A Short Trip to Honghe Posted by sasha on Feb 26, 2018 in Culture
Yunnan province (云南省 – yún nán shěng) is one of the most beautiful and fascinating places to explore in China. In addition to its stunning landscapes such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge, the province is incredibly diverse. Of the 55 ethnic minority groups in China, 25 call Yunnan home. As a result, there are many autonomous regions across the province. One such area is Honghe (红河 – hóng hé), named after the Red River that passes through it. Here’s a little story about a short trip to Honghe, including the bustling markets, some delicious food, and the stunning rice terraces.
An Intro to Honghe
Honghe is located in southeastern-central Yunnan, just a few hours away from the provincial capital of Kunming. The official name is actually quite long – Honghe Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture (红河哈尼族彝族自治州 – hóng hé hā ní zú yí zú zì zhì zhōu). That’s because the area is home to a sizable population of both the Hani people (哈尼族 – hā ní zú) and Yi people (彝族 – yí zú). In total, just over 4 million people live in Honghe.
As is the case throughout China, the different ethnic groups here have their own unique cultures and traditions. From the moment you arrive, you’ll surely notice the very colorful clothing that the Hani and Yi women traditionally wear.
Perhaps one of the best times to experience the local culture is during the Long Street Banquet (长街宴- zhǎng jiē yàn). It’s not just a clever name – people really set tables up and down a long street and have an epic feast full of food, drink, singing, and dancing. A great time to experience it is during the Hani New Year, which falls on the 10th day of the 10th lunar month.
On our visit to the area, we went to see a friend in Honghe County (红河县 – hóng hé xiàn). It was just before the Spring Festival (春节 – chūn jié), so the atmosphere was very lively. At the bustling street markets, people were buying and selling the traditional red couplets and tons of fireworks. Of course, there was also plenty of fresh produce straight from local farms.
With just a day to spend exploring the town, we did what we usually do and just walked around with our cameras. Not surprisingly, we were greeted with looks of awe and fascination by locals. Not too many lao wai pass through this part of Yunnan. Eventually, we stumbled upon what looked like some kind of ancient fort. I never found out exactly what it was, but we enjoyed admiring the intricate carvings that surrounded the structure.
The building doesn’t appear to be open and functioning. I suppose it’s just a relic of the past that’s been left alone and now primarily serves as a location for taking photos. Hey, at least they haven’t torn it down and put up a KFC like in so many parts of China. Speaking of food…
It’s no secret that I love Yunnan food (云南菜 – yún nán cài). From the classic Crossing the Bridge Rice Noodles, to my favorite Kunming restaurant Heavenly Mana, to the yummy street food that’s on every corner, there’s always something tasty being cooked up in Yunnan. When traveling across Yunnan, you’ll soon realize that in most local restaurants, the menu is simply the cooler. You look at what ingredients they have for the day and tell them how you want them cooked. I usually just ask “What do you recommend?” (你们推荐什么? – nǐ men tuī jiàn shén me) and give the local specialties a try. There are lots of interesting ingredients used in the cuisine here, such as different flowers and types of fungus.
Many restaurants in town have incredible views off to the side. This mountainous part of China is truly beautiful, and it remains one of my favorite places I’ve visited.
Celebrating Spring Festival
Even though it was still a few days before the New Year, our friend’s mom cooked up a massive feast for lunch. No matter where you are in the world, you just can’t beat mom’s home cooking! We enjoyed various dishes of meat, fish, and vegetables, along with plenty of rice and the standard lukewarm beers and shots of baijiu that are ever-present during the holidays. After lunch, the ladies even got to try on some traditional Hani clothing. On a walk around town, they turned a few heads to say the least!
Outside of Town
Not too far from Honghe County, you’ll find the famed Yuanyang rice terraces (元阳梯田 – yuán yáng tī tián). Unfortunately, a visit to these terraces comes with a price tag of 100 RMB. Thanks to a tip from our friend, we instead caught a local bus to the town of Leyu (乐育 – lè yù) to go do some hiking amongst the terraced rice paddies free of charge.
Arriving in Leyu, there was a busy market day going on right next to the bus station. We checked it out for a few minutes, snapping photos and picking up some snacks for the afternoon.
Even out here in rural China, traffic jams are just a part of life. It was probably due to the market, and the line of cars, e-bikes, and trucks seemed to stretch on forever. We decided to abandon ship and walk up the road until we got out of the jam. From there, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck to a point where we could begin walking into the rice terraces.
It wasn’t the easiest place to get to, but it was well worth the effort. There was no ticket office here, and no hordes of selfie stick-waving tourists, either. At this time of year, the rice terraces are full of water which creates a beautiful reflection.
We enjoyed a few hours aimlessly walking through the terraces. In that time, the only other people we saw were a couple of farmers and a few kids on their way home. One of them even jumped up on the water buffalo and caught a ride! As for us, we had to get back to town before nightfall to get some sleep. Thankfully the traffic wasn’t half as bad on the way back to Honghe.
This part of China really doesn’t see many foreign tourists, and thus the tourism infrastructure is a bit limited. The only reason we went there was because we had made some friends in Kunming who were heading home for the holidays and invited us to join. That being said, there are quite a few hotels in Honghe County. The bus system in Yunnan is great as well, ensuring you can go just about anywhere in the province without your own wheels. Of course, you’ll need a decent level of Chinese to get around! We’ve got plenty of resources to help you learn Chinese and travel to some of those off-the-beaten-path places.
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