Southern Yunnan: Honghe and Jianshui

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6 Days
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
About this Journey

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.  

What we love
  • Catching the sunrise over the largest rice terraces in the world
  • Riding a train along one of the oldest transboundary, Yunnan-Vietnam railways
  • Joining Hani villagers in harvesting rice stalks and catching fish in the rice terraces
Where you're going
Yunnan map

Day 1 Arrive in Kunming

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

Day 2Honghe Rice terraces

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

Day 3Yuanyang to Jianshui

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

Day 4Jianshui

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

Day 5Jianshui to Mengzi to Jianshui

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

Day 6Departure from Kunming

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

Recommended Hotels

Samaba Sunshine Hotel

Local guesthouse

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.

Tian Zi Yun Resort, Jianshui

Ting Zi Yun Resort, Jianshui

Local guesthouse

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. ​


Recommended Seasons

What’s Included

  • All overland transfers with private chauffeur and in-transport refreshments
  • All admission fees and activity expenses, as noted in the itinerary
  • Meals as noted in the itinerary with complimentary drinking water
  • Ground transportation, including airport transfers
  • Services of an English-speaking WildChina guide
  • Private chauffeur service to and from airport at start and end of your trip

What’s Excluded

  • International and domestic flights, domestic trains, plus relevant taxes
  • Chinese tourist visa, which is required for most foreign passport holders
  • Travel and medical insurance
  • Meals, apart from those included in the itinerary, and alcohol
  • Expenses of a personal nature
  • Excursions and activities not included in the itinerary
  • Discretionary gratuities for guides and drivers
Why WildChina

We’re on the ground with you

Our team of advisors will design every detail of the trip with you through close consultation, then orchestrate your entire journey while on the ground. We’re in the same time zone as you, so we can fulfill requests and handle issues without a hitch. With over 40 staff in Beijing and an expansive network of operational partners across the country, we have the manpower to ensure your journey is safe, reliable and comfortable from beginning to end.

Your trip, your way

Flexibility is our highest-ranking compliment. We pull off journeys for pioneers with a 6-hour layover to Hollywood’s elite, and everywhere in between. Our team regularly pulls off unprecedented logistical feats; nearly any time frame or budget is within our realm. No matter how you wish to experience China, we are here to bring that dream to life.

We embody passion

WildChina guides are carefully handpicked for their knowledge and charisma, then meticulously trained to maintain our exceptional service standards. They are expert storytellers and passionate natives of the regions where they guide, having the perfect combination of local insights and service know-how to bring you seamless once-in-a- lifetime moments all across China.

The little things, the big picture

Supporting inspired local economies allows you to experience the soul of the destination, while also protecting and cultivating China’s artisanal culture. From watching artisans hand make shoes in Yunnan, to picking organic vegetables for dinner on a local farm in Fujian, our tours are designed to showcase and protect China’s heritage, both natural and human.