Choosing Xishuangbanna for your trip means choosing an invigorating exploration of a tropical rainforest world with intriguing wildlife encounters and an engaging taste of Dai ethnic minority culture. Humdrum you will never feel!
In this article, the top 19 things that are highly worthy of doing on a Xishuangbanna tour are introduced, along with at-a-glance locations and highlights info for each activity.
Or skip straight to seeing the very top things to do in a 6-day Xishuangbanna tour plan.
1. Hiking in a Pristine Tropical Rainforest
There is so much rainforest in Xishuangbanna! However, if you would like to have a genuine jungle experience in the rainforest, you should avoid places developed as tourist areas.
Besides enjoying the peaceful and beautiful forest scenery, you can have a "Man vs. Wild" experience. A unique rainforest lunch is waiting for you, when you are tired and hungry after finishing your hiking. Enjoy authentic local food in the open air with the background music of tropical birds singing.
The length of the hike is about 11 km (7 miles). The journey there is about 1½ hours by car from Jinghong (the main city of Xishuangbanna).
Note: There are mosquitos in the botanical garden. Please use mosquito repellant and wear long sleeves and long trousers. Malaria is not so common in Banna, dengue fever more so.
2. Walk with Wild Elephants in Wild Elephant Valley
- Location: a 1-hour drive north of downtown Jinghong (capital of Xishuangbanna)
- Highlights: tropical jungle, wild Asian elephants, elephant feeding
Far better than observing elephants in a zoo, a close encounter with wild elephants in their natural habitat is fascinating. A high viewing deck is set in Wild Elephant Valley (Gajah Liar Valley) for pleasant viewing of wild elephants. They show themselves more frequently in the dry season from November to April.
If you want to get closer, pay a bit extra to join an elephant herd tour that contains more activities including feeding elephants with carrots.
See more details on Wild Elephant Valley.
3. Immerse Yourself in Tropical Botanical Garden
- Location: 1 hour's drive east of Jinghong city
- Highlights: best botanical garden in China (most interesting species), night tour, firefly swarms
- Note: it is temporarily closed now because of COVID-19 [June 2021].
Of the many different sites in Xishuangbanna to experience the tropical rainforest, why does the Tropical Botanical Garden rank top? It's the best botanical garden in China for many reasons: it's not only attractive and picturesque during the day, the night tour is even more impressive. The night tour allows you to hear insects, see flowers, and even smell smells that don't appear under sunlight.
Different seasons provide different surprises, for example, fireflies play the main role from late April till June.
See more details on Tropical Botanical Garden.
4. Join in the Water-Splashing Festival
- Location: 45 minutes' drive southeast of Jinghong city
- Highlights: Dai minority culture, Water-Splashing Festival activities
Dai Minority Part in Menghan Town (Ganlanba) has the best-preserved Dai villages, where it hosts Water-Splashing Festival activities every day.
The Water-Splashing Festival in Xishuangbanna normally starts around the middle of April and lasts for about 3–4 days, which is not convenient for most visitors. Therefore, authentic water-splashing activities in Dai Park's Dai villages are the best year-round way to savor the Dai ethnicity's festive and cultural atmosphere .
5. Hunt in the Gaozhuang Starlight Night Market
- Location: on the east bank of the Lancang River in Jinghong city, close to the Giant Gold Pagodas
- Highlights: beautiful night market for photos, delicious local food, local goods
It is widely acknowledged now that Starlight Night Market in Xishuangbanna is even prettier than the night market in Marrakech or Thailand's, and it's a great place for photos.
Besides this, it's also brilliant to stroll in the night market and hunt for local goods as souvenirs, and last but not least, enjoying the authentic food. Grilled fish with lemongrass, Manfeilong roast chicken, and pounded chicken feet are the must-tries.
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6. Experience Dai Kings' Imperial Life in Manting Park
- Location: Jinghong city, Lancang (Mekong) west bank, facing the Giant Gold Pagodas
- Highlights: Bannna's oldest royal garden, campfire parties at night, Zong Buddhist Monastery behind
Manting Park is more than 1,300 years old, making it the most ancient park in Banna. The beautifully-designed brightly-colored constructions and architecture reveal the old splendor of the Dai royal family — they used to spend their leisure time in Manting Park.
