Friday, October 10, 2014

YuanYang Rice Terrace

Yuan Yang, Yunnan, China

So beginning of this year, I went to Yuanyang specifically to visit these rice terraces, and they were absolutely beautiful. Yuanyang is a small county located in the south of Yunnan, populated by the Hani minority. My dad Rumor says that about 2,500 years ago, the Hani ancestors were forced out from the plateau onto the tiered Ailao mountain by the Han people. In their struggle against the difficulties to make a living on the steep terrain, the creative Hanis developed an extravagant farming system on these slopes - the rice terrace.

After the annual harvest, usually from September to November, the terraces will be filled with water to prepare the fields for the coming planting in April. Many people travel to Yuanyang in late December to watch 放水 - field owners channel water down from mountain tops into the fields. I went in February and the terraces were already filled with water, it was perfect.

We drove from Kunming to the Old Yuanyang town (which is where the terraces are). The journey, including breakfast and lunch stops, was about 5 hours, but took us a bit more because I got scratched by a wild monkey and had to visit a local hospital, FML.

Sounds wild and adventurous already right ? Well, the embarrassing truth was, I saw this cute little monkey sitting outside the restaurant where we had lunch, he was picking up and eating sunflower seeds from the ground. So I naively went over to him with a handful of sunflower seeds, reaching out to him, wishing he'll eat from my hand, we will become BFFs, and all those Snow White stuff. Next thing I knew, he scratched me violently and my hand was bleeding. Sigh, the reality was harsh.

So my parents insisted that I visit a hospital despite the very fact that we were in a very underdeveloped village in China. We found this cement building with "Yi Yuan" (hospital) hand-written on the wall with red paint. My parents, obviously have never watched any Thai horror movies, insisted that we go in to see a doctor. The entire ground level was dark and empty, with no nurse, no doctor, and no patient. Of course, we went upstairs to search for further horror. There were portable hospital beds lying randomly on the hallway, pungency of what seemed like isoproply alcohol, and a faint chatter from the end of the hall. We followed that chatter and found two young doctors in an office smoking. At this point, none of us felt comfortable with me getting a rabies shot, so we simply described the situation to the doctors and were handed an antibiotics ointment for my wound. I'm thankful to be still alive today.

After that incident, we continued our drive to the Old Town, slowly, as these cows decided to casually stroll in the middle of the street. But I loved it. I love visiting rural areas and see the ordinary country lives we don't get to experience in urban cities *City Mouse

Tada ! We've reached Duoyishu Village (多依树) finally. The road condition only allowed us to park outside of the village and we had to walk in to find our accommodation. It was a little bit of a walk but the village was so amazing, I didn't mind at all. 

There were livestock running freely, but I've learned to not touch them.

Our guest house is called the Sunny Guesthouse. I noticed they have a couple bad reviews on TripAdvisor but I guess it really depends on each person's expectation. I really enjoyed our stay as I wanted to stay in a very rural environment and didn't expect a luxurious experience. We went during a popular season and booked 2 days prior, so the rate, a little under US $100/night, was a little too expensive for what the place could offer. Our top-floor room was very minimal but clean, and we had a big window opening to the entire terrace. The service was great and the owner spoke conversational English ! They also have a little cafe area serving home-cooking - I remember liking the food and the eating area was also relatively cleaner than most places in rural China. Most important thing was, THERE WAS A VERY STRONG WIFI, extending all the way into the fields. Who cares about anything else when there was free wifi.

Entrance of the Guesthouse
Lucky for us, we arrived in time for sunset. It was beautiful. The entire place was breathtaking and I was running here and there like an excited kid while my mother watched from the window upstairs. I strongly recommend booking a stay that situates right on top of the terrace, such as the Sunny Guesthouse, for an uninterrupted view. There are other hotels, inns, and hostels in the old town, but tourists will have to squeeze with one million other tourists to have a similar view on a public viewing platform. Here is our platform, and my family was the only ones there !

Hello, setting sun. 

The view was so exquisite and unique, I still can't get over it. We rested early on the first night and despite popular belief, I woke up at 5 am the next day to catch the sunrise ! I went up to the roof top just a short stair away from our room for that, and there were already a couple photography enthusiasts with professional camera gears there waiting, so I happily waited with them holding my small point-and-shoot. Close enough.

Thanks to the pleasant Yunnan weather, I wasn't too cold during the 2 hour wait for the rising sun. But I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, but all there was was that little horizontal line of ray.

Don't get me wrong, that ray was absolutely gorgeous but I was expecting the SUN. That ball ! That ROUND THING. It never appeared. It was just ray, ray, ray, ray, ray, THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN, THIS :

I was there the entire time staring at the same space, taking in the sight, I have no idea why I didn't catch the progression. Still an unsolved mystery till this date.

The village was charming in the morning when everything and everyone was waking up. The common room of the guesthouse, especially, was ethereal :

After a nice warm breakfast prepared by the guesthouse staff, we took a stroll in the village, appreciating the culture.

The left picture above is an old lady making the headpiece of their traditional Hani costume. She welcomed me warmly to take a picture of her and I did. Right after, she asked for tips !! The village didn't feel touristy till that moment. Reminded me of those costumed characters on Hollywood Blvd of Los Angeles chasing after people for tips after pictures. The picture on the right is their ethnic "butt piece" (?). I was told that women wear those so that they can sit anywhere and start working. 

During my trip there, I also met a friend, David, who was backpacking from Germany in China for a couple weeks. He had already visited most southern cities by train and was en route to Guiling, a place I'd love to see someday. It felt good for the both of us to be able to speak some English after a long time away from home. We toured the village together before taking off on our own. 

Hi, David. 
It was a smoother drive back to Kunming without any monkey encounter, although we did get stuck behind this overly packed mini truck for a long time.

Despite the extraordinary scenic beauty, particular landscape, and the local minorities, the village remains untouched by industrialization and mass tourism due to its relative inaccessibility. As a result, the simple life there continues to revolve around red rice plantations, their harvests, local markets, and customary practices. It was a really refreshing and peaceful escape for all of us. 

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