Talk about saving one of the best til last - a great end to our time in China on the Yuanyang rice terraces

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November 13th 2012
Published: November 17th 2012
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The time has come and after 5 weeks we have reached the end of our time in China! For our last stop on our adventure here, we chose to head to the Yuanyang rice terraces in South Yunnan, just a few hours from the Vietnam border. Although we had seen great rice terraces a few weeks ago in Guilin, we had heard that Yuanyang was extra special and somewhere we should not miss. Plus it was on the way to Hekou, the town on the Chinese side of the border crossing to 'Nam that we needed to leave from, so a handy stop over.

The bus was supposed to take 6 hours from Kunming to Xinjie, the old town of Yuanyang and the starting point of the rice terraces, but as usual took longer and after 8 hours and numerous stops we were making our way by minivan from Xinjie up the mountains to the small village of Duoyishu, where we would base ourselves for 2 nights and see the rice terraces from. On the way up we caught glimpses of the terraces while the sun was setting; we couldn't see much but it was enough to whet our appetite for what we would see the next day.

Half way into the journey we were stopped at a 'check point' by several men, some dressed in US army outfits (!) and although they only spoke Chinese we got the message that they were trying to charge us to enter Duoyishu -there were 7 of us in the minivan and we knew this wasn't official, but as Scott was sitting in the front he took on the roll of the negotioator and just refused to pay and shook his head for a good 20 minutes until they gave up and let us continue, to the cheers of the whole van - like we were going to hand over money to fake officials, especially when most of them were drunk and stank of alcohol! Finally after leaving Kunming at 8am, we arrived in Duoyishu in the dark at 7pm.

We were still travelling with Cynthia so the three of us took a private room in a small hostel for the night, enjoyed dinner with a nice couple from Belgium (Simon & Karen) and all agreed to get up at 6.30am for the sunset the following morning. I wasn't feeling too well for some reason and had a bad stomach so we headed to bed early - everyone was tired anyway after travelling all day and we needed a good nights sleep so it was fine. A hot shower and the electric blankets in the beds were comforting and by 9.30pm we were all fast asleep, anticipating what we would see the next day.

On waking up we headed 10 minutes up the road in the dark to reach a viewing platform where we could see the sunrise from. We had heard that you can be charged to enter certain platforms in the different villages but no one stopped us, although when we saw Karen and Simon 5 minutes later they said they had been charged 100 RMB (£10) each to go on the platform so we just got lucky! It was really foggy and you could hardly see in front of you, so while we all waited for the sun to rise we weren't expecting to see very much, but the mist started to clear and before we knew it the sun was breaking through the clouds and the glistening rice terraces were showing themselves. What a sight! They were filled with water and the light reflecting off them gave the illusion of incredible silver pools rolling down the hillside - apparantly winter is the best time to visit them because of this and although we were early they still afforded us the picture postacard views we had been hoping for.

It is said that the Yuanyang rice terraces are the most stunning site in Yunnan and after seeing them we would definately agree. They cover over 12,000 hectares of land and are tended to by local farmers and villagers, who stroll through quiet dirt roads with water buffalo, cows and pigs, giving you a small smile and a nod while they go about their daily lives. Small 'shops' pop up now and again and children play in the dusty streets while dogs roam around and the paddie fields all around you. We spent the rest of the day walking through several of these rural villages taking in the scenery and hiking through the impressive rice terraces, content with stopping now and again to admire our gorgeous surroundings. The sun was shining and the water pools that flooded the terraces were shimmering so it made for a really enjoyable day of walking. After about 6 hours we contemplated going further but as I wasn't feeling 100% still and Scott wasn't now either - he had to rush off to find somewhere 'to go' which isn't easy in such a rural place and ended up running into a side street with a horrific attempt at a squat toilet, bless him - we headed back to our hostel for a rest, plus Cynthia had to catch a bus back to Kunming that afternoon as she was flying on to Nepal the next morning.

Even though the journey to the rice terraces was long and she only stayed for the one day, we were so glad Cynthia came with us as she was lovely and great company, and she thought it worthwhile and enjoyed it as well - we were sad to say goodbye to her later that day after travelling together all week but we have definately made a good friend who we will keep in touch with, plus as her parents are from Vietnam and she has been we got some good tips, and we now have a place to stay in Canada too!

