How to Visit the Yuanyang Rice Terraces
Visiting the Yuanyang Rice Terraces was without a shadow of doubt, one of the highlights of our 2-week trip in Yunnan, possibly second only to our experience hiking the Tiger Leaping Gorge near Lijiang.
Yuanyang is located in the South-eastern part of the Yunnan province in China, with the majority of its inhabitants belonging to the Hani ethnic group. It is famous for its multi-coloured rice fields, many of which, are so mesmerising, that they look like works of abstract art. The fields are a photographer’s dream, especially at sunrise and at sunset, when the light intensity and composition are at their most vivid as the terraces take on a reddish-purple hue.
There are hundreds of rice fields scattered across Yuanyang, each group a little bit different to the next. If you’re an avid photographer, you’re going to be spoilt for choice with so much material. Even if you don’t enjoy taking pictures, the mind-blowing scenery guarantees a breath-taking experience!
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We initially thought that the Yuanyang Rice Terraces would be similar to those in Banaue and Batad in the Philippines, and wondered whether it was worth traveling all the way from Kunming to Yuanyang, for an experience which might potentially be similar to one we’ve already had.
We soon discovered that the fields are actually very different to any we had ever seen, and we sincerely recommend traveling to the Yuanyang Rice Terraces, no matter how many other rice fields you’ve already experienced!
For anyone who, like us, prefers independent travel, there is not a whole lot of recent information about getting from Kunming to Yuanyang Rice Terraces using public transport, so here’s a full guide to getting there and making the most out of your trip!
What is the best time to visit the Yuanyang Rice Terraces?
Before heading to Yuanyang, we had been told that November to April is the best time to visit. We were there at the beginning of December so that was some pretty good timing on our part! Indeed, we can confirm that the views at this time of year were particularly spectacular, so it certainly seems like a good time to visit! Surprisingly, December is considered to be low season for visiting the area though, making for some interesting accommodation bargains!
We suggest you spend no less than three days exploring the region. There are some fantastic trekking opportunities around the Yuanyang Rice Terraces, and this is definitely the best way of experiencing the area. The second best way is by renting a car to take you to the most scenic spots. We had hoped to explore the region by scooter, but there seemed to be none available for rent.
Kunming to Yuanyang Rice Terraces and back
The gateway to the Yuanyang Rice Terraces is Xinjie Town. There are local buses running from Kunming to Xinjie every day. We decided to buy the tickets a day before heading to Xinjie, since we had only been in China for two days and weren’t sure of how the bus system worked. It seems that tickets would have been available on the same day too though. They cost 140 Yuan (about €18) each with a journey time of about 8 hours.
You need to present your actual passport when buying bus or train tickets in China. Photocopies are not accepted.
When we got on the bus, some people had taken our seats but we asked them to move to their own. The bus was old and dirty and it was really cold (we had been traveling in Southeast Asia for the previous 10 months so we had almost forgotten what this kind of cold felt like – I was thankful for the thick jacket I had bought in Kuala Lumpur!) The bus made some stops for food and toilet breaks, but there were few snacks to buy, so I’d suggest that you carry some of your own from Kunming!
We had booked accommodation close to the rice terraces in Duoyishu, about 30 minutes’ drive out of Xinjie and the bus stopped us at a junction where a minibus was waiting to take people to Duoyishu. The transfer cost 20 Yuan (about €2.50) each.
Prior to being taken to our hostel, the minivan made a stop at an information centre, from where we were asked to buy a pass for 100 Yuan (about €13) each. The pass grants access to some of the most scenic spots in the area, so we do recommend that you get it. It was only checked once in our case – at the entrance to the Laohuzui Scenic Area but you can see just how breath-taking the views from this area are! You cannot access this area without a pass.
The return journey involved doing the same route backwards. We shared a car with another couple from our hostel in Duoyishu to the Xinjie bus station, from where we got the bus at 9.05am to Kunming. We actually wanted to go to Dali at this point rather than Kunming, but we chose to travel back to Kunming and take an overnight train to Dali on the same day.
It would have also been possible to take a bus to Jianshui (a pretty town we were told!) and catch the train to Dali from there. This would have meant a later start to our day, and we would have probably chosen this route, had we not booked our train ticket from Kunming to Dali already!
It should be noted that train tickets can be booked online using the website CTrip. Tickets are booked and paid for online and can be issued at the station upon presentation of your passport.
