Xishuangbanna – Yunnan, China

Life Among the Hill Tribes of Southern China

The remote agricultural province of Yunnan is the perfect destination for relaxed travel through rural China. Bordering on Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Laos, its biggest draw is the Xishuangbanna region’s small towns, which are home to more than one third of China’s ethnic minorities.

Market days, hol­idays, and festivals attract a veritable A-to-Z constellation of more than twenty-five hill tribes, from the Aini to the Zhuang, with the Buddhist Dai being one of the most promi­nent.

They still wear their traditional clothing, colors, headwear, and body art, and sell hand­icrafts that have not changed in centuries. Among other attractions in Xishuangbanna are Mount Jizu (a sacred Buddhist site to which many pilgrims come to watch the sun­rise); boating on lovely Lake Erhai; the 200- acre Lunan Stone Forest of weirdly shaped eroded rocks; Dali, a town in a beautiful mountain setting where backpackers come, stay, and tune out; and the Yangtze River’s dramatic Tiger Leaping Gorge – one of the deepest in the world – where a challenging trek offers unparalleled adventure. Xishuang-banna is a tongue-twisting approximation of the original Thai name Sip Sawng Panna (Twelve Rice-Growing Districts), and there’s an exotic and kick-back feel of tropical Thailand and Southeast Asia here.

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