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Explore Chinese Countryside - Discover Hidden Treasures

Yuanyang, Yunnan

Yuanyang's incredible rice terraces allows hikers to explore China's most beautiful and peaceful countryside with great freedom. In additions, one can discover one or two minority markets taking place in different villages every day. The most exciting encounter is to participate in one of the numrous local ethnic festivals such as Dragon Feast, Amatu, Torch Festval.

We can not help but upgrading Yuanyang to our Top Destination after our visit in February 2007. The whole area is hilly and packed with fabulous rice terraces bordering various villages. One can easily spend 4-5 days in Yuanyang, ideally two days for the markets and two to three days for hiking. Laomeng holds the most flamboyant market every Sunday when one can see people from six different ethnic minorities, with women and children dressing up in colourful dresses, different in their own traditional style.

Chinese tourists come here to photograph sunrise and sunset in rice terraces. Few show interest in hiking and local minorities. Even during the peak season, one can find peaceful and tranquil rice terraces except some famous viewpoints during the sunrise and sunset time.

When to visit
We visited Yuanyang in February 2007. The rice terraces are flooded with water in February (in fact between October and March every year) as the farmers prepare the soil for rice planting. The terraces look distinctly different from other times of the year. In fact the terraces look different in different seasons; in April the terraces are all green as rice started to grow, in later parts of the year it is yellowish brown as the rice ripens; in February, the terraces are bluish, with the water reflecting the sky.

February is the busiest month at Yuanyang because Chinese New Year normally falls in this month. This is also the best season to enjoy the majesty of the rice terraces when they are filled with water. It is something of a photographer’s haven during this time of the year and there are virtually hundreds, if not thousands of photographers, both professionals and wanna-be’s. Accommodation is difficult to come by and the favourite spots for sunrise and sunset photography are virtually choked with hundreds of tripod-carrying tourists or those who believe themselves to be photographers.

Things to see: Map
Rice terraces Viewpoints:
There are numerous villages that one can visit to enjoy the fabulous rice terraces in Yuanyang such as Duoyishu 多依树 (for sunrise), Bada 坝达, Longshuba 龙树坝 and Laohuzui 老虎嘴 (for sunset). They are close to the main road connecting them and can be easily and cheaply visited by either public transport or charter. From these viewpoints, the rice terraces are similarly impressive with only minor differences eg. the terraces are flatter with more mushroom-shaped thatched dwellings in Qingkou (the only village with entrance fee of 15 RMB) while the terrace plots are smaller but more packed at Laohuzui.

Market DaysEthnic Minorities:
Yuanyang boast a wide variety of ethnic minorities. Other than Han’s, Hani’s and Yi’s are the next biggest minorities; there are also Miao’s, Zhuang’s, Dai’s and so on. In fact most of the terraces in Yuanyang are carved by the Hani minority over the centuries. The Hani’s also exported the rice terrace cultivation, method and culture to the rest of South East Asia many centuries ago. Most of the minorities still go about their everyday life dressed in their traditional costumes (mainly the females). The best opportunity to see them in their splendor is during the various Market Days (see Market Day article).

Apart from rice terraces, it is just as exciting to see the various ethnic minorities, still garbed in their traditional costumes. Furthermore one can also see the various unique festivals and traditions of the minorities, especially during the lunar New Year period (see article on “Dragon Feast”)

Chinese tourists make their way in various means- be it chartered vehicles or self-drive- to the sunrise spots as early as 5am. Parked vehicles will form long lines at these places and people jostle for every vantage point to locate their tripods. It is all fun and very festive in atmosphere but the pandemonium will last only till the sun is above the horizon. People start dispersing when the sun is above the hills. The majority will head for their breakfast and then maybe another location for photography. Then it is afternoon nap before heading out to photographing sunset again. Afternoons are definitely quiet in and around Yuanyang.

Walking around Yuanyang: Map
One of the best ways to get close to the people and enjoy the views is to walk from one village to another. There are walking paths that connect all the villages, away from the main road. These paths follow the contour of the hills and some of them criss-cross the terraces. One may have to engage a guide to avoid getting lost especially since most of the villagers do not speak Putonghua (we recommend an English-speaking Yi guide, Jacky Wen (email: haichao33@sohu.com, tel: 13769385810). On such walks, one will be able to see the terraces in a different perspective from the road. Furthermore there are a couple of villages and viewpoints (such as 麻栗寨) that are simply breathtaking and accessible only by walking.

Getting there:

Yuanyang is situated south of Kunming, in the Honghe 红河 Region. It has a new administrative town, Nansha 南沙, which is the transport hub. However the main interests of most visitors are closer to Xinjiezhen 新街, which is about 30 km up the hill.

One can take a bus from Kunming to Yuanyang either via Gejiu or Jianshui at Kunming Nanyao Bus Station 南窑汽车站 near the railway station. There is a sleeper bus leaving at 8pm from Kunming and arriving at Yuanyang the next morning around 5am.

From Kunming to Jianshui 建水 (Y46) , 200km. One bus leaves every half hour between 7:30 to 16:30, and then 17:10, 19.10. The journey takes four hours. Then it takes another 3 hours from Jianshui to Yuanyang Nansha by bus (Y30). In Nansha one can easily find collective minibus for Yuanyang Xinjie for Y10 (25km, one hour).

From Kunming to Gejiu 个旧: 275 km. Normal bus (Y55): 15 departures between 7:25 and 19:00. Express bus (Y82): 8:40, 14:20, 15:40. Now it takes one hour from Gejiu to Nansha. Gejie has directly bus to Xiejie.

We recommend the Jianshui-Yuanyang road. Make a stopover in Jianshui, visit a surprisingly well preserved and peaceful ancient town Tuanshan 团山.

Accommodation

Most of the people who visit Yuanyang stay in the town area, namely Xinjiezhen 新街镇. This is the centre of the Yuanyang area where one can get transport to the various villages easily. There are a couple of accommodation options here; the cheapest, value-for-money and most popular is the Provincial Government Guesthouse ( 县政府招待所). The prices here range from Y10 for a bed in a dormitory to Y180 for a double room with toilets. Chenjia Luguan 陈家旅馆, near the bus station, offers a nice view of terrace fields, (double room from Y40)

One can also find simple accommodations run by local families in Shengchun 胜村. Shengcun Kezhan, 胜村客栈,double room from Y40.

A better option is Sunlight Guesthouse (Yangguang Kezhan) 阳光客栈 in Duoyishu village. It is a small but tidy hotel at the southend of the village, nestled amongst the fabulous rice terraces. The prices range from 40 RMB/bed in the peak season to 20 RMB during the non-peak period with shared bathroom. This guesthouse sits right next to the terraces, offering great hiking possibilities in the rice terraces to the nearby villages It is only 5 minutes walk up the hill to a fabulous vantage for sunrise viewing, the best in Yuanyang area.

Written by CBP in March 2007.



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