Updated: 2012-01-13 07:51
Xishuangbanna in yunnan province provides a warm refuge
As the chill of winter sets in in the Northern Hemisphere, travelers are once again heading for sunny escapes from the cold. Southeast Asian staples like the Indonesian island of Bali and Phuket in Thailand may hold sway, but there is also a less known spot in China that can give a taste of the tropics. Located in southern Yunnan province, Xishuangbanna borders Laos and Myanmar. Xishuangbanna's Thai name, Sip Song Pan Na, means "12,000 rice fields". As the name suggests, expansive paddy fields and tropical rain forests are located there.
Xishuangbanna is home to the Dai ethnic group whose people are skilled dancers and singers. The area is also known as the Amazon of China for its great biodiversity - it contains some of the last Asian elephants.
There has seen a surge in both domestic and overseas tourists in Xishuangbanna in recent years as more people discover this cozy spot during the winter months.
Here are some of the must-see spots:
1. Wild Elephants Valley
This is "the land on the back of elephants" and in the eyes of the Dai people, the animal is a symbol of luck, might and longevity.
In ancient times, elephants were presented to the rulers as tribute. The Dai people were also known for their ability to tame and train the beasts to help with farming, and these skills were kept from outsiders in the past.
About 300 wild elephants are left in the area and most of them live in Wild Elephants Valley. There are covered walkways that allow a bird's eye views of the dense forest and the wild elephants as they bathe, forage and play.
The best times to spot the elephants are in the morning, noon and dusk when they move around, and any sighting of the animals in their natural habitat promises to delight.
2. Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden
With more than 10,000 species of tropical plants and rainforests that cover an area of 900 hectares, this is the place to be for plant lovers.
The garden, established more than 50 years ago, is said to be the largest plant research base for the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The attraction is also a mouth-watering experience for gourmets. Flowers, herbs and other plants in Xishuangbanna are used in dishes including mushroom hotpot, lilies in pork broth and stir-fried jasmine with preserved pork.
3. Olive Plain
A trip to Xishuangbanna is not complete without a stop at the Olive Plain, considered the perfect place to experience the lives of the locals.
Villages are located near waterways and amid lush bamboo. Generations of the Dai have used bamboo for building. Structures including homes are built way from the humid ground, on stilts. The ground floor is used for rearing livestock and for storage, and people live on the first floor.
4. Water Splashing Festival
The temperature in Xishuangbanna can drop to 16 C. The best time to go is from November to April when it is neither too hot nor too cold.
To truly mingle with the locals, trips should be made during the hotter days of mid-April, when Xishuangbanna's grand Water Splashing Festival is held.
During this time, locals splash water on each other as a cleansing ritual for celebrating the New Year by the calendar of the Dai. It is believed that the more water you are drenched with, the more blessings and good wishes you will received.
On the first day of the festival an outdoor fair is held and local souvenirs and products are sold. Dragon boat races are held in the afternoon on the Lancang River to mark the end of the old year.
The festival's second day is devoted to either the old year or the new one and people usually stay at home or go hunting in the wild.
On the third day of the celebrations, after a Buddhist ceremony at the local temple, residents flock to the streets with containers of water to enjoy a grand waterfall bestowed by family members, friends and strangers alike as a fitting welcome to the Dai New Year.