By Sandy Zimmerman
(Photos by Sandy Zimmerman)
Usually when we mention jungles, most people think of Africa or New Guinea. Hidden in the Southernmost tip of China, along the Myanmar (Burmese) and Laos borders, is a wild, exotic jungle in the Xishuangbanna (pronounced SHEE-SHWAH-BAHN-NAH) autonomous zone of Yunnan province.
Take an exciting trip “off the beaten path” to be part of their festivals, watch for elephants from the safety of a tree hotel, or visit ethnic villages. We arrived for the “Water Splashing Festival” and stayed around the capitol, Jinghong. The Hinayana
Buddhist Dai believe the act of splashing water on each other washes away evil and brings good fortune to family, friends and guests. They welcomed each plane with ceremonial music and splashed water on everyone (dipping flowers or leaves in water and gently shaking them toward the passengers).
For over 1,300 years, the Dai have celebrated their New Year with water splashing, parades, music, and dancing. Since the weather is hot, a little good luck water splashing is refreshing, but this takes place everywhere you go during the 3-4 days of the festival.
It seems as though the entire population of this sleepy little town suddenly awakened to participate in the festivities. Fiercely competitive Dragon Boat races move to the beats of elephant foot drums and mangluo gongs. These long Dragon Boats date back 2,000 years and are designed with a dragon’s head carved on the bow and dragon’s tail on the stern. It takes the efforts of 30 oarsmen to run each boat.
The “Gaosheng” (a section of bamboo poles filled with gunpowder) are lit and shot into the air as giant skyrockets where they explode for a different style of fireworks.
Colorful parades fill the streets with elephant, dragon and other images while the people are singing and dancing.
The Dai women wear long skirts with silver belts and flowers in their hair, while the men dress in turbans and short tunics tied at the side. Even the villages are decorated with colorful paper cutouts and traditional dishes are prepared for the feast. What a celebration!
The Dai are linked by language and culture to Thailand and this region is called China’s mini-Thailand. In addition to the Water Splashing Festival you can also see festivals of the other 12 minorities throughout the year. This is not the regular tour of China.
Watch rice paddy farmers guiding their oxen driven plows through the water fields just as their ancestors worked thousands of years ago.
Choose from trekking, car, river rafting, and camping tours into the jungle. Here elephants, leopards, tigers, pythons, Malay bears, peacocks, wild boar, black gibbons, and golden hair monkeys roam free.
Over 60 species of mammals and 400 species of birds live within 250 acres.
Visit a 200-year-old tea plantation, a rubber plantation, minority villages, Buddhist temples, botanical gardens, pagodas, minority houses on stilts, folk dances, and more.