wares. Welcome to Ruili, 1991.

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Local Kids Ruili 1991

All this nocturnal activity was in stark contrast to the rest of China: in 1990 /91, even in Beijing 北京 and Shanghai 上海, such nightlife as there was, mostly packed up before 20.30.  Ruili seemed to be on another planet altogether!

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Market in Ruili

We checked into a brand new hotel, only to find it was so new that there was no running water and only the reception area was connected to the electricity mains. The following day, we escaped at the break of dawn and managed to track down the modest Ruili Binguan 瑞丽宾馆, where we bagged a cheap dorm room and where, to our immense surprise, we bumped into Glen and Lisa, an American couple we had met in Lijiang 丽江 a few weeks earlier. In fact, it turned out that the 4 of us were the only gweilos in town.

Ruili Street Scene 19991

What to do or see in Ruili?

That was precisely the question. As Ruili wasn’t mentioned in any guide book (we were using Lonely Planet China, version 2) we set about trying to find the sights. Luckily, Glen and Lisa, who had taught English in Taiwan, could speak some Chinese,. After questioning the bewildered locals as to what we should see, we soon discovered that the actual sights were somewhat underwhelming.

Pagoda complex near Ruili 1991

A pagoda here, a huge banyan tree there, and the Burmese border crossing were about all the tips we could get from anyone.

Glen climbing a giant Banyan tree

Undoubtedly, the most interesting thing about Ruili was the incredible mix of people on its streets, the colourful markets and, why not, the sleazy, seedy ambience that hinted at clandestine wheeling and dealings.

Wet Market with bats, birds, and pangolins Ruili 1991

Among the more exotic of Ruili’s various dodgy businesses were the wet markets (live animal markets), where the usual suspects blamed for causing the current Coronavirus outbreak and the previous SARS epidemic could be found in cages, waiting for the wok: cats, bats, rats and pangolins to name just a few.

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Jingpo trader Ruili 1991

Ruili in 1991 played host to jacks of all trades: Burmese Muslim merchants, jade traders, rich Chinese buyers with pretty young girls on their arm, hookers, pimps, drug dealers and addicts…  and… beating them all for novelty: Kachin rebels (景颇族; Jǐngpō zú; in Chinese; members of an ethnic tribe struggling for an independent Kachin state) on rest and recreation after fighting the Burmese Junta. It was a kaleidoscope of peoples definitely worth coming all that way to see.

Burma / Myanmar: so close but yet so far; Adam by the Ruili River with Burma behind

We found ourselves being wined and dined by rich Chinese jade dealers who seemed to think it gave them status to have Westerners at their table when negotiating with their Burmese counterparts. The whole thing was surreal and rather ridiculous.

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Cheap Burmese eateries

After all, why invite people you don’t know to a slap- up meal? They couldn’t even speak to us; they just pointed at the food and urged us to eat! In hindsight, having a cheap Burmese meal with a few cold beers in the marvelous Sweet Café would have been much more fun. But that was the kind of thing that went on in Ruili in 1991.

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Margie enjoying a Burmese curry Ruili 1991

The Burmese Connection Sweet Café

As I mentioned before, by far the most interesting people we met were the Kachin rebel commanders, back from fighting the Burmese military Junta. They used to hang out in the Sweet Café, a real Asian hole in the wall, but with more character than any posh banquet hall.  

The Sweet Cafe Ruili 1991 Home to Kachin rebels

Some of the commanders were women, and they all spoke pretty reasonable English. They were a great source of entertainment with their stories of heroic exploits whilst fighting the Burmese army.

Kachin Rebel Commanders with Adam in the Sweet Cafe Ruili 19991

After its clientele, the next best thing about the Sweet Café was definitely its breakfast: milk tea, fried eggs, great fruit juices, and even Mohinga, a delicious Burmese spicy noodle soup with catfish and herbs, the perfect cure for a vicious hangover.  Nowhere in China could beat the Sweet Café when it came to a tasty breakfast!

The infamous Darkie toothpaste

Burmese and other foreign produced products were ubiquitous in the street markets; including the infamous and totally politically incorrect Darkie toothpaste that had been renamed Darlie two years previously. Obviously, what was being sold had passed its sell by date.

Another product with a dubious name

And speaking of border, the border between China and Burma / Myanmar must have been pretty porous at the time, as the rebels explained that they often came to Ruili when they needed a bit of a rest. It seemed that the Chinese were turning a blind eye to their comings and goings. Actually, the Chinese authorities were turning a blind eye to almost anything happening in Ruili. But that was Ruili in 1991.

