Cycle loop tour around Mengla County

 

Discover Mengla county

Nanla River - Mengla Town (南腊河 勐腊 - Nanla He Mengla)
Nanla River - Mengla Town (南腊河 勐腊 - Nanla He Mengla)

Mengla County (勐腊县 – Mengla Xian)is located in the deep south of the tropical Xishuangbanna Prefecture (西双版纳州 – Xishuangbanna Zhou), Yunnan Province (云南省 – Yunnan Sheng). Bordering Myanmar to the west and Laos to the southeast, Mengla is home to tropical rainforest and many endangered species of plant and animals (such the last few Asian Elephants still in China).

What’s unique about Mengla, and Xishuangbanna province, is the incredible number of colorful ethnic groups which inhabit the area. The vast majority is constituted by the Dai people, followed by Hani, Yi, Yao, Lahu, Bulang and many others groups.

 

 

 

Mengla town, while not particularly attractive, is the perfect gateway to explore villages and the diverse cultures of the area. The surroundings of Mengla city are mainly Dai villages, easily reachable by bike. Following below cycle loop trails you will have a full experience of Dai culture exploring six different villages. Find out about the ancient Dai architecture, traditional clothes, and Dai belief, while crossing rivers on rope bridges and enjoying the countryside.

 

Cycle loop trail

Here you can find ideas and information on a cycle loop trail you cold take, to better experience the surroundings area of Mengla and all it has to offer from its market, to villages, minorities, amazing landscapes and much more.

 

Mengla Market

Wake up early in the morning for a stroll around the local market in Mengla. The market is situated in the parallel street of Man Ta La road (曼它拉路 – Man Ta La lu) also known as 213 National road (213 国道 – Guodao). Here you can try the local breakfast, Mixian (米线), a delicious bowl of noodles, while being entertained by the vibrant ethnic minorities selling vegetables, tropical fruits, spices, and traditional dresses. Dai and Hani people dominate the market, however, during bank holiday and weekends, minorities from all the surrounding villages will join the scene and contribute to a special picture of colors and flavors.

 

Manhe village

Follow Man Ta La road to reach the first Dai village of the loop, Manhe (曼贺), 2km north of Mengla. This first stretch is the only one on the trail, together with a little trait, later on, that has got few hills. The rest of the cycle will be mostly on the easy and flat terrain. Manhe will be your first taste of Dai culture, several newly rebuilt traditional houses and a very laidback atmosphere, characteristic of the whole province. The Dai people practice Buddhism, hence any village has its own temple, watch out for them, as they are an architectural and cultural treat. Sometimes the temple will be located on the village’s outskirt. This is the case for Manhe. Back on Man Ta La road, few hundred meters ahead on the left-hand side, a long stone stair stretches up in the forest. Follow the steps to reach the mystical Buddhist temple and get a panoramic view of the surroundings.

Old Dai lady in Manhe Village (曼贺 - Manhe). Mengla county
Old Dai lady in Manhe Village (曼贺 - Manhe). mengla county

 

 

Man Long Dai Village

Back on Man Ta La road, keep cycling north heading towards the next village Man Long Dai (曼龙代村). After roughly 2.5 km you will meet 017 Country Road (017 乡道 – Xiangdao) on the right-hand side, follow the road until the end to get to Man Long Dai after crossing a little village named Manha (曼哈 – Manha). Man Long Dai lays by the river. Here chickens run around stealing the corn left on the street to sundry by Dai people. Reach the end of the village where you will find a rope bridge, a nice spot for a shot. Follow the path keeping the river on your right-hand side to get to Man Long Le (曼竜勒 – Man Long Le), our next stop.

 

Rope bridge in Man Long Dai Village (曼龙代 - Man Long Dai). Mengla county
Rope bridge in Man Long Dai Village (曼龙代 - Man Long Dai). Mengla county

 

Similar to the previous village, but larger, in Man Long Le (曼竜勒 – Man Long Le) you can explore the Dai fashion style as you’ll have many chances to meet Dai woman, wearing the traditional clothes. Long colorful sarong matching the tight short top, highlight the body curves of Dai women, the hair is kept tight up in a bun. After a stroll around the stilted and wooden traditional houses, visit the temple, at the end of the village. It showcases Dai people's belief in Nature and Buddhism: many vibrant banners hanging from the ceiling. If you are lucky you will bump in a ceremony held at the temple. When I’ve visited it, I was blessed with the arrival of two new statues. The gongs of the drums rumbling in the air and a parade of smiles and colorful sarongs coming forward to the temple. In the process of blessing and worshiping the statues, the women started to throw rice and petals on them and offer incense sticks while the men were positioning them in the temple.

 

Dai Old Lady making an offer to Phra Mae Thorani goddess in Man Long Le Village (曼竜勒 - Man Long Le). Mengla county
Dai Old Lady making an offer to Phra Mae Thorani goddess in Man Long Le Village (曼竜勒 - Man Long Le). Mengla County

 

Watch the old stone pagoda

The trail continues back on the narrow path along the river, where it’s time to cross the rope bridge. There are two bridges, one closer to Man Long Dai and one closer to Man Long Le, cross this last one as it will bring on a 1km trail across the countryside and paddy fields to end up to an old stone pagoda still standing in the middle of a pond.

 

Old Pagoda in Mengla County (勐腊县 - Mengla Xian)
Old Pagoda in Mengla County (勐腊县 - Mengla Xian)

 

Manna Village and its lush rain forest

At the end of the trail you will get back on a paved road, 015 Country Road (015乡道 – Xiangdao), turn right here and keep cycling. In around 2km, just after crossing a stone bridge, you will meet 016 Country Road (016乡道 – Xiangdao), on your left-hand side. This will bring you to Manna (曼那 – Manna), which itself is not of great interest, however, hold a little secret. Following the street on a steep uphill between rubber plantation, after around 500m, on your right-hand side, a little path will bring you to Manna, but if you keep going up for 500m more you will get again on flat terrain to a long street that stretches for 30km between lush rainforest. The street is flat and paved, surrounded by green vegetation and just above a deep canyon and a river. You can cycle along for as long as you wish, bear in mind that you will have to cycle back to carry on with the trail. At some point, you’ll get a glimpse of the river and mini waterfalls. With just sporadic cars interrupting the sound of the flowing river, cycling surrounded by such rich vegetation is regenerating and worth the fatigue of a very steep 1km slope. Anyways, you can also decide to skip the workout and Manna heading straightaway on Man Dong (曼东 – Man Dong), just two km ahead on 015 Country Road.

 

 Rainforest in Mengla County (勐腊县 - Mengla Xian)
Rainforest in Mengla County (勐腊县 - Mengla Xian)

Eat Banna

By now you may need a little refreshment, mostly if you decided to rich the rain forest…you are lucky! Just before getting to Man Dong, three sweet Dai women sell a homemade local delicatessen, Banna.

This is a flat round pastry very thin made of brown sugar (红糖Hong Tang) or, for the savory version, rice flour and tiny black seeds. The Banna is then sun-dried and deep fried to gain a very crispy bite, much similar to some western chips. It requires a skillful hand as the Banna is almost as thin as a ravioli sheet. The Dai family here, makes Banna for reselling them at the local markets, however, if you stop by and ask them to have a taste they will kindly fry some for you. You can recognize the house from a large gate that leads to platforms of Banna laying under the sun. The kind family will not accept any payment, but make sure you leave a donation or buy some Banna before leaving, it's a nice gesture from you.

Dai Women sun drying Banna in Man Dong Village (曼东 - Man Dong). Mengla County
Dai Women sun drying Banna in Man Dong Village (曼东 - Man Dong). Mengla County

 

The gigantic Lying Buddha and the Heart Goddess

Man Dong village, is a collection of Dai traditional houses, some newly rebuilt some still keeping the old wooden construction, hundreds of corns hanging to sundry and the friendly Dai people. It is worth to visit the temple just at the end of the village, most of all for the white stupa that showcases some fine details. However, the secret here is held in the forest. Just outside the village entrance, across the road, you will find a large paved cemented area gated by two lions with three heads. Go in and follow the little path into the forest, you will get to a magical and mystical temple. Incredible collections of Buddha, Stupas, and animals statues are spread in the middle of the forest. A huge Lying Buddha, with elaborate decorations, is surrounded by trees and guarded by Phra Mae Thorani, the Heart Goddess. Phra Mae Thorani (or Nandharani) is a female figure with powerful black long hair tights x. She is able to wash away sins and demons with the water which flows from her hair. The number of animals statues is remarkable and an interesting insight into Dai belief.

 

Laying Buddha in Man Dong Village (曼东 - Man Dong) - Kindly shared by my friend Esteban. Mengla County
Laying Buddha in Man Dong Village (曼东 - Man Dong) - Kindly shared by my friend Esteban. Mengla County

 

Man Ling Village

Back on 015 Country Road, heading towards Mengla, after 2km circa, a narrow street on your left-hand side will bring you to Man Ling (曼岭 – Man Ling), the last wonder of our trail. Man Ling is a treasure for its architecture. While most of the houses of the previous village have been rebuilt, Man Ling is home to old wooden buildings in Day style. Strolling around the village is just like go back in time. Large wooden houses raised on stilts, elegantly pointed roof, carved motives in the wood as decoration.

