Yunnan is one of my all-time favorite places in China. From the vast mountains of Lijiang through to the rice terraces of Yuanyang and the jungles in the southern area of Xishuangbanna, Yunnan has it all – somewhere we are constantly revisiting. With Yunnan’s unique climate and access year round, it’s easy to keep exploring, and considering the wealth of scenery and some of the most iconic images in South China, the lesser traveled Yunnan sites are some of the most photogenic places in the country.
Yuanyang will always have a special place in my heart, as it was the first place I visited and fell in love with in Yunnan. The rice terraces of Yuanyang are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful landscapes to photograph in China, and they change appearance all year.
We always opt to go in February, when the terraces are filled with water, reflecting the colorful sky at sunrise and sunset. However, you can also see the terraces filled with grass during the summer, or visitors can go just before harvesting, when they turn a golden yellow.
I recommend shooting the Duoyishu terraces at sunrise, as there will often be a layer of mist and clouds rolling down the valley like a waterfall. We usually find a hotel in Duoyishu for the trip, as it is centrally located and has a good choice of places to stay and eat, and so sunrise there is an easy task. You will also often see local workers in the Duoyishu area, either maintaining the terraces or carrying baskets of ducks to take down to the terraces for the day, which also makes for a great photo.
The Bada terraces, another favorite for photographers, is a fantastic place both for watching the sunset and hiking the farmers’ paths. These terraces stretch for miles, so bring your wide-angle lens as you’re going to need it. The sense of scale at Bada is otherworldly, and as the sun drops and the sky lights up, the terraces come to life with color.
The Laoyinzui terraces were a new discovery for me this year. These terraces are the least busy of all the viewing platforms, and are filled with red duckweed, giving it a distinctive landscape to the many other terraced areas in the region. We spotted a lone farmer walking back to the village as the sun set, and photographing this was the highlight of my trip.
Another famed photography area in Yunnan is Luoping. For a couple of weeks every year, the small, quaint village of Luoping is transformed with thousands of canola flowers blossoming, blanketing the village in golden yellow. Tourism booms during these few weeks. Local beekeepers offer fresh honeycomb to those who walk by and every local has a flowered headband to sell. In addition to shooting the village, it’s a playground for anyone who has a drone.
My favorite spot to shoot the canola fields is from the viewpoint in the town itself, known as Golden Rooster Hill. The hike up is pretty easy, and if you head up there at sunset, you can watch the day’s end and the flowers turn from a bright yellow to a dark orange almost instantly. Other worthwhile viewpoints slightly out of town are Snails Farm and Shiwa Dashan; each offer completely different photo opportunities. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also hike up one of the many trail-less hills in the area and get a view all to yourself.
Another great place to visit In Luoping, which is often forgotten about, is Jiulong Waterfalls. Get there early to avoid the crowds, as the waterfall is really popular with domestic tourists and locals. The waterfall has ten tiers, and is best seen from the viewing platform at the top, or the valley floor where you can shoot the biggest of the 10 waterfalls up close. If you have a drone, the waterfall is surrounded by some beautiful rice terraces which can only be seen from above.
Can’t-Miss Yunnan Spots
Yuanyang and Luoping are my two favorite places in Yunnan, but the province has so many incredible locations just a train or a bus ride away. Jinshui is an underrated ancient town in between Kunming and Yuanyang, and makes for a great half-way stop where you can spend a few nights to explore the town and the famous Double Dragon Bridge, which is best viewed at sunrise.
The Jianshui tofu is also some of the best in the country, so definitely not one to miss. An overnight train from Kunming also brings you to the two beautiful towns of Lijiang and Dali, where you can hike the Tiger Leaping Gorge, visit the Erhai Lake or ski on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Yunnan is without a doubt, one of the most photogenic provinces in China, and shouldn’t be left off of your China itinerary.