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Off The Beaten Track

Yuanyang County, China

Peer over the precipice at gravity-defying terraces

These aren’t just rice fields. This is a gravity-defying, multicolored masterpiece in one of the most remote locations on Earth.

The sight of hundreds of terraced rice paddies melting down a mountainside is something you won’t soon forget. A sea of mesmerizing turquoise and purple, this dreamlike landscape has been cultivated by the Hani people for thousands of years, and earned them the title of 'Skillful Sculptor' from the Ming Dynasty emperor. Grafting on a petrified terrain with a 75-degree slope, you can see they deserve the honor: UNESCO recently recognized their hard work with an award for outstanding natural beauty.

Five years ago, the area was impossible to access. There’s no airport, and you can forget trying to take buses down the roads that wind along the mountain pass. Although a new highway opening three years ago made it easier, it’s still a journey of epic proportions – you’ll need to catch a 10-hour sleeper bus from Kunming South Bus Terminal to Yuanyang. Don’t sleep the whole way, though: as you pass through Jingkou – an authentic Hani village at high altitude – you’re shrouded in clutches of cloud, making for an incredible view of the paddies. Once you arrive in Yuanyang, find a local guide to show you the way to Duoyishu.

‘The true color of this 17,000-acre site is revealed as it seems to fall away in front of your eyes’

Timing is everything: visit between January and March. Winter sees heavy irrigation for the rice and the residual water on the surface plays tricks with the light. Head up to the viewing platform at Duoyishu and as the morning mist clears, watch as the paddies take on a hypnotic reflective quality. With your Ray-Ban Chromance lenses cutting the glare from the water surface, the true color of this 17,000-acre site is revealed, as it seems to fall away in front of your eyes. Reality and surrealism come crashing together in one unbelievable view.

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Credit: Xinhua/Alamy