The Forest Cafe design itineraries for travellers who wish to explore Xishuangbanna, staying overnight in ethnic villages and learning first-hand how they have adapted their lives to the region and landscape.
What to Experience?
Located in south-western China bordering Laos, Xishuangbanna is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions in all of China. Aided by its tropical climate, the region’s tourism thrives on outdoor activities that allow visitors to hike through its many villages, often visiting ethnic groups that include Dai, Aini, Wa, Lahu and Yao. While is named the Forest Café, the specialty here is actually trekking journeys through the culturally and environmentally rich region of Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan. Its founder, Sara, has been leading treks in the area since 1999 and has gained a reputation as an excellent tour leader and host for travellers who wish to get the most of their experience to the region. Sara’s Aini, Dai, English and Chinese language skills allow tourists to have intimate experiences with the local residents that they encounter on their trips.
While there are a few pre-set itineraries, the Forest Café can customise treks for the amount of time and specifications that the travellers are looking for. A typical trek involves several days of hiking to villages, rubber plantations, tea plantations and waterfalls, with overnight stays at local villagers’ homes. Itineraries can be as short as one day or longer than a week.
How does it Help?
A main priority for the Forest Cafe is to fairly reimburse the host families for the accommodation and food that they provide for travellers. This is especially true in villages where they have been working with farmer families for many years. Generally, Chinese group tourism bypasses the villages so it is important that when foreigner tour groups visit them, it is in a dignified, respectful manner and they are compensated generously for their participation so as not to feel exploited.
The Forest Café is keenly aware of the massive environmental damage inflicted on the Xishuangbanna region through deforestation, modern development and mass tourism. The development of newer buildings and facilities at the expense of the local style is a major issue, so they encourage villagers to value and protect their older, wooden stilt houses and restore them rather than tear them down. Many minority villages, in their quest to modernise fast have abandoned their unique traditional houses in favour of the uniform, faceless, white-tiled buildings that are commonplace all over China.
Finally, the essence of the Forest Café is the connection between foreigner tourists and the community of local villages with their unique ethnicities, fostering a cross-cultural exchange and great appreciation and understanding of the issues facing the locals and their environment.
Address: Mengla Road 23; Jinghong Yunnan, China 666100