The temple, in harmony with the rest of the village, retain its original compound, with a wooden post and old tiles. The interior showcases an interesting collection of totem and chromatic murals.

Old Buddhist Temple in Man Ling Village (曼岭 - Man Ling) , Mengla County
Old Buddhist Temple in Man Ling Village (曼岭 - Man Ling), Mengla County

 

 

Dai cousine in Qixiang road

From here, following 015 Country Road, you will get back to Man Ta la Road in Mengla. If you are up for a traditional Dai dinner, stop in Qixiang road (气象路- Qixiang Lu), a parallel of Man Ta La Road and just before the fresh market visited in the morning. The neighbor here is composed of traditional Day style wooden houses that transform in restaurants during the night.

Sour, sweet and spicy are the characteristic of the Dai cuisine, strongly influenced by the neighboring countries. Glutinous rice, bamboo shoots, lemongrass grilled fish, sour and spicy salad, are some of my favorites. Many restaurants here offer a selection of Dai “tapas” to share.

Dai cusine ( 傣菜 - Dai cai) Mengla
Dai cusine ( 傣菜 - Dai cai) Mengla

 

The cycle route is a unique chance to experience the simplicity of the Dai people and have a glimpse into their complex belief, cultures and customs. My main advice is to learn a few words in Chinese, as most of the people in the village don’t speak English. Try to chat and get to know this smiling minority, their kindness and hospitality are outstanding.

 

 

 

You also need to know..

NOTE:

Temples: Remember to take off your shoes before climbing up any temple stairs.

Bicycle rental: It is very difficult to rent a bicycle or motorbike in Mengla. I literally could not find any shop offering this service and I hardly saw any bicycle cycling around. I borrowed the bike from the owner of the Hotel I was staying. The hotel name is Hao Yuan Shangwu Jiudian (豪源商务酒店) Address: Mengla, no. 89South Road, (勐腊南路 89 号 – Mengla Nanlu 89 hao).

 

Dai People

Dai people have a long history and rich culture. They originated from the ancient Baiyue ethnic group around the 8th century BC, have their own calendar, language, and alphabetic system.

They practice a syncretic religion that blends Theravada Buddhism with ancient animistic belief. Every Dai village will have a Buddhist temple where children from the age of 8 years old learn to read, write and chant scripture.

Dai children at Buddhist temple in Menghai County (勐海县 - Menghai Xian), Mengla County
Dai children at Buddhist temple in Menghai County (勐海县 - Menghai Xian), Mengla County

 

Tattoos

Tattooing is a fascinating traditional custom between Dai people, linked with animism and Buddhism. Male from the age of 12 to 25 years old would tattoo their bodies from chest to thighs (including the faces sometimes), as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. In addition to being considered decorative and an ethnic identity, the tattoos include several designs and imply different reasons. Animals such as tigers, dragons, etc…, are believed to enhance the body with powers and protect against ferocious creatures or dangerous situations. Buddhist figures, old Dai script, esoteric symbols would protect the spirit. Geometrical pattern, cosmological symbols have more complex explanations.

Women also have tattoos, on a much smaller scale compared to man and with simpler designs.

Dai Man tattoo, Mengla. Photo taken from http://www.yododo.com/group/replys.ydd?tid=0117C97FF63E0B4CFF80808117C7487A&pager.offset=0
Dai Man tattoo, Mengla. Photo taken from http://www.yododo.com/group/replys.ydd?tid=0117C97FF63E0B4CFF80808117C7487A&pager.offset=0

 

Festivals

The Dai have three major festivals, Hao Wasa (Closing Door Festival ) (关门节 – Guan Men Jie) – Ao Wasa (Opening Door Festival) (开门节 – Kai Men Jie) and Songkran Bi Mai (Songkran New Year, also known as Water Splashing Festival) (泼水节 – Po Shui Jie), this last being the most famous. The Splashing Water Festival, generally held in middle April, last for 3 days. Here the water has got an important role in purification from demons, blessing, good wishes. On the morning of the third day Buddha statues are washed with water and later all the villagers will celebrate with a huge Water Fight.

Dragon boat races, the launch of lanterns and other performances are held during the whole festival.

Water festival Xishuangbanna, Mengla. Photo taken from blog.sina.cn
Water festival Xishuangbanna, Mengla. Photo taken from blog.sina.cn

 

Thanks for reading and sharing

Luana Mirenda

in collaboration with A Wanderlust Love

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