It is important to understand that Yuanyang, in fact, refers to three things. There is Yuanyang County, Yuanyang New City (Nansha), and Yuanyang Old Town (Xinjiezhen). Yuanyang New City is the Yuanyang you will see on most maps and the capital of Yuanyang County, while Yuanyang Old Town is the traditional heart of the county and definitely the location you will be heading if you are a tourist. To make things complicated, if you are in Nansha, then you are in Yuanyang, and Yuangyang Old Town is Xinjiezhen (or simply Xinjie), and if you are in Xinjiezhen, then you are in Yuanyang, and Yuangyang New City is Nansha.
Make sure you clarify which Yuanyang you are going to when you hop on a bus. For the sake of continuity, in this article "Yuanyang" will refer to Yuanyang Old Town and "Nansha" will refer to Yuanyang New City.
From Kunming - At least two buses everyday. The first is at 10:20 (sitting bus), followed by possible ones at 12:30 and 19:30 (sleeping), ticket ¥139, about 7 hr (Nov 2014). The bus stops first in Nansha, and then in Xinjie bus terminal (last stop - around an hour between the 2). Departure from Kunming South bus station. To get to the South Bus Station, take bus 154 close to the main train station or take the metro. A taxi from the center will cost you around ¥50-60.
- Over Jianshui and Yuanyang(Nansha). This road is less direct, but still convenient. (specially when we miss the bus from Kunming !!!)
- Over Gejiu - several buses everyday, get to Gejiu about ¥80, 4-5 hr, then ¥20 to Yuanyang New town (Nansha bus station), 1 hr. Buses to Gejiu departure from Kunming East bus station.
From Jinghong - an interesting, two day trip through mountains and minority areas. Get the bus from Jinhong to Luchun (12 hr) and stay the night. Spend the morning in Luchun, taste the local Yi food and check out the tea terraces, then get the bus at midday to Xinjie (3-4 hr). Alternatively (Jan 2015) take the bus from Jinghong direct to Nansha (12:00 P.M.; 8hr) arriving at 8:00 P.M. There might still be vans going to Xinjie at that time, but there are a number of hotels near the bus stop to stay the night in Nansha before heading up in the morning. This effectively cuts the trip in half compared to Luchun.
From Nansha you can catch a bus to Xinjie at the bus station for 10 yuan. About 1h drive.
From Xinjie, Minibus taxi is around 20RMB to go to Yishu village(依树村), 15RMB to Bada village(坝达村). Easy to get it from the bus station up to the main square.
Between the villages there are no bus connections, only shared minivans. You can either catch one from the center of a village, or wave it from the side of the road (you might then wait some time if all minivans passing by are full). A seat from Puago Laozhai to Shengcun (the first slightly bigger town with some shops/restaurants) should cost 5 yuan.
Aternatively you can arrange a car with driver at your hostel/guesthouse. This is especially practical if you want to see the sunrise or sunset.
These rice fields were sculptured in mountains by the Hani minority for several centuries
Terrace fields - lot of small buses at Nansha bus station. Most popular areas: Yishu village (依树村; yishucun, 24 km), Bada village (坝达村; badacun, 16 km), Habo village (哈播村, habocun, 80 km), Longshu dam (龙树坝; longshuba, 5 km), Xinjie (新街镇; xinjie zhen).
Yuanyang is split in two parts: Nansha is the new city and Xinjie is the older part (about 1h further up in the mountains). From Nansha you should go to Xinjie, where you can them take a minivan to one of the small villages.
A ticket office was built just after Xinjie on the road to the small villages. Ticket costs 100 yuan and gives access to all viewpoints in the region. You could skip the ticket office (although difficult if you are in a minibus as the driver will stop there and tell you to get off) but you won't be able to enter the official viewing platforms. There are many other nice places to see the terraces though, you will just need more time to find them than the platforms.
Most famous viewing points:
-Duoyishu, especially for sunrise. Located in Pugao Laozhai village
-Laohuzui, especially for sunset. About 1h by car west from Pugao Laozhai.
Hiking on the rice terrace, for example between Yishu village(依树村) to Bada village(坝达村) - 8km/2hours by foot on road, around 4hours on the rice terrace.
Tips: in Yishu village, take a path used by local people to down on rice field. Stay on hillside and follow the water going to the valley. Cross one or two villages, then climb back to the main road in direction of BADA.
ATTENTION: Don't forget this is hours and hours of work to make this terrace, please take care of the job done on it!
Bicycle trip: rent bike on the main square of Yuanyang village and make your day trip between village rice terrace.
Photo: Sunrise and sunset are famous time to take picture. Famous activity of young Chinese man. The main spot should be cloudy...
You can decide to stay either in Xinjie or in a small village. Xinjie is still quite far away from the terraces.
Most guesthouses/hostels are located in Pugao Laozhai village, 5 minutes walk from the best viewpoint for the sunrise (Duoyishu).
Yingyoulian Guest House (Xinjie Town), (On the main road, 200 meters up the hill from the bus station, after the police station on the left.), ☎ +86 159 8737 4367. checkout: 12:00. Hotel just up the street from the main square of Xinjie. Rooms are big and clean, with hot showers, TV, electric tea kettle and mineral water (dorms are just beds in twin rooms with bathrooms). The hotel has free Wifi, albeit a bit slow. Some of the rooms have squat toilets and some have western toilets. The owner, Belinda, speaks English (one of the few in town that can) and can organize tours to the rice terraces for ¥100 per person (¥200 to see the sunset and sunrise) (10/2014). Belinda's brother in law operates a good restaurant in the main town square. 50 meters uphill from the guesthouse is a nice bakery.Dorm ¥30,double ¥60, during Spring Festival ¥250-300. edit
In Pugao Laozhai village:
Yuanyang International Youth Hostel. A classic YHA hostel. Dorm bed is 40 yuan; double room for 120-130 yuan. Located right in the center of Pugao Laozhai.
Sunflower Trekkers Lodge. Dorm bed 35 yuan. Located in front of the Yuanyang youth hostel, in the center of Pugao.