Dai Culture, and very strong whiskey | Xishuangbanna


Xishuangbanna was a bit of a wild-card destination. Known as a 'mini Thailand', I was quite intrigued to explore this area, close to the Burmese border. Xishuangbanna was different, it didn't feel much like China at all. The majority of the people in Xishuangbanna are of the 'Dai' minority. The Dai language looks like a hybrid of Lao and Burmese and the scenery is tropical. It felt as though our Southeast Asia leg of the trip had begun.


The three of us were well and truly exhausted by time we arrived in Xishuangbanna. Having finally returned to a normal altitude, our many activities over the last couple of weeks seemed to have caught up on us. We probably wouldn't have done much at all in Xishuangbanna, if it wasn't for Jamie's extremely generous former employer in Hong Kong who hired a chauffeur to tour us around.

One negative aspect of visiting a bit of a wild-card destination in China - for the first time we experienced the rock hard beds China is renowned for. Most places now have soft, 'western-style' mattresses. Xishuangbanna has not caught onto this trend yet, the beds were not enjoyable. (I researched this, it wasn't just our accommodation, most reviews of the few places there are for tourists, were inundated with complaints about the hard beds).

As we were not feeling particularly energetic upon arrival, we headed to a local masseuse to experience a 'blind massage'. In China, they believe that if you have lost one of your senses it strengthens your other senses. So, most masseuses in China are usually blind or deaf.

That evening, our driver picked us up and bought us to a tea shop where we would meet our chauffeur. No one in the shop could speak English, however they were very hospitable. We watched a tea pouring ceremony and drank a lot of tea. After about half an hour a girl, who spoke very good English, arrived and told us what was in store for us that evening. Our chauffeur couldn't speak English, so we communicated with him on WeeChat - the Chinese version of Whatsapp, which has a useful translating tool. It actually seems to translate Chinese into English very accurately.


Our evening started off with a buffet style dinner and a 'bonfire show'. We were a bit confused about the bonfire aspect of this show, especially when we were lead into a big indoor theatre. The show was a celebration of Dai culture and dance. I was reminded of the Tsang Dynasty show in Xi'an, however instead of being Westerners in an entirely Western audience, we were the only Westerners amongst a Chinese audience.


We left the show wondering why the driver called it a 'bonfire dance show'. Our bemusement was quickly answered when we were lead behind the building to a big fire, which loads of people were dancing around. We were quickly thrust into the throng of dancers, where we spent a good hour dancing in circles around the bonfire - a lot of wavy arm movements were involved.


We were given the choice of three places we could go the following day, we had opted to go to a traditional Dai village near the border of Myanmar - we were told this was a new thing to do in Xishuangbanna, the village was basically just "giving tourism a go".

To start the day, our driver brought us to a little place on the side of a road where we had a feast of dim sum dishes. Dim sum normally would not appeal to me at this time of the morning, but this place was wonderful, fresh and not at all greasy.

On arrival we were warmly welcomed by (what WeeChat translated to) the tribe leader, a friendly, eccentric looking man wearing a vibrant floral shirt. We straight away joined a gathering of people, where even more food had been prepared for us. We tried some meat which had been smoked and marinated and even had a sip of their locally brewed whiskey (at around 9.30am..) apparently they had a big drinking session the night before. Hair of the dog is a thing in many cultures it seems.


After breakfast number two, the tribe leader walked us around the village, pointing out various points of interest (in the Dai language) our driver would then send Jamie a WeeChat so we did know what things were. This quaint little village had a bit of everything; a fireworks factory, lots of small whiskey breweries.. it was like no place I had been before.


At around 10.30am, we arrived at a dance (these guys sure know how to have a good time), where we ended up doing more wavy hand dances in something of a conga line.


After walking around a bit more, we were brought onto a bamboo boat, where we saw even more of the village area from the part of the Mekong Delta that runs through the village.


Picking vegetables for our lunch!


Following this, we were brought to a magnificent feast in one of the little bamboo huts. We were about to have our third meal of the day, and it wasn't even noon. Even though I was not hungry at all, the food was too appetising not to eat. It was perfect food for a hot tropical day. Not long after we sat down, the 'tribe leader' sat with us, along with a massive carafe of whiskey, fresh from the brewery next door. It seemed we had been lining our stomachs all morning for a reason.


We were given a small shot sized glass which was filled with whiskey. Our driver said to only drink half a shot at a time, as it's quite strong. Every now and then the leader would say "Ganbei!" and we would drink half a shot.

I would say I have a relatively high tolerance to alcohol. We weren't exactly intent on having a big drinking session over lunch either. However, after about 4 or 5 shouts of "Ganbei!" (so, about 2 shots of this whiskey), I began to feel the alcohol affecting me quite strongly. My arms and legs felt all tingly, and I was feeling a bit giddy. Events after this are a tad unclear. At some point I walked into one of the low hanging bamboo poles with a fair whack to my head. I'm pretty sure I gave myself concussion and after this, and a few more shots, I remember very little of the day. None of us are really clear about what happened between the hours of 1-4pm (other than a lot more dancing). Thankfully, the driver was there to look after us/ take us home, otherwise it is likely that we would have wandered off into the jungle and into Myanmar.

After the shortest, yet most lethal, drinking session I have ever been involved in. The rest of the day was spent in bed. If you ever see alcohol brewed in a vat like this.. proceed with caution.