The Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yunnan

The Yuanyang Rice Terraces, Yunnan

By Sunny XieUpdated Oct. 1, 2021

The Yuanyang Rice Terraces are the Hani ethnic minority's masterpiece of ingenuity. In unique shapes and sizes with thousands of years of history, they form a mosaic of colorful fields — a manmade landscape of breathtaking beauty.

Learn about the best times to visit, how to get to the Yuanyang Rice Terraces from Kunming, and other useful travel information like what Yuanyang’s various scenic areas are popular for and photography tips here.

Yuanyang Rice TerracesYuanyang Rice Terraces

Basic Facts about the Yuanyang Rice Terraces

  • Chinese: 元阳梯田 Yuányáng Tītián 'Yuanyang Terraced Fields'
  • Area: 113 sq km (44 sq mi)
  • Popular activities: photograph terraced rice fields, explore ethnic Hani villages
  • Suited to: nature lovers, photographers
  • Recommended time for a visit: 1–3 days depending on the weather, when you stay, and how many beautiful pictures you want to take

Why Visit the Rice Terraces in Yuanyang County

Yuanyang's terraces are in the south of the Ailao Mountains. For generations, the local Hani people built terraces on hillsides with slopes between 15 and 75 degrees. The terraced fields stretch across Honghe, Yuanyang, Luchun, and Jinping counties south of Honghe — 'the Red River'. Yuanyang County is the core area of the ​​Honghe Hani terraces with the grandest scale.

If you are a photographer, you should not miss the Yuanyang Rice Terraces. If you want to see stunning views of terraced rice fields, the masterpieces of Yuanyang will go beyond your expectations.

The unique culture of the Hani people is also worth discovering. The lovely mushroom-shaped local houses, built in harmony with the mountains, are a major feature of Hani architecture. The Long Street Banquet is a traditional custom of the Hani people during the Ang Ma Tu Sacrificial Festival (around January). Hundreds of tables line up together with dishes from each household, just like a long dragon.

More on Hani People and their traditions>>>

Hani PeopleHani People

Recommended Yuanyang Rice Terrace Tours:

Yuanyang Weather and Best Times to Visit

Yuanyang enjoys a mild climate without seasonal extremes. Most of the rain is between May and October. The temperature varies greatly between day and night, so it is best to take a warm coat, especially for shooting sunrise with an early start. 

Local people plant seedlings in May, harvest in September, and irrigate the fields in December. You may choose your travel dates according to what you’d like to be in your pictures.

However, the best shooting time for the terraces is from January to March. Yuanyang presents the most beautiful views when after the terraces have been irrigated and the water in the fields reflects the sunshine, creating many colors.

The scenery is extremely spectacular in early spring (from late February to March) with seas of clouds, wild cherry blossoms, wild kapok, pink peach blossom, and white pear blossoms.

Places to Visit at the Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Known as a "land sculpture", the terraced fields have been officially acknowledged by UNESCO as a World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site. There are three popular scenic areas: Duoyishu, Bada, and Laohuzui.

Duoyishu Scenic Area — the Best Place to Take Pictures of the Sunrise

Duoyishu Scenic Area is a 50-minute drive from Yuanyang Town. It is considered to be the best place to take pictures of the sunrise on the terraces.

You are recommended to reach Duoyishu at dawn. As the sunlight appears on the horizon, it silhouettes the terraces and makes for an unforgettable moment. As the sun rises, the nearby village wakes up and people start walking on the ridges, presenting even more photo opportunities. When the sun rises over the mountain, everything is visible and clear, and the terraces glisten in the sunshine.

Yuanyang Rice TerracesYuanyang Rice Terraces

Bada Scenic Area — the Best Place to Take Pictures of the Sunset

Bada is the best place to shoot the sunset scenery at the Yuanyang Rice Terraces. The terraces extend from the base to the top of the hills, like ladders to heaven. As the sun sets, the terraces change colors incessantly: first they are pink, then they turn to a rosy hue, and later to dark red.

There are 17 Hani minority villages in this area. It is enjoyable to explore the villages and to see the traditional mushroom-shaped architecture of the Hani houses.

