From atop the surrounding hills, Heshun (和顺), a rustic village in western Yunnan near Tengchong, is only a small cluster of tile roofs huddled together in the green valley below. Looking down on it, there is none of Tengchong's urban drabness. The tiled roofs are squeezed together so tightly it is difficult to discern if the town has any streets.
It does, of course. I discover the next day that the meandering stone paths are all being torn up, pipes being laid beneath. Even with the construction, the town is very quiet and slow-paced. The mornings come early and old women sell pickled vegetables and rice noodles outside the village's library. I hear the sloshing of water by seven; clothes are already being washed.
The evenings also come early and children skip home downhill in the darkened alleys. Beside the lake, families have made small fires and sit around on heavy, ski-lodge wooden benches warming their hands. There are few sounds after 10 pm.
Heshun is a beautiful old village, but with a twist: half the town's inhabitants haven't returned yet. For the 6,300 residents currently living in the village, nearly 6,000 others are still overseas working, waiting to retire and return to Heshun. It appears the town is destined to become a retirement home for overseas Chinese.
Despite its remote location near China's border with Myanmar, the town has always had connections to the outside world. Back in the Ming Dynasty, Heshun's first generations of overseas traders traveled frequently to Myanmar and dealt in jade. These days, there's said to be a Heshun-er on every continent.
Over the years, this legacy of international trade has put its stamp on the town. Exotic goods from Southeast Asia and beyond have trickled into town via old caravan routes. The Li family mansion, home of one of the village's most wealthy trading families, boasts Japanese pottery, French stained glass and a 19th century Italian clock.
Overseas Heshuners may be looking forward to returning to a life of crowing roosters and cobblestones, but it seems the tour buses will be arriving too. Tengchong County's famous volcanoes and hot springs are a major tourist draw in this area, but Heshun's reputation is growing as well.
Last year, Heshun topped China Daily's list of the country's Top Ten Charming Towns. Domestic tourism is booming and it seems there's more to come. The town is currently upgrading its power lines, plumbing and roads. Landscapers are planting flowers in the highway median leading up to the town. Just outside the stone gate entrance, an empty, vast parking lot gives one an ominous sense of what's to come.
Heshun isn't necessarily doomed to become a tourist trap. The village has been dealing with foreign visitors since the time of Shakespeare and they seem to have done all right for themselves. The place is still, well, charming.
To get to Tengchong (腾冲): Sleeper buses run from Kunming's Long Distance Bus Station (on Beijing Lu) to Tengchong and can take up to 18 hours. Another possibility is breaking up the journey at Baoshan (保山) en route. Local buses run frequently between Baoshan and Tengchong (4-5 hours).
To Heshun (和顺): Minivans can be caught at all hours from Tengchong to Heshun and vice-versa for two yuan. Try in front of the Tengchong Da Jiudian (腾冲大酒店) in Tengchong for vehicles headed to Heshun. If you aren't in a hurry, you can take a pleasant two-hour walk between the two.
Staying in Heshun: There are a number of basic (clean beds, outside bathroom) and cheap (15-30 kuai) accommodations throughout the village.© Copyright 2005-2021 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.