Ganlanba (Olive Plain) lies on the Mekong River about 27km (16 miles) southeast of Jinghong. It used to be that you could sail down the Mekong (known in Yunnan as the Lancang Jiang) to Ganlanba, but few boats make the trip anymore and it's more convenient to take the minibus from Jinghong's city bus station. The main attraction here is the Dai Minority Folk Customs Park (Daizu Yuan; ¥80/$10/£5.20; open 7:30am-6:30pm). The collection of five pleasant Dai villages has now been "preserved" for tourists, which essentially means it has become a human zoo for Chinese tourists in golf carts. The first village of Manchunman has the Manchunman Fo Si, a regal temple first built in 1126. There is a gorgeous golden Burmese stupa here surrounded by four smaller golden stupas. Farther in, Manting village has another impressive temple and white pagoda worth exploring, the Manting Fo Si Da Du Ta, built in 669, which now houses Buddha statues donated by a Thai philanthropist.
About 42km (25 miles) east of Ganlanba, the town of Menglun is home to China's largest botanical garden, the 900-hectare (2,223-acre) Xishuangbanna Redai Zhiwuyuan (¥80/$10/£5.20; open 24 hr.), which boasts around 7,000 species of tropical and subtropical plants from China and abroad. The sprawling grounds are divided into many sections, including a rubber and tea plantation, a stretch of natural tropical rainforest, and a bamboo forest. To get there, take a minibus from the city bus station. From the Menglun bus station, turn left and walk to the corner of the second block. Turn left and walk down the road flanked by hawkers; follow this road until you come to a ticket booth in front of a footbridge across the Luosuo River. This is the western entrance to the garden. If you're coming by taxi, the entrance is way over in the east, but taxis should be able to let you off close to the Tourist Information Center (Youke Fuwu Zhongxin) in the middle of the park.
About 8km (5 miles) west of Menglun (at the 63km marker on the Jinghong-Menglun road) is the Banna Rainforest Valley (Banna Yulin Gu; ¥80/$10/£5.20; open 8am-6:30pm), a pleasant enough primary rainforest park. It has several aerial walkways and a number of ancient trees that include a giant strangling fig with long, gnarled roots.
One of the highlights at this town 20km (12 miles) northeast of Jinghong is an elephant-shaped banyan tree, Xiangxing Rongshu, that is a magnet for Chinese tourists. Considerably more interesting is the Jinuo Folk Custom Village (Jinuo Minsu Shanzhai), about 6km (4 miles) east of Mengyang near Jinuo Shan, home of the Jinuo people. Though the main village of Bapo Zhai has been spruced up to become your usual tour group-friendly folk-custom village, it at least affords visitors a friendly introduction to the Jinuo, who have not always been so welcoming toward individual travelers in the past.
Officially recognized as a minority group only in 1979, the Jinuo have a population of just over 20,000, all living in 46 villages east of Jinghong. Jinuo men are famous hunters, while the women are known for their elaborately decorated earlobes and black teeth, caused by a local medicinal plant used to prevent tooth decay. The Jinuo's biggest festival is celebrated every February 6 to February 8 with their characteristic solar drum dance, which visitors can now view upon entering the village. You can also visit a typical Jinuo house, which is built 1m (3 ft.) aboveground and often houses four generations of a family. Admission to the village is ¥35 ($4.55/£2.30) and includes entry to the Banna Wild Elephant Valley, as both are managed by the same company.
About 28km (17 miles) north of Mengyang, the Banna Wild Elephant Valley (Banna Yexiang Gu; ¥80/$10/£5.20; open 8am-5:30pm) is part of the 1.5-million-hectare (3.7-million-acre) Sanchahe Nature Reserve (Sanchahe Ziran Baohuqu). There are hiking trails and a 2,063m (6,766-ft.) chairlift ride (¥40/$5/£2.50) over the forest canopy, all designed to help visitors spot the roughly 40 wild elephants that live here. If you don't manage a sighting, there are wretched performances by more domesticated elephants near the eastern exit at 1:30 and 3:30pm. By the southern entrance are some tacky hotels with permanently damp bedding and clouds of starved mosquitoes.
To get to the nature reserve, take any Simao-bound bus (1 hr.; ¥10/$1.30/65p) from Jinghong that passes the reserve. A daily tour that takes in the Elephant Valley and Jinuo village costs ¥120 ($16/£7.80), and includes admission, transportation, and lunch. The tour bus departs daily at 8:40am from the entrance to Peacock Lake (Jinghong Dong Lu) and returns around 5pm.
Xiding Sunday Market
More interesting than the market at Menghan, this makes an interesting morning trip. First take the 8am bus to Menghai (smaller than Jinghong, without the pollution and the palm trees) for about 1 hour and 50 minutes, which should get you into town to catch the 10:30am bus to Xiding which takes another 90 minutes. The market sets up well before dawn and gets going around 8am; it is especially good for fabrics and minority food, and if you are really lucky you might see some of the rare shaven-headed Lahu minority women. It is tempting to cycle to Menghai as it is downhill all the way, but getting back might be a struggle unless you have thighs like Lance Armstrong.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.