The rice terraces in Yuanyang, Yunnan China, have been one of my favorite travel photography destinations.
The area has culture, good food, touristy by mostly by Chinese tourists, and is stunning. It’s a photographers dream destination. Yuanyang is also a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. Unfortunately, because it is China, it may be difficult to travel on your own, but not impossible. Just be prepared for adventure, and have extra time. Like the rest of China, it is rapidly changing, so you may be surprised how different your visit is than other travelers.
Best time to visit
The best time to visit is when the fields are filled with water, and there is likely to be some fog. This happens between January and March every year. Don’t plan one or two nights because you can’t guarantee a good sunrise or sunset in that short amount of time. We stayed for four nights, and I wish we stayed longer. During that time only two sunrises and one sunset were good for photography.
How to get in
There are two main methods to get to the area. 1. From Kunming and 2. Vietnam. It’s not close to either, so you will have to take one or many buses. Just remember, your destination is XinJie. Xinjie is the main town at the start of the scenic area, but you’ll have to go further to get where you’re going to want to be. From XinJie there are no more public buses, but there is plenty of private and shared transportation.
There’s a great website with English that has the current (maybe, it is China so you never know) bus schedules throughout Yunnan, YunnanExplorer. Wikitravel also has some good (but dated) information.
I recommend staying in the village of DuoYiShu. It’s a small village within a very short walking distance of many of the great views. We stayed at the Yuanyang Flower and Horse Inn. It was a little more expensive than the other places to stay nearby, but I thought the value was worth it. The owner of the guesthouse is young and helpful and will take you to “hidden” less-known spots. We stayed at the Yuanyang Flower and Horse InnYuanyang Flower and Horse Inn .
Where to photograph.
There are three famous viewpoints, each known for something different. Google each to see example pictures and decide where you want to go.
Duoyishu (多依树) is where I’ve recommended staying. It is great for sunrise, and there are two platforms for photographing. One is the most well-known, sits along the road, and requires an entrance fee. You will be there with hundreds of your Chinese friends, who will take pictures of you as much as the sunrise. There is also a platform at the bottom of the town, with no fee. This is less known with a different view, and from here you can wander into the terraces to get some different vantage points. I spent a good amount of time here.
Bada (坝达) is known for sunset, but it didn’t inspire me so we never went here at sunset. We saw it as we were walking along the road, and decided not to come back.
Laohuzui (老虎嘴) – you’re higher up here, so it’s a completely different view. I didn’t go here, but I kind of regret it.
There are also countless other less-known viewpoints. We walked to Yanzijiao (岩子脚) for sunset one day. There is supposedly a view from the bottom of the village, but it was banked in fog when we went. Walking back to Duoyishu had a great view for sunset.
The following part of this post was originally published on my photography blog in March of 2015.
Mike and I have been back settled in Hangzhou for a few weeks now, no travel! I’m starting to feel the itch to explore again, but I’ve also enjoyed spending some laid-back time in Hangzhou, creating a routine, meeting up with friends, exploring the city, and most importantly getting work done. For Mike, that includes his thesis work. For me, it’s working on my photography business. I never thought I could spend so much time on something, and still enjoy it. By the way, this so-called “routine” that Mike and I have been on includes going to bed reaaaallllyy late (like 3 am!) and also getting up reaaaalllllyy late (like 10:30 am!). I feel like a college student again. Wait, no, in college I could both go to bed late and get up early, but my life included lots of naps. Being a bit older now, my body wouldn’t be able to function like that. However, these late nights have been very productive. I typically feel the most productive between 8 pm and whenever I decide to go to bed. No distractions like there are during the day. I want to share a few edits I’ve been working on lately. Just before returning to Hangzhou I was in Yuanyang, Yunnan, photographing the rice terraces. Yuanyang was an amazing place to visit. Because of the weather, the scenery changed by the hour, the only way I can describe it is magical. I couldn’t believe how the landscape changed so quickly, with clear air, clouds, extreme fog, and colorful sunrises and sunsets. I hope my pictures do this place justice, but I don’t think they do.
The first night we weren’t sure where would be best to view the sunset, so we just wandered around Pugaolao Village (普高老寨), where we were staying. We found a large viewing platform within a few minutes’ walk from our guesthouse, just in time to watch the colors change on terraces filled with water.
The next day we woke up for sunrise, but it was a bust. We went up to the more popular viewing platform (Duoyishu), and stood around for hours with over 100 of our new Chinese friends waiting for the fog to clear and the sun to shine. Instead, we chatted with each other and our tripod-neighbors, Mike speaking to them in Chinese, and the nice ladies sharing the snacks they brought with them from their hometown. The following picture shows what that morning looked like. Oh yeah – it was also misting.
By the time we arrived back at our guesthouse, the misty part of the fog had lifted, and the sun appeared to be trying to peek through, so I wandered around the village and the nearby rice terraces to capture the changing light.
A few minutes later fog quickly pushed in, and it looked like this, for about 20 minutes, and then it was gone.
After lunch, Mike and I joined our guesthouse owner and another guest on a guided “short hike” to a hidden spot. This uh, “short” walk ended up being over 10 miles! My new fit bit told me that we walked over 16 miles. It was worth it.
Our destination was a little-known viewing spot, but we had to pass through a small village to reach it. Immediately, we were bombarded with many incredibly cute kids, who ended up spending a few hours with us.
While we waited for the fog to lift, we played with the kids. They were so full of energy and curiosity. I even let them play with my camera for a minute (with me of course still holding on).
The fog never left this hidden spot for us to see the terraces, so we wandered back through the village. Two of the kids were siblings and ran back to ask their parents if they could show us their home. Their parents were very welcoming and even invited us to have dinner with us. Their home wasn’t like the hundreds of guesthouses and new homes we saw being built in masses all throughout Yuanyang, but rather the traditional, dirt floor, soot-filled (from their only source of heat – fire), one-room house. I felt very honored to be welcomed by this family. Unfortunately, the sun was setting and we had a long walk back, so we declined their offer.
Sunset turned up to be beautiful, and just next to the village on the main road was a great place to be for it. The colors were stunning.
That day was amazing, in so many ways.
That’s enough writing for one blog, so I will just share a few more pictures from our stay. Out of 8 sunrise/sunsets, the weather was only good for photography for 3. If you have to plan to visit Yuanyang for photography, plan to stay there at least 4 nights.
If you want to see more pictures from Yuanyang, click here