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Getting away: Yuanyang's rice terraces

By in Travel on

Most of Yunnan's popular travel destinations are places where visitors chill out, take in some scenery and maybe go for the occasional trek or daytrip to surrounding areas. But some places such as Luoping and Yuanyang primarily attract photographers – Luoping for its mountains and yellow fields of rapeseed flowers and Yuanyang for its rice terrace-covered mountains.

During the Chinese New Year holiday, we spent four days in Yuanyang with two shutterbug friends in search of that perfect rice terrace shot. After driving six hours due south from Kunming, we arrived at the Yuanyang county seat of Nansha (南沙), taking the high road into the mountains another 28 kilometers before reaching Xinjie (新街, image below), the nearest town to the rice terraces and the place people are usually referring to when discussing Yuanyang.

It had been four years since our last visit, and not much had changed in the town itself. As it was the new year holiday, there were throngs of visitors, most of them staying in the Yunti Hotel or the Yunti Shunjie Hotel, which was once a dreary hotel run by police.

It was when we went out to visit the terraces that recent changes became evident. The upper road that leads out of Xinjie toward the rice terraces had been relaid as a brick road and was much smoother than before. The fork where the road splits off to the Duoyishu/Bada scenic spots or the Laohuzui scenic spot were finally marked, but there was also now a ticket booth for Duoyishu and Bada. Commercialization of the rice terraces has begun in earnest.

Aside from road improvements and ticket booths, the composition of the people shooting the terraces was dramatically different from a few years ago. Whereas Yuanyang previously attracted primarily Europeans, Japanese and Hong Kongers, domestic tourists outfitted with thousands of dollars of equipment were ubiquitous. The majority of mainland tourists to Yuanyang nowadays hail from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong and Kunming.

Sunrise and sunset are the best times to shoot the terraces – during our time in Yuanyang we shot three sunrises and three sunsets. Here are some brief introductions to some of the top spots for taking photographs in Yuanyang:

Laohuzui (老虎嘴)
Laohuzui is the most popular place in Yuanyang to shoot sunsets. The spot's name literally means 'tiger mouth', as somewhere in the myriad curving terraces there is reputedly something resembling a tiger's mouth. We were unable to see anything remotely tigerlike, but it was breathtaking nonetheless.

Laohuzui has two viewing platforms, one high up near the access road that has recently been enclosed by a 200 meter fence. There is also a lower platform that can be reached after walking down a set of switchbacks. You may want to skip the lower platform if you have bad knees or smoke three packs of Honghe cigarettes a day, as the climb back up is fairly strenuous.

There is no shortage of young Hani women offering to help carry camera bags, tripods or backpacks back up the hill for five yuan. On the surface some may seem a bit jaded by the growing number of wealthy tourists, but in general they are all happy to converse if you make the effort.

The upper platform can quickly become a noisy traffic jam before sunset, when tour buses, private cars and trucks clog the narrow road outside the upper viewing platform. Regardless of which platform you choose, it is advisable to show up at least an hour before sunset to get a good spot.

Entry to Laohuzui is 30 yuan or 15 yuan for children, the elderly or disabled and is paid at an on-site ticket booth.

Duoyishu (多依树)
We left the hotel a bit before 6:00 to catch the sunrise at Duoyishu an hour later. We weren't the only ones looking to secure a prime spot for viewing the sunrise – about 200 photographers had their tripods set up when we got there, and many more arrived afterward.

In addition to photographers, there were plenty of local Hani of all ages selling hard-boiled eggs for one yuan each, plus some older Hani women cooking potatoes and stinky tofu on small barbecues.

If you are looking for more variety than the two viewing platforms can offer, you may want to consider heading into the fields. The footpath connecting the viewing platforms heads downhill into the terraces – this is how most photographers get into the terraces.

An alternative way to get into the terraces is to walk about 200 meters south on the road near the upper viewing station. On your left there will be a handful of small footpaths leading from the road into the terraces, offering a different perspective on this expansive valley without having to shoot into the direct path of the sun's light.

Entry to Duoyishu is paid at the aforementioned fork in the road – 60 yuan gets you access to Duoyishu, Bada, Quanfuzhuang and several other spots along the same road.

Bada (坝达)
Most visitors to Bada stop by in the morning on the way back to Xinjie from Duoyishu or they come out in the late afternoon to catch the sunset. Bada has one of the biggest collections of terraces and is easy to photograph from different angles.

Bada has two viewing platforms that offer views at similar heights but different lateral perspectives. Additionally, there are a few footpaths near the second platform leading up into some of the higher terraces, or down below, where new vantage points into the valley open up.

In addition to the countless soft curves and hard bends that can be found in the terraces below Bada, there are also plenty of small huts which make for interesting objects with which to anchor one's shots. Due to the height of the mountain behind Bada, the sun's rays don't hit the terraces below until an hour after Duoyishu.

Should you be tired from waking up to catch the sunrise, there is a small restaurant at Bada offering instant coffee.

Quanfuzhuang (全福庄)
Our last morning in Yuanyang, we decided to do something different and try the comparatively lo-fi viewing areas at Quanfuzhuang. While your correspondent was passed out in the car, his companions managed to take some of their most gratifying shots of the trip.

Should you tire of the crowds at the three aforementioned sites, Quanfuzhuang is highly recommended. In addition to fewer people, there is also easier access to the terraces.

Quanfuzhuang image: John Seelinger

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Chris; No doubt, your new window view has had an affect on your writing creations (Actually, this story may have been conceived before the new view, but let's pretend otherwise).

Is it not possible to have a section of this Website specifically set up to permit easy searches to well-written travel stories. Yes, we have Lonely Planet, but there's also an important niche for stories like this.

I can't imagine that you'll not offer this story to every airline that flies into China, for example.

Fantastic pictures - can't wait to return.

One small critique; hotel descriptions would be nice.

Matthew; Thank you for that. I think that I have been under a silly misunderstanding (?) I always assumed that the writer originates the tag words and, thus, may not have covered everything. Now, I guess that you guys do that?

Here's some info from Yunti Hotel's website (www.yunti-hotel.cn/), I think you'd enjoy Building B's gumnasiums and spacious farking lot:

"Yun Ti Hotel is located in Xin Jie LaoCheng Yuan Yang, YunNan China-the home of cloudy sea and terraced field, At present it is the only one three stars hotel with complete set of profection and high standarel service[...]

"Building A has 113 rooms with vievo rooms、parlour rooms、stand and rooms、sweet rooms、set of lunnry rooms、magnifilent hall. Nefied halls's bar. High –tech bussiness center and supermarket int it and guests will fell at home.

"Building B has a functional hall which can contain2400 presons. It has gumnasiums KTV rooms、bars、some meeting rooms、sanna roomsand a large farking lot."

Chris; just as I said, your writing creations will improve. ;-(


What's the best (and cheapest) way to get there from Kunming?

Planning on going to Yuanyang, so I have been researching the place. One major confusion is the map for Yuanyang. On the web, there are several available, and that's the problem. Even in Lonely Planet's China, they have I think 2 versions in their 2 recent updated published book, one being the flip of the other, amazing, e.g., Duoyishu and Longshuba, how are they related to each other, which is, relaltively, east of which? Can anyone refer me to a correct map of the area?

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