I took this photo in Yuanyang during my practice on digital. 3 months prior to my arrival, Maciej Tomczak had been here. Not only photographed the terraced fields, he even wrote an essay to share with us his experience. While his essay is going to be published on the Canadian magazine photolife soon, it appears here with author’s permission. The title and its entire text are copyright. Please enjoy…
The Art of Rice 
The surreally gargantuan rice terraces near Chinese town of Yuanyang, Yunnan are easy to miss.
Surprisingly, guidebooks hardly mention the place. And when they do, it seems to be out of the need for completeness. The site is scantly promoted internationally — a far cry from the fame of Ifugao terraces near Banaue in Philippines, the Hmong structures around Sapa in northern Vietnam or the terraces of Bali, Indonesia. Most package tours miss it too. The spot is still mercifully below the China National Tourism Administration’s radar, though given the Administration’s growing appetite for the new, picturesque mass retreats appealing to China’s well-heeled east-coasters, the Yuanyang’s obscurity may not last for long.
Yuanyang is quiet, but vulgar and uninspiring. The discovery of the town’s fondness for canine cuisine may easily become its only discerning feature in a westerner’s travel blog. Coming here requires a lengthy, premeditated detour, west from the standard backpackers trail passing from Hekou — a China/Vietnam border-crossing, to Kunming, Dali or Lijang — towns where travellers congregate. One quickly looses any reservations about going the extra mile to get here though: collectively, the nearby rice terraces, curved in the Ailao Mountains by generations of Hani farmers must be among the most spectacular landscapes on the Planet!
Within a short hike or a public bus ride in virtually any direction from Yuanyang, there are over 100 square kilometres of intricately irrigated terraced fields of cultivated wet rice. At elevations of almost 2,000 meters, millions of ‘groovy trays’ pepper the steep hills, some built on slopes approaching 70-degree gradient. At places, there may be 2,000-3,000 ‘stacked pans’ sculpted on a single slope.
The ‘Steps to Heaven’ were built by Hani settlers (now-sedentary Agha relatives) who have migrated to today’s Yunnan from Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in the 7th century. Originally nomadic, Hani were progressively pushed out and up from fertile valleys of the Red (Honghe) River by Han Chinese expansions. Some two centuries ago, they settled in the highlands and began farming steep hillsides of Ailao Mountains, which are now home to most of some 1,250,000 Hani living in China.
(To be cont'd)
Critiques | Translate
hoangthenhiem (2531) 2006-03-12 14:09
Thank you for reprinting Maciej's article here to share with all of us. I treat his experience as a lesson for me rather than just a read-and-forget note.
I went to Yuanyang in June 2005 and failed to obtain the contrast of the border lines over different heights of terraced paddies because rice has been to tall.
Last month, I aborted the plan of a return after one full week hanging around in LaoCai/Hekou border area, waiting for proper weather that could result with clouds.
I hope to make the third trip soon...
Yuanclarkson (38) 2006-04-22 14:46
I knew this is true, still, it is hard to believe your photo has been taken on our earth.
I hope to make a trip to this location one day is the near future. Do you have any plan to return?
- Copyright: Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) (8462)
- Genre: Places
- Medium: Color
- Date Taken: 2005-02-21
- Categories: Daily Life, Food, Nature
- Camera: Canon EOS 10D, Canon 75-300mm F\4-5.6 IS USM
- Details: Tripod: Yes
- Photo Version: Original Version
- Theme(s): Rice Fields "III", Yuanyang — a best-kept secret /2/ [view contributor(s)]
- Date Submitted: 2006-03-12 10:19