is a small town of western Yunnan province
. The main reason why visitors venture into this remote corner of China, less than 80 kilometres from the Burmese border, is to visit the ancient town of Heshun.
Tengchong is a laid-back town situated in a former volcanic area known for its many hot springs and it used to be an important stop on trade routes like the Ancient Tea & Horse Road and the Jade Route.
Here is what the town and the region have to offer.
Heshun is a charming ancient town located just 5 kilometres from Tengchong. Founded during the Ming Dynasty as a military outpost on China’s ethnic borderland, Heshun became famous for the high level of education Han migrants had decided to uphold and symbolised into the Heshun Library (和顺图书馆).
Thanks to its proximity to Burma and its location of trade route, many Heshun natives were merchants who decided to leave their hometown for business purposes. They went to Burma, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and as far as Australia, the USA and Canada, hence Heshun’s nickname : the “Hometown of Overseas Chinese” (华侨之乡).
The old town of Heshun
Memorial Hall of the War in Western Yunnan (滇西抗战纪念馆)
It is more than just a Memorial Hall of the War in Western Yunnan, it is probably the best free museum in China which tell of local history. In addition, explanations are in both Chinese and English (and no offence, but real English, not Chinglish).
It is a great (and free) history class, which focuses on WWII in the region. Visitors learn everything about the construction of the Burma Road in the late 1930s by British forces. It linked Yangon (aka Rangoon) to Kunming and was crucial in bringing supplies in China’s war against Japanese invasion. Once the Road was closed by the invasion of Burma, squads of daredevils was taking off from British India, flying across the Himalayas and landed in makeshift runways near Tengchong
, Baoshan and Yunnanyi.
Black & white pictures, a plethora of artifacts and vivid visual descriptions (accompanied with sound effects) of battles against Japanese contribute to make of this Memorial Hall a must-see museum. It is located 200 meters from the intersection of Tengyue Road (腾越路) and Feicui Road (翡翠路).
Inside the Memorial Hall of the War in Western Yunnan
Dieshui Waterfall Park (叠水瀑布公园)
A few hundred meters from the memorial hall, the Dieshui waterfall park is on the list of local tour operator, but fails to impress, especially since visitors have to pay a 20 RMB entrance fee.
Beyond the waterfall, there is a Taoist temple, which features very unique Chinese characters carved in wood. Visitors who have a very basic understanding of Chinese writing will find them utterly interesting bordering on mysterious (each of the characters is actually a unique combination of several other characters).
Beyond the flight of stairs, there is an abandoned wooden courtyard building that was used for meetings during the Republican area. I recommend this part of the Dieshui Park to well-informed China Republican era history geek only.
Inside the Dieshui Waterfall Park
The Yaowang Gong (药王宫)
Located near the intersection of Jihong Road (霁虹路) and Guanghua Road(光华路), the Yaowang Gong (药王宫) is the ‘Palace of the Medicine King’.
The traditional architecture of the Yaowang Gong contrasts with the modern high-rises which were built recently. It's not the only temple in town, but it was the one I found the most impressive.
Inside the temple, there are a few explanations about who is the ‘Medicine King’ and a few interesting hand-written scrolls, unfortunately, there are no explanation.
It is however an interesting small temple which dominate a small square and a geomantic pond where a local band sometimes rehearse old melodies with traditional Chinese music instruments between two cups of tea.
Inside the Yaowang Gong
The Old Tengchong
Right next to the Yaowang Gong, visitors will see an alley lined with adobe buildings. This is the vanishing old town of Tengchong (which may or may not have already vanished forever by the time you read these lines).
It is interesting to walk through what remains of the old town and feel like you are going back in time. Unfortunately, the old town is now surrounded by residential high-rises nearing completion.
The old Tengchong
For precious stones aficionados, there are multiple jade markets in town. The most famous of them is the Yuquan Yuan (玉泉园) near the roundabout that links Tengyue Road (腾越路) and Huoshan Road (火山路). With the proximity to Burma (virtually all the jade sold in town comes from Burma), jade markets and jade stores are everywhere in Tengchong and in Heshun.
Besides the usual bracelets and necklaces, most jade stores also sell "gambling rocks" (or 赌石 in Chinese). You have to set a bargain a price with the storeowner depending on the size of the rock. After completing the deal, you will have to smash open the rock. If you are lucky, you will discover the purest jadeite ever. Otherwise you have lost of bunch of money. That’s why they call it ‘gambling rocks’.
Outside of Town
Qiluo Village (绮罗古村)
If you thought that the busloads of tourists pouring into Heshun (and its high entrance fee) have somehow spoiled your travel experience, you can head to the ancient village of Qiluo which is located right outside Tengchong, behind the Qiluo Hotel.
It is hard (and unfair) to compare Qiluo to Heshun. Qiluo does not have as many temples and courtyard mansions to visit, but because it is not on the list of places to visit in the region, it is an untouched and authentic village where you will not see any travelers.
From Heshun, you can take a micro-van to Qiluo. The driver will probably stare at you and ask you why you want to go there. Focus instead on bargaining a price for the ride (20 to 30 RMB) and ask the driver to drop you off at the Yuzhen Qinggong (玉真清宫) - a Taoist temple in the middle of the village.
The upper village entrance is located next to the Qiluo Hotel. You can catch bus #2 to near the hotel to Tengchong.
In the oldtown of Qiluo
Yinxing Village (江东银杏村) also known as the Gingko Tree Village (that's what Yinxing means), 30-40 km north of Tengchong, is popular among photographer during fall when all the trees turn yellow.
Buses unload their tourists at the entrance of the village so that they can wander around, take pictures of the trees and of the mountainous landscape or have a meal in one of the few local farmers' restaurants.
From the West bus station in Tengchong, take a bus towards Gudong (固东) and get off at the intersection outside Yinxing Village from where you can take a mini-bus for the last kilometers. Or you can bargain a ride with a taxi driver.
The gingkotrees of Yinxing village
How to get to Tengchong
There are buses from Xiaguan (Dali
, Mangshi, Ruili
, Liuku. They all arrive at the new bus station outside of town. Taxi charge 20 RMB from the new bus station to drive to town.
There are several bus station in town for local destination. Travelers heading to Dehong prefecture by way of Lianghe use the old bus station (老客运站).
Born in the mountains of Switzerland, Gaetan Reuse has spent 10+ years in China where he studied Mandarin, conducted academic research in ethnic borderland and worked in the manufacture industry. He holds a BA in Chinese Studies from Geneva University and a MA in Geography from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, Canada. During his extensive travels in China, he has developed a passion for historical villages and how modernization and the travel industry are transforming them. He writes about his travel in China on his blog TravelCathay.com. He is now designing and leading tours in Yunnan Province and China’ southwest as well as developing the high-end Chinese inbound travel market in Europe.