Hekou to Yuanyang Rice Terraces is described as a four hour journey over bumpy roads in Lonely Planet. Well, I can only think that the person who detailed this journey fell asleep part way through and was lacking a watch. This journey that took us all round the hills and houses, past checkpoints and up mountains took, in total, 8 hours! Maybe we got on the wrong bus? I have no idea but it was an EPIC journey on a minibus.
Our Bus/Home/Family for the Day
Morning Nicotine Rush
We set off at 9am in a cloud of smoke as people sparked up an early morning cigarette in the bus. There was the driver and another man who liked to speak at 1000 decibels on his mobile and shout out of the window to potential customers, we went through the villages. The man across the way; a stereotypical looking Chinese tourist was trying to make conversation but this was obviously not happening. We had to reach for the Lonely planet to ask the simplest of questions like “Where is the toilet” “Where are you going?” It turned out this man was going to the Rice Terraces also, and he made a gesture to indicate that we shold follow him once we arrived. We smiled and nodded, smiled and nodded – that was the only thing we could do. But the real questions after six hours was “Are we nearly there yet?!” A 70km Yuanyang sign flicked by and we slumped back in our seats, smiling in disbelief.
The scenery along the way was beyond stunning. Minority women in amazing traditional dress went about their business, selling fruit and herding buffalo along the country roads. It was so picturesque. Most of the way we could see the incredible speedway nearby, but we were taking the back roads and. Village after village passed us by. We had our passports checked twice!
Herding Cattle Through the Service Station
Buffalo on the Move
When we thought we must nearly be there and were pulled up in a small town, they started loading everything off the roof of the bus, inside. Every 10 metres this mountain of stuff had to be removed from the bus for the passengers to disembark and then it was piled back in before more and more people clambered in. We were in this town repeating this over and over for 45 minutes! It was sweltering, which was also much unexpected, when we had been preparing for the cold climes!
Are We Nearly There Yet?
Iside the Bus - A Tight Squeeze
The bus finally pulled away and the scenery grew more and more beautiful as we headed up into the mountains. Now, me and mountain roads when I am not the one driving don’t mix and when our driver decided to overtake a lorry on the bumpy, narrow road on the edge of a precipice, I must have shown a real look of terror. Mr Man (as we affectionately named him) and Mr shouty ticket man were practically wetting themselves at my nervousness! They laughed and shouted in Chinese and made a ‘high’ gesture. I nodded and put my hand on my heart and gave a nervous laugh; I think they understood.
This road was so utterly beautiful but utterly nerve-wracking for me. I wanted to look out and enjoy the mountain panorama, but honestly, from where I was sitting I couldn’t even see the edge of the road…just a 300 metre drop off the side. The road ascended and my ears popped for an hour, higher and higher we climbed. Rice terraces unfolded and everything below became miniature. We passed through teeny villages clinging to the sides of the vertical wooded slopes. Part way up we stopped for the driver to run cold water onto the brakes, before completing the final and steepest section. I will never forget when we were revving around a hairpin bend and came face to face with a huge lorry on our side of the road. We braked sharply, swerving a little towards the edge – my heart skipped a beat, but we were still in one piece and arrived in Xinjie shortly after.
It was great to stretch my legs and I was surprised at the warm air that greeted us up in there in the mountains. We said our SheSheys to the bus driver and Mr Shouty and followed the beckoning Mr Man, who we could only assume was guiding us to a hotel.At first there seemed to be some confusion as he darted form one guesthouse to another shouting rather loudly. But he settled on one right next to the station and had us check in. Our room was huge with two double beds, a squat toilet with a shower directly over it, a TV and a fridge.
We had barely removed our backpacks when Mr Man appeared with the hand drawn map of the area that the hotel provided. I pointed, poling the paper violently. No rest for the wicked I thought and we made our way outside. We were heading to Golden Bamboo Village 4km away and assumed we must be getting a taxi, but no, we were hiking which was fine by me!
