China #9: Yuanyang Hani Terraces in Yunnan (云南元阳哈尼梯田)
Sights: Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields (元阳哈尼梯田)
Region: Yuanyang Country, Honghe Hani & Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province
When in Kunming, I was recommended to visit Yuanyang Hani Terraced Field in Yuanyang County, which was several times larger than Longji Rice Terraces in Guangxi — which I visited not more than 10 days prior to Kunming. While Longji Rice Terraces is among the most well-developed terraced hills in China, Yuanyang Terraced Field is gigantic!
Unlike Longji Rice Terraces, which is best visited during spring or autumn, Yuanyang Terraced Field is best visited after all the crops are harvested and when the terraces are filled with water. Winter is the time to look out for the mysterious "blue terrace" (蓝梯田) and "red terrace" (红梯田) phenomenon.
Visiting Yuanyang Hani Terraces is not just for the beautiful landscapes but also the lifestyles of the ethnic minorities there. Other than Hani minority (哈尼族), other minorities that live in Yuanyang Rice Terraces include Yi (彝族), Miao (苗族), Zhuang (壮族), Dai (傣族) and Yao (瑶族). I visited both the Zhuang and Red Yao (红瑶) villages in Longji Rice Terraces (see Story #6).
I will share photos of the terraced fields in this post and cover a market day of the ethnic minorities in Yuanyang in the next story.
Getting From Kunming to Yuanyang Hani Terrace
From Kunming, I took the long-distance bus from Kunming South Bus Station (昆明南部汽车客运站) at 10am to Xinjie Town (Xinjiezhen, 新街镇) via Gejiu (个旧). At Xinjie Town, travellers bounded for Duoyishu Scenic Area (多依树景区) — where the hostel I reserved was located — would need to change to the local mini-buses.
The whole journey took about 7 hours from Kunming to Xinjie and probably another hour to Duoyishu on the hill roads.
Where I Stayed
It was near to dusk when I checked into Yuanyang International Youth Hostel — a sister branch of The Hump Hostel in Kunming — in Pugao Old Village (Pugao Laozhai, 普高老寨) of the Hani people. Being right next to Douyishu Scenic Area was the main reason to stay in this village (read on to find out why).
In 2012, a ticket was not required to get to Pugao Old Village. However, the village is annexed as part of Duoyishu Scenic Area now, so a ticket may be required to enter the village. Do find out more details at the ticket office.
Visiting Yuanyang Hani Terraces
There was no entry ticket into Yuanyang Hani Terraces but a single tour ticket (CNY100) would be required to enter 4 tour areas: Qingkou Folk-Custom Village (箐口民俗村) and 3 scenic areas at Duoyishu (多依树), Bada (坝达) and Laohuzui (老虎嘴).
The ticket was valid on the day of purchase only. So, no matter how many days I stayed in Yuanyang, the 4 tour areas must be visited on the same day.
My second day in Yuanyang was very misty — the whole terraced hills were engulfed in mist — and rained in the afternoon. I skipped the tour areas and checked out a couple of villages and near-distance scenery.
The weather improved on the third day and I bought a ticket to check out the rice terraces — don't try to save on the ticket, the viewing stations in the tour areas occupied the better spots to all the views, no point going all the way to Yuanyang and not checking out the scenery. However, I missed the folk-custom village since I chose to walk for most part of the journey instead of using the local buses to get from point to point.
First thing in the day was to try and catch a sunrise from the balcony of the hostel in Pugao Old Village — this was why I chose to stay in Duoyishu. But it was a misty morning. Yet, the view was pretty and cool without the sun.
At 9am, I was able to see the legendary "blue" terrace field of Yuanyang but it was some distance away and the angle was a little low. I needed a higher point — the viewing station.
Getting to the viewing station for Duoyishu Scenic Area (多依树景区) was the first stop and just next to Pugao Old Village. It offers a wide view of the blue terraced field and the sea of clouds behind it.
The blue field was not because there were something blue in them but were reflections of the blue sky on the surface of the water-filled terraces. This sight occurred mostly after the fields were filled with water after harvest — usually twice a year. This was one of the reason why Yuanyang Hani Terrace was more popular during such times instead of during the seasons when the crops were fully grown.
The red terraced fields were not obvious at the time of my visit but they were "developing" naturally — they are the result of red duckweed floating on the water.
After checking out Duoyishu Scenic Area, I teamed up with a Taiwanese girl named Jojo, who was staying at the same hostel as me. We walked towards Bada Scenic Area, which was 8Km away, and passing through Sheng Village (胜村) on the way. It was a big village with a marketplace where all ethnic minorities from nearby villages gathered here on market days (赶集). (I was in Sheng Village in Story #10.)
Before reaching the viewing station for Bada Scenic Area (坝达景区), we reached Laoyingzui (老鹰嘴) viewing point to see the head of an eagle with its beak — "Laoyingzui" means "eagle mouth" literally. In fact, these terraces were part of Bada Scenic Area, just different view points.
Another short walk and we were at Bada Viewing Station to check out the same sights but from different view angles and much closer.
It was way past lunch time after exiting from Bada Viewing Station and we had lunch at a eating place outside the entrance. We tried the local produces such as the red rice, greens from the fields and self-made sausage — one of the ethnic minorities' specialties. They were nice and simple dishes — we eat just like the locals.
The last viewing station was at Laohuzui Scenic Area (老虎嘴景区). It was the furthest scenic area from the other two — about 30Km from Bada Viewing Station by road. To get there, we took the local bus from Bada to a road intersection near Qingkou Laochashu (箐口老茶树) and changed to another bus bounded for Laohuzui.
At Laohuzui Viewing Station, the wide views it offered were fantastic.
"Laohuzui" means "tiger mouth" literally. The bunds in the terraced field made it looked like a tiger and one part of the field to the edge looked like a tiger's mouth. Refection of the while clouds in the sky made Laohuzui looked like a white tiger.
The bunds would not be this obvious when the fields were fully planted with crops.
We were lucky to catch the scene below with sunlight shining on the fields through some breaks in the clouds.
Most travellers planned Laohuzui as the last station to catch the sunset as it was the only station that faced the west. During sunset, the water-filled terraced field would turn into an orange tiger. It would be a blue tiger under a blue sky.
After sunset, it was a long ride back to Duoyishu in the dark — the road was unlit. We were lucky to meet someone from our hostel who had booked a mini-van to get around the terraces and chipped in to share the ride back. Otherwise, we would have to wait for the local bus.
And that summed up a whole day's journey to explore the terraced fields of Yuanyang from sunrise to sunset.
It would be a waste to go to Yuanyang Hani Terraces just for the terraced fields — that's what tour groups do. As travellers, the best thing to do in Yuanyang will be to check out the lifestyles of the various ethnic minorities while visiting the scenic areas. I was in Sheng village for its market day.
Don't miss the market day in Yuanyang: