KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
At last we arrived in Jinghong, the capital of the Xishuangbanna region of southern Yunnan province. Xishuangbanna ('Banna') is the Chinese approximation of the original Thai name meaning Twelve Rice Growing Districts. When I told my daughter, Adia, that we were visiting 'Banna', she said, "Oh, we all called it squishy banana". She had arrived in Jinghong in 1999 after travelling overland from Laos on equally terrible roads.
The region is just north of China's border with Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, and has become one of the most visited parts of the province. Travellers are lured by the tropical forests, laid-back SE Asian feel and the culture of the Dai minority group. For those who have visited Thailand before, it's hard not to wake up and think that you have left China far behind. As we were visiting during the cooler winter months, we found the city almost devoid of tourists and all the hotels were offering cut-rate pricing. We noticed a few foreign travellers here and there; I really do mean here and there as they seem to spend the morning at one café, the afternoon at another, and the evening hours at yet another.
Jinghong itself is a quiet town with palm-lined streets and not a whole lot to do except chill out and relax after the hectic rush of other parts of China. After settling into bed to the sound of heavy rain on the window, we awoke to glorious sunshine and a light, moist breeze. Out came our light-coloured clothing and our jackets, warm socks and closed-in shoes were put away for a few days. We ate a couple of meals in a restaurant across the street from our hotel before discovering the delightful Mei Mei Café a few streets away where we indulged ourselves in delicious Western food and great Yunnan coffee. We continue to be surprised how hard it is to get a good cup of coffee in China, but then there is "all the tea in China...".
During the summer wet months, the city experiences searing heat that puts the entire populations to sleep. The shops and businesses all seem to shut down during the afternoon even during these cooler months, the people seem to have become used to their afternoon naps. After accomplishing nothing during our first afternoon in Banna, we too took it easy during the afternoon hours, but instead of sleeping, we whiled away the hours chatting with other foreign tourists at the Mei Mei Café.
We told Mu Chua and her brother and sister that they had free time while we lazed around. They decided to visit a couple of the small towns outside of Jinghong, but we just stayed and walked, relaxed and ate to our hearts content. We weren't interested in facing any more rough roads for the time being and we had seen plenty of beautiful scenery and rice terraces on the way south. We only stayed three nights and then it was time to head north to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, where we would say goodbye to our Naxi friends as they continued on home to Lijiang.