The one and only Cock liniment!

Of course, these laissez faire policies didn’t quite apply to Westerners. Some travelers told us they’d managed to sneak across the river to the town of Musé in Burma, only to get arrested and deported back to China, where they were made to write a self-criticism for having violated the laws of the People’s Republic of China. Obviously, this anecdote and the written self-criticism were worth their weight in gold, as the ultimate proof of ‘travel cool’.

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Margie with Burma / Myanmar behind

And needless to say, if you did anything like this today, you’d be sent to prison. But that was then. China and Ruili in 1991 were not what they are today.

More Banyans

Back then, the Chinese authorities hadn’t really worked out what to do with mischievous foreigners. It was almost as if the PSB (Chinese Internal Security) and travellers were involved in playing a good humoured game of cat and mouse with travellers pushing the boundaries between those areas that were actually open and those that were still off limits, and the PSB trying to interpret the continuously changing directives from Beijing.

Adam in a Banyan tree

On our return to Baoshan we spent two hours trying to convince the local head of the PSB, who incidentally spoke impeccable English, to let us travel on by bus from Baoshan to Jinhong景洪 in Xishuangbanna 西双版纳 so as not to have to backtrack all the way to Xiaguan下关 and Kunming昆明. We studied the map together and he agreed it would be much shorter to travel direct from Baoshan 保山. However, his only answer was: “this area is closed to foreigners”. And that was the end of the matter.

Adam and Glen with Jingpo villagers

All in all we spent three days in Ruili, exploring the border area near the bridge that linked the town to Muse on the Burmese side, taking a day trip to the sleepy, non-eventful towns of Wanding 畹町 and Mangshi, playing Chinese chess with the locals, and cycling out to the nearby景颇族; Jǐngpō zú ( or Kachin); villages where we were made to feel very welcome.

Adam and Glen with Jingpo villagers

Our only regret is that the town of Tenchong 腾冲 had also just opened, but we didn’t know. At that time, Tenchong still preserved its historic architecture, which apparently has now vanished under the sledgehammer. A pity.

Bamboo Temple,筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, Kunming. Are these the world best Arhats?

The pictures you see here are the prints I bought from the temple when I visited as photography is not allowed.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Arhat Halls

I love visiting the arhats halls in Chinese temples. These are halls filled with amazing figures and transcendent scenes. Arhats or 羅漢 luóhàn in Chinese, are often defined as those who have gained insight into the true nature of existence and have achieved nirvana.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Arhats line the walls of many Chinese temples, but you’ll fine some of the most stunning examples in the 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, on the outskirts of Kunming, Yunnan Province. The temple’s arhat hall was built between 1883 and 1890 and includes 500 individual arhats  bǎi Luōhàn. 500 is the usual number.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Despite being a relatively recent creation, given china’s long history,the lifelike facial expressions of arhats in the Bamboo Temple, their clothes and the colours, all take one back to a time that evokes China’s mythical past and conjure up the west’s romantic fantasy with all things  exotic and Chinese.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

An arhat hall is the China we imagine when we read such stories as Journey to the West 西遊記 Xī Yóu Jì, Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义Sānguó Yǎnyì or the Water Margins or Outlaws of the West 水滸傳 Shuǐhǔ Zhuàn.

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

For me personally, an arhat hall is the China I imagined as a kid having just visited the Chinese gallery in the British Museum.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Of course the above sentimentalism and romanticism about ancient China is a far cry from the reality of China’s historical past. A 5000 year history full of brutality and oppression, wars and conquests, famine, drought and floods. The China of Su Tong‘s Binu and the Great Wall and Rice. And Mo Yan‘s Garlic Ballards and Big Breasts and Wide Hips.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

A moment of Peace

Nevertheless, for a few moments when I gaze at the arhats in front of me, I feel I am in the dream like world of China’s fantastical past. The China of its great mythical novels.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Not all arhat halls are the same.

In some temples, the arhats can be simple, almost monotonously similar, and painted in one colour; often gold.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

The artist was hallucinating?

However, other arhat halls are an exuberance of colour and fanciful scenes making one wonder what the artists might have been taking when they created them. The Jinge Temple 金阁寺 in Wutaishan is a good example.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Contemplating the 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats.

When I visit an arhat hall, I’ll spend hours staring at their virtually true to life faces, pondering on who their creator was, and who he was basing them on, and speculating whether or not they were real characters who existed in the artist’s lifetime, or if they were just a figment of his imagination. Or as previously mentioned: was he on something?

