The French who had occupied Vietnam for some time brought their winemaking skills to Yunnan and some of the best wines in China come from this region.
But Yunnan is also well known for its tea, particularly Pu’er tea, a variety of fermented dark tea. During the fermentation the tea undergoes a microbial fermentation and oxidation process after they are dried and rolled. This process is a Chinese specialty and produces tea known as Hei Cha [黑茶], commonly translated as dark, or black tea, though this is different from the black tea seen in the west which would in China be referred to as "red tea" or Hong Cha [红茶].
Whilst such tea come from many parts of Yunnan and China, Pu’er is one of the most highly prized teas in the country and can fetch hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a 500 gram packet. There are of course teas set at a price more affordable to an average wallet, and one may often taste before you buy. Indeed tea shops are much easier to find than a branch of Starbucks!
Moving south of Pu’er is the town of Mohan which sits on the Laos, China border. This remote town was once very popular and attracted many Chinese who would stop over before popping across to Boten on the Laos side. Boten was once a thriving gambling town with casinos and nightclubs, and many Chinese were attracted to this little outpost because gambling is illegal in China.
However pressure from the Chinese government forced Laos to close down these ventures and so the games ended. Now Boten is little more than a ghost town. A few restaurants still exist, but tourists rarely go beyond the border post for a Beer Lao before boarding their coach to the Lao capital Vientiane, or returning to China should they merely be popping out of China to meet visa requirements.
Nonetheless, this little Lao border is still an important crossing point. It is the only legal land crossing between China and Laos and provides an all too important shipping route for products flowing between the two countries. The border is only open between 8:00 and 17:00 and in the early hours lorries begin to join the queue to cross south into Laos.
Returning north is the town of Mengla, which is home to the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens. As well as a popular tourist attraction this facility is engaged in biodiversity conservation and sustainable uses of plant resources, focusing on forest ecosystem ecology, conservation biology and resource plant development.
Covering an area of 1,125 hectares it is home to more than 13,000 species of tropical plants, some from other subtropical and tropical regions around the world. They include the so-called sensitive plant [Mimosa Pudica], a creeping annual or perennial herb often grown for its curiosity value. Its compound leaves fold inward and droop when touched or shaken, a process it has developed in order to protect itself from predators.
Xishuangbanna & Yuanyang county
To the west is the town of Xishuangbanna, a popular tourist town and home to the Mengle Dafo Temple and its huge statue of Buddha which looks over the town.
Travelling north again is Yuanyang county famous for its spectacular rice-paddy terracing. Covering an area of 2,200 square km this area changes dramatically with the seasons. The majority of the inhabitants of the county are from the Hani ethnic group and they use traditional farming methods.
Indeed Yunnan is home to twenty five different ethnic groups nearly half of China’s 56 recognised ethnic groups. In fact around 38% of the province's population are made up of ethnic minorities, including the Yi, Bai, Hani, Tai, Dai, Miao, Lisu, Hui, Lahu, Va, Nakhi, Yao, Tibetan, Jingpo, Blang, Pumi, Nu, Achang, Jinuo, Mongolian, Derung, Manchu, Sui, and Buyei. It makes Yunnan the second most diverse province as far as its ethnic groups are concerned.