It is unseemly to give an entire city a bad review, as though a place where so many work and play, laugh and love, can be written of
f like a mediocre movie or restaurant. So be it.
The overarching purpose of China Expat is to give our foreign brethren a comprehensive view of life in the Middle Kingdom, a view unsullied by advertising and other self-serving information.So while we try to refrain from the casual derogation that marks so much writing about China, your best interests remain ours.
It is not in your interest to make a destination of Jinhong if you are, like the great majority of its visitors:
- A dedicated SE Asia wanderer
- A Yunnan tourist looking for a way to round out your Dali and Lijiang sojourn
- A China expat looking for a cheap tropical getaway
Does Jinghong have its charms? Indeed. Indigenous culture, exotic cuisine, and balmy climes await the visitor to this capital city of remote Xishuangbanna. But in terms of tourism, Jinghong is a once-pretty girl, wearing drab cast-offs bestowed by her stepfather China, while her stunning sisters Chiang Mai, Angkor Wat and Vientiane make her look even more plain by their proximity.
In short, almost everything worthwhile about Jinghong is much more worthwhile in its neighbors. Want tropical trekking followed by urban amenities? Go to Chiang Mai. If ancient Buddhist culture and its trappings is your thing, Angkor Wat’s the place. For real Southeast Asian adventure, hit Mandalay. Even the vaunted laid-back vibe, remarkable for China and its Will to Hustle, is easily out-mellowed by Vientiane, where people don’t even sweat the heat.
Blending race and culture can lead to beautiful synthesis –witness Halle Berry. But something about the Jinghong cocktail, like wine and Pepsi, or even worse, Zima, makes it truly appealing only to the very thirsty, or the untrained palate. The broad, palm shaded boulevards are flanked by China’s ubiquitous bathroom-tile buildings, which overshadow the many structures adorned with Thai-style cupolas, domes, and statuary. The night fun of al fresco restaurant streets is vitiated by greasy plastic Walmart tables, and the raucous diners swarming them, who hurl bones, chopstick wrappers and spit in what little space there is to squeeze through. The erstwhile still of midnight hours is shattered by looped announcements squawked through megaphones attached to big tricycles, ridden by women on some mysterious, infuriating mercantile mission.
Outdoorsy tourists look to the hills surrounding Jinghong for escape from their disappointment. Clad in gore-tex gear and bright bandanas, on foot or rented mountain bike, they shed silent tears, like Iron Eyes Cody, when they happen on the countless road-building and other infrastructure projects that make even the deepest jungle ring with China’s clamoring song of construction.
The evidence ofJinghong’s shortcomings as a destination is written on foreign faces. Indian merchants stare glumly from the doorways of their deserted shops, wondering why they didn’t pursue that IT degree at Mumbai Tech. In the backpacker cafes, scruffy youngsters devour the well-worn Laos and Thailand travel guides, peppering each other with questions on visa regulations and the cheapest way to get there.
Yes, for a while there in the 90s, Xishuangbanna and its capital were a hot tourist destination, for Chinese with disposable “opening up” income that didn’t quite stretch to Thailand. Now, as foreign travel becomes more accessible, their nickname for the region “mini-Thailand”, is quickly becoming replaced by the sobriquet “poor-man’s Thailand”.
But by no means should you panic if you find yourself there. Just grab some papaya juice or fresh tamarinds, and the next bus or plane to Dali, Lijiang, or points south. Of course, none of this applies if you are:
- An ethnographer
- A rubber-plantation tycoon
- A prospective adopter of adorable minority babies