Yunnan · Honghe
Yuanyang County 元阳县

The Rice Terraces and plenty of minorities in one of Yunnan's most interesting counties.
Picture: The Yuanyang Rice Terraces at Tiger Mouth 老虎嘴 in the afternoon sun.
Tiger Mouth: The Yuanyang Rice Terraces at Tiger Mouth 老虎嘴 in the afternoon sun.

Yuanyang is the heartland of the rice-terrace county, administering the the central Ailao Mountain range to the south of the Red River. From the Dai regions of the steamy Red River valley, with the new county town on the right bank, the mountains rise steeply up to Xinjie, the old county town and once the adminstrative seat of the entire Honghe Autonomous Region.

Most settlements of the Hani and the Yi are in the higher regions of the mountains, where the temperatures are moderate and rainfall plenty. To the south of Yuanyang, the road drops again into the Dai regions of the Laomeng river.

Earliest known settlements date back over a thousand years, when the first Hani settlers arrived. Over time shifting cultivation evolved into permanent terracing, creating its own and unique microclimate: as water evaporates from the rice paddies clouds form and provide rain at higher altitudes, so feeding the many springs along the mountains that are used to irrigate the fields. On the small paddy fields work is hard as very little mechanisation is possible. The water-buffalo remains the main source of power. But with recent improvements in fertilisers and seedlings, yields have increased significantly over the last years.

Just like in its neighbour Jinping, Yuanyang’s ethnic composition is very diverse: in the valleys the Dai, on the middle elevations the Hani and the Yi farming the terraces, Yao on the marginal fields higher up, Yao and Zhuang somewhere in between.

In the last years tourism has taken off in Yuanyang. First attracted by the images of the rice fields that found their way into photographic competition and magazines in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Especially in winter, many follow the footsteps of the photographers to get the quintessential shot of the the terraces.

From Niujiaozhai to Yuanyang

Yuanyang county, south of the Red River in the province's southeast, is famous for its Hani rice-terraces. With its splendid vistas and ethnic mix it is also a great area for hiking. Here we describe a moderate day-hike starting at the market-town of Niujiaozhai, passing through Yi and Hani villages and ending with stunning sunset vistas over the rice-terraces of Longshuba.


Nansha (Yuanyang Town)

Once a Dai village, now the new county town.


The Rice Terraces

Fog swirling on a cold winter morning over endless rice-terraces, the red of the early morning sun reflected in the flooded paddies: this is the classic view of the Hani Rice Terraces of Yuanyang, now of UNESCO World Heritage status.


Travel Notes

The county town itself is a little too far from the rice terraces, so most stay in Xinjie, the old Yuanyang. Plenty of transport up and down the mountain.


Long Table Feast 12 Jan 2022

Miao Caihuashan 03 Feb 2022

Hani New Year 30 Oct 2022