As sub-zero temperatures persist in northern China, a large number of Chinese tourists are flocking to the city of Ruili in the southwestern border province of Yunnan, hoping to flee the winter chill.
Ruili is next to Myanmar's Muse Township. It is entering the peak tourist season in the days leading up to the Chinese Lunar New Year, thanks to its warm subtropical climate, natural scenery and unique multi-ethnic culture.
The main tourist draws include jade markets, the Moli Tropical Rainforest Park, Jiegao Border Gate and a village straddling the national border between China and Myanmar.
The borderline is usually a bamboo fence, a ditch or simply a painted yellow line on a road. The Chinese side of the village is called "Yinjing," and the Myanmar side "Mangxiu." Most villagers are of the Dai ethnic minority.
The village has turned into a popular scenic spot called "One Village, Two Countries" in recent years. Tourists like taking photos with the border marker and border-straddling water well in the village. They also enjoy watching traditional dance shows by Myanmar performers.
Zhang Yu, a traveler from eastern China's Jiangxi Province, said he was most impressed by a village swing allowing visitors to hop between the two countries.
"I also enjoyed traditional Myanmar performances and bought some Myanmar handicrafts. The village provided me with a glimpse of Myanmar's culture," he said.
"One Village, Two Countries" received more than 700,000 visitors in 2019 and has seen an increasing number of tourists from Myanmar in the past two years, said Han Feng, general manager of the scenic spot.
More than 6.7 million domestic and foreign tourists visited Ruili last year, up 11.7 percent from 2018. Border tourism has greatly developed the county-level city, according to the Ruili municipal culture and tourism bureau.
"Besides tours in Ruili, the one-day tour route from Ruili to Myanmar's Muse Township has gained popularity in the past few years," said Lun Jing, a tour guide with a Ruili-based travel agency.
The Muse tour costs about 300 yuan (around 44 U.S. dollars). It allows tourists to visit the Myanmar town's historic Buddhist temples and stupas and buy Myanmar's signature products and traditional handicrafts from local markets, she said.
"About 2,000 Chinese tourists sign up for the Muse tour at our travel agency each month during the peak season," she said. "Many of them said that it would be a shame to skip the Muse tour now that they were in Ruili."
Official data showed that over 50,000 tourists participated in the one-day tours from Ruili to Myanmar in 2019, an annual increase of 23.9 percent.
Ruili will continue to develop its border tourism and launch more cross-border travel routes such as self-driving tours and multi-day tours to Myanmar, said Yang Jin, head of the Ruili municipal culture and tourism bureau.
"Border tourism has contributed to the cultural exchanges between China and Myanmar and the countries' socio-economic development and has brought people of the two countries closer," Yang said.