Tribal Yunnan - Part 1

Yuanyuang (Yuanyang)
Around 18 months ago I was in Yunnan, China.
I was cycling through parts of the province with a small bag weighing about 7kg's with all my worldly goods (at the time) for the trip and of course my trusty steed 'the camera'.

Yuanyuang Rice Terraces

I was lucky to have the cycle in Some respects not regarding cycling through great mountain thoroughfares of course but regarding the size of the towns and cities that I came across. I was surprised at the development of Yunnan and modern cities were quite the norm and even the small villages are but a stones throw away from these making it difficult to experience the Yunnan of yesteryear but it was and still is possible.

Young Yi Tribal 

I used towns and Cities as bases to explore the 'old' yunnan.
Accommodation was quite spread out and looking for budget digs was quite a feat. This is where having the cycle made all the difference. One can easily cover kilometres in ones search for the 'right' hotel on two wheels whereas I imagine for backpackers it must be a great deal harder as things are normally quite spread out. And one is limited carrying a heavy load as to how far one will look, more often than not being tired after a long bus or train journey.

Yi Headdress

The prices in this vast province of China were very reasonable compared to the stories I used to hear in the past. Travel on buses is reasonable relatively speaking when one takes into account the distance and comfort factor. Food can be had for pennies or whatever one wishes to spend on this necessity and a good room normally with tv and other mod-cons can range from between £3 and £10 per night. I was particularly amazed at one can get for the money in this department.

In Yunnan I made a point of discovering where the tribals were based as there are no less than 27 different tribal groups in Yunnan making it a hotbed of cultural diversity. I am a great lover of less-developed countries and the old ways of life that still remain unchanged as I believe there is a great deal to be said and learnt from the old methods of doing things, the resourcefulness, the old cultural traditions are pretty much invaluable yet how easily they are being cast aside these days.

The Yao Tribe

So it was a case of finding out where the market towns were, when these markets take place (certain days of the week) and what particular tribes would be present.
The border areas of South Yunnan that neighbour Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Vietnam were of particular interest. And here as in Northern Myanmar, N.Laos and N.Vietnam one loses a sense as to which country one is in due to the presence of these tribal peoples. One is only aware because of man-made borders and the visa in ones passport where one actually is. This region is full of similarities and to categorise it as being this country or that is a bit of a misnomer (legalities and dictatorship aside of course). There is such a myriad of minority groups which can appear at times to outweigh the dominant races present.

Yuanyuang Surroundings

One very interesting township nestled amongst the high valleys of Yunnan was Yuanyuang or Yuanyang, a town quite famous for its tiered or terraced rice fields and very similar I am told to the 'Dragons Backbone' in Longsheng, Guangxi Province.
An absolute marvel and a credit to the minority peoples in rural Yunnan who created these magnificent looking and extremely practical agricultural assets. The scenery is breathtaking anyway and the rice paddies only add to what is other wise a picture perfect landscape.

Beautiful Vistas

Yi Tribal Planting Rice

The ethnic minorites here are mostly the Yi tribe but also at the daily market one can see the Yao tribals and Hani. All distinguishable by their dress. For instance the Yi are very colourful with their highly ornate embroidered finery and headdress, The yao have quite flambouyant headdress and clothe themselves in predominantly black cloth and the Hani also are know to have a number of different costumes depending on their sub-group. Either way all are very interesting, very friendly, hospitable and have a lovely sense of humour.


Yi Tribal Women

There are a lot of small villages in the surrounding area and not only are the rices terraces a wonder to behold amongst such lush mountainous scenery but also the rotating market that goes from village to village on a daily bases. In yuanyuang (yuanyang) town one is lucky enough to be able to arrive any day of the week and witness the early morning local market which is there on a daily basis, Where one can see all manner of fresh produce being sold that has been brought in from the nearby villages by the basket load which the minorities carry on their backs supported by a thick band around the forehead. And after trading normally go away as they came with a heavy load only this time it happens to be alternate goods that they have procured themselves from other traders.


It really is a wonderful sight and one that etches itself deep within ones memory. Scenes from another world still played out daily as the modern world rushes forward somewhere else on this ever shrinking globe of ours.
Regarding 'strange' foods, I was surprised not to come across anything too outlandish in Yunnan, unlike in countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia the peoples here don't seem too interested in bugs and the likes although I did come across a dog for sale in Yuanyuang indoor market.

Dog for sale in the Market

Yuanyuang (Yuanyang) town itself is as can be expected spread out on a high mountainside. It's an interesting place to walk around and there are a few budget Guesthouses which are very suitable for a short stay and one or two bigger star Hotels. There are a couple of decent eateries and obligatory noodle soup can be found all over town.
There is a huge Internet Cafe where all the youngsters go but it's not hard to find a vacant machine. What is nice about that place as with many other net cafe's in Yunnan is the reclining leather chairs. In other parts of Yunnan one is not only honored with this little luxury but also free green tea and food available that people like to eat while using the PC such as a steaming hot bowl of traditional noodle soup.

Yuanyuang Town Sqaure

Yuanyuang 3-Wheeler Taxi

For anybody who is interested in Tribal Peoples of Asia check out this link to my Website, it will take you directly to the Tribal Gallery. People Portraits are'nt too bad either.

Well that's all for Part 1 of Tribal Yunnan.
Will be posting Part 2 soon.......

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