Not only is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Yuanyang’s rice terraces truly spectacular but the town itself would be well worth a visit in its own right even if the surrounding scenery was totally mundane. The bustling little market town – perched on a mountain top – is the main commercial and social site for all the surrounding Hani and Yi villages so the lively market’s just an explosion of colour as all the hill-tribes of Yuanyang district get their best gear out to go shopping, sell their wares or just catch up with friends in town.
It makes for a kind of Chinese Sapa but without all the tourists and guesthouses so a truly awesome, yet off-the-beaten-track destinations! Here’s a selection of pix taken in the market and in and around the town.
The Yi is one of Southern China’s largest ‘hill-tribe’ groups and are found in a wide swathe across Yunnan and Chengdu Provinces and also into Northern Vietnam. In Thailand and Vietnam, they are better known as Lolo though whilst plenty of ethnic Lolo’s live in Thailand they are generally completely integrated with, and indistinguishable from, other Thais. Hani are thought to be originally a subgroup of Yi but are today more restricted in numbers and range than their cousins. Hani are mostly found south and south-west of the Red River valley and even over the border into Vietnam. Both ethnic groups are part of the Sino-Tibetan family. (Linguistically the Hani are related to the Akha people who are a familiar sight in northern Thailand and northwest Laos.)