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Rice terraces are a very popular subject for photographers. The many curves coupled with different shades of colours rendered by the constantly changing angle of the sun often make spectacular pictures. This is particularly so after the paddy fields have just been ploughed and are inundated with water. The water reflects the colours of the sky and clouds.
Beautiful rice terraces can be found in many different parts of the world. One place that stands out for its amazing rice terraces and has attracted thousands of photographers from all over the world is Yuanyang, a small town in the south-eastern part of Yunnan province of China.
I visited Yuanyang in May 2007. My wife and I had joined an overland motoring tour by 4WD vehicles covering 4 countries over a period of one month. Our convoy of 8 vehicles started from Kuala Lumpur and we drove through Thailand and Laos before entering Yunnan province. From the city of Jianshui we made a detour to Yuanyang specifically to look at the rice terraces there.
Yuanyang and the surrounding areas are populated mainly by the Hani and Yi people, two of the 55 minority races of China. The Hani people started to cultivate the mountainous area of Yuanyang during the Tang Dynasty about 1200 years ago, using a changkul with a short handle. Generations of toil and sweat by the hardworking Hani and Yi people have carved out tens of thousands of hectares of rice terraces on mountain slopes. These spectacular rice terraces are regarded by many people as sculptural masterpieces on the surface of the earth.
There are many spots in and around Yuanyang that offer photographers vantage points to view the rice terraces. My friends and I only had time to visit three of them as we only spent one night in Yuanyang. It was a pity indeed. Some really serious photographers spend up to six months in Yuanyang, visiting the various spots again and again at different times of the day to view the rice terraces under different lighting conditions. Some other photographers visit Yuanyang again and again in different seasons of the year to look at the rice terraces at their different stages of cultivation. They only have one objective in mind: to capture Yuanyangs rice terraces at their best!
The best time to visit Yuanyang is just before and after the Chinese New Year, that is in January and February, when the paddy fields are inundated and the mornings are usually very misty and seas of clouds form over the valleys. We were actually a little late in visiting Yuanyang in May, but fortunately some of the paddy fields were still not planted with rice seedlings then and I was able to make some pretty amazing pictures.
article published 1/20/2008