Chinese ethnic minorities in Yunnan province: the Dai Village in Xishuangbanna (西双版纳)

If you are one of those people who cannot y bear cold weather, planning a trip to Yunnan province of China is probably a good idea to avoid too low temperatures. Many people consider Yunnan as the most beautiful province of the country, because of its vegetation and the low pollution rates. Indeed, Yunnan province has not gone through the rough development that involved the Northern and Eastern areas of China, it is considered a more rural area, and the natural landscape is well preserved.

There are many places to visit in Yunnan. For example, Kunming is a famous metropolis in the province; there is located the main campus of Yunnan University. However, in this post I want to share my experience in one of the smallest city in Yunnan, Xishuangbanna (西双版纳), well known for the variety of the ethnic groups that make up the city’s population.
Here is some information: everyone knows that China’s population rate is the highest in the world, but not many people know that in the Chinese people can be distinguished 56 different ethnic groups. Most of the Chinese people belong to the Hanzu (汉族),which is the reason why in many cases the character 汉 is used to refer to things directly related to Chinese culture (for example 汉子,Chinese characters). If you want to learn more about the other ethnic minority, Xishuangbanna is the right place to go.

During our stay in Xishuangbanna, we’ve decided to visit the Dai Minority village (傣族乡村). The Dai ethnic minority of China is closely related to Lao and Thai people, alias the two major ethnic groups in Laos and Thailand. If you are interested in an exhaustive introduction guide about the Dai Minority, I suggest the one by chinatravel.com, on this page you will find many curiosities about this people and useful suggestions on etiquettes rules that tourists should respect.


The village we visited is not far from the city center of Xishuangbanna. We were traveling during the holidays, precisely one day before the Autumn Festival (中秋节), which this year happened to coincide with the anniversary of the Republic’s foundation (国庆节). To avoid too much confusion on the public transport (typical of China, especially during the holidays), we’ve decided to rent a taxi for the full day. We were seven people in total, and we rent a car for the price of 460¥, which is a reasonable price considering that we needed a bigger car, and the taxi was at our disposition for the whole day. The only convenient was that we were seven people, and the car we rented had seven seats including the driver; therefore we had to squeeze a little during the ride. We left from our hostel, which was located near the city center, and it took us about one hour to arrive at the entrance of the Dai Village.

Being this a village where people actually leave, there is no entrance fee. However, a big part of the village’s economy has its center in the person of the tourist: restaurants, small hotels, shops, they represent a significant source of income for the people living in the village.
One of the first things that hit you up when you arrive there is the beauty of the tropical vegetation the village is immersed in. The landscape is typical of Yunnan’s countryside.

In this village it is interesting to look at the signs: as it is the common habit in Xishuangbanna too, they are written in two languages. The first one is the Mandarin Chinese, also known as 普通话,the second one is the language of Dai people, Tai Lü language, 傣仂语 (Dǎilèyǔ).


Another curiosity: if visit a Dai village, there is a very peculiar way to distinguish at first sight married and unmarried women: a woman who is already married will carry the key of her home tied on her belt, a woman who is not married will not carry any key on her belt.

Our experience in the village has been short but intense, we only had one half day trip there, but it is possible to stay longer if you decide to rent a room in one of the hotels inside the village. We spent our day following the paths randomly. We ended up in a tiny workshop owned by an old lady (she was tiny as well). She was selling manufactural products made with rice paper, everything inside the shop was her creation.

These are some of the manufactural products in the lady’s workshop!

As we were looking around, we noticed a few framed pictures made with rice paper and pieces of flowers and leaves. The lady saw our interest, and she said that she could teach us how to make one on our own, and we could bring it home with us for the price of 10¥each. Such a bargain, who would not accept?

Here you can see the lady showing us how to make the paper

So we ended up sitting on small stools, with our hands in containers full of water and fragments of paper. After we finished designing our picture, we left it in the frames to dry in the sunshine, planning to go pick them up later in the afternoon.

After less than a kilometer, we found another workshop to work with the clay. Same as before: we could create our creation and then bring it home for 10¥. We thought it could be fun too. So we spent a couple of hours there with a craftsman explaining to us how to work the clay (and making our attempts at creating cups a little less pathetic).
After this second long stop, it was past lunchtime, and we were quite hungry. At the beginning we were planning to go back to the city for lunch, but because we were quite late and had to wait for the clay to dry a little anyway, we decided to have lunch inside the village.

