Destination: Yuanyang (Xinjie), Yunnan Province, China
Where we Stayed: Photography Hotel – Instincts are usually right, unfortunately we don’t always listen to them. Such was the case when we were greeted by the owner of the “Photography Hotel” at the bus station. Ninety percent of the time the hotel that tries to drag people from the bus station to their hotel is desperate for a reason. The place was overpriced, water didn’t work right for any of the rooms and he lied to us about a few things. At least we had a friendly frog to keep us company while we tried to sleep on the mildew infested bed. The 6 of us that got off the bus as a group woke up the next morning with the same conclusion – get the hell out of here! We moved to one of the hotels in town (can’t remember the name though – it was nice but nothing special) and negotiated a discount for 3 rooms.
Best Restaurant: One of the many broken promises by the photography hotel was its promimity to other restaurants. If by proximity you mean within 5kms then he didn’t lie but walking to dinner that far after a long day already is hardly ideal. Fortunately the food was ok, but way overpriced, at the hotel the first night. After the fiasco at the Photography Hotel we moved into town and had two excellent meals, both off the main square and about half the price of the hotel. Look for the noodle shop for lunch and for dinner look for the restaurant with the fresh case, just go in and point at what you want.
If you’re looking for a coffee break and some information regarding photography spots and ethnic markets check out the Window of Yuanyang. They also have a book exchange and fairly priced crafts.
Best of: Simply breathtaking rice terraces, both for sunrise as well as for sunset. Absolutely no crowds.
Most memorable: Check China off the list of places we have driven in. Thanks to a communication error, we had to borrow the cook’s motorbike to get out to see sunset. A little illegal and a mild drop the bike moment, but no harm no foul.
Taking the night train from Kaili to Kunming (did we mention that Chinese trains are super comfortable) we thought we had left some of our language difficulties behind. We thought that Kunming would be a touristy enough place to have plenty of English speakers. A more cosmopolitan city with plenty of expats that would increase the use of English. We thought wrong.
Emerging from the train station, shaking off a couple of taxi touts, we managed to run into a cop who understood just enough of our primitive signing and pointing at Chinese characters in our phrasebook to get us to the right city bus. The only problem is that we had no idea where to get off the bus. An hour later and countless remarks to each other of, “Could this be it?” we arrived at the far south bus station, the last stop on the line…somehow it worked and we found our way to the long distance bus station right behind the one we arrived at. Another 6 hours on a bus, a purchase of lychees from an ethnic lady to feed our hunger, and we finally arrived at the rice terraces with just enough time to get to a hotel, check in, have a beer and catch the sunset.
The terraces were carved from the surrounding hills beginning centuries ago when China was divided into multiple kingdoms and each kingdom had to be self reliant. Having no natural farmland and an ever increasing population, the kingdoms had little choice but to begin creating useable farmland from the hills. Extensive irrigation channels were erected to channel just the right amount of water into the individual rice patties. One patty alone represents hundreds of hours of work making the collection of thousands all the more impressive. As it has been done for centuries, the rice is planted, tended, and harvested by animal and human power only. The rice season has four stages – planting, growing, harvesting and dormant. Each stage creates its own unique color and beauty making anytime of year a good time to visit.
Thanks to our beers and an inept hotel manager who was more concerned with selling us beers than taking care of us, we nearly missed the sunset for the first day. A little last minute improvisation involving a motorbike got us out to the terraces just a tad late, but not missing it entirely. Tracy is still upset at the man at the hotel for limiting our time to enjoy the sunset due to his poor planning. Despite the troubles, she still managed to get some amazing shots.
After a beautiful sunset, we organized a van for the six of us to take out for the whole day, sunrise to sunset. “Many restaurants around my hotel!” equaled none, unless you wanted to walk 5km back into town so we had little choice other than to eat at the hotel. Fortunately the cook was adequate and the meal was actually on the good side, albeit a bit overpriced.
While the sunset the first day was great, the sunrise the following morning blew us away. . . well most of us anyways – this little guy didn’t seem to be as awestruck as the rest of us!
The natural soft lighting and the rolling in of the early morning fog combined for a postcard type moment. We all sat in the jaw dropping moment, munching on boiled eggs from the kids mother, and enjoying the view virtually alone.
During planting season, the terraces are flooded and the workers transplant each individual sprout one by one slushing though mud and muck; bent over for hours on end. Many of the older generation walk hunched over for a reason - a lifetime of backbreaking work. I don’t think I will look at a box of minute rice the same way ever again.
After the sun had fully risen, we stopped a few more times throughout the day, taking in sweeping panoramic views as well as the ethnic markets that scatter the area (in the next posting!).
For sunset the next day, we headed to a different set of terraces. As if one massive mountain carved into levels wasn’t impressive enough, the entire area is covered with them. One hill after the other, all growing rice by hand and animal. These terraces, rather than being flooded with water, was already into the growing season and was a vibrant lush green.
Beautiful and amazing, the rice terraces of Yuanyang are a sight to behold. Amazingly there are few travellers that make it here and finding a peaceful moment isn’t difficult. Taking a break from the rice terraces and the amazing scenery, we next turn our attention to the equally as fascinating markets of the ethnic minority tribes (see next post).