The main reason people decide to endure hours in a Chinese bus to get to Tengchong (腾冲) is to visit the ancient town of Heshun (和顺). Dubbed the “Overseas Chinese’s hometown”, Heshun, just 5 kilometers outside of Tengchong, is rapidly becoming a hot-spot for busloads of Chinese tourists.
Tengchong is a laid-back small town in a remote corner of western Yunnan province. Located in a former volcanic region ( there are a lots of hot-springs outside of town), Tengchong was an important stop on trade routes, namely the Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道) and the Jade Road.
Close to the Burmese border (just 70 kilometers outside, no land border-crossing allowed for foreigner), and still out of the traditional travel itineraries, Tengchong is an interesting laid-back town.Here a few places to visit in and around Tengchong while you wait for you connection.
Memorial hall of the war in western Yunnan
It is more than just a memorial hall of the war in western Yunnan (滇西抗战纪念馆). It is hands down one the best museums I have been to in China. Best thing about it : it’s free (yes, I know … freebies are rare in China). There are explanations in both in Chinese and English (not Chinglish) and visitors learn everything to know about how US and UK joined their forces to help China in their counter-offensive against Japan.
A great deal of the museum focuses on the Burma road built by the British and the Flying Tigers who flew from India and across the Himalaya (to avoid Japanese-controlled Burmese airspace) to Yunnan’s town like Tengchong, Baoshan (保山) and Yunnanyi (云南驿) to give supplies to the Chinese army.
A great (and free) history class. Definitely learned something there. Two thumbs up.
Location : 200 meters from the intersection of Tengyue Road (腾越路) and Feicui Road (翡翠路).
Visitors have to pay a 20 RMB entrance fee to get access to the Dieshui Waterfall park (叠水河瀑布). It seems ridiculously high for what the park has to offer.
The park is somehow pleasant and obviously on the path of busloads of Chinese tourists. The waterfall would look definitely more impressive if I did not have to pay an entrance fee.
There is Taoist temple which harbours couplets with pretty interesting characters carved in wood, but I visited better Taoist temples in Macau for free. Beware, you are not supposed to take pictures of theses carved calligraphy (I realized that when I saw a small sign in Chinese that says “禁止拍照”), because a replica is available for sale.
Beyond the flight of stairs, there is an abandoned wooden courtyard building that was used for meetings during the Republican area. For well-informed China Republican era history aficionados only.
Location : 500 meters from the mausoleum
The Yaowang Gong
Literally the “Palace of the Medicine King” (药王宫). I stumbled upon this small temple dedicated to Chinese traditional medicine while I was looking for the ancient British consulate (unfortunately transformed into a warehouse).
The traditional architecture of the Yaowang Gong contrasts with the modern high-rises around. It’s not the only temple in town, but it was the one I found the most impressive.
In the afternoon, a band of retired musicians invest the little square behind the Yaowang Gong. They drink tea, sing and play music for a while.
Location : the temple entrance is located near the intersection of Jihong Road and Guanghua Road (霁虹路 and 光华路).
The old Tengchong
Follow the narrow street nest to the Yaowang Gong and you will arrive in the old part of Tengchong. I don’t know whether it will still be there for long.
Narrow streets lined with mud-brick courtyard houses and an outdated feel of walking back in time if it was not for the bulldozers and the cranes which are building a new and modern Tengchong in the backdrop.
If you end up in Tengchong and the old town it’s still standing, don’t forget to take a bunch of pictures. With the growing urbanization, old town are an endangered species in China.
The Ancient British Consulate
Just a few steps away from the Yaowang Gong, you will find what remains of the old British Consulate. Tengchong is home to a piece of the United Kingdom. Indeed, at the end of the 19th century, Britons barged their way into Yunnan via Mandalay in British Burma and erected the consulate that functioned as a trading outpost.
WWII, it was abandoned by its owners and occupied by the Japanese.
On the side of the building, we can still see the impact of bullets. Abandoned for years, the old British is still standing. During the Mao era, it was surrounded by warehouses, most of which have been destroyed during the years 2014 / 2015. It seems the local government has a big project for the area : the old consulate will be home to a museum (possibly with an entrance fee) and will be surrounded by car parks and tourist welcome center.
Due to the particular local climate and the region where it’s located, that is to say right above the sub-tropics, in relative high elevations, surrounded by forested mountains which provide a range of non-timber food products (mainly mushrooms and wild vegetables) not far from Burma and with an interesting mix of different ethnic minorities, the food and variety of vegetables and fruits is astounding.
Check on the YunnanExplorer web site when it’s market day in town (scroll down to Baoshan region – the market is held every other 4 or 5 days) and start your exploration of the market which starts near the Yaowang Gong and spreads into the surrounding streets.
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 jades stores also sell bulky “gambling rocks” (or 赌石 in Chinese). You can bet and bargain for one if these rocks and if you are lucky, you will discover the purest jadeite ever. Have fun and good luck.
How to get to Tengchong
There are frequent buses to Tengchong from Xiaguan (Dali), Kunming, Baoshan, 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 should use the old bus station (老客运站).
There is a new airport just 15 km outside of town with direct flights to and from Kunming, Chongqing, Chengdu, Lijiang, Hangzhou, and Xishuangbanna.