Unfortunately, many restaurants were closed due to the holiday, but we managed to find a good one for a very convenient price. We ordered eight dishes plus seven rice portions, paying 24¥per person. We were all satisfied in the end. However, if you are planning to go outside of a holiday period, you might be more likely to find restaurants which offer typical dishes of the Dai people. Many of them include insects, but in these cases daring often pays off.


After lunch we had to leave the village, so we jumped on our seven-seats-car and squeezed together for a ride back to Xishuangbanna. So it ended our short visit to the Dai Minority Village.
I hope you found the information you were looking for in this post, but most importantly reading it arose your curiosity about the many ethnic minorities that make up the Chinese population. The Dai people is only an example of the cultural variety we can find in the vast country of China, and traveling is the best way to learn about that! It is worth to be curious about that 😊

THE RED LEAVES VALLEY (红叶谷 Hongyegu,济南)

The Red Leaves Valley, also known as 红叶谷, is a park just outside the city of Jinan, in Shandong province (济南,山东省)。As the name suggests, the park is famous for its particular autumn allure, and the shades of red the trees assume in that season.
To visit the park at its best, it is fundamental to guess the best period: if you go too early the leaves will not have gained the red nuance typical of autumn; if you go too late, the leaves will have already turned brown or fallen. The best timing to visit the park would be in the middle or at the end of October, but of course, the dates are subjected to changes according to the weather of the year in which you are planning to go. Unfortunately, there is no way to anticipate how the park will look like before you are actually in the park, since the color of the leaves can change even in one single night.

Hongyegu

Where is it located

The location of the Red Leaves Valley can be convenient for the tourists for many reasons. First, it is close to many other points of interests in Shandong province: not only the city of Jinan but also the smaller village of Taihan ( 泰安), known for the mountain of Taishan 泰山,the highest mountain in Shandong province. Therefore, visiting the Red Leaves Valley can be a convenient stop if you are already in Shandong and have some spare time. Moreover, being it a small park it is the perfect choice if you are tired of mainstream parks such as The Fragrant Hills in Beijing, which is also famous for its autumnal beauty.
Here is a map of the precise location of the park: Click here to see the map!

Tips to organize the trip

The Red Leaves Valley is not a big park; there are few attractions: the main reason the attracts the tourists is the beauty of the landscape in autumn. Therefore, it is entirely possible to visit the park for half a day even taking it easy. However, like many other parks in China, it closes at 5.00 pm. I recommend to go the in the early morning to avoid the traffic, so that you can have enough time to explore the park, and you can also choose to have lunch there. Inside the park, there is a restaurant that offers local dishes, but it has to be mentioned that menu is only written in Chinese, so you might have some trouble in ordering the food if you don’t speak the language. The price for a basic meal is about 30¥, which is quite expensive by Chinese standards, being this a touristic park it is quite a reasonable price. Of course, bringing your own packed lunch is also an option, but there is no pick-nick area staged in the park, and eating on a random bench with a plate on your lap might be uncomfortable, especially in the autumn weather. Anyway, you’d find many chances to get snacks, such as cotton candy or crisps, provided by the vendors inside the park.

How to get there

The park is located just outside of the city of Jinan. The only way to reach the place is to go by bus, since there is no train station near the park. Going by taxi is also an option of course, but it might be quite expensive due to the length of the ride. If you take a public bus, leaving from the city center, it will take between 1.30 – 2.00 hours to get there, depending on the traffic you might find to get out of the city. You could also rent a private bus and organize a trip on your own, or go with your car would also be a possibility: just at the entrance of the park, there’ s a convenient carpark with stalls for cars or busses.

At the entrance

Like any other park in China, it is likely that it’ll be crowded in the day you decide to go, especially if it is just the perfect time to see the re d leaves and the park look at its best. Therefore, you might have to queue to get to the entrance. The entrance fee is 100¥ for the adult ticket, but the student ticket is only 50¥, therefore remember to bring your student card if you plan to go there; otherwise you’d miss the discount. There is no need to go through security checks before getting in.

