Squashed in our narrow seats riding the bus for almost 8 hours from Kunming to Yuanyang, we often asked ourselves if this trip was worth the trouble. The air was stuffy and even worse, some passengers were smoking. The trip took us along farmland where rice, tobacco and corn are grown. Often we passed long stretches plastered with greenhouses.
The old town of Yuanyang is on top of a mountain, an hour from the new town. To our surprise, we found the most relaxed place we had seen so far in China, without the typical crowds of tourists, souvenir shops, but lots of Hani and Yi women wandering around wearing traditional dresses. These two groups indeed constitute the larger minority groups in the area. The best time to visit the “prime spots” of the vast rice terraces is at sunrise and sunset. There are numerous viewpoints near small villages about 20 kilometers west of the old town of Yuanyang.
At 05:00 am, we set off and arrived at the village of Duoyishu, long before the sun peeked around the mountain edge. We listened to the village coming to life and gasped at the unreal scenery, an enormous area of terraces carved from the mountain slopes, still sitting there in the semi-darkness. Even the chilly temperatures could not distract us from this most impressive scenery. It was just the six of us enjoying this magic awakening. For two hours, we watched the ever changing light and took photo after photo.
Later on, we stopped at many other view points, each breathtaking, literally. We had “breakfast” in a small village, buying various foods from the Hani ladies: dumplings filled with sweet cream and many fruits. We soaked up the village life in the wee small hours.
It took us a while to realize what was so striking about this environment. All these people who dress and work their fields like a hundred years ago, all live in modern houses, built of brick and covered with whitish tiles, like everywhere in China.
Around noon, we were back in Yuanyang and we started out again at 04:00 pm to see the sunset at a place 25 kilometers northwest. We arrived two hours too early so wandered around and found a nice view point, closer to the terraces. Again, it was our little group and the same Chinese tourists. We looked into a valley of terraces cascading down the surrounding mountain slopes. The vastness of the cultivated area was simply overwhelming.
For more pictures of the Rice Terraces of Yuanyang: