There’s something very quintessential about seeing the fabled Hani rice terraces of Yunnan. Perhaps it’s the fact that rice has been a foundation of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Maybe it’s because the iconic image of mist-capped rice paddies and their unique water-drenched visage has been impressed upon our psyche by Western media. Or maybe – just maybe – it’s because their one-of-a-kind beauty in a world-class location by itself warrants a visit from anyone traveling to the region.
Actually, it’s probably all of the above.On one hand, these rice terraces built by the Hani people are picturesque, and they deliver landscapes like few places in the world, especially since there are enough colors at sunrise and sunset to make you see black and white the rest of your days. On the other, some travelers have reviewed them with a “Meh, it was OK.” No matter your opinion, these terraces are the definition of iconic, so if you’re in Yunnan you should probably go see them.
There are technically two Yuanyang spots. Nansha is the new town and, as you can guess, it’s not where you want to be. Head up hill (an hour by bus) to the old town at Xinjie for the real deal.Xīnjiē (新街)Post up in Xinjie and hit the terraces from here. The town is friendly and the bus station is a minute’s walk from Titian Square (Tītián Guǎngchǎng; 梯田广场) in the middle of town.Rice Terraces (Tī Tián; 梯田)The villages around Xinjie all have unique rice terraces; keep that in mind. They are best at sunrise and sunset, so if you can’t get up early be prepared to stay late.
If you can make it in winter (November to April) you can see them flooded with water. Water creates a magnificently colorful show with its reflection of light and the terraces are best at this time.The best sunrises bar none are at Duōyīshù (多依树), 25 km (15.5 mi) from Xinjie. It also has crowds, large crowds. Quánfúzhuāng (全福庄) has fewer crowds and the terraces are more accessible. If you’re not a morning person then head over to Měngpǐn (勐品) and Bàdá (坝达). FYI, Mengpin is also known as Lǎohǔ Zuǐ (老虎嘴).One thing that may bother some visitors is the entrance price and the commercialism that is biting harder and harder here. If it’s bothering you, we agree, but you’re going to have to get over it for now – a lot of China (and the world) is like this.
When the rice terraces fill with water from November to April they are at their most spectacular. The tropical climate and relatively low elevation (for Yunnan) means the winter is mild. This is by far the best time to see them.Yuanyang sits on the Tropic of Cancer, and because there is some elevation, the temperature never gets extremely hot or extremely cold. However, because you are on a tropical latitude the sun is direct and heavy; sun protection is highly advised. The mornings and evenings can be quite cool as well, so bringing a jacket can be a good idea even if the day is hot.