Yunnan Through the Lens

“Here is our latest destination, in pictures, through the eyes of our contributing travel photographer, Jordan Hammond on the best times and some of the outstanding places to go on your next trip to this southwest province in the Middle Kingdom.”

– Photos and text by Jordan Hammond

Of all the provinces I have visited in China over the past few years, Yunnan continues to be my favourite. It is the most diverse province in China in terms of both landscape and people; from the high mountainous regions of Shangri-La to the deep jungle of Xishuangbanna, as well as the 26 ethnicities that call this region home. It’s difficult not to love Yunnan as there is truly something for everyone, and I am content in knowing that I will keep coming back to this magical place.

With so much variety, it’s difficult to pinpoint where to visit in Yunnan on your first trip, and whilst I have travelled to many areas in the province, there is still so much I haven’t seen. However, to get off the beaten path, and for a different experience to that of the main tourist route, I can’t recommend Yuanyang, Jianshui and Luoping enough. All three locations can easily be visited in a week, and though China’s extraordinary high-speed railway hasn’t quite reached these remote towns yet, travelling here isn’t difficult. They also happen to be three of the most exquisite sites in China, so what are you waiting for?

Jianshui

Jianshui lies between the bustling capital of Kunming and the picturesque Yuanyang UNESCO site, and makes for an incredible and tactile stop en route to Yuanyang. The ancient town has a history of over 1,200 years, and is known for its historical relics, including the Double Dragon Bridge. The Bridge was built in the 1800s during the Qing Dynasty with only three arches, but took a long time to be completed, and remains a wonder in Chinese architecture today. Domestic tourists flock to see the structure in all of its glory, so I would recommend visiting early if you want to capture photos without scores of people. It will also give you the chance to photograph the silhouette of the bridge against the colourful morning sky.

The Chaoyang Tower is another gem of Jianshui, and marks the start of the ancient town where historical buildings, temples and gardens are scattered across old cobbled streets.

The ancient town of Jianshui lies in between the capital of Kunming and the Yuanyang Rice Terraces, and is known for the beautiful Double Dragon Bridge. The 17-arch stone beauty was built at the point where the Lujiang River and Tachong River meet
The Double Dragon Bridge from a top-down view. The bridge is located at the junction where the two branches of the Nanpan River — both of which are shaped like dragons — meet, hence the name

Yuanyang

After a couple of days in Jianshui, drive south to the beautiful Yuanyang Rice Terraces. The terraces themselves can take a little while to get to so I’d recommend basing yourself in Duoyishu, as there is an abundance of family-run guesthouses and restaurants there — and the vistas are astounding. From there, you can take a car to each scenic spot. The landscape changes as the seasons change, but remains just as beautiful throughout the year. January to March brings the colourful skies that reflect in the water-filled paddies, while springtime brings a sea of green as farmers plant the next harvest.

Once you’ve settled into your hotel, visit the Duoyishu terraces for a chance at photographing the sea of clouds (you can walk to the village square from all hotels and then down onto the terraces). The area is a favourite for photographers and you will often see local farmers carrying their baskets of ducks out onto the fields.

Bada terraces is a great place to watch the sunset, when the vibrant reds, oranges and pinks are reflected in the sprawling rice fields and the whole area comes to life. This location is definitely my favourite to shoot at in the area, and can get very busy, so arrive early.

On our most recent visit, I decided to make time for Laoyinzui terraces, which are the best for admiring the distinctive red duckweed terraces. This location is not as well known as the others, so I was only one of a handful of people there, which made the experience that much more enjoyable. As the sun was setting, we spotted a lone farmer returning home from a day out in the fields. Photographing this was the highlight of my trip.

The Yuanyang Rice Terraces were crafted more than a thousand years ago by the Hani people, and remain an important aspect of local life to this day
A local farmer harvests the rice grown in the terraces of Duoyishu, Yuanyang. Together with the Bada and Laoyinzui terraces, these three areas make up the Yuanyang Hani terraces
Photographers flock from all around the world to shoot the low-lying clouds that are prevalent in Yuanyang
The red duckweed only appears in a couple of areas in the Yuanyang region, and is fascinating to see on such a large scale

Luoping

Last but not least, make your way back up to Kunming and take the train east to the stunning region of Luoping. For just a few weeks every spring, Luoping is blanketed in golden yellow canola flowers as far as the eye can see, and tourists arrive in droves to witness the phenomenon with their own eyes. Local beekeepers offer honey by the gallon, and vendors sell thousands of flower headbands every day.

There are some great vantage points to see the fields, with my favourite being Golden Rooster Hill. You can roll out of bed in the morning and take the steps up to the top which start in Luoping village, making it an easy option with incredible views. If you’re lucky, you may even catch hot air balloons rising to catch the first glimpse of the sunrise.

Other worthwhile spots to visit for panoramas of the vast yellow landscape are Snails Farm and Shiwa Dashan, each offering completely different photography opportunities.

Besides the canola fields, Luoping is also home to the often forgotten Jiulong Waterfall, which is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Yunnan. Arrive early and hike up to the top for the perfect view over the ten-tiered falls and the rice fields beyond.

Every year in March, the fields of Luoping turn a dramatic yellow as canola flowers take over the landscape as far as the eye can see
Jiulong Waterfall, meaning Nine Dragon Falls, lies on the outskirts of Luoping, and is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Yunnan. Domestic tourists gather every day to try on traditional Yunnanese clothing and take photos in front of the majestic scenery

So, if you’re hoping for a short break in China to explore some unique landscapes, look no further than Yunnan. And if you have a little more time, the idyllic mountain towns of Lijiang, Dali and Shangri-La are absolutely worth a visit too. Blue Sky Escapes can craft your journey based on your interests, from the cities and villages you’d like to visit, to the types of activities and landscapes you’d like to experience. For more information, contact us.

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