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China Story 11: Dongchuan Red Land in Kunming (东川红土地)

Dongchuan Red Land (东川红土地)

Sights: Dongchuan Red Land (Dongchuan Hongtudi, 东川红土地)

Region: Hongtudi Town, Dongchuan District, Kunming Prefecture, Yunnan


Dongchuan Red Land, also called Red Soil or Red Earth, is located along the way between Kunming and Hongtudi Town (红土地镇) in Dongchuan District. The area is known for its reddish acidic soil. Not any kind of crops can be grown on these soil, only those that can adapt to its acidity like potatoes, rapeseed, etc, will survive.

Unlike Longji Rice Terraces (Story #6) and Yuanyang Hani Terraced Fields (Story #9) that cultivate crops on steep hillsides, the farmlands in Dongchuan are on flatter grounds and hence wider terraces. As different crops are grown on the land in different tiers, a colourful piece of landscape was created. And that is how Dongchuan Red Land has a beautiful name called "上帝打翻的调色板" or "the colour palette that god knocked over".

Dongchuan Red Land used to be popular among Chinese photographers. As its fame grows, backpackers started visiting the area and more tourists will soon follow — if not already so.

I was in Yuanyang Hani Terraces before going to Kunming

Yuanyang Hani Terraced Field in Yunnan

Getting From Kunming to Dongchuan Red Land

From Kunming North Bus Station (昆明汽车北部客运站), we took the bus heading for Fazhe Village in Hongtudi Town (红土地镇法者村). The family hotel that we were going to stay was located near the "109Km" road marker, so we asked the bus driver to drop us there. He was very familiar with that request.

When going back to Kunming from the same spot in Dongchuan Red Land, we had to call the bus company in Fazhe Village to reserved seats for us — and had to pay the full fares when boarding the bus on the return trip.

Where I Stayed

Most photography-enthusiasts would put up at 春冬旅社 (Chundong Family Hotel, 红土地影友之家) in Huagou Village (花沟村) — one of the handful of accommodations in the area. The owner of the hotel was Mr Zhang and he hosted mostly photographers from all over China. He even took up photography after being influence by his photographer-guests. Mr Zhang also rented his jeep for driving his guests to various sites in Dongchuan Red Land — it's not possible to cover the whole area on foot after taking into considerations the hot sun around noon time.

We walked into Chundong Hotel without reservations but were lucky to have the last room.

春冬旅社 (红土地影友之家)

In recent years, Chundong Hotel had developed into a tourism development company for Dongchuan. It also added a new building of hotel rooms to cater for the increasing number of visitors to Dongchuan Red Land as its fame spread. Other hotels had also sprung up in the area.

Exploring the Red Land

It was about 3pm after we settled our accommodations for the next 2 days. Together with 5 other photographers from the same hotel, we rented Mr Zhang's service to drive us to popular sites of Dongchuan Red Land for one day (half day on day 1 and half day on the following morning). The days in Dongchuan were usually hot and sunny day, so between 10am to 3pm was unsuitable for photography due to harsh sunlight.

Our first stop was at Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟). This was one of the sunset sites but it was too early for sunset. Here's a wide view of the valley.

Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟)

And panning from left to right to have closer look of the beautiful valley. Red patches were empty plots of land after the crops were harvested. They appeared red due to the exposed red soil.

Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟)
Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟)
Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟)
Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟)
Luoxia Valley (Luoxia Gou, 落霞沟)

The next site was the Thousand-Year-Old Divine Tree (千年老龙树). It was said that the old tree withered once for about 2 weeks before new shoots started appearing and it began a new life. Hence, the locals called it a "divine tree". None of us wanted to go closer to take photos of just the old tree so we took photos from the roadside.

Thousand-Year-Old Divine Tree (千年老龙树)

Next stop was Daping Tang (大坪塘), a wide and flatter plain of farmlands. Mr Zhang explained that the colours were determined by the planted crops and the colourful fields would have different colours in different seasons.

Daping Tang (大坪塘)

Our last stop for day 1 was at Snail Bay (Luoshi Wan, 螺蛳湾), another preferred site for sunset. The circular terraces around the low hills made them looked like snails.

Snail Bay (Luoshi Wan, 螺蛳湾)

We waited until sunset, took some photographs and retreated back to the hotel.

Snail Bay (Luoshi Wan, 螺蛳湾) sunset

It was so hot and sunny in the day, but it turned really cold at night. As the roads were not lit at night, we stayed in the hostel and chatted with fellow photographers — some were from Guangdong and Shanghai — over dinner.

Early the next morning, we set off for sunrise over Dama Village (Dama Kan, 打马坎) with the same group of photographers.

Da Ma Kan (打马坎)

And a clear view after the sun had risen more.

Da Ma Kan (打马坎)

The next site was Beautiful Garden (Jinxiu Yuan, 锦绣园). It was the most beautiful site and getting there in the morning was the best as the sun was not so harsh.

Beautiful Garden (Jinxiu Yuan, 锦绣园)
Beautiful Garden (Jinxiu Yuan, 锦绣园)
Beautiful Garden (Jinxiu Yuan, 锦绣园)

A farmer tending to her field of yellow and white rapeseed (油菜).

Beautiful Garden (Jinxiu Yuan, 锦绣园)

Next site was Music Score Concave (Yuepu Ao, 乐普凹). By 10am, the sun was already doing its worst possible with dark shadows. This was why getting around with a vehicle was necessary and keeping to the couple of precious hours when the sun was not too strong.

Music Score Concave (Yuepu Ao, 乐普凹)
Music Score Concave (Yuepu Ao, 乐普凹)
Music Score Concave (Yuepu Ao, 乐普凹)
Music Score Concave (Yuepu Ao, 乐普凹)

After Music Score Concave, we were back at the hostel by noon and that ended the tour of the Red Land by jeep. After lunch, the other photographers checked out and returned to their hometowns. Me and Jojo stayed for another day.

At about 4pm, when the sun was not so hot, we went out to check out some scenery near the hotel. The golden-leaves trees with white-painted trunks along the long winding road were pretty scenic too.

Trees by the road
Trees by the road
Trees by the road

And a common transport among the locals in Dongchuan Red Land was horse carts.

Trees by the road and a horse cart

It was unbelievably cold that night when it rained.


After 2 days in Dongchuan Red Land, we returned to Kunming. Jojo returned to Taiwan the following day and I teamed up with another 3 Chinese solo travellers at The Hump Hostel. Our next destination would be Dali via overnight train.


Dali Ancient City is a traveller's heaven

Dali Ancient City Three Pagodas

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