But first, where is Dongchuan Red Land? Sometimes also called Dongchuan Red Soil or Red Earth, this place is located more than 200 kilometers northeast of Kunming city center in China’s Yunnan Province. A laidback town with seemingly endless stretch of reddish-brown hills. Is this emerging Kunming attraction worth the visit?
The Colors of Dongchuan Red Land
Dongchuan Red Land is so called because of the soil’s brick red color due to its rich iron content. The red soil is highlighted by hues of green, white or yellow depending on the season and the types of crops and flowers planted by the local farmers.
Dongchuan’s landscape is characterized by terraced fields contoured by layers of multi-colored crops, curved according to the natural topography of the mountains. Spanning more than 1,800 square kilometers of land area, Dongchuan’s panoramic vista is spread out in a vast area. This makes driving as the best way to get around and appreciate the place. Try searching Dongchuan (Huashitou) in Google maps. Browse the area in satellite view and you’ll get the idea.
The seemingly painted scenery in Dongchuan Red Land is without a doubt getting the attention of avid landscape photographers. In fact, it is said that a Chinese photographer was the culprit for putting Dongchuan on the map. His remarkable photos began to spread and today, Dongchuan Red Land is slowly making its name as an emerging Kunming attraction.
Viewpoints in Dongchuan Red Land
We spent two days in Dongchuan, including travel from and back to Kunming city center. We arrived around 11 AM on Day 1 and went sightseeing until sunset. On Day 2, we started off early for sunrise shoot then went back to the guesthouse for breakfast. After that, I had time to go around the village on foot. Finally, we drove back to Kunming around 10:30 AM while stopping by a few more scenic spots along the way.
We explored Dongchuan by car and practically stopped at interesting sights wherever and whenever we want to. Unlike developed tourist spots where viewpoints or attractions are clearly marked, Dongchuan is still not heavily developed for tourism. However, some of the viewpoints do have assigned names.
I tagged the locations where we stopped in my Maps.Me offline map but unfortunately, I lost all the tags when my phone got updated (huhuhu). Thanks to the power of Google and to some extent, my feeble memory, I was able to identify some spots through the images I took.
Luosiwan or River Snail Bay
It was mid-afternoon when we got here and the light is not best for photography. It was sunny but windy so I did not feel I’m getting sun-burned already. The snail-shaped terraces gave Luosiwan its name as Snail Bay. Aside from the snail semblance, the winding road adds charm to the overall landscape.
Yuepu'ao or Music Hollow
What I love about Yuepu’ao is that aside from the colored terraces, you also have views of windmills at the backdrop. The windy conditions in rural Dongchuan is ideal for wind power generation. Glad to see that Dongchuan Red Land is harnessing this renewable energy to veer away from firewood in favor of preserving the forests.
Daping Tang is like a flatter version of Snail Bay. I love the jagged mountains outlining its backdrop. On the roadside where we stopped is a forested area where Little Red Riding Hood would have loved to get lost in.
Thousand Year Old Tree or Qian Nian Lao Long Shu
This fig tree perched at thetop of a small hill is said to have stood for a thousand year, bearing witness to Dongchuan Red Land’s history. Despite the actually poor environmental conditions for tree survival, the tree has managed to live. For this reason, the villagers consider this tree as sacred.
Luoxiagou or Sunset Valley
Luoxiagou is the only scenic spot we’ve been where there is a physical structure for visitors to walk into. In all others, you will have to pull-off on the roadside and take pictures from there. At Luoxiagou, they have about 500 meters-long wooden steps/platform from where you can have a picturesque view of the terraced fields and surrounding mountains.
The name of the place translates to Sunset Valley in English. Our driver recommended that we arrive here for the sunset. Getting there, I was expecting to view the setting sun slowly hiding itself from the mountains. On the contrary, it turns out that the sun will set behind the viewing deck.
Half of the landscape below the viewpoint will, in fact, be already shadowed when the sun begins to set on the mountain behind you. I tried to justify to my confused self why the place was called Sunset Valley.
