Immense, beautiful, and surreal
The town of Yuanyang is in the Honghe prefecture in the south of Yunnan province. It’s about 400 kilometers southeast of Kunming and it takes about 7 hours on a bus (go for the sleeper bus) from Kunming. It’s located in the Ailao Mountains and populated mainly by ethnic Hani, but also Yi, Miao, and Yao. Over the course of 1,300 years, the Hani transformed the landscape, sculpting rice terraces into the mountainsides, and creating arable land. The terraces are at around 1-2,000 meters above sea level and over about 2,200 square kilometers. The best time to visit is in springtime, when the rice paddies are full of water, although they’re spectacular at any time of year. This time, I made the trip in a daytime bus to see the landscape from Kunming to Yuanyang. Although it seems a bit boring, I always enjoy it and follow along with a map. I even like to guess the names of the towns we’re passing, the town where we’re stopping for breakfast, admire the landscape, and talk to the other passengers. I’m the first to get off the bus at every stop and explore the town. Even in 48hr. bus trips, I always have fun. Yuanyang itself is incredible. I always feel fortunate to have visited so many spectacular places in our world and Yuanyang is no exception. It’s a giant man-made sculpture, at once immense, beautiful, and surreal. The terraces reflect green when the rice is sprouting, the blue of the sky, red when there’s algae, gold at dawn, and silver if it’s cloudy…it’s a spectacle. I had originally planned to go for only two days but I ended up staying five, exploring the trails that go through the mountains and among the paddies. I arrived at various small towns, appreciating the coming and going of the people, and generally taking it all in. The townspeople are very friendly and will even accompany you along some routes, even though they don’t speak your language. The children, as usual, aren’t shy about enjoying their newfound travel mate. I love the mules and plows, the markets, the women in traditional dress, fruits, vegetables, birds, pigs, ducks, the gorgeous wicker baskets holding the products. And the embroidered clothes, oh do they love to sew and embroider!! I love sewing too and I literally freaked out at the quality of the work! I went back to Kunming in a sleeper bus which had three rows of bunk beds (I’d estimate about 30 beds in total) that were so comfortable that I slept like a rock. If I can, I always use them. I just can’t stop talking about it! I have so many memories!
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