Yunan: Donchuan Red Land, Sep 2023

I have traveled extensively throughout the world but have actually seen very little of my own backyard, China.  Now is as good a time as any to start.  When I heard that my friend will be heading to Yunnan to photograph the red earth and rice terraces, I jumped at the opportunity.  Yunnan literally translates to “south of the clouds”.  Its abundance of natural beauty and its array of ethnically diverse cultures, have always intrigued me.  This trip will focus on the red earth of Dongchuan reputed as “god’s magic palette” and the amazing Yuanyang rice terraces, also known as “the looking glass of Heaven”.  The region truly did not disappoint but I underestimated the stamina required to do such a photo trip.  I returned home completely knackered, with only about 4-5 hours of sleep each night and taking around 17,000 steps each day on hilly paths.  Changing hotels every night for a week also added to the level of fatigue, especially when I felt the need to clean each and every hotel room toilet myself!  But overall, China hotels are improving especially in the cities, although still some hits and misses.
Dongchuan Red Land (東川紅土地) is a must-see, considered to be the world’s second most impressive red land after the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Only during May/June and September/October can one see the red color of the fields.  We flew into Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province and drove about 4 hours northeast to reach the Red Land of Dongchuan.  The red color of the earth is the result of years of iron oxidation caused by the warm and humid climate.  The terraced fields, between 1,800m to 2,600m above sea level, are cut into colorful patches of white from the winter rape flower, green from the potato seeding, and golden from the buckwheat.  Together with the blue skies, it is little wonder Dongchuan is lauded as the “Lost Palette of God”.  The most beautiful attractions are relatively concentrated and form a “Y” shape with Huashitou Village as its junction.  We stayed at the Dongchuan Impression Hotel (红土印象小镇), already the nicest hotel in the area.  Good thing we only stayed one night!
Got up super early to go photograph the sunrise over the red land at Jinxiu Yuan (锦绣园) which translates to “Embroidery Garden” and supposedly has the greatest concentration of red earth.  When we arrived, there were already some photographers with their tripods set up but overall it was not as crowded as I had expected.  Sunrise over the patchwork red land was breathtaking and lived up to its reputation as “god’s magic palette”.
My set up for the sunrise.

Qicaipo (七彩坡) which translates to “Seven-Color Slope” offers a more panoramic view of the different patches of color.

Not far is Yuepuao (乐谱凹) which translates to “Music Hollow” where villagers can be seen working in the lines of colorful fields. The highlight at this viewpoint is an old man smoking his pipe with his dog and sheep.  I was told that they are permanent models here.  The other old man recently joined to pose for photos as well.  In the digital payment world of China, it is no surprise that they collect tips via payment QR code.


We made a quick stop at the Ancient Tree, a lone thousand-year-old fir on a hill covered with cobblestones.  Locals believe the tree, able to survive in such a hostile place, is sacred and will come to worship it every year.
One of the most well known spots in Dongchuan Red Land is Luoxiagou (落霞沟) or Sunset Valley.  As its name suggests, it is a popular place to shoot during sunset.
Luoxiagou (落霞沟)
Another popular photo spot in Dongchuan is Luosiwan (螺絲灣) and the light there is good all day, including during sunset.
Sunset at Luosiwan
From Dongchuan, we headed to Luoping and the little-known Chengzi ancient village (泸西城子古村).  Stay tuned!
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