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Most travelers to Yunnan head North from the main entry point, and capital city, of Kunming. For this journey, we are breaking with tradition and heading south.
Discover the largest rice terraces in the world, and dive in to the local traditions, history, and backcountry of the charming Red River Valley, its Hani people, and their ingenious ways of bringing water to their rice terraces.
Welcome to Yunnan! Step off the plane in Kunming and meet your local WildChina guide and driver in the airport arrivals hall. They’ll be waiting to welcome you and will have your private vehicle on standby, ready to whisk you off to the HongHe Rice Terraces.
Drive to Honghe Rice Terraces
The ride from Kunming to Honghe will take around 3.5 hours.
Meals included: Dinner
Hike Through the Samaba Rice Terrace Fields
Sprawling for an astounding 1,000,000 acres (or approximately 65 square miles) across four counties, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces of Yunnan are an extraordinary feat of agricultural engineering. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013, construction on this over 1,300-year-old marvel began during the Ming Dynasty when farmers sought to ferry the water down from the lush forests to hillsides below. Although not as famous as the neighboring Yuanyang, the Samaba section of the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is just as breathtaking to behold. Hiking through Samaba’s 4,300 lush terraced steps, you’ll ascend through a verdant dream of patchwork fields until you reach the pinnacle. From there, you’ll be able to take in a jaw-dropping sight: the full 2,306-acre expanse of the Samaba Rice Terrace Fields all at once.
The ride from Honghe to Samaba Terrace will take around 1 hour. Hiking length/difficulty is flexible and up to you.
Hike to an Ancient Hani Village
The origins of the Hani people are not precisely known, though their ancestors are believed to have migrated southward from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. The Hani people are still traditionally tea growers, and they live in the mountains of southern and eastern Yunnan province. Today, we’ll take a winding path up the mountain to the surrounding ethnic minority villages hidden in the hills. Our final destination will be an old Hani village where we will learn more about the unique Hani culture and traditions, and see how tea growing is infused in their daily life. Our hike to and from the village will last around 3 hours.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Sunrise at the Samaba 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 and this morning, we’ll watch the sun rise over the rice terraces and watch the day’s work begin.
Next Stop: Jianshui
Resting in a fertile river valley in Southeast Yunnan, Jianshui has long been considered one of the province’s most prominent cities. Also known as Lin’an, today the formerly walled town stands as a captivating collection of old buildings enveloped by a modern, much larger city. Once the center of Confucian education for the province, Jianshui is filled with a charming blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.
Meals included: breakfast and lunch
Tuanshan Village and Zhang Family Garden
Take a train ride to Tuanshan village. Lying in the rolling countryside outside Jianshui, the village of Tuanshan is like a land locked in time. Fortunately, the quaint hamlet was protected from the march of progress by the World Monuments Fund after it was designated as one of 2006’s ‘100 Most Endangered Places.’ Wandering its narrow, cobbled paths under pointed, black-tiled roofs past ancient courtyard homes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d step back into the Qing Dynasty. Many of the homes belong to the Zhang family, who still return to the village today to honor their ancestors. You can almost picture the Zhangs that once called Tuanshan home as you explore its timeworn lanes.
Zhu Garden and Ancient Well
For an experience in real zen and tranquility, we’ll stop by Zhu Garden and Ancient Well, a typical ancient Chinese residency complete with over 40 meticulously organized courtyards and perfectly trimmed bonsai trees. Covering an area of over 20,000 square meters, Zhu Garden is one of the most elaborate and grandiose residential gardens in Yunnan — and a wonderful insight into the intricacies of traditional landscaping. In older times, access to the gardens was strictly denied to the general public — now we are free to enjoy it in all its glory.
Jianshui Old Town
Walk the streets of Jianshui Old Town, dubbed the ‘Museum of Ancient Buildings and Residential Houses.’ Boasting a history of over 1,200 years, the town is a well-preserved collection of ancient buildings, orange-tiled roofs, and hidden temples. Having retained the traditional town style of the Ming Dynasty, Jianshui offers a unique opportunity to see ancient architecture in its original state, protected by break walls and a gate tower. Stop by one of the oldest Confucius temples in the country and visit the area’s most well-known residential garden.
Learn to Make Jianshui Tofu
Jianshui tofu is a local specialty and today, we’ll learn how it’s made. Our host will soak soybeans are soaked overnight before grounding them into a paste. We’ll then squeeze and mold our tofu cubes using a simple cheesecloth and watch on as the masters show us how they make over 300 tofu cubes an hour!
Jianshui Xiaodiao Performance
Jianshui’s “Xiaodiao” folk performance has a history of more than 600 years. Offering a unique and entertaining look at the region’s traditions, customs, and music, today the performances are attended by visitors as well as locals. Expect a lively affair and pay special attention to how Jianshui Yi people’s lantern music has integrated Han musical traditions and languages as the region has become less isolated. Xiaodiao performances are held during festivals and special occasions throughout the year.
Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner
The journey from Jianshui to Mengzi will take around one and a half hours along small, picturesque roads.
“Across the Bridge” Noodles
“Across 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 city is where most people believe the legend of this tasty dish originates. According to the tale, the noodles are named for a dutiful and ingenious
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 particular serving method where all the items are combined when the diner is ready to eat. Today, it is made by locals for guests to symbolize affection, endearment, and admiration. Your guide will share the whole story as we learn how to make our own “Across the Bridge” noodles and eat them for lunch.
Besezhai Train Station
Built by the French over 100 years ago, Besezhai Train 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 which saw all the province’s imported and exported goods pass through. Now, visiting here is like stepping back in time. The French-style architecture still stands strong, but the station is hardly used, only operating as a small stop on the Kunming-Hekou train line.
Zitao Night Market
Back to Jianshui and you will stop in the Wayao village to visit a local market. Zitao Night Market is the liveliest place in town after the sun goes down. Zitao means “purple pottery,” a specialty of the region and in Zitao market, you can explore the wares of local artisans as well as taste traditional Jianshui snacks.
Meals included: breakfast, lunch, and dinner
We will head back from Jianshui to Kunming. If the time allows, we will visit the famous Dounan flower market in Jingxing Street is Kunming’s biggest, most attractive shopping market where spring reigns around the year. Since 1983, the market has gradually expanded into a comprehensive public spot for leisure, shopping, and trading. This excursion will take us to the delightful market to see shops and stalls of all sorts, especially those featuring a wide variety of flowers.
Your Flight Back Home
Your WildChina guide will escort you to the airport and help you check in for your flight home.
Meals included: breakfast
Samaba Sunshine Hotel offers spacious, and clean accommodation in a great location close to the rice terraces. This is the best local hotel in the area, but it is simple and not a luxury property. There are eleven rooms in total and a small restaurant. The staff here is very friendly and helpful, but they will likely not speak English. Your guide will be happy to help translate for you as needed.
A renovated century-old guesthouse centrally located in Jianshui Town, Ting Zi Yun Resort blends modern comforts and rustic charm. Revel in the courtyard’s traditional architecture of white-washed cement walls and eved roofs to elegant details in the wood carvings and door panels. After a day of exploring the town, kick up your feet to a perfectly prepared cup of tea, brewed with the courtyard’s well water which is said to offer the perfect balance of pH and minerals for teamaking.