Yunnan Province, 590km (366 miles) SW of Kunming, 646km (401 miles) SW of Dali
The Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture is situated at the subtropical southwestern tip of Yunnan and shares a border with Myanmar (Burma) and Laos. About a third of its 800,000-strong population is Dai, another third is Han, and the rest comprises minorities such as the Hani, Lahu, Bulang, Jinuo, Yao, and Yi. With its tropical forests, perennial sunshine, and laid-back lifestyle, the place has always felt more like Southeast Asia than China. Today, with domestic tourists able to travel more easily to the real Thailand and Myanmar, Xishuangbanna, a Chinese approximation of the original Thai Sip Sawng Panna ("Twelve Rice-Growing Districts"), is no longer the much-ballyhooed destination it once was, and much of the main town of Jinghong has fallen into a kind of romantic decay. Still, it remains a useful alternative embarkation point for those wishing to travel down the Mekong to Laos, Burma, Northern Thailand, and beyond. The wildly popular Dai Water Splashing Festival (Apr 13-15) can be an interesting time to visit, but book well in advance, as flights and accommodations are notoriously scarce at this time. Otherwise, the most pleasant times to visit are between October and February.