On this never ending travel corridor, it was soon time to watch the sunset viewing at Yuanyang Rice Terraces in China’s Yunnan Province. It was billed as the best series of rice terraces in the world and that sunset would be absolutely mind blowing.
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, you have two main options, either join a bus tour or hire a driver to take you. 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.
Travel to Xingjie Zhen town and hire a driver from there and of course, some knowledge of Chinese comes in very handy, but you can just about get by using your map (which thankfully has translations). Buses to Xingjie Zhen run from all big towns and cities in the area, even Kunming. We came from Jianshui to Nansha, and then got a shared car from Nansha. To give you an idea of timescales:
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)
Your driver will take you to the Qingkou Visitor Centre entrance where you hop out and buy your ticket. The centre is open from 6am until 8pm, so it depends if you do the sunset or sunrise first what time you should plan to arrive.
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. 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. There are two vantage points or observation decks at Laohuzui and you should plan to do both.
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.
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.
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. 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. Head back to the town of Xinjie for the night and get up early the next morning to see the sunrise.
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. 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.
My Videos from watching sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces:
Sunset at Yuanyang Rice Terraces: