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Mark Hiew (more chengdu)
Jinghong, more of an overgrown town than a heaving metropolis, more Bangkok than Beijing, more banana tree than bamboo. The capital of Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, located at the southern tip of Yunnan, serves as a transit point for those on the well-trodden Southeast Asian backpacker trail, bordering neighbors Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. But beyond standard traveler services, Jinghong possesses a mix of tropical charm and unhurried urbanity that makes it worth scheduling additional time for.

For many people, the Mei Mei Café on Manting Lu is the first point of call in Jinghong, serving up quality western food alongside all manner of local tours, bookings and advice. Be sure to sample the local Dai cuisine with staples such as sticky pineapple rice and beef with basil. Do not, contrary to the Lonely Planet China, stay at the Dai Building Inn. For the same price, Xiayu Hotel, a few doors down the road next to Mei Mei, proves to be a dramatically superior value.

Jinghong contains a number of decent parks. Central Peacock Park, with its shady lanes and lake, is one of the better places to people-watch. Another is the main square on Menghang Lu, which hosts public dancing on Tuesday evenings. Best of all, though, rent a bicycle and ride out of town along Jinghong’s broad palm-lined streets. An hour ride from the city center is Gansu village, featuring a swimming pool-size hot spring, with Dai-style architecture and Buddhist temples along the way. In the evening, retire to the George and Dragon, an Englishman-owned pub carrying a fine selection of foreign beers.

To Get There: Jinghong is a 10 hour bus ride from Kunming. Sleeper buses (216 RMB) can be booked in Kunming) and leave at 8:30 pm nightly.

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