By Roger ALLNUTT
It is a strange feeling to stand with one foot in China and the other in Myanmar.
The western province of Yunnan in China shares a border with Myanmar (as well as Vietnam and Laos) and at a couple of places near the city of Ruili there are border crossings where locals move easily between the two countries. Tourists are allowed to have their photos taken while the guards look on. There is considerable vehicular traffic between the two countries as goods are moved between the two countries; from Ruili it is referred to as the ‘new’ Burma Road while from the bigger city of Tengchong it forms part of the Southern Silk Road.
In recent years this region has seen a marked increase in tourist traffic although until recently most of the visitors were Chinese nationals. There has been considerable infrastructure development with many new and excellent hotels, better roads but a drawback for foreigners, especially western tourists, is the lack of English speaking guides and staff at hotels. The Chinese are taking strides to address this.
The region has an excellent mainly temperate and subtropical climate and hence can be visited throughout the year. Along the border with Myanmar there are also a number of higher peaks where the temperatures are much cooler.
The main tourist area is round the city of Tengchong which, apart from the dominant Han people is also home to 25 other nationalities including Hui, Dai and Lisu. It was the site of major battles in World War II during the Anti-Japanese War – the famous Stilwell Road went through Tengchong.
With a population of around 700,000 Tengchong is a fascinating city to visit mainly due to some cultural and geological attractions. Within the city area the old village of Heshun is a wonderfully maintained and preserved example of traditional Chinese village. Surrounded by a narrow river there is an old general’s house now a boutique hotel while the famous library, established in 1924, contains over 70,000 books and many rare manuscripts. Heshun is also famous is a village where many original inhabitants moved to other countries but still maintained their links.
Another unusual destination is the Gingko Village which has more than 3000 ancient gingko trees of which about 50 are over 500 years old. I visited in autumn when the leaves were dramatically yellow in colour while many houses in the village had large displays of corn drying in preparation for winter.
Geologically Tengchong , on a plateau at 1600m,is centred in a volcanic and geothermal area. There are 99 volcanoes and 88 hot springs which provide wonderful scenery and touristic opportunities.
North of Tengchong the Volcanic Scenic Area is a national geopark with a dramatic landscape and also of great value for scientific research.
At the Rehai Scenic Area trails wind past a number of thermal springs with names like Frog Mouth and Lions Head as the waters bubble and steam from the rocks. The waters are well known for their therapeutic properties especially for diseases of the human body. It is a pleasant experience to relax in the hot springs. The excellent Angsana Hot Spring Village is a good option there for both trying the waters and accommodation.
An unusual attraction is the Beihai Wetland Area where large clumps of grasses and other plants appear to ‘float’ on the surface of the water creating a moving landscape.
About 45km north of Tengchong is Yunfeng Mountain, a famous Taoist sanctuary close to the Myanmar border. A cable car whisks you silently above dense vegetation to a station midway up the mountain from where it is a steep and exhausting 680 step clamber to the summit at 2440m to inspect the nearly 400 year old Taoist abbey. The mountain was a revered site in the eyes of the emperors of imperial China. I was amazed at the number of vendors, many elderly, who do the climb each day.
At the base of the mountain a Japanese company has built an unusual and very expensive resort Lost Stone Spa and Resort the mainly stone tile construction seemingly sprouting out of the land. Inside the rooms are elegant, stylish and incredibly well appointed. In Tengchong I stayed at the new Empark Grand Hotel in a new development among large apartment blocks with great views over the city.
It is about a four drive on excellent roads from Tengchong to Ruili and it was interesting to see large numbers of workers in the fields many using traditional methods of farming. The autumn crops had been collected and already the winter crops were planted in beautifully straight rows.
Myanmar is one of the largest suppliers of jade and jade-like ore in the world and Ruili is now a major centre for the production of jade jewellery and other pieces. An excellent museum features jade, its history and the production of jewellery with many fine examples. The best pieces are very expensive.
Ruili and surrounding towns like Luxi (also known as Mangshi) are located in the Dehong Dai Autonomous region. The peacock is the symbol of the region and it is worthwhile seeking out one of the local traditional cultural shows; it is the men who specialise in the famous peacock dance.
The area had many lovely gardens with colourful plants and bushes, waterfalls, large sculptures in wood and stone, pools stocked with huge numbers of tropical fish, and even some peacocks strutting about. A good hotel choice in Ruili is Jing Cheng Earthsea Hotel.
For more information see China National Tourist Office located at 11/234-242 George St, Sydney NSW 2000 or visit www.cnto.org.au
China Southern Air flies direct from many major cities around the world. For more visit www.csair.com
Roger Allnutt was a guest of China National Tourist Office and flew with China Southern Airlines from Sydney.