An unlikely gem if ever there were one, Menglun’s dusty main road is a mishmash of small restaurants, cheap hotels and motorbike shops. Pretty it isn’t! But then one doesn’t come to Menglun to see the town, but rather the fabulous Tropical Botanical Gardens that begin after crossing a suspension bridge over the Luosuo River, only a few meters from the unglamorous main road. To really experience Menglun, stay at the atmospheric hotel set in the middle of the gardens; an oasis of serenity and a rare treat in modern- day China. The Gardens are huge, which is why you really need two days to explore.
Menglun should be a must for anyone embarking on a long trip around Asia. The Tropical Botanical Gardens are home to all the species you will become familiar with when travelling around Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, or the rest of China. Highlights include the Tropical Rainforest and the colourful Tropical Plants area. The Rainforest gives you a pretty good idea of the vegetation you will come across if you are doing any trekking in Xishuangbanna or in Laos, especially the Nam Ha Protected Area near Luang Nam Tha. Be prepared for extreme humidity.
Other areas of interest are the Medicinal Plants, including the Dragon’s Blood Tree that is reputedly able to heal wounds. The Palm Section has more different species than you could ever imagine. The Arboretum harbours some amazingly tall trees and Indiana Jones- like jungle foliage. The diverse types of Bamboo and the amazing Water Plants add to exotic ambience of the park. The highlight of the water plants is the “King of the Water Lily” a disk- shaped Lily growing up to a meter in diameter. The immense size of the gardens means that even if noisy Chinese tour groups do turn up, their presence doesn’t take away from the experience, as it can do in many other major sights.
Besides being a tourist destination, the Tropical Botanical Gardens are also a major research centre where scientist investigate how to protect biospheres and plant species, create seed banks and carry out the commercialisation of plant products for medicine, cosmetics and other areas. A number of Chinese companies have research centres in the park. Some of the Chinese professors and research workers speak English and are happy to tell you about their work.
Staying overnight in the Gardens’ accommodation is the best way to maximise your experience in Menglun. The evenings are particularly wonderful when fireflies, bats and other strange, flying insects come out. The hotel has a wide choice of rooms . The cheaper ones are damp and musty, while the 240 Yuan rooms are spacious with balconies. However, this might just be one of those places where you might want to splash out a bit more. There are two suites for 320 Yuan (32 Euros). The enormous rooms have nice bathrooms, private terraces and even fridges to keep your beer cold in the evening when everything closes up. Unfortunately, the hotel’s massive swimming pool was closed at the time of our visit in August.
Staff at the park entrance will be able to tell you whether there are any rooms available, or phone on your behalf. It is a good 1 km walk from the entrance to the hotel. One added advantage of staying inside the park is that the 80 Yuan entrance ticket only has to be paid once. Your room card will allow you to come and go as you please.
There is a good, though slightly pricey restaurant on the hotel grounds. They mostly cater to tour groups, serving exotic dishes made from the trees, plants and flowers in the gardens, such as fried banana flowers or bamboo ‘eggs’. You may need to order in advance and/or speak a bit of Chinese to persuade the cooks to serve up similar delicacies. Failing this, they have a fairly extensive menu of common Chinese dishes.
We had lunch in the restaurant while the torrential downpour that had been going on for most of the morning continued outside. It was interesting to observe how the Chinese tour groups seemed unfazed by the weather. Eating, drinking, toasting and playing cards, the groups from Ningxia and Sichuan were determined to enjoy themselves and make the most of their, undoubtedly, short holiday. We always feel that the Chinese’ resolve to have a good time, regardless of the weather or adverse circumstances, is one of their most endearing characteristics.
Apart from the restaurant, there are a couple of small shops on the premises, selling instant noodles, snacks and drinks.
Outside the park, there are many decent, cheaper restaurants near the market and on the main road.
Coming and Going
New highways have made Menglun quick and easy to reach from Jinghong, Mengla and Kunming. Buses run throughout the day. Unfortunately, the new highway between Menglun and Mengla (for Laos) bypasses the stunning jungle scenery the old road used to traverse. It now takes a mere 2 hours to Mengla.
For more photos go to:Holachina :: Gallery