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Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

In temples such as the Bamboo Temple, 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì, 15 kilometers outside Kunming, the arhats are truly spectacular.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

They are remarkable for the riot of colours; memorable for the individual expressions on the faces of the arhats; mind-blowing for the bizarre mystical scenes in which the arhats are placed.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

The Bamboo Temple’s arhat hall is a creation of an artist whose powers of invention have run wild making it one of my all time favourite arhat halls. If you are in Kunming it is a must see. Below are the accounts of our two visits to the temple.

February 1991 and August 2010: two visits to the Bamboo Temple, 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Despite all of China’s modernization, it still takes just as long to get from downtown Kunming to the Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì as it did way back in 1991.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Getting there in 1991

In 1991, you picked up a clapped out over-crowded bus in downdown kunming that within a few minutes had already reached the outer limits of the city. After that, the bus slowly trundled past verdant green rice paddies and along pot holed roads before eventually ascending up through the lush forest to the temple.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Getting there today 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Today, there are no green fields, just kilometers upon kilometers of monotonous suburbs and snarling traffic that hold up the comfortable modern bus. Only the last two kilometers on the ascent through the forest brought back any memories of the previous trip.

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Chinese domestic tourists now come to the temple in large groups on air-conditioned tourist buses; they are then disgorged from the buses and unleased upon the temple: A few selfies later they return to their waiting vehicles and moved on to their next destination.

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Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Domestic Tourists Can’t Enter The Arhat Hall

Due to their recent unruly behaviour, especially, the throwing coins at the arhats and patting them on the head for good luck, the monks do not let Chinese tourists enter into the arhat hall. Instead, they must be observed from a safe distance from which no damage can be done. It maybe one reason why the Bamboo temple is actually far more sedate than it was 30 years ago.

Individual foreigners, on the other hand, will be invited into the hall by the monks to stand in front of the arhats if no tour groups are around ( no photography).

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Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

Mayhem in 1991

I remember the mayhem from our visit back in 1991. Then, the Chinese visitors came with their Danwei (work group), and would fight their way to the front of the hall in order to touch or throw coins at the arhats.

Fake fish Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

All the visitors, men and women alike, were dressed uniformly in their blue Mao suits; I can tell you it was quite a sight watching the hordes clamber over each other to get to the arhats!

Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

The incredulous, and at the same time resigned expressions, on the faces of the caretaker monks said it all.

Vegetarian Food at Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

In 1991 there used to be snack stalls and tacky souvenir vendors around the temple. Most of them (if not all) have gone now. The area is actually quite a serene given that this is one of Kunming’s highlights..

Not for eating Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì

What you do have now is a decent indoor and outdoor vegetarian restaurant set in lovely surroundings from where you can sip a cold beer, eat a delicious veggie meal and watch the huge resident tortoises roam around the grass. What more could you ask for?

Bamboo temple 筇竹寺 Qióngzhú Sì Arhats

Taijitu太极图: Yunnan Province

A hidden gem you could easily inadvertently miss.

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙, Yunnan Province, is a freak of nature. It looks remarkably like the famous Taoist Yin-Yang symbol when seen from high above. Viewed from ground level you would never know it was there.

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

The climb up to the view point is made along a steep winding road. If you can find a vehicle to take you there it is Yuan well spent. You don’t get any real inkling as to what is below until you suddenly arrive at the scenic viewing area. From this point, the whole Yin -Yang shape just suddenly appears before you. It’s quite magical.

Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

For more info about Taijitu太极图 near Yunlong 云龙

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Menghai Market 勐海市场 Yunnan Province

A rain sodden trip to see local markets in Xishuangbanna 西双版纳 Yunnan Province

Menghai 勐海 xishuangbanna 西双版纳 yunnan Province云南省
Menghai Market 勐海市场 西双版纳

Our attempts to reach the Sunday market at Menghun 勐混 were thwarted by the monsoon: due to heavy rain the new highway between Jinghong 景洪 and Menghai 勐海 had collapsed and no buses were running that Sunday morning.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

When we eventually headed to Menghai 勐海 a few days later the buses were running again, but only on the old road, turning the normally smooth 45- minute journey into a four- hour crawl .

Snack sellers taking advantage of the traffic Jam

The most chaotic scenes occurred at the exit of Jinghong, as lorries, buses, tractors and private cars leaving the city fought with those vehicles trying to enter the city to either get on or leave the old road.

Crawling traffic on the Jinghong / Menghai old road

The chaos was such that there were kilometres of traffic jams in each direction and not one person of authority was there to put some order to the mayhem.