Well, maybe the best time to get here is about 2 hours before sunset. During this time, the sun will illuminate the fields at an angle, eliminating the harsh sunlight glow. Moreover, this time is early enough before sunset so as to not cast a shadow of the mountain behind.
Unfortunately, I could not pinpoint where we headed for the sunrise. We were supposed to drive north of Huashitou village to Damakan, the more popular sunrise point in Dongchuan Red Land. However, there was a road construction on the way which impedes entrance to the road ahead.
Needless to say, the spot where we went for sunrise is still a scenic one. As the sun slowly peeked behind the mountains, silhouettes of numerous windmills began revealing themselves against the golden sky.
Here are other viewpoints, which sadly, we were not able to see. It is not clear whether the road construction is to blame or that these are not originally included in our itinerary. (Note: We did not have an English speaking guide, only a Chinese driver, whom we had a slight issue on language barrier.)
- Qicaipo or the Seven Color Slope
- Jinxu Yuan or Embroidery Garden
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A Walk Through Huashitou Village
Our guesthouse is located in Huashitou Village, which is where most of the few guesthouses are situated. After our sunrise viewing, we were driven back to the hotel for breakfast. We had a free time to walk around the village after that. View photos below:
Farming Practices in Dongchuan
While high iron content provides the characteristic brick-red color to the soils of Dongchuan, the same attribute makes the soil unable to retain enough moisture for agriculture. The farmers of Dongchuan resolved this limitation by resorting to plasticulture.
This technique involves laying plastic sheets over the crop bed to maintain temperature and water content in the soil. The plastic also reduces leaching of fertilizer, prevents soil erosion and allows better pest management.
The effort they place in laying out these plastics spread out over a vast area is simply remarkable. What worries me is the vast amount of plastic wastes that they will generate in the end, though I surmise (and hope) a fraction can still be re-used for the next planting season.
Likewise, the farmers planted drought-tolerant crops such as potatoes, wheat and barley. The mix of different types of crops laid out in plots has created an attractive pattern.
Traditional farming methods are still in use. Carabaos are used to plow fields, farmers manually plant the crops and use horse drawn carts for transporting agricultural products. As mentioned above previously, they also utilize power for their farms from wind turbines.
How to Get to Dongchuan Red Land from Kunming
Option 1: From the Kunming North Bus Station (Address: Yangchang Village, Longtou Street, Panlong District, Kunming), take a bus heading to Fazhe Village in Hongtudi Town. Only 2 buses leave daily from the station, one leaves at 7:50 AM and the other at 8:30 AM. Tell the bus driver to drop you off at Huashitou Village.
If you have already booked an accommodation online, show the address (preferably in Chinese) to the bus driver. They would know where to drop you off. Most of the guesthouses are located along the Huashitou area, along the bus route. Travel time takes around 4-5 hours.
You can purchase your bus ticket at the station on the day of your trip. Just arrive early before the scheduled bus departure. Online reservation service is not available.
If you’re heading back to Kunming, you can get on the bus along the road in Huashitou Village. You can ask assistance from your hotel so they could call the bus company to inform them to pick you up. Buses pass by Huashitou Village at around 9:30 AM.
Option 2: The second option is not as straightforward as Option 1, but there will be more buses available from Kunming. From the Kunming North Bus Station, take a bus to Dongchuan county. Buses leave between 6:30 AM to 7 PM. Travel takes about 3.5 hours. Do not mistake Dongchuan county from Dongchuan Red Land. These two are about 46 km away from each other.
From Dongchuan station, take another bus going to Dongchuan Red Land. Travel time is about 1.5 hours. Buses to Dongchuan Red Land from Dongchuan county is limited at 2 trips daily, leaving at 8:30 AM and 12:50 PM. These buses pass by most of the guesthouses in Red Land.
Another option is to rent a car or taxi to Dongchuan Red Land once you are at the Dongchuan county. You can take the same route back on your return trip.
By private vehicle
Renting a vehicle from Kunming to Dongchuan Red Land and vice versa costs around 500 RMB per car. For car rental from Red Land to Kunming, you can ask from your hotel to arrange this for you. You can also book a tour from a private tour company. Travel time takes 2.5 hours, way shorter than by bus.
At least one night stay is recommended so you can experience sunset on Day 1 and sunrise on Day 2. Tours usually include accommodation, a private driver and an optional English-speaking tour guide.
The advantage of taking a package tour is that travel time from Kunming and back is less than commuting by bus. It is also more convenient because you will not need to arrange for another car rental to go around the scenic spots of Dongchuan Red Land. Expect a tour package to be the most expensive option.
You will not find public transportation along the viewpoints of Dongchuan Red Land. Reaching most of the scenic spots by walking is also not possible as the field stretches over miles of land area.
Damakan, for example, is about 40 minutes drive from Huashitou Village. The way to get around is by renting a car, which you can arrange through your accommodation. You can share the rental with other visitors.
Best Time to Visit
May to June
Rapeseed and golden wheat give yellow and gold highlights to the red fields of Dongchuan against the blue summer sky. I came in mid-May and some of the fields are newly plowed or newly planted with crops, exposing the red soil. This time is also a good opportunity to see farmers working in action.
September to December
Autumn, which falls between September to December is also a good time to visit. This is also the harvest season for white or yellow beds of rapeseed flower, potatoes and buckwheat. The golden wheat, green highland barley and white canola flowers add to the palette of colors in the landscape.
Where to Stay in Dongchuan Red Land
Most of the available accommodations are located in Huashitou village in Xintian township, but there are also ones in Huagou, which is about 4.5 km away from Huashitou. I am not sure though whether the bus from Kunming or from Dongchuan county passes through the village.
Do not expect luxury hotels in Dongchuan Red Land. The place is not developed yet for tourism, and I hope it stays preserved this way. The accommodation choices are few. The guesthouses here are run by local families, with basic amenities. Those available online to foreigners for booking <link> are limited. Trip (formerly CTrip) has more options but unfortunately, most of the hotels listed here do not accept foreigner guests.
Where to Dine/ Eat
The local guesthouses would also serve as your places to eat. Like other eateries in Yunnan Province, you can order meals by looking at the see-through refrigerated container what ingredients are available for the day. The usual foods served in Dongchuan are noodles, potatoes, beef and a variety of green leafy vegetables.
Other Travel Tips
- There are no entrance fees (yet) to the known viewpoints. Presently, you just pull off at the side of the road when you want to stop and take photos. Be careful not to step on anyone’s field. These are private properties so you need to ask permission first if you want to walk further into the field. Some owners will welcome visitors and allow you to take photos of their field, but they might ask you for some tip or money.
- Dongchuan is at an elevation of 1,800 to 2,00 meters. Average temperature from April to August is 22 to 24oC during the day and falls to 8 to 14oC at night and early morning. From November to February, average daily high temperature is 15oC. It is best to have a protective cover from the sun during the day in dry season and a jacket if coming during the cold season. For sunrise trips, don’t forget to bring warm clothes as the strong winds can make it chilly even during summer.
- If you find language to be a big barrier in large cities in China, expect this to be more difficult when in Dongchuan. Locals belong to the minority group and not all of them could speak good Mandarin, either. A local English-speaking driver or guide is advantageous.
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Dongchuan Red Land as an Emerging Kunming Attraction
Dongchuan Red Land is slowly gaining the attention of travelers to Yunnan, China. From what we’ve seen, the area is largely agricultural with some forest cover still left. It is appeasing to know that Dongchuan is utilizing renewable wind energy for their farming and household energy needs.
As we are familiar with the economy-boosting impacts of tourism development, we also know that this is sometimes at the expense of the environment and cultural preservation. We may not have a strong influence in their local government’s tourism development policies but as travelers, the least we can do is to do our best to travel responsibly.
Be a green traveler. Make mindful choices. Prevent or reduce wastes in your travel, save money and save our environment. Start by using these simple travel products on your next trip.
Other Exciting Things To Do in Yunnan
Also read my hiking guide for Yunnan's Tiger Leaping Gorge.
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