The Tropical Botanical Gardens at Menglun


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. Continue reading “The Tropical Botanical Gardens at Menglun”

Xiding Market – Xishuangbanna

Hani Lady

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We abandoned our driver, his car buried deep in the mud, and mounted a motorbike. Ironically, the previously treacherous mud bath soon became a reasonably smooth, semi-asphalted road. The drive was stunning: we passed Dai villages with their traditional raised wooden houses, thick jungle and vistas of mist-covered hills and valleys flashed by, and just when it seemed that the scenery couldn’t get better, we arrived in Xiding, looking like an island floating above the clouds. Unfortunately, on closer inspection, the town revealed itself as a bit of a dump.

The small, grubby market town of Xiding may seem a strange destination, especially if you have to spend so much time and effort trying to get there, but its Thursday market is one of the most authentic ethnic markets in Xishuangbanna. A hive of activity from dawn to midday, the market attracts nearby Dai, Hani (Aini or Akha), and Bulang minorities. It is said that Lahu also drop in, but we didn’t see or recognize any. The only real sign of Han-Chinese presence are the huge military barracks overlooking the town, a reminder that the Myanmar border is only a few kilometres away.


The market occupies a large square, just up the road from the bus station, as well as some of the adjacent streets. There is nothing touristy about this market, the only things on sale are local produce, household goods and cheap clothes. A few noodle stalls feed the hungry shoppers. With everybody busily going about their business, nobody tried to sell us anything. The local kids, pipe- smoking old men and colourfully dressed women occasionally glanced at us with a certain amount of bewilderment, probably wondering why we had made it all the way out there. Even if you can speak Chinese, it is quite difficult to explain that you have come to see them.


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China to Laos (Mengla to Luang Nam Tha)

Transport and Procedures:

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This summer we crossed from China into Laos and found that the border crossing is a mere formality. We left the dour Chinese town of Mengla at 7.00 am and by 9.30 we were already in Luang Nam Tha. As it was pouring down with rain when we left the hotel, we simply took a taxi all the way to the border at Mohan, the journey took about 45 minutes on a spanking new highway and cost a very reasonable 150 Yuan. At Mohan we had to wait a bit, as the Chinese border post doesn’t open until 8.30 am, when the flag is raised with much pomp and ceremony.

There are, however, many other ways you can go: there are minibuses to Mohan that leave every 20 minutes from the Southern bus station. There is one daily bus from Mengla directly to Luang Nam Tha that leaves from the Northern bus station at 9.30 am. As we hadn’t been able to book tickets or even speak to the bus staff, we didn’t want to wait for this direct bus, in case there was a problem with us not having Lao visas yet and needing to get them at the border.

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Thailand to China by Boat

The Boat from Thailand to China

Boat to China

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Sailing up one of the remotest and most striking stretches of the Mekong River with Laos on the right and Myanmar (Burma) on the left is a great way to enter China. The trip takes about a day and a half and is easy to organise.

The Boat leaves the Northern Thai town of Chiang Saen on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Boats return to Thailand from the Chinese city of Jinghong on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

We got our tickets by ringing Gin’s Guest House ( 0 5365 0847 / 1023) in Chiang Saen in advance and making a reservation. You might be able to get your own tickets at the office of the Xishuangbanna Tianda Tourism and Shipping Company in Chiang Saen. The office is by the Mekong, a little way South, down Th. Rimkhong, though the telephone number 0 5365 1136, quoted by Lonely Planet, was no longer in use .

Tickets cost 800 Yuan or 80 Euros. If you are paying in Thai Baht it works out at about 4.000 B depending on the fluctuating exchange rate.

Your passport has to be handed in to Thai immigration the day before you leave. This is due to the unsociable departure time of the boat at 4.30 a.m. An official fee of 300 Baht is paid to Thai immigration for working out of hours. It’s 150 Baht if you don’t want a receipt! Your passport is returned to you on the boat. Apparently, at other times of the year when water levels are lower, the boat leaves later, around 6.00 am. Part of the year, the boat service is discontinued completely.
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Tonghai (English & Español)


(Versión Español)


Para llegar a Tonghai desde Kunming, se necesitan menos de tres horas en autobús, es todo carretera y hay poco para distraer la vista. Tonghai es una pequeña ciudad agrícola, a pocos kilómetros del lago de Qilu, al lado del cual todavía hay un pueblo de descendientes de soldados del ejercito de los Mongolos. La ciudad, presa de una campaña de embelesamiento, como tantas otras en China, no es nada del otro mundo. Desafortunadamente, muchos edificios antiguos de la dinastía Qing ya han sido demolidos, mientras que otros están sujetos a reformas de dudoso gusto. Más que nada, el encanto de Tonghai reside en la mezcla interesante de su población y, sobre todo, el atmosférico parque de Xiushan.