It's about 12 hectares or 23 football pitches in size and includes a lake, tea plantation, Buddhism cultural area, and lots of tropical vegetation. Strolling inside is a pleasant way to spend leisure time, and enjoying a campfire party at night would be a bonus if you have sufficient time. Zong Buddhist Monastery is just behind the park.
See more details on Manting Park.
7. Tour the Rainforest Canopy in Wangtianshu
- Location: about 2½ hours' drive southeast of Jinghong city
- Highlights: best tropical rainforest in China, treetop walkway, boat tour on Nanla River
2½ hours' drive from the urban noise, Wangtianshu Scenic Area is the only globally recognized tropical rainforest in China.
If you are not afraid of heights, then walking the "world's highest rainforest canopy corridor", hung from the treetops, is an absolutely brilliant experience! The rainforest looks amazingly different when you are more than 100 meters above the ground.
If height is what you need to avoid, taking a boat tour on Nanla River, with picturesque rainforest views from a lower angle, is also impressive.
Contact us to tailor-make your exclusive Xishuangbanna tour.
- Location: about 7 hours' drive north of Jinghong city, from Jinghong, about 5 hours' drive northwest of Pu'er
- Highlights: most authentic Dai and Bulang minority culture, quaint village and people, picturesque views
Nuogang is a very isolated village on the Lancang (Mekong) in the Pu'er regio. Long drives are needed from cities, but the time and effort is worth it.
Authentic Dai and Bulang ethnic lifestyles are best-preserved there, and the people are honest and unspoiled. Wooden houses, porphyry (red/purple rock) paved alleys, and basically everything in the village is built with local materials — original, plain, but not simple.
Surrounded by woods and mountain peaks, Nuogang looks even more lovely, beautiful, and peaceful if captured from a drone. You could enjoy dressing up in minority clothes, making local food, chanting sutras, and dancing at local ceremonies, which could all be your photographic themes too.
9. Watch a Hundred Peacocks Flying in Peacock Garden
- Location: in Xishuangbanna Primeval Forest Park on the east bank of the Lancang River in Jinghong
- Highlights: a hundred flying peacocks, tropical forest
The peacock, this beautiful and elegant creature, can normally only be seen in a zoo or private garden where there are just a few of them. There are many places in Xishuangbanna to see peacocks, but in Peacock Garden in Xishuangbanna Primeval Forest Park, about a hundred peacocks flying down from a hill and over a lake is a great spectacle that will amaze you. The times to watch the flying peacocks are 9:10am, 10:10am, 11:10am, 12:10pm, 1:10pm, 2:40pm, 3:50pm, and 5:10pm.
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10. Take Incredible Photos at the Giant Golden Pagodas
- Location: Jinghong city, Lancang River east bank , close to Gaozhuang Starlight Night Market
- Highlights: beautiful picture opportunities day and night
The giant golden pagodas close to the Gaozhuang Starlight Night Market is somewhere camera shutters cannot be stopped.
It's recommended to arrive about half an hour before sunset to take a picture of the front of the golden pagodas, as they look completely different after the neon lights are on.
After sunset, the ideal spot for taking high-angle shots of Starlight Night Market is the stairway at the back of pagoda. Don't forget to walk around the pagodas three times if you want to pray for good fortune.
11. Try on Dai Ethnic Costumes
- Location: many places in Banna — Manting Park, Starlight Market, etc.
- Highlights: great photo material, nice souvenirs, practical for wearing around Banna
Dai ethnic costumes are beautiful, especially on ladies. The costumes are available to buy or rent for photo taking everywhere in Xishuangbanna.
They're great for wearing out and getting into the local spirit, no matter when strolling in the night market, exploring in the rainforest, or joining water-splashing activities, etc. Purchasing your own ethnic dress in the night market would be nice as a souvenir, and renting costumes with different looks is a good choice for photos.
12. Appreciate Theravada Art in Zong Buddhist Monastery
- Location: Jinghong City, Lancang River west bank, behind Manting Park
- Highlights: high level Theravada Buddhist temple, gorgeous architecture
Located right behind Manting Park, the resplendent and magnificent Zong Buddhist Monastery is the highest level Theravada Buddhist temple in Xishuangbanna and is more than 1,000 years old. This holy place was built exclusively for the highest chieftain of Xishuangbanna to worship Buddha.
Now, it is still in use, widely known, and worshiped at by locals and Southeast Asians. After five refurbishments, it's glamorously ornate, and shining like gold.
