As always, we’ve been working on how best to get you off-the-beaten-path in a way where you’ll still get to enjoy the buzz that makes this time of year in China so special.
Now, don’t get us wrong. It’ll be almost impossible to avoid crowds over the Spring Festival national holiday but, if you’re looking to get away, there are some places that are lesser-known and lesser-traveled than others.
If you’re thinking of heading south, consider eastern Yunnan, to the lesser-known region that borders Vietnam.
Here, you’ll find the Honghe autonomous prefecture of the Hani and Yi ethnic minority groups. Travel along the China-Vietnam transboundary railway and immerse yourself in the traditions, history, and backcountry of the charming Red River Valley, its Hani people, and their ingenious ways of bringing water to their rice terraces.
Explore the terraces (did you know they’re a UNESCO World Heritage Site?) celebrate Spring Festival with local communities, and savor a culinary discovery of the region’s primary crop—rice—in its many forms.
The Honge Hani Rice Terraces
On the banks of the Hong River, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces are made up of 2,300 acres of lush rice fields. The terraces have been carved out of dense forest over the past 1,300 years and in some places, there are as many as 3,000 terraces between the lower edges of the forest and the valley floor.
It is the mountain-top forests that capture the water needed to irrigate the fields. Over a number of generations, the Hani people have created complex systems to direct water to where it’s needed.
Each household in this region will farm one or two ‘plots’ of the rice terraces and a complex and integrated farming and breeding system involving buffalos, cattle, ducks, fish, and eels, is involved in the production process. Here in the rice terraces, a symbiotic relationship between plants and animals is paramount and is underpinned by the longstanding social and religious beliefs of the Hani people.
Must Eat: Join local villagers in harvesting and fishing in the lower levels of the terraces, before enjoying the fruits of your labor with a traditional Hani feast.
Don’t Miss: Learn how to make delicate bamboo embroidery with the local Hani women inside their traditional mushroom-shaped homes.
Located in Yunnan’s Honghe prefecture, Jianshui has been the political, economic, and military hub of southern Yunnan since the Tang Dynasty (7th century A.D.). Despite its regional power and prowess as a trading hub, this county south of Kunming is actually best known for its architectural and cultural legacies. Home to the imposing 700-year-old Chaoyang Gate, Jianshui has an ensemble of well-preserved architecture.
Must Eat: Tofu that you make yourself in a traditional workshop. Spicy barbequed tofu is a Jianshui specialty.
Don’t Miss: The markets in Jianshui carry local specialty products, including Jianshui tableware, considered by many as some of the best crockery in China.
The modest city of Mengzi developed in the early 1900s when the French commissioned a train line directly linking Yunnan Province to Northern Vietnam (the first train line linking the Middle Kingdom to a foreign country). Although the area is surrounded by mountains and rural farmland, being conveniently located on the new train route made Mengzi an important regional center for commerce. French-style architecture can be seen dotted around the city, most noticeably around the famous South Lake.
Must Eat: “Crossing the Bridge” noodles are possibly the most famous Yunnan snack and although a few towns in the area claim the dish as their own, South Lake in Mengzi is where most people believe the legend of this tasty dish originates. According to the tale, the noodles are named for a dutiful wife who used to cross the bridge to the middle of South Lake every day to take her scholarly husband a warm meal that he never remembered to eat. Creating this dish involves delicate preparation and a unique serving method that keeps all the elements warm until you’re ready to dine.
Don’t Miss: The Bisezhai Old Railway Station. Built by the French over 100 years ago the station is a cultural relic, holding great historical significance as one of the earliest railway stations in China. At its prime, the station acted as a specialized transport hub that saw all of the province’s imported and exported goods pass through. Now, visiting here is like stepping back in time.
Beat the crowds this Spring Festival, and journey to the China-Vietnam boundary and immerse yourself in the traditions, history, and backcountry of the charming Red River Valley, its Hani people, and their ingenious ways of bringing water to their rice terraces.
Travel with us: February 12th – 17th, 2021
Best for: Food, Minority Culture, Hani New Year Celebrations
What we love:
- Celebrating the new lunar year with a Hani community in the Honghe Rice Terraces
- Learning how to make traditional Jianshui tofu
- Enjoying the holiday atmosphere at the night market in Wayao village
By Robynne Tindall