Xiushan es un parque bastante grande, lleno de templos en el estilo de las famosas montañas sagradas chinas, situado en el monte Xiushan, con vistas sobre la ciudad y el lago Qilu. La falta absoluta de teleféricos, puestos de souvenirs y turistas, fácilmente convierten este parque en uno de los más agradables y relajantes de China….. Leer mas:
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(English Version)

The journey from Kunming to Tonghai takes less than three hours, a straight bus-ride down the motorway with very little in the way of visual distractions. Tonghai itself is a small agricultural town, a few kilometres from the Qilu lake, on whose shores a village inhabited by descendants of soldiers from the Mongol armies survives to this day. The town, which is currently undergoing a beautification campaign, like so many others in China, is nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, many interesting old buildings, mostly dating from the Qing dynasty, have already fallen prey to the sledge hammer, while others are undergoing dubious reforms. However, Tonghai‘s saving grace is its interesting population mix and, most of all, the wonderfully atmospheric Xiushan park.


Xiushan park is a large temple park in the style of China’s famous Holy Mountains, set on Xiushan mountain, overlooking Tonghai city and Qilu lake. Its total lack of cable cars, souvenir stalls and tourists make this park easily one of the most pleasant and laid- back in China…. For more go to:

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Wine and Cheese in Paradise


The bar was pretty cool; just a few wooden tables with simple but stylish decoration. We ordered a bottle of dry red wine and savoured the moment as the dark burgundy liquid filled our glasses. We toasted and rejoiced that we had chosen well. But the best was yet to come. The cheese, beautifully presented and excellently cut, looked as if it had arrived straight from Castilla la Mancha. The fried cheese sticks were scrumptious too. With a little bit of imagination we could almost feel as if we had been transported to one of those lazy, boozy days kicking back in Spain. But actually we were at 3,200 meters above sea level, not too far from the Tibetan border in the Yunnanese town of Zhongdian. The wine and the cheese where both local products; the latter 100% yak….


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Cizhong and Tibetan Wine


In the next week a new article will be posted on Your Gateway to China about the remote Tibetan village of Cizhong in Yunnan province and Tibetan wine.


The area has a tradition of wine making ever since French missionaries came to the region more than 100 years ago. The village of Cizhong also has a beautiful Catholic church built in traditonal and local style.

Don’t go to Dali….


Avoid Dali, the once mythical city and haven of back-packers, now not much more than a vulgar theme park. Only 33 kilometres away is the lovely village of Xizhou, with its impressive Bai architecture, which can give you a taste of what Dali once was like. If you wish to explore the beautiful area around Erhai Lake, you could do a lot worse than base yourself in this friendly and laid-back village.

Xizhou has played an important role in the history of this region of Yunnan, as it once served as an important military base and……

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Yuanyang Rice Terraces / 远阳梯田 2006


During the first two or three months of every year, thousands of professional and would- be professional photographers descend upon this remote town in Yunnan province to take photos of one of nature’s most beautiful phenomena, the changing of winter to spring on some of the most spectacular rice terraces in the world. At this time, the paddies are full of water, and their beauty is enhanced by the shifting contrasts of light and rolling mists that provide stunning vistas. At sunrise and sunset the water in the paddies can take on a myriad of colours, ranging from an eerie blue, to pink, yellow and bright red, thus providing the perfect hunting ground for those in search of the ultimate shot.

Unfortunately, our work schedule left us with no choice but to visit Yuanyang in summer, when the terraces have taken on a bright emerald hue, but are devoid of water. They are still an awesome sight, especially at dawn, but they are no match for those glossy photos, adorning the multiple coffee-table books and postcards that you can find all over town. The locals, who seem to be fairly obsessed with rice paddy viewing, constantly remind us that this is the wrong time to visit and insist that we should come again in February, to see the real thing!

The most popular terrace viewing points are:
Longshubao: particularly recommended for Continue reading “Yuanyang Rice Terraces / 远阳梯田 2006”

Wine and Cheese in Shangri-la

One of the more pleasant Surprises of last year’s visit to Zhongdian in the South Western province of Yunnan was sitting in a Tibetan run wine bar nipppling delicious cheese and washing it down with a pretty decent red wine. Both products were locally made. The cheese, unlike most Tibetan cheeses, was neither sour or tooth shatteringly rock hard. Actually it would go down well at any French or Spanish table. The cheese was produced in a remote mountanious area by a cooperative with the aid of western expertise. In April HolaChina: Your Gateway to China will bring you a full length article on how this unusual business came about. Stay posted!