Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture is located at the south end of Yunnan Province. It shares a boundary of 966 kilometers (619 miles) with Burma and Laos in the east, south and west, being a vital pass from China to indo-China Peninsular by land.
To the Dai people, Xishuangbanna was known as 'Mengbanaxi' in ancient times, a name that means a miraculous and nice utopia. It had been a settlement where 13 ethnic minorities have lived in tight-knit communities for generations. The Jino ethnic minority is peculiar to the prefecture.
Located in the south extension of the Hengduan Mountains, Xishuangbanna has over ninety-five percent of its territory occupied by mountainous and hilly areas. Most of the prefecture is below the altitude of 1,500 meters (4921 feet). Jinghong City is only 550 meters (1804 feet) above the sea level. The Lancang River runs through the prefecture and when it passes through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, it is known as the Mekong River.
The weather in this region is a combination of continental and oceanic climates with an annual average temperature of 18 degrees Celsius. The coldest November is similar to the middle of summer in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River; thereby, Xishuangbanna is reputed as a happy land without winter. Generally, there are only two seasons. May to October is the rainy season and November to April is the dry season.
Although it is an all-year-round tourist destination, the weather is most favourable from November to April. However since the roads conditions are excellent, Xishuangbanna is also a popular destination during the rainy season. Local products that are made in abundance in Xishuangbanna are tea, coffee, tropical fruit, herbs, and Yunan tobacco.
The Water Sprinkling Festival is New Year's Day for the Dai, and is the most important and grandest festival of the year. It lasts three days from 13th to 15th, April (the sixth month of the Dai Calendar). Dai people dip branches into the river and sprinkle the water onto others as a way to express their best wishes. In addition, the festivals of the Hani, Jino and Yao ethnic minorities are also delightful part of Xishuangbanna's ethnic customs.
As the only tropical rain forest nature reserve in China, the area has surprising biological diversity in the virgin forest, particularly because Xishuangbanna is so far away from central China and considered isolated.
In religion, it is greatly influenced by Hinayana Buddhism of Southeast Asia. The enticing white masonry structure, Manfeilong Buddhist Pagoda, is the quintessence of Hinayana Buddhist architecture. The main pagoda is comprised of eight small pagodas, like a cluster of bamboo shoots.
A tree does not make a forest. But a nine hundred year old banyan in Daluo Town of Xishuangbanna is the exception. It covers an area of 120 square meters (143.6 square yards) with over thirty stand roots. This 70-meter-high (230-feet-tall) banyan is an attractive and marvelous forest in itself.
Wild Elephant Valley:
Chinese wild elephants are only found in the virgin forest of the Wild Elephant Valley, located in the Mengyang Nature Reserve, 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Jinghong. There are hostels in the elephant park. Cabins in trees on riverbank are the most perfect localities to admire the elephants.
Manfeilong Buddhist Pagoda:
The Manfeilong Pagoda is situated on the top of a hill near Manfeilong Village, 70 kilometers (43 miles) away from Jinghong City. It was built in the year 1024 and is a famed stupa complex in Xishuangbanna. It is also known by two other names: White Pagoda and Bamboo Shoot Pagoda. These descriptive names are derived from the fact that the pagoda is, of course, white while its overall shape resembles a bamboo shoot. The pagoda is dedicated to Hinayana Buddhism (a small, conservative branch of Buddhism).
The Manfeilong Pagoda consists of nine stupas. Seen from the distance, they look very like bamboo shoots that have emerged from the soil after the spring rain. They are made of bricks, with typical club-like bases topped by calabash shaped bodies. The principle and central stupa, which is 16.29 meters (53 feet) high, is surrounded by eight smaller stupas, each being 9.1 meters (30 feet) high. In each stupa, there is a niche wherein a statue of Buddha is laid. The bells hung at the top of the pagoda make a tinkling sound when the wind blows. Just to the south of the pagoda, there is a footprint on the rock. According to legend, this is the left footprint of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.
Tropical Plant Research Institute:
Lying at the western suburb of Jinghong, the institute exerts a strong pull on tourists although it opens to public just a few years. In additional rubber plantation, the institute plants over 1,000 plants with economical or medicinal value. The large variety needs a botanist to figure out what they are. In the plantation, visitors get access to Zhou Enlai Memorial, which was built to commemorate the China's beloved premier's 1961 visit.
It is an institute combining research, education and preservation of animal species into one. Characterized by tropical plants, strong ethnic flavor and beautiful tropical ambience, it can be mainly divided into tropical fruit trees garden, aquatic plants garden, palm trees garden, banyan trees garden, medicinal plants zone, bamboo plants zone, aromatic plants zone and Endangered plant species protection zone.
Visitors to the institute will be attracted by many rare plants, such as the Dancing Grass which can dance with the music rhythm, the Raining Tree which can 'rain', the Clock Flower which is able to flower on time and also the flowers able to change colors. Pitcher plants eat worms and a kind of deciduous trees that yields poisonous juice are real eye-openers. Moreover, visitors will have opportunities to enjoy the plant wonders such as plants strangulation, old stems blooming and hanging gardens.
Olive Dam is the lowest and hottest place in Xishuangbanna. However, its torrid climate brings rich tropical fruits and products. It consists of two stockaded villages, each of which is highlighted by an eyeful of typical Burma styled Buddhist pagodas and bamboo building of the Dai minority.
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