On this never ending travel corridor it was time to watch the sunset viewing at Yuanyang Rice Terraces in China’s Yunnan Province. I read up on it beforehand and it was billed as the best series of rice terraces in the world and that sunset would be absolutely mind blowing. I’ve seen my fair share of sunsets on my travels, so I hoped to add this one to my list of top ones.
How to get to Yuanyang Rice Terraces
If you’re Chinese, then it’s no problem, hire a car and off you go. If you’re foreign like me, then you have two main options, either join a bus tour or hire a driver to take you. Hiring the driver was the best option for us, so we went with it. From the mountain town of Xingjie Zhen (where we stayed), it’s a 30 kilometre drive on typical Chinese mountainous terrain to the entrance point for viewing the Yuanyang Rice Terraces.
So get to Xingjie Zhen town and organise a driver from there. They’ll pretty much know what you want as every tourist goes here for the same reason. A knowledge of Chinese comes in very handy, but you can just about get by using your map (which thankfully has translations). By the way my travelling Hong Kong girlfriend was with me, so getting there wasn’t too difficult.
Buses to Xingjie Zhen run from all big towns and cities in the area, even Kunming. Though we came from Jianshui to Nansha, and then got a shared car from Nansha. You’ll want some prices I’m guessing, so here’s what we paid per person, the exact routes and the timescales. Our route:
Jianshui to Nansha bus – 30 RMB (5 hours)
Nansha to Xinxie shared car – 15 RMB (55 minutes)
Xinjie to Yuanyang and back to Xinjie with driver – 75 RMB (3.5 hours)
Total transport cost for the sunset viewing from leaving Jianshui – 120 RMB (over 9 hours travel time)
How much does it cost to watch sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces?
Believe it or not, you have to pay an entrance fee for the Yuanyang Rice Terraces. Crazy, I know as you’re basically just in the countryside looking down at fields, it should be a free world, as the locals that live there obviously don’t have to pay the entrance fee every time they come and go from their villages.
It’s a hefty 100 RMB (Chinese Yuan) these days. The only good news is that this includes as much travelling within the Rice Terraces over a period of 2 days as you want. You have 4 main viewing points to see – 1 is for sunset and 3 are for sunrise. There are considerably more viewing points, but these 4 are the 4 on your ticket which you get stamped off at each entrance point. So 100 RMB for a ticket and you’re inside the “scenic rice fields area”.
Where to buy your ticket for the Yuanyang Rice Terraces?
Your driver will take you to the Qingkou Visitor Centre entrance where you hop out and buy your ticket. It’s that simple. The centre is open from 6am until 8pm, so it depends if you do the sunset or sunrise first what time you will get there. We did the sunset first (and sunrise the next morning) so we arrived around 6pm.
There was no queue at all. Apparently May is not peak season. There’s absolutely no point in going there outside the times it’s open – there’s nowhere to stay, it’s dark and you’ll end up being asked for your ticket at the viewing points anyway if you did do something ridiculous like camp out in the mountains! Pay your 100 RMB and be done with it!
Where to watch the sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces?
There are a few sunset viewing points as it happens and we went to the two viewing points at Laohuzui, which translates as “Tiger’s Mouth”.
At the turn of one of the cliffs there is a gap that looks like a Tiger’s mouth, which translates as Laohuzui. Laohuzui is about 18 kilometres south of the village of Xinjie Zhen, which sounds close but due to the twisting roads it’s about a 40 minute drive. On the way there our driver also stopped by the side of the road for us to get our first glimpse of the stunning rice fields about an hour or so before sunset. It was still fairly bright when we got to Laohuzui. Check the sunset and sunrise times before you head there as these obviously change with the seasons, climate and even weather – you might end up missing the sun completely in extreme mist, fog or rain.
Watching the sunset at Laohuzui (Tiger’s Mouth)
Once you get to Laohuzui, there is a small car park with shops selling food, drinks and souvenirs. You can eat there if you get peckish. In keeping with my cheapskate backpacking style, we had only a bottle of water with us – which we had got for free in the previous hostel. Plus a bottle of Coke. 100 RMB entrance is enough without forking out more money! Now for that sunset viewing…
There are two vantage points or observation decks at Laohuzui. We did both and you should too. We started with the top one, the highest one.
A wooden custom built platform takes you alongside the forest and you glance down at the rice fields. Take your photos and stare at the world. You’re bereft of office blocks here, thankfully. Civilisation exists in a few scattered mountain villages.
The lower viewing platform was a 15-20 minute walk and was much better than the higher one. Perhaps if I’d done the lower one first, I wouldn’t have been so negative about the higher one – but it wasn’t as good as I expected.
Obscured by trees, along a custom built platform and not even any grass to stand on and stare down as if you are part of the landscape. Not quite what I expected but I don’t want to become a travel cynic on this – it’s still a fantastic place – it’s just that the upper viewing platform wasn’t really ideal – not even in the right location!
I had been in Sapa in Vietnam the previous year hiking and loved the views there – more clear, and a load of layered rice fields. However here at Laohuzui, I could see villages and trees in vast quantities scattered throughout the landscape. I kind of expected to see ONLY rice fields, but they are a lot more dispersed than they are made out to be. Still off to the lower platform…
The lower platforms offer more varied views and better camera positions for sunset and individual photos. If you only have time to do one, I’d pick the lower one (which you’d imagine to be the worse one given it’s slightly lower elevation).
The sun sinks to the right, to the west over the mountains. There wasn’t much colour change in the sky and there were a few other tourists about.
I stared down at the world, savoured the moments with Panny Yu who LOVED it. She raved about it, I had actually expected it to be slightly better! Especially for sunset, if you read my post on top sunsets, you’ll know I’ve seen some amazing ones.
This wasn’t anywhere near those. But the rice fields were nice. Head down, take your photos and watch the sun sink from the sky. That my friends is it. You couldn’t see the sun at all, by the way, it was just a light shining through the clouds, mist and smoke. We mustn’t forget this is China.
Head back to the town of Xinjie for the night and get up early the next morning to see the sunrise, I’ll report on the sunrise when I get a chance. It was a lot better than the sunset.
The facts about the Yuanyang Rice Terraces
Starting at a low elevation of just 144 metres above sea level and reaching a peak elevation at a staggering 2,940 metres above sea level, the Yuanyang rice fields span a vertical difference and altitude of 2,796 metres. This fact alone made me think this would be awesome. You wouldn’t even notice that difference when you stare down at them. There are a total of 190,000 rice fields here on display, but due to the fact they span a large area, this is why you will never see them all at the same time.
They were built during the Sui and Tang dynasties of China, so they have taken over 1,300 years to build, making that quite an achievement. This includes constructing 4,653 water channels in the mountains, each of this can irrigate up to 50 rice fields at the same time. Now that’s a fair amount of water, and fair play to those who have spent years constructing them. An amazing feat.
OK so commercial is gone, there are no big skyscrapers or big companies here so as a backpacker in China, I should be fairly happy. But having seen some magnificent sunsets in my time, this one at Yuanyang at the Laohuzui viewing points actually slightly falls short of expectations. My report on sunrise at Yuanyang to follow…
My Videos from watching sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces:
Nansha Station waiting on the bus to Xingjie:
Car share on route to Yuanyang:
Sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces: