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Somewhat larger than Germany, Yunnan province in south central China has one of the most diverse populations in China. A mixture of tribal groups spreading over into neighbouring Burma, Laos and Vietnam provides great colour and variety to the area. The capital Kunming has a pleasant climate year-round, earning it the nickname of the "Eternal Spring City", yet there are huge mountains to the south and west, marking the start of the Himalayas.

Most tours to Yunnan head west to the hotspots of Dali, Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La, however for this trip we headed south of Kunming instead, to see the rice terraces of Yuanyang and the tribal people who leave down there, by the Vietnamese border. I often felt like I was looking at the pages of National Geographic as we wandered around the hills carved by generations over a thousand years.

Jianshui gate

In the centre of Jianshui town in southern Yunnan, there's a gate which at first glance looks quite familiar. The designer of this, the Chao Yang Lou, had a student who went on to design the Tiananmen in Beijing. However the Tiananmen has only two tiers compared to the Chao Yang Lou, because the student didn't want to outdo his master.

We stayed at a converted old house for the night, Zhu's Family Garden, which had many quiet courtyards and was very pleasantly turned out.

Zhu's Garden Hotel


A string of lanterns swinging in the breeze at Zhu's Garden.

Setting sun across an ornamental pond in Zhu's Garden.



Later that evening we took in a local show. I'm not exactly sure what it was all about, but the costumes and dancing were very entertaining.

A nicely lit shop front in old Jianshui, which had been recently restored.


Confucious Temple

Jianshui has the second largest Confucious Temple in China after the one in his home town of Qufu, Shandong.

Old man amongst blossoming trees in the Confucious Temple.



Later we travelled on to the market town of Xinjie or Old Yuanyang, at the top of rice terrace country, over a mile above sea level. Here many of the local population were the Hani ethnic minority, who are spread across the region and into Vietnam. Here we see Hani women trading.

Elsewhere in the market it took me a few moments to figure out what it was this guy was roasting with a blow torch. Then it dawned on me that he was burning the hair off a dog, in preparation for dinner. Note the sanitary conditions of his workshop.

True hot dog


Hani women shopping in the market, with the obligatory kid strapped to the back.

Colourful balls of wool for sale, well used in the traditional local wear.

Wool colours


Hani woman weaving something, I'm not sure what but it's maybe some sort of wrapper for fresh produce.

Carting gear around the market place. Many people were carrying live chickens in wicker cages on their backs.

Carrying goods

First rice terraces

First glimpse of the Yuanyang rice terraces through the trees.

We visited a local Hani village where most of the population were wearing traditional dress such as this.

Hani kid

Basket carrying local girls

The village was preparing for the annual harvest festival, which includes a performance of traditional farming activities played out on the terraces themselves to an audience. We couldn't stick around for the show, but it was great watching them set up.

More Hani kids, some of our group were giving out sweets to them.

More Hani kids

Are you gonna pass that?

It cost me one kuai to take this picture, but it was worth it! Kids, witness the effects of smoking. He was only 25.

Close up of the flooded rice terraces some way out of Old Yuanyang.

Close up of rice terraces

Rice terrace layers

The terraces have been slowly carved by successive generations of Hani and their anticedents the Yi people, over a period in excess of a thousand years.

Truly it would take a millenium to shape the land on such a grand scale with simple hand tools and hard labour. This was getting on for Grand Canyon proportions.

Rice terraces

Setting sun reflecting off rice terraces

The setting sun was reflected off the terrace pools far below. We were at the top of an enormous cliff edge to get this view.

Swirling colours and patterns in the valley below, with a flock of tourists (mostly Chinese) at the bottom left of the shot.

Swirling patterns in the terraces

Flowers from the eternal spring city

Back in Kunming, the Eternal Spring City, and the flower market was a very popular choice for gift shopping.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2010