Jinghong translates as “City of Dawn”, is the capital of Xishuagbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and located in the centre of Xishuagbanna region. There are 13 towns and 86 villages in Jinghong with a population of around 440,000. It is for the most part an unchallenging place to spend a couple of days investigating Dai culture. The grey edifices of Jinghong’s contemporary Han architecture make a suitably colonial backdrop for the Dai women in bright sarongs and straw hats who meander along the gently simmering, palm-lined streets. The pace of life is set by the tropical heat – though the centre is often full of people, nobody bothers rushing anywhere.
Once you’ve tried the local food and poked around the temples, there are wild elephants in the Sancha He Wildlife Reserve. Though Jinghong itself has comparatively little to offer, it is a great base from which you can explore the jungle clad mountains and remote minority villages in the surrounding area. Some villages are close enough to cycle to independently, but to get right off the beaten track your best bet is to book a trek at one of the tourist cafés tour agencies.
Another possible route out is by boat to Chiang Saen in Thailand: Jinghong sits on the south-western bank of the Lancang River, which later winds downstream through Laos and Thailand as the Mekong.