Setting Out to Golden Bamboo Village - Ste and Mr Man in the Lead
The Path to Golden Bamboo Village
The sun was out and there was an amazing array of people to nosey at along the way. The village women were incredible, so brightly and intricately dressed and backed by the undulating ladscape of rice paddies, the whole experience was like a dream! Mr man chatted with various women ( I think with the ulterior motive of snapping their photo) along the way and they tried to ask us questions, it was such a shame not to be able to communicate! I bet they could have told us so many fascinating things about their lives up these rice terraces. I felt rude not being able to answer back, so I just made sure I smiled profusely instead.I think they probably thought it strange that we were here with Mr Man neither of us understanding a word each other were saying. But we were getting by with a combination of hand gestures, lonely planet and laughing.
Villagers Enjoying Dinner
Hani Hilltribe Woman - she must be at least 150!
Small Village Comprising Mainly of Hani People
Terraces Only Moments Out of Xinjie
We reached a point overlooking the valleys where there was a tree and in this tree were women! This tree was huge and it must have been a great effort to get up there to collect the fruit. A couple of women were also sitting below and greeted us as we approached, they giggled and gave curious glances in our direction as they chatted with Mr Man. They didn’t seem to mind that I snapped a photo of them…it was just so picturesque. The sloping terraces were in sight after about an hour or so and we made the ascent to the sunset viewing point.
Hani Women Taking a Break While Others Climb the Tree to Collect Fruit
Hani Woman Carrying Basket of Produce
Women Picking Fruit
As we appeared over the summit it was like a paparazzi attack. The Chinese tourists that were positioned with their immense cameras and tripods along a section of the terrace were no longer interested in snapping the landscape. Huge zoom lenses focused in and people literally leapt from behind one another to take a photo of us. We sat down to catch our breath as people continued to snap away. At one point I took a photo of a man taking a photo of me taking a photo of him! He leaned over to show his wife and they laughed and I laughed back and gave thumbs up. I was already loving the friendliness of the Chinese people, everyone always seemed in high spirits so far.
You Taking a Picture of Me, Taking a Picture of You, Taking a Picture of Me
Loving the View
The sun began to set and cameras finally turned to capture the magnificent orange glow developing over the mirrored water that filled the scale shaped terraces, stretching down to the village below us. The dusky blue mountains were silhouetted in the distance. A myriad of hues unfolded until the sun dipped behind the mountain and a final burst of fiery red filled the sky. Then darkness. When the light left so did the cameras, but we were the only ones heading back on foot. It was easy to navigate the wide path in the dark and it took about an hour and a half to get back to Xijie.
Hani Children Wearing Typical Ornate Head-dresses
Warm Glow Over the Terraces
Stunning...Worth the Journey
Sunset Over the Rice Terraces at Golden Bamboo Village
Last Moments of Reflected Light
Mr Man rubbed his belly and we agreed we were famished. The restaurants had no menu at all and we had to select the fresh ingredients from a glass cabinet. Mr Man was trying to ask what we fancied, but when faced with a cabinet of about 30 different leaves, 10 trays of chopped up meat and a stack of vegetables, how could we possibly say “diced chicken with ginger please?” We gave a shrugging motion and an open armed gesture to the cabinet. He understood and ordered. What turned up was delicious and contrary to what we had heard about Chinese food (from several sources) There was a whole fish in sauce, pork and ginger, a fresh tomato soup with tofu and mushroom (a bit watery) and a leafy vegetable in garlic, but I’m not sure what that was.
We were completely partied out for the day, but Mr Man wanted to arrange us going on a tour tomorrow, but it was expensive 20 pounds each. Fortunately but unfortunately Ste was unable to withdraw any money from the ATM and after desparately trying to explain we couldn’t go, we had a look at his photographs before retiring for the evening, in the hope of getting up for sunrise tomorrow.