Of all of the places that The Hutong ventures to, it’s safe to say that one of our favorite locations is Xishuangbanna (西双版纳) prefecture in Yunnan province. We like to think of ourselves as seasoned travel veterans to the area (if you’ve never heard of our legendary bike tours, check out more information about them here). There’s an endless number of reasons why we love Xishuangbanna so much, and we really enjoy getting the opportunity to help others travel there for the first time; as such, we were thrilled when the team from Ferrero Shanghai asked us to plan a three-day retreat back in December.
Xishuangbanna, and Yunnan in general, is extremely culturally diverse, with over 15 different ethnic groups calling the area home. The Dai people, Xishuangbanna’s largest ethnic minority group, are extremely proud of their heritage and are eager to share their storied history with all who pass through. Our trip was no exception; we visited the cultural history museum and were given an impressive lecture. Topics included the anthropological development of the local peoples, changes in geographic features and how this affected the tea trade, and many other aspects from the Dai, Hani, and other ethnic groups’ rich history. However, among the most memorable displays of local culture were the songs and dances that were performed for us at dinners, during history lessons, and even on the bus as we rode from town to town. We cannot thank our local partners enough for their amazing hospitality and the incredible insight into local life that they shared.
While Ferrero is most famous for its exceptional chocolate products, it was actually tea that was the highlighted product on this excursion. Xishuangbanna has a long and storied history with respect to the tea trade; geographically situated just below Pu’er (普洱) prefecture (yes, that Pu’er), Xishuangbanna is the home to many ancient tea forests. Nannuoshan (南糯山) Mountain is one of the oldest and most important examples; Hani people have been making tea there for almost 800 years, and, as such, it was a place that we knew that we had to see during our time in the area.
Throughout the course of the trip, we brought the Ferrero group to see tea at a number of stages throughout its production. We began by hiking through the forests on Nannuoshan Mountain; some of these tea trees that we encountered along the way were almost 700 years old! While making our way through the forest, we were treated to incredible views of the sprawling tea fields. With whet palates, we visited a tea museum and sampled a wide range of local teas. However, one of the most memorable and engaging aspects of the trip was the time that we spent at the Menghai (勐海) tea factory. In addition to seeing Pu’er tea being transformed from freshly-picked leaves to finished products, we got the chance to press our very own Pu’er cakes to take home and share with friends and family.
The food in “Banna” (as the locals call it) is one of the reasons we return as often as we do; borrowing
flavors from neighboring countries like Vietnam, Laos, and Burma, southern Yunnanese food is among the tastiest we’ve had anywhere in China.Tomato-based dipping sauces rival the best from around the world, and we’d be hard-pressed to cite an example of better-tasting barbecues. This was evident from the group’s first dinner in Nannuoshan; each meal seemed more delicious than the one before. Two culinary highlights were definitely the dinner that we had along the Mekong River as well as the final meal: a Dai-style barbecue feast that left us with full bellies and joy in our hearts!
Even in the most remote of places that we visit, we’re always looking for creative ways to put our own “Hutong” spin on things. This time around, we thought we’d bring one of our classic team-building programs, the Hook ‘n’ Cook culinary competition, down south for a Yunnan style cook-off! The Hook ‘n’ Cook took place in one of the houses in the traditional village that we stayed in during our time on Nannuoshan Mountain, and our hosts were extremely accommodating in assisting us with our rather unique requests.
As is the case with most Hook ‘n’ Cooks, the Ferrero team divided into pairs of two to cook up a storm; however, this time around, it was traditional local fare that was on the menu. The dishes turned out great, and we celebrated the winning team’s victory over a large bonfire that lasted late into the night. As an added bonus, this evening’s festivities were BYOB-Bring Your Own Bartender, as our very own Ben Kalman mixed some of the finest cocktails that the remote village had ever seen!
In addition to its rich historical sites, Xishuangbanna is also famous for its exceptional night market in Jinghong. Vendors from all over Yunnan come together to show off products of all shapes and sizes; we ran across everything from traditional minority clothing items to hand-made scented soaps. Even if you don’t wind up buying anything, strolling through the market at night is a fun experience, and we’d recommend it to anyone spending a night in Jinghong.
Although bike riding was not the central component this time around, we were still able to fit in a long ride on the final morning of the trip (What can we say? We love biking and Xishuangbanna is perfect for bike enthusiasts of all ages). Riding along the Mekong River, we pedaled through both the old and new parts of the small city of Jinghong, getting to see a blend of traditional and modern architecture along the way. Before returning to the hotel, the Ferrero team had one last shot at picking up unique cultural items at the local markets (e.g. tea gear essentials to ensure that they’d be able to brew the perfect cup using the Pu’er cakes that they had pressed the previous day.)
After a long few days of hiking, biking, and sipping on tea, we saw the group to the airport and bid them farewell. Ferrero has taken the Chinese market by storm over the past few years, and we wish them lots of continued success moving forward.
Feel free to contact us via email at corporate[at]thehutong[dot]com or by phone at +86-130-3108-2635 in order to learn more. Although we regularly run unique and memorable experiences to different places throughout China, we’re always eager to get to chance to find new and interesting spots to bring teams, so we welcome any and all ideas that may you have!