13. Admire Majestic Mengle (Mange) Monastery
- Location: Jinghong city, west of Lancang River, about 15 minutes' drive from Manting Park
- Highlights: largest Theravada Buddhist Temple in China, less crowded, bird's eye view of Jinghong city
Mengle Monastery is about 4½ km from Manting Park, so, compared with Zong Buddhist Monastery located in the city center, Mengle is less crowded and better for taking nice photos. There are about 3,000 stairs inside of this majestic Buddhist building complex that lead you to the top of a hill, where you can enjoy a bird's eye view of the whole of Jinghong City. A sightseeing vehicle is available if you'd prefer to skip the steps.
Performances and water-splashing activities happen from time to time on water-splashing square, so you may be able to take part in the water-splashing activities there if you miss those in Dai Minority Park.
See more details on Mange Monastery.
14. Enjoy a Leisurely Night Cruise on the Lancang River
- Location: normally departs from Jinghong Port, Lancang east bank, north of Xishuangbanna Bridge
- Highlights: charming night view, Dai ethnic dinner and dancing performance
Enjoy the views on a leisurely Lancang River cruise when the city puts on its neon clothing after a day of touring. The other name of Lancang River is the Mekong, and it's the "mother river" of Xishuangbanna. The cruise is about 1½ hours including dinner, a dancing performance, and a shemale show.
15. Stay at a Dai Style Residence or Tree House
- Location: rainforest scenic areas in Jinghong Prefecture for Dai-style residences; Taiyanghe National Forest Park, Simao County, Pu'er Prefecture for a good "tree house"
- Highlights: new experience, closer to nature
Because of the climate and environment of Xishuangbanna, stilt-style architecture is widely used. Dai-style residences are normally two-story and built from wood or bamboo. People live on the cooler and drier upper floor, and downstairs is for livestock and storage.
It's less comfortable and trickier to stay in authentic local Dai houses, but it could still be arranged. Hotels with Dai-style elements combine comfort with an ethnic feel and are more recommended.
Staying at "tree houses" (actually forest-canopy-level accommodation with all-round balconies) in the tropical rainforest and blending in with the natural surroundings can be extremely alluring. There's no need to mention the oxygen-rich air and refreshing views, and the voices of the forest can be the best lullaby for a good night.
Contact us, and a private travel adviser will assist you with your exclusive Xishuangbanna tour planning.
16. Uncover the Legend of Sakyamuni
- Location: Manfeilong Village, 1½ hours' drive south of Jinghong
- Highlights: characteristic local construction, much-less-crowded Buddhist site
The Manfeilong White Pagodas are about 70 km from Jinghong City on top of a hill near Manfeilong Village. This pagoda group is made up of one main pagoda surrounded by eight smaller ones, all standing like white bamboo shoots. They look saintly as they ought to.
A legend recounts that Sakyamuni once visited the site, appointed the location of the pagodas and bestowed the holy water gushing from the ground.
See more details on The Manfeilong White Pagodas.
17. Experience the Ziptrek in Forest
- Location: Xishuangbanna Primeval Forest Park, Lancang River east bank, just east of Jinghong City
- Highlights: an exciting, fun way to explore the rainforest
If you would like some exciting moments, go for the Ziptrek canopy adventure in Xishuangbanna Primeval Forest Park and experience how it feels to walk, climb, and fly among the jungle trees. There are different routes to choose, and the challenging one can satisfy the most adventurous.
Contact us, and a private travel adviser will assist you with your exclusive Xishuangbanna tour planning.
18. Discover Colorful Tropical Flowers
- Location: Jinghong city center, west of the Lancang
- Highlights: a great number of species of tropical flowers
Xishuangbanna Tropical Flower and Plants Garden is a paradise for horticulture and flowers lovers. There are more than 300 species of tropical flowers growing inside along with various fruits that will keep your eyes and mind busy.
19. Investigate the Naturally-Formed Myanmar Border
- Location: 2½ hours' drive west of Jinghong City
- Highlights: home to both Dai people and Shan people, natural border
The"No. 1 village between China and Myanmar" — Mengjinglai has the Daluo River running along the west side of the village, which is the natural border line between China and Myanmar. Dai people from China and Shan people from Myanmar live together there, which is rarely seen.
This village used to be part of the Golden Triangle of SE Asian drug trafficking, but now it is a peaceful and orderly place where you can discover true ethnic harmony.
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