The attractions

Immediately after the entrance, you’ll find a big balcony with a view on a scenery spot: this is one of the most beautiful views on the valley, and if you’ve been lucky with the timing you’ll see an ocean of red leaves in front of you. If you’re there at the right time of the year, it will be breathtaking.
The park’s staging has the typical Chinese taste: you’ll find pagodas overlooking on lakes, ducks longing in the water and small paths entwining among the trees. To heighten the beauty of the park, some peacocks are allowed to roam free in the park, and many visitors enjoy taking pictures with them.

But besides the landscape, what could you find in the Red Leaves Valley that is worth visiting? The park’s administration does not provide a tour guide service, but anyway the cultural attractions in the park are not many.
There is a little temple valley, easy to find walking through the paths. The temples are small and not known, but they are still used to hold ceremonies some time. Indeed, there is an altar to burn incense in front of the biggest one, and you might see people praying in front of it. You can also light up the incense on your own and pray for your wishes in front of the temple.

Buddhist temple located inside the Red Leaves Valley in Jinan
Apart from the temple valley, there’s also a tower outstanding in the park: it is possible to climb the staircase to the top and enjoy one of the most beautiful scenic spots in the valley. There is a golden Buddha placed at the top level of the tower, and Buddhist ceremonies are held there on special occasion. If there is a celebration staged on the tower when you’re visiting the park, you’ll still be able to climb the staircase, but you wouldn’t be allowed to go to the top.

Pagoda located inside the Red Leaves Valley in Jinan
Besides the cultural attractions, there are also activities meant for those who want to spend a pleasant afternoon with their family or friends: a park is a perfect place for a laser-tag session. There are a few shops located in the park that rent the clothing and the provide the equipment for groups of people who want to join. If you’re traveling in a group of more of 5 people, chasing each other into the woods, immersed in such a beautiful environment, can definitely be a fun experience.

 

So these are all the useful information I got for my visit to the park. Once again, mind to go there at the right time, otherwise you’ll miss the red leaves, and it would be a pity. Wish you the best of luck and enjoy your visit!

How to get the best noodles in Xi’an (西安)

This is a tale that begins a while ago, months before we planned our trip to Yunnan.

Having the fortune of being international students in China for one year, we had plenty of occasions to travel, and we were as well very determined not to miss a chance. The only obstacle was that when you’re attending any course in a Chinese University, attendance is almost always compulsory. Therefore the time to travel around was not that much in the end. We started our study abroad experience in February, Chinese New Year was already gone. Therefore the first real holiday happened to be Qingmingjie (清明节), in April. That time we have been in Xi’an for about four days, and for most of us, it was the first time in the city, so we really enjoyed it. Xi’an is an ancient city full of history, there found its location the tomb of the first emperor of China (also known as Qin Shi Huangdi), just to mention one of the attractions. You can find the terracotta army in Xi’an, you can see the Muslim communities of China there, and last but not least, the street food there is one best kind you can find in China.
So what did impress us the most in our first visit to Xi’an?

A noodles restaurant,named 永佳岐山面.
Why? Because I have been living in China for almost one year by now, and those remain the best noodles I have ever had the pleasure to eat. Quite remarkable, if you consider that I am a noodles lover (although not, they do not remind me of spaghetti, and I don’t like them because I’m Italian), and I have had at least a bowl of noodles in all the cities I’ve been visiting in China.
This restaurant was hidden in a tiny street typical of Xi’an city center, about 20 minutes’ walk from the Drum Tower, one of the main attractions of Xi’an. We ended up there more or less by chance, after a long day of walking in the city, so we were famished. Finding this cute old lady taking our orders and bringing to each one of us a bowl of warm and super tasty hand-made noodles, it’s been a lovely welcome. We tried different kind of noodles (dry ones, with soup, wide ones, thick ones, thin ones…), and they were all super cheap: between 10 and 15 yuan per bowl. A top place.

This an example of the noodles we got in the restaurant!

And here we get to the second part of our story, which takes place during the National Holiday of China. We were heading to Yunnan province, our last destination was the small city of Xishuangbanna (西双版纳), which is though quite difficult to reach. To get there, we took a plane that stopped first in Xi’an and then in Kunming, we arrived in Xi’an in the morning, and we were quite in the mood for a good lunch. Since we had about 8 hours to kill before the next flight, so we decided to give it a try to find that noodles restaurant that impressed us a few months before.