Mushroom-shaped Hani HousesMushroom-shaped Hani Houses

Laohuzui Scenic Area — More-Rugged-and-Marvelous Rice Terraces

It is a 40-minute drive from Bada to Laohuzui. Laohuzui Scenic Area is situated in the core area of the Yuangyang Rice Terraces. The 8.5 km2 (3.3 mi2) of rice terraces are more rugged and marvelous, looking like an exaggerated picture painted by an artist.

Yuangyang Rice TerracesYuangyang Rice Terraces

Thousands of colorful layers extend for several kilometers and are dotted with trees. The best moments to enjoy the view of the marvelous rice terraces is during the sunset period.

LaohuizuiLaohuizui

Attractions near Yuanyang Rice Terraces

Jianshui Ancient Town: It has unique folk houses and ethnic Hani customs.

Mengzi Ancient County: It is famous for a 100-year-old rail track and station, French-style houses, and Yunnan Rice Noodles.

The Stone Forest: Reputed as the "Stone Forest Museum", it is the only karst stone forest in a subtropical plateau region in the world.

Getting to the Yuanyang Rice Terraces

The Yuanyang Rice Terraces are about 300 kilometers (190 miles) south of Kunming and can only be reached by road. There are two ways to get to Yuanyang:

By Long-Distance Coach

There are buses from Kunming South Bus Station to Xinjie Town, close to the Yuanyang Rice Terraces, and the journey takes about 8 hours. English-speaking service is not available as the coaches are mainly run for locals.

By Private Vehicle

A Yuanyang Rice Terraces tour normally combines a visit to the other popular sites, like the Stone Forest for its intricate karst landscapes and Jianshui Ancient Town for its unique folk houses. The flexibility of taking a private vehicle is extremely important.

Due to the Yuanyang terraces’ large scale and no tourist buses running between the villages, it’s best to take a private vehicle to fully use your limited time there.

Contact our Yuanyang experts to design the best driving route for you complete with other tour services.   

Twin Dragon Bridge at JianshuiTwin Dragon Bridge at Jianshui

Yuanyang Hotels and Where to Stay

Though Yuanyang is remotely located in a rural area, its popularity among visitors means more and more good-quality boutique hotels are opening. You can choose either to stay in the standard hotels in Xinjie Town within convenient reach of restaurants and shopping, or choose to stay inside the scenic areas to catch the breathtaking sunrises more easily.

Recommended standard hotels:

  • Yuanyang Yunti Hotel (3-star)
  • Yuanyang Rose Winery Holiday Hotel (4-star)

Recommended boutique hotels inside the scenic area:  

  • Xiangban Yuanshe Azheke Hotel (3-star-standard mushroom-shaped local house)
  • The Twelve Manor • Terraces Lodge (3-star standard)
  • Oness Resort Yuanyang Terrace (4-star standard)

Tips on Photography in Yuanyang

1. Choose a suitable season for photography: spring sowing season and autumn harvest season are generally preferred. Comparatively, pictures taken in spring are much better because the lines between the water in the terraces and the ridges of the fields are clear and beautiful.

2. Take enough days for photography. The highlights of shooting at the Yuanyang Rice Terraces are the sunrise and sunset. It’s best to stay at least three days there to ensure you have plenty of time to shoot. And ensure you get to the right platform two hours earlier to ensure yourself a good angle for photographing.

3. Take a wide-angle lens as you will use it most of the time; only 20% of photos there use the telephoto.

Touring Yuanyang Rice Terraces with China Highlights

Yuanyang has large-scale rice terraces, so it is much more convenient to have a local guide with you who will tell you where the best positions are for taking photos and get you there at the best times. If you need any assistance, please contact our travel advisors who will help you to tailor-make your unique Yuanyang tour.

Here are some example Yunnan tours that can be tailored for your ideal Yuanyang experience:

Our tours are very flexible. You can alter the itinerary and extend or shorten your tour to suit your spending, interests, and schedule. Feel free to tell us your requirements.

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