As I left Lijinag Mama Naxi packed me off with a selection of fruit and a bag of lavender and sent me with one of her drivers to the bus station, where I got on the sleeper bus to Jinhong. Sleeper buses seem to be a phenomenon confined to Asia and are exactly as you might expect – large coaches full of beds instead of seats, usually on two levels. I managed to get one of the worst spots – in the middle, at the front, on top – which meant that I was forced to watch the movies since the TV was directly in my face. Fortunately they showed Happy Ghost 2, one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in years. When we stopped to use the toilets I found out what the bag of lavender was for.
We got to Jinhong at a stupidly early hour and everything was closed. It’s the capital city of the Xishangbanna region, where a host of different ethnic minorities live, none of whom seem to be particularly Chinese. The city has an air of Laos and Burma about it, and is noisy and hectic in a laid-back, tropical way – a description you wouldn’t find, say, anywhere else in China.
After an hour or so things started to open and I found a place that rents out bamboo huts on stilts. My room-mate was an Israeli girl who turned out to be a Mossad officer on a year-long break. After a long afternoon kip I spent the rest of the day hanging out with her at a cafe, avoiding controversial conversation topics.
The next day I had the place to myself and went off on a bike trip recommended by a travel cafe. The route wasn’t particularly interesting and led to a “hot spring” which seemed to be more like a large outdoor swimming pool full of stagnant water. Inside there were a few people who studiously ignored me. I lay on the grass and read my book, then cycled back. I took a different route and found some fairly nice scenery.
On my final day in Xishangbanna I went on a tour of the area with two middle-aged Austrian lesbian women I’d met at the cafe. I had to get up at 7, which was not as unreasonable as usual due to the heat. Of course the weather took a turn and it immediately started raining when we reached the countryside, but then miraculously stopped when we got to the market.
(Austrian women on the right there)
The rest of the day we went to see a fair few tribal villages a couple of tea factories and a temple. The view from the mountains was just immense.
…and in the villages our guide just let himself in to Dai houses as if he owned them. I suppose he’s been doing these tours for long enough that he doesn’t need to ask any more.
The best thing was probably the temple. It was a proper Burmese-style one, all gold and sloping roofs. Since Burma’s off-limits for this trip at least it was my only opportunity to see what a strange and fascinating place it is, and somewhere I’ll have to go when the political climate is better.
Last were the tea factories, where we tried endless pots of puyi tea, the local variety that is prized all over China. As far as green tea goes it’s about the best I’ve tried, with a warm, sweet aftertaste. Actually we drank far too much of it, giving me the jitters for the rest of the night but thankfully allowing sleep.
The next day was supposed to be my last in China but it ended up not being. I’ll come to that later, though.