A rain sodden trip to see markets in Xishuangbanna 西双版纳, Yunnan China.
Crawling traffic on the Jinghong / Menghai old road

With so many vehicles stuck with nowhere to go, local entrepreneurs ran between the traffic, selling anything from boiled eggs to grilled meats and soft drinks.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

Overturned lorries and their spilt loads only further aggravated an already desperate situation.

Tofu seller Menghai Market 勐海市场

In the evening as we settled into our clean but rundown hotel in Menghai we watched the well-organized and meticulously planned Olympic games taking place in Beijing on T.V and wondered if we were really in the same country.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

Our first destination from Menghai 勐海 was Gelanghe,  a Dai 傣族 and Akha / Yaozu 瑶族 settlement, some 30 kilometres southeast. We took the lazy and wrong option and hired a car and driver for 200 Yuan to take us to Gelanghe.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

The road starts climbing into the jungle clad hills only a few kilometres outside Menghai affording stunning views of the valley below.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

Unfortunately due to torrential rains the road had become a quagmire. Our van slid and skidded its way up and up. Twice we had to release it from the mud with stones and planks of wood until the van eventually succumbed to the inevitable and got completely bogged down.

Stuck in the mud on the way to Gelanghe

We now became the spectacle. The passing Akha / Yaozu 瑶族, who we had gone to see, stopped to gawp, comment and laugh at our predicament until a tractor, the only type of vehicle able to navigate the road, and its friendly driver pulled us out of the bog and turned our van round.

Akha / Yaozu 瑶族 Help is on the way

Defeated we headed back.

Beautiful Rural Scenery Near Menghai

To compensate for the aborted trip to Gelanghe, we visited the Bajiao Ting (The Octagonal Temple) at Jingzhen 20 kms from Menghai and the Manlei Buddhist Temple at Mengzhe, a few kilometres further along the road.

The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭

Although both temples are pleasant, they are reconstructions of originals destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭

The Jingzhen Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 景真八角亭,had some pleasant Dai style Buddhist murals that depicted gentle rural Scenes.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

However, the new paintings at the Manlei Temple, painted by young Dai artists are quite striking and the hell scenes are pretty gruesome.

Manlei Temple 曼磊佛塔

While the outside of the temple looks rather plain, it’s interior is a riot of colour and the paintings are not for the squeamish.

Manlei Temple 曼磊佛塔

You can see more of the murals from the Manlei 曼磊佛塔 Temple on our photo video: Buddhist Hell.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

Don’t miss Menghai’s morning Market just behind the Main road near the post office.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

It has a real buzz and you might catch a few Akha, Dai and Lahu dressed in their finest.

Unlike the Menghun market 勐混 市场, the Menghai market 勐海市场 is a market for locals and people from the countryside around. The market gets underway at the crack of dawn and is heaving by 9.00 a.m. By midday it has fizzled out.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

The next day we headed out to Xiding Market (See Article).

Menghai Market 勐海市场

Menghai 勐海 Coming and Going:

Menghai Market 勐海市场

It should be a brisk 45 minute to 1 hour zip along a new highway from Jinghong 景洪 to Menghai 勐海. That is if the monsoon rains haven’t washed the highway away. 

Menghai Market 勐海市场

Buses run continually throughout the day from both Jinghong’s bus stations. From Menghai’s bus station there are regular buses to Jinghong, Menghun 勐混, for the Sunday market.

Menghai Market 勐海市场

There are inconvenient buses for Xiding and its Thursday market (see article). If you are heading to the Burmense border there are buses to Daluo. For the route to Ruili there are plenty of buses to Menglian and Langcang.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

This was our plan but the rains made the trip a travel nightmare. Eventually we had to back-tract and head to Menglun and Laos. Outside the wet season this westward journey would make a great trip.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

Accomodation:

We stayed at the post office hotel. A clean double cost 80 yuan. Staff were extremely friendly.

The Octagonal Temple Bajiaoting 八角亭

Food was a bit limited in Menghai to say the least. Simple restaurants can be found along the main street and some noodle stalls set up at night near the main square.

Photo of the Week: Pep talk for Chefs in Kunming

Kunming, Yunnan Province. Catering staff receive a motivational pep talk from their boss.

Chefs and waiters recieving a pep talk but not paying much attention
After receiving a telling off Chefs and staff stand to attention
Chefs and waiting staff chilling out after the pep talk

Photo of the Week: The Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷

This photo taken in 2010 of the breath-taking scenery along the Nujiang Valley 怒江峡谷,near Bingzhongluo  丙中洛 in south west Yunnan.

For more on our trip to The Nujiang Valley click the numbers: 1 2 3 4