The mission started.

First, we needed a taxi to the center. Here is my tip: NEVER EVER TRUST sketchy taxi driver that comes to you at the arrivals trying to sell you “a cheap ride.” Not only they’re fooling you most of the times, but they’re not even giving you any receipt, so they’re evading the taxes.

So, we were seven people, and we agreed to get two taxis to the Drum tower. What we were not expecting was that we took about one hour to get into the center, because of the massive amount of people that were leaving the city that day. Everyone knows that China is a highly populated country, but not everyone realizes how difficult traveling in China during Chinese holidays, especially for long holidays such as the anniversary of the Republic’s foundation (国庆节). Plus, this year the anniversary was coinciding with the Autumn festival (中秋节), another significant Chinese celebration that follows the lunar calendar, therefore changes every year. Both holidays are among the most important in China, so the crowd was guaranteed.

As a result, we got caught in a traffic jam: we were heading from the airport to the city, as a ton of other tourists was doing: as I was mentioning before, Xi’an is one of the biggest touristic centres in China, due to its long history and the presence of Qin Shi Huangdi’s mausoleum and the Terracotta Army. Moreover, we were traveling on the first weekend of the holiday, no surprise that our taxi ride was taking forever and we barely moved.
It has to be mentioned that there are also other ways to get into the center. Our little trip was quite improvised, so we chose to go by taxi because we were carrying heavy backpacks with us, and we were aiming to a specific place so we thought it’d had been the fastest/most convenient option. But there are also buses from the airport to the Drum tower specifically, for the price of 20 yuan (we chose to get the taxi anyway because we were sharing so it wouldn’t have been much more expensive). Besides that, a smart way to avoid traffic is to go by subway: it is not the most convenient option in normal conditions but it’s the cheapest way to get to the center, and you’d avoid the traffic jam (not the crowd of people though). Or even, you could decide to take a taxi to a specific spot and then take the subway only to avoid the most critical areas.

As I said before, we splatted into two taxis. After we realized we were taking so long to get to the Drum tower, we were considering getting out of the taxi and just walk: it would have probably been faster. People in Taxi A decided to stay inside the cab and be patient, people in Taxi B chose to walk. In the end, because the jam extended only till the ancient walls of the city people in Taxi A managed to get to the Drum tower about 20 minutes before Taxi B. There was not a big difference in the price we paid anyway, about 10-20 yuan.
It started raining as soon as we arrived, but the spirit was high: we were craving for the best bowl of noodles ever. Fortunately, one friend of ours is very good at orienteering even if we had no correct address for that restaurant, and although we had been there only one time many months ago, she could still find the way to get there without any hesitation.

So we walked from the Drum tower for about 20 minutes, under the rain, and we finally got to the tiny street where the restaurant was. We kept going, eventually spotting the entrance of the restaurant and…

It was closed.

We should have expected that the restaurant could have been closed for the holidays, although when we went there the first time, it was the period of vacations as well… Also, we did not have much time to find a substitute restaurant for lunch, since there was so much traffic we needed to be quick not to risk to miss the flight to Yunnan. Therefore, we just entered in a random restaurant next to the other one, and we got some bowl of noodles there. Needless to say, it wasn’t good as the one we were aiming for, not even close to that, but still not bad, and a proper quality/price rating.
In the end, we decided to go back to airport by bus, and we managed to get the flight without any struggle since getting to the airport was not as difficult as getting into the city.
The whole story took place in about seven hours, here is a resume of the time and money expenses and the exact location of the restaurant:

  • Deposit your luggage at the airport: 10¥/15¥/20¥ depending on the size
  • Taxi from Xi’an airport to the Drum tower: 140¥
  • Bus shuttle from the airport to the city center: 20¥ per person (about 40 minutes ride)

So, if you ever find yourselves being in the Xi’an’s airport, hungry and with a lot of hours to kill, I recommend you to have a quick escape in the city and try this place for the best noodles experience ever! It shouldn’t be difficult to get there, especially in a ferial day when traffic jams are less frequent. Wish you the best of luck!!