That evening the four of us went down the road a bit to watch the sunset, but the fog had returned so we couldn't see too much, although we got a different view point from further down in the village and still saw a hint of a red sky setting over the rice fields so it was a perfect end to a great day. After a bite to eat we called it a night, settling into our cosy beds for the last time in China - a strange feeling but the perfect end to an epic 5+ weeks in a country which has proved both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Our last day in China also marked 50 days on the road for us which is pretty fitting. China has been an adventure to say the least and we have both seen and experienced things that we never imagined - a few weeks ago we were thinking about rushing through this country as it threw up things which we found difficult to deal with at the time, but somehow we kind of got used to the squat toilets, the constant spitting and the strange culture. The last 2 weeks have been the best for us here though and we were sad to be leaving China after meeting some great people, eating delicious food and seeing the most extraordinary sights, but we feel ready for a new country and can't wait for the next stage of our trip now.

Firstly, we had to take a minivan to Xinjie bus station at 7.30am, which took an hour,then we bought bus tickets for the 10am bus to Hekou, which should have taken just over 4 hours but naturally took longer. This bus journey was our worst yet - the bus was old, packed with people, it stopped loads and made detours to drop people off in their villages, Scott's seat was broken and everyone was smoking! I of course hated this so had my window open fully to try and get some ventilation going and not choke - this meant that the bus was also freezing as we sped down the bumpy roads but I was not closing it until they stopped smoking. When someone behind tapped me sharply on the back and indicated for me to close the window as it was cold, i indicated back that while people are smoking on the bus, the window was staying open - a few of them stopped after that! After two police checks, where Scott had to get off the bus with our passports while they were checked over by officials, we finally rolled in to the border town of Hekou 7 hours later. We then had to take a taxi for 10 minutes to immigration, where we got stamped out of China, walked 2 minutes over a bridge, and got stamped into Vietnam in the border town of La Cai - Vietnam, here we come!

S&V's Travel Info & Tips:

General Info: Approx 10 RMB/Yuan to £1. If you get asked to pay the 100 RMB fee to view the terraces from viewing platforms, just walk 5 minutes further and there are areas you can see the same views from without having to pay. Refuse to pay on the journey from the bus station if asked as this is not an official fee. The bus from Xinjie to Hekou was 60 RMB each, and a taxi from the bus stop in Hekou to the immigration office is 10 RMB.

Transportation: The day bus from Kunming took 8 hours and cost 150 RMB each. When you get off this bus at Xinjie bus station you need to take a minivan up to the villages. There was 7 of us and we paid 20 RMB each - if there are less people you will be charged more. We took a minivan back down to the bus station for 15 RMB each, which the hostel arranged. Walking through the villages and rice fields in the day is easy. From Yuanyang you can take a bus back to Kunming or carry on further south to Hekou to cross into Vietnam.

Food: In the evening the only food option is to eat where you are staying as there is nothing else around - a meal is around 30 RMB. In the villages shops sell crisps, chocolate and snacks and there are a few street stalls selling meat on sticks and potato cakes etc for 1-2 RMB each during the day.

Accomodation: We stayed in Yuanyang hostel - the private room the first night was 160 RMB for 3 of us, then we moved to a dorm room the second night for 40 RMB each. It was clean and had hot showers. Nearby accom also included Jackey's GH which was more family run and only had private rooms for 180 RMB but great views.

Other observations:

x) Definately the most rural place we stayed during our time in China, visiting Yuanyang is highly reccomended, espeicially from November - January when the fields are full of water

xx) No ATM in Yuanyang although we think there is one in Xinjie by the bus station - bring enough cash with you in case!

Additional photos below
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17th November 2012

shimmering fields!
Incredible photos of those shimmering rice fields--very dreamlike. So glad you got used to those unpleasant parts you'd disliked in an earlier blog and found bliss and surprises in China. Happy travels!
18th November 2012

It still must be our favorite place we visited in China;-) and your timing was great as winter offers best views;-) I saw photos from a summer scenery and they were nothing like this, so great choice!!! Heading to Vietnam now? happy travels;-) Beata
19th November 2012

It was fantastic! Yes we are in Nam now, been to Sapa & Hanoi, now in Cat Ba, we love it already :) How are you finding Aus? V different to Asia! Enjoy x
23rd June 2014

Great tips
Im visiting the Yunnan province (from Vietnam) and found your blog pretty useful for travel tips. Thanks for your tips.

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