We noted that tickets were selling out fast and booked our journey a few days in advance. We chose the soft sleeper which is about 1.5 times the price of the hard sleeper, and found the shared cabin of four to be very comfortable! The trains leave from Kunming Train Station NOT Kunming South as we eventually found out, and the cost of traveling from Kunming to Dali by train on a soft sleeper was of 160 Yuan (about €20.50) each.
Where to stay in Yuanyang
We stayed at Timeless Hostel in Duoyishu for €18/night (excluding breakfast) and couldn’t have been happier with our choice. Our room with a private bathroom was basic but perfectly suitable. We were very excited to find that that the room had a view over the rice terraces too!
Not only is this hotel perfectly located, but the manager Richard, was incredibly helpful, explaining all the attractions in detail. He also tried to set us up in a shared car with other people in order to decrease the individual price of trips around the terraces.
The food served at the hostel is not cheap, but still affordable and amazingly good we thought! We ate all our breakfasts and dinners at the hostel – there weren’t many other places to go to.
The hostel is rather popular so we advise booking beforehand. We were there in low season and it was full.
What can you do in Yuanyang?
The draw in Yuanyang is the maze of rice terraces in unique shapes, sizes and colours, although observing the local Hani people going about their daily lives and visiting the local markets definitely adds to the experience.
We only had one day to explore the area so we decided to share a car with some people we met at the hostel to visit the scenic areas and also planned some light treks across the fields. We would have loved to walk or cycle around rather than go by car, but the distances were far too long to cover in one day by walk… and it was cold!
Sunrise at Duoyishu at the Yuanyang Rice Terraces
We woke up first at 6am to view sunrise over the terraces at Duoyishu, just five minutes’ walk away from the hostel. If you’re based in Xinjie you can get a car to take you to Duoyishu early in the morning but this might turn out to be quite expensive.
The Yuanyang Rice Terraces at sunrise were absolutely gorgeous, with purple hues giving way to vibrant reds and later changing to lighter orange hues, until the sun disappeared behind the thick white clouds. We rushed up to the hostel to have a breakfast of oatmeal and toast, until the driver picked us up. The car cost 300 Yuan (about €38.50) for the day which we shared between 6 people, so we thought that the trip was very affordable!
We were first taken to the Mushroom Village, which was the only attraction in Yuanyang we would have liked to avoid, since we had read that it is the least authentic place in the area and has been set up simply to attract tourists.
Although it was most definitely touristic, it is inhabited by villagers who go about their daily lives in a very normal manner, so observing the typical houses and local life turned out to be interesting anyway. The village is also home to a beautiful scenic area from where rice fields can be seen, and that alone, made it worthwhile. Overall, it was ok, but if you’re short on time, we believe that it is entirely missable!
Laohuzui Scenic Area – more Yuanyang Rice Terraces
The walk down to the platforms is pretty long and the way up feels even longer. But the fantastic scenes are worth every effort.
Trek to Bada Scenic Area at the Yuanyang Rice Terraces
The car stopped us on the roadside and the driver indicated the start of the trail among the rice terraces which would eventually lead us to Bada Scenic Area. He would pick us up from a spot close to Bada after sunset.
I had fallen asleep in the car after a rice field overdose, and was in no mood for trekking but the fresh air quickly brought me back to my senses as we started walking briskly down to the terraces. The hike was pretty easy and it started to get warm as we walked by Hani farmers working in the fields who smiled at us warily. They couldn’t have been too happy with us stumbling clumsily around their crops!
Part of the trek involved passing through a small waterfall. We ran across and only got slightly wet, but I can imagine the waters would be quite heavy when the rains hit hard!
The Bada terraces are pretty, though not the most beautiful. We had been told that this was a good place for sunset but unfortunately there was a thick cloud cover and we didn’t get to experience the most spectacular of views. It started to get really cold by the time the sun was setting, so we quickly made our way back to where the van was waiting for us.
We had lunch at a local restaurant on the way, recommended to us by the driver. The owner showed us a selection of fresh ingredients and asked us what we’d like to have. The other people in our group, who had been traveling around China for quite a while, started choosing all kinds of vegetables and meats, so we happily joined in and chose eggplant, sausages, tomatoes and eggs without knowing exactly what was going on.
Thirty minutes later, a fantastic meal of six different dishes, with the ingredients we had chosen cooked in tasty combinations, was served with rice and tea. We had not yet figured out the food in China, and we must say that this was a very welcome introduction!
All in all, our time around the rice terraces of Yuanyang was pretty spectacular and we’d recommend the area to anyone traveling around Yunnan! We would have loved to spend a couple more days to see more of the region, but unfortunately we were limited with time during our travels in China. Even so, we still feel that the one day trip was worth the time it took to travel there!