The rice terraces of Yuanyang provide intriguing visual images. // © 2012 Mark Edward Harris
Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province and China’s gateway to Southeast Asia, is the jumping-off point to explore the famous rice terraces of Yuanyang County.
The mountainous region of Yuanyang, near China’s border with Vietnam, has the perfect environment to produce some of the best rice in the country in mass quantities. To pursue agriculture in the mountainous terrain of Yuanyang, members of the Hani ethnic group began carving paddy fields into the rugged slopes more than a millennium ago. Hundreds of rice terraces created abstract patterns that have now become a tourist attraction — with large viewing platforms and restaurants built specifically for visitors.
Yuanyang can be reached in less than six hours by bus from Kunming. Hotels in Xinjie — the best town in Yuanyang County to use as a base for an exploration of the rice terraces — are modest. The Yunti Hotel is comfortable and has a steady stream of international travelers passing through.
In the wee hours of the morning, with boxed breakfasts in hand, guests at The Yunti Hotel board buses to Duoyishu Rice Terrace. A Swiss chalet-style restaurant at the top of a viewing platform (at an elevation of approximately 6,200 feet) offers views of the sunrise in comfort. Most visitors, however, opt to experience the magic of the morning outside.
Another popular vantage point in Yuanyang is Laohuzhui, the largest terraced field in the area.
The morning markets throughout Yuanyang should be experienced as well. Women in colorful, traditional clothing from the Hani, Miao, Yao, Dai, Zhuang, Yi and Han ethnic groups descend upon villages on market days, making for great photo ops. Villages where visitors can experience this include Pengzhihua, Shengcun, Huangmaoling, Niujiaozhai, Laomeng and Xinjie.
The city of Kunming itself has a fascinating history. It also offers several luxury hotels, including the Kunming Jin Jiang Hotel, which features a revolving rooftop restaurant.
The Yunnan-Vietnam Railway — completed in 1910 and followed in the 1930s by highways between Kunming and Chongqing in Sichuan and Guiyang in Guizhou — gave the city a global reach. In the first years of World War II, the “Flying Tigers” fighter squadrons used Kunming as a base to fly in supplies over the Himalayas from British bases in India.
Kunming, with a population of more than 5 million, continues to grow as a transportation hub for southwestern China, making it the most important trade center in this region. Copper, chemicals, machinery, textiles, paper and cement are among its chief products.
For visitors with an interest in architecture, the Golden Hall Scenic Zone might be worth the five-mile trek from the city center. Located on Mingfeng Hill in the northern suburbs of Kunming, this unique structure was built in 1602 during the Ming Dynasty. Its beams, pillars, arches, doors, tiles and Buddhist statues are made up of 200 tons of copper — making it the largest copper building in the country.
Kunming’s largest Buddhist complex, and a major pilgrimage destination, is Yuantong Temple Yuantong Park. The original structure was built more than 1,200 years ago during the Tang Dynasty.
The Chinese government has invested heavily in the city’s infrastructure to make it an attractive place for businesses, residents and visitors. Widened avenues, modern performing arts centers, sports venues and the South Asian Gate skyscraper are among its most recent additions.