Yuanyang is about 300km south of Kunming, renowned for its rice terraces, which claim as the world's largest and most spectacular one, crafted out by bare hands by the Hani people one thousand years ago and is still in use today. The rice farmers have had to practice ecology and land preservation centuries before those concepts were widely accepted around the world. Without hard work maintaining the terrace walls and irrigation system, the precious top soil would wash down the hillsides into the rivers.
Yuanyang Rice Terrace is a self sustaining ecosystem. During winter to early spring, the entire field is irrigated with spring water from the forest above to rejuvenate and getting prepared for the next season. The Hani people have repeated this for more than a thousand years. There is only one harvest in a year for the Yuanyang Rice Terrace; planting is from March to Oct./Nov. every year.
Yuanyang Rive Terrace is a perfect example of SYMBIOSIS with nature. The water evaporate from the rice terrace to form cloud, the rain is collected and trapped by the forest on the mountains, the spring water flow down to the rice terrace and the whole cycle repeats itself perpetually.
Although not many general tourists have visited the Yuanyang Rice Terraces, hordes of photographers have. The landscape changes vividly through the year. The flooded paddies from Dec. to April creates reflecting pool effect, which is a photographer's dream. In summer, the paddies are luxuriantly green with growing rice stalks. After the fall harvest, the paddies become naked bare earth.
Best time to go
With a subtropical climate, a visit to Yuanyang Rice Terraces anytime during the year is possible, though November to April will allow you to catch the terrace fields at their prettiest.
Getting there & away
There are currently 3 direct buses from Kunming Nanyao Bus Station to Yuanyang Xinjiezhen everyday. The Express departs at 10:40am and arrives 6-7hours later. The scruffy sleeper buses leave in the evening and arrive in early morning of next day. The alternative is to arrive Yuanyang Xinjiezhen from Kunming via Gejiu or Jianshui(also at Kunming Nanyao Bus Station).
Kunming to Jianshui: 4 hrs (220km), buses leave every half hour between 7:30 to 16:30, then 17:10, 17:55.
Jianshui to Xinjiezhen: 3.5 hrs either by a direct bus at around 8am or the Jianshui-Lvchun bus at noon between 11:30~12:10 (pass through). Or else, you need get to Nanshan(Yuanyang new city) and then transfer to Xinjiezhen, which is much complicated.
Kunming to Gejiu: 4-5 hours (300km), normal buses (Y55) departure between 7:30 -19:00. Express bus (Y82): 8:40, 14:20, 15:40
Gejiu to Xinjiezhen (Yuanyang old town ) 3hrs / Y30
for leaving, reverse of getting there except that one can even catch a direct bus to Zhongdian (Shangri-La) from Gejiu.
To enjoy either the sunrise or sunset views at Yuanyang Rice Terraces, you will need to charter a vehicle, as the public transport which consists of either motorized tricycles, mini buses or vans do not run so early or till so late. The rental of a 6-seat van is Y200/day, 5:30am to 8:30pm, no matter whether you return to hotel for a rest during 12:00 noon to 4pm when there is not so much to shoot due to the intensive sunlight.
Most hotels in Yuanyang have rough maps of the area to give out for free. Knowing the location of the villages makes it easier to catch passing through transport.
In Xinjiezhen(the town)
Chenjia Lvshe - 0873-5622343, conveniently situated near the bus station,offers a nice view of terrace fields. Family hotel, nice owner, Y40-60/std. room, with attached bathroom.
County Guesthouse(Xianzhengfu Zhaodaisuo) -200m from the bus station, frequented by travel groups. Y40 for a twin room, a triple dorm costs Y15-20 /bed, Y120/std. rm.
For eating, we'd like to recommend Liujun Fandian near the Chenjia Lvshe, which offers tasty and cheap local Hani food. The drawback is, it takes long time to wait for being served, as there are always too many guests at night.
In Shengcun (close to Duoyishu)
Shengcun Kezhan: twin room for Y40.
Shengcunyuan Fandian: Y15-20/bed.
Things to do
Enjoy the spectacular sunrise and sunset over the irrigated rice terraces in winter, but it really depends on the weather condition. It's great to have fog in the morning and cloud at dusk in a sunny day.
The ideal spots to view the terraces at different time are scattered as below:
Sunrise: Duoyishu, 1hour ride from Xinjiezhen; Qingkou,15minutes
Sunset: Laohuzui(Tiger Mouth, 1 hour) / Bada(1 hour), Longshuba(only accessible by foot in around 40 minutes from Xinjiezhen)
Visit some of region's many ethnic minority villages and markets where locals wear their colorful traditional costumes. Qingkou mushroom houses and Hani performance show, Shengcun market are perfect places to explore.
Hike along the steep rice terrace paths, but be careful - they can be quite slippery.
1. There are Yuanyang old city Xinjiezhen and Yuanyang new city Nansha. The former is your destination, which is 1hr further uphill from Nansha. Nansha is usually very hot even in winter, you don't need to stop there, but it's a place your bus must pass through, be prepared of sweating.
2. During the Chinese Spring Festival vacation, the place is too crowded. You will be surprised to find out that there are so many photographers in China.
Other related recommendations
Samaba in Baohua near Honghe county is claimed more beautiful than Yuanyang. It definately has less tourists neither photographers. One can first take a bus from Kunming to Shiphing(4.5hrs) and change a bus for Baohua (2.5h, twice a day at 8:00 and 14:00). Baohua has some simple guesthouses, the best one is Samaba Zhaodaisuo.
(chinatrekking.comMarch 13, 2008)