by jennifer on May 6th, 2013
Yunnan is in Southwest China but still feels pretty remote. Bordering Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Vietnam we flew first to Kunming where we had 4 hours to kill until our next flight on to Xishangbanna…
As Kunming is the home of Scott, one of our trusted puerh experts, Ali and I took a taxi to his house. 50 mins there, 50 mins back, 10 mins getting lost, 5 mins haggling with the driver who wanted to charge us double the fare on the meter – that left us just under an hour. Was it worth it? Oh yes.
Also visiting was the delightful Ned from the US company, Silk Road Teas, and Scott plied us all with many of the fresh, new season puerh maocha (the loose leaves yet to be pressed into puerh cakes). One was a rare, wild purple bud variety with a mildly floral, smooth flavour. As a send-off, he brewed a crazy (but delicious) Yunnan black tea fired with a hint of Yunnan red sugar. So many Brits would love it – maybe it’s one for Canton Tea Club. (We’d be saying that a lot this trip.)
At Xishangbanna we stepped out into a hot night, alive with clicks, chirrups and whirrs of tropical insects and were met by puerh farmer Su Er. Only room for a few in the cabin of his pick-up truck so the rest in the open back with the luggage to Meng Hai.
Stopped for supper at the bbq stalls stretching for miles along the dusty road. Long thin aubergines roasted whole and split open with the flesh melted inside, small wooden sticks skewering every part of a pig (yes, even the penis) spitting and crackling over the heat and served with complex chilli dips. The tender, fatty pieces of (familiar) pork was sensational dipped in the glossy, fiery sauces.
Ali should do a separate blog of the facilities on our trip – most were basic but this was a new one. She asked where the loo was (we were sitting at a covered area with tables/chairs, hundreds of people eating) there wasn’t one. They waved towards the strip of dimly lit wasteland between our table and the forest – go anywhere. She couldn’t.
After a long drive through dark empty mountain roads, Menghai was a surprise. A garish, neon highish rise hotel (not ours) stuck up incongruously in the middle of a ramshackle market town with the ubiquitous new concrete buildings creeping out over the surrounding fields.
This region is the ancestral home of many local minority groups such as Dai, Bai, Laku and Hani. They are distinctive in their traditional dress (it was festival time) and their look – quite different to the majority Han Chinese. We arrived during one of the most important festivals in the Dai calendar and our simple hotel (my window) was overlooking the lively central dusty car park/square. The soundscape of roaring trucks and scooters, girls (I think) singing high-pitched traditional songs and a lot of brawling went on – and on – all night, and the cockerel in the coop outside my door joined in at 4am.