WHS: Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, Yunnan, China

Today’s World Heritage Site visit is back down south in the province of Yunnan south of Kunming, where we’re going to see one of the more spectacularly large-scale examples of geoengineering on the planet: the

Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces


On the south banks of the Hong River in the mountainous terrain of southern Yunnan, the Honghe Hani Rice terraces cascade down the towering slopes of the Ailao mountains. Carved out of dense forest over the past 1,300 years by Hani people who migrated here from further to the north-west, the irrigated terraces support paddy fields overlooking narrow valleys. In some places there are as many as 3,000 terraces between the lower edges of the forest and the valley floor.

Responding to the difficulties and opportunities of their environment of high mountains, narrow valleys criss-crossed by ravines, extremely high rainfall (around 1400mm) and sub-tropical valley climate, the Hani people have created out of dense forest an extraordinarily complex system of irrigated rice terraces that flows around the contours of the mountains.

The property extends across an area of some 1,000 square kilometres. Three areas of terraces, Bada, Duoyishu and Laohuzui, within three river basins, Malizhai, Dawazhe and Amengkong-Geta, reflect differing underlying geological characteristics. The gradient of the terraces in Bada is gentle, in Douyishu steeper, and in Laohuzui very steep.

The landscape reflects an integrated four-fold system of forests, water supply, terraces and houses. The mountain top forests are the lifeblood of the terraces in capturing and sustaining the water needed for the irrigation. There are four types of forests, the ancient ‘water recharge’ forest, sacred forest, consolidation forests, and village forests for the provision of timber for building, food and firewood. The sacred forests still have strong connotations. Above the village are places for the Village God “Angma” (the soul of the village) and for the Land Protection God “Misong”, where villagers pray for peace, health and prosperity…

You wouldn’t think it was possible to even climb slopes this steep, never mind farm them, but the locals have carved the entire landscape into rice paddies:

Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

We didn’t actually count to verify that claimed 3,000 levels of terraces, but it certainly seems believable:

Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

Definitely recommend you stay in one of the villages so you can see the sunrise over the terraces; this is the village we stayed in,

Honghe Hani Rice Terraces

And one more tip for you — if your hosts offer you the local herb-infused rice spirits, be sure to say yes enthusiastically:

Honghe Hani Homebrew

Not too sure what exactly the infusion consists of, but that is definitely one of the more interesting homebrews we’ve stumbled across in our meanderings, it’s like Red Bull if Red Bull was really hardcore. Thoroughly recommended!


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And that goes for the entire site as well — it’s a couple days trip from Kunming to get out here and visit the various viewpoints along the twisty little mountain roads, but definitely a recommended one, the phone camera pictures here really don’t do justice to the epic vistas of entire mountains carved into rice terrace skyscrapers. Not to be missed if you make it down to Yunnan province!

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  1. […] to back spectacle in Yunnan Province for today’s World Heritage Site visit! Although the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces were the work of man, today’s is completely natural:South China […]

  2. […] right then, the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, these certainly are […]

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