Breathtaking is the only word to describe the rice terraces of Yuanyang.
After what turned out to be a long bus journey from Jianshui we arrived at the tiny village of Pugaolao in the late afternoon. We'd had an early start, but were delayed a couple of times with drivers again waiting till the bus was full before they’d leave. We were getting used to it. The trip was interesting, in a small bus along minor roads through picturesque countryside, then winding up into mountains. The road soon degraded into rough and bumpy hairpin bends and I had a sloping seat so it was hard to stay on.
We’d discovered Jacky’s Guesthouse on the web and booked a room for three nights. Owen had shown the bus driver the address and he’d nodded yes,yes quite confidently. Just as we were beginning to think "must be there by now", the driver stopped the bus and waved to us to get out. He got out too and used Owen’s mobile to ring the guesthouse. He then directed us to a nearby path and motioned for us to go down while at the same time gesticulating that the owner would be coming up to meet us on the way! Very helpful!
Yuanyang is quite extensive, and good spots to view the terraces are scattered. There are several viewing areas, some supposedly good for sunrise and some for sunset. It was all a bit confusing, but we decided to stay close to a sunrise spot, and travel to see the sunset – rather than have to get up at 5.30 and rush off somewhere in the morning.
Jacky’s Guesthouse was a real gem. Newly opened, run by Jacky who spoke good English and had worked for a number of years for a French photo-journalist travelling in China – he had some interesting stories to tell. The village was tiny so meals were at the guesthouse, eating with Jacky and his two younger sisters who were helping out during the school holidays. The building was new, on the edge of the village, within sight of the government-built tourist viewing platform, but we didn’t bother with it – we had a great view of our own over the village and terraces from the rooftop.
Armed with directions to places of interest, we had two full days of walking to local villages and wandering through rice terraces. We got lost trying to get to a Yi village further down the valley that we could see from the guesthouse roof. We gave up after two attempts (I lost my nerve when it got too steep - narrow borders and a big drop down to the terrace below - and insisted on going back) so we walked along the road to another nearby Hani village.
Next day we set out to walk to the market in the nearby village of Sheng Cunr. There’s only one road through the village and it gets turned into a market every third day! There was a huge traffic logjam, much tooting and vehicles and pedestrians squeezing past each other. Very busy with (live) chickens, ducks and fish for sale. Piglets brought in on leads of string – struggling, squealing and scrapping with each other. Lots of fruit and veg, clothes, traditional fabrics – along with the usual junky market stuff. Very colourful – and noisy.
After getting lunch on the street we followed Jacky’s directions to get to Bada, a notable sunset viewing spot, the back way via the small village of Malizai. A village clinging to the hillside where we got lost in the maze of lanes and it took several attempts to find our way out.
In the next village a woman called out “hello” from a house as we passed, so we stopped and asked directions. She invited us to sit and have a rest and gave us a glass of tea. She said we were already in the village of Bada which was a surprise as we didn’t think we were close yet. However when we reached the top of a steep hill we found ourselves on a large platform with the most unbelievable views over the terraces. A bit further on we emerged into the Bada tourist viewing area – we’d entered via the village and hadn’t passed the ticket office!
Bought coffees and hot chips in the café, sat and enjoyed a long rest. Feasted on the views and took some great photos. We decided it was too early to wait for sunset – we’d got there earlier than we expected – so headed back to the guesthouse walking along the main road. Almost got back to Sheng Cunr village before catching a passing minivan the rest of the way. Enjoyable dinner and chat at the guesthouse with two French couples and an English family.
After an early breakfast next morning, we left in Jacky’s van for Xinjie to catch the bus back to Kunming. We got held up in the next village by a traffic accident blocking the (only) road. We weren’t going anywhere with many police photographing and measuring and half the village looking on. Jacky rang the bus station to make sure there were sets for us and was assured the bus would wait till we got there. Eventually he walked through the village to the other side of the blockage and found a van to take us the rest of the way. The bus, full of passengers, was waiting for us at the bus station and we felt better about the waiting we’d had to do.
Got the last seats on the bus – I was in the middle of the back row looking straight down the aisle. Just hoped we didn’t have to brake suddenly. Less than half an hour into the journey the plastic bags (distributed generously by the driver as people got on – I’d wondered why) came out. The little bins dotted down the aisle soon filled. I won’t be able to use orange plastic bags for a while.