The region southeast of Kunming is a nicely unpackaged corner of the province, and there are good reasons, besides the Vietnamese border crossing at Hekou, to head down this way. Amiable, old-fashioned Jianshui boasts a complement of Qing architecture, and an unusual attraction in nearby caves, while Yuanyang is the base for exploring the cultures and impressive terraced landscapes of the Hong He Valley. Jianshui and Yuanyang can be tied together in a trip to the border, or each are directly accessible by bus from Kunming.
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The access point for viewing the rice terraces is Yuanyang, a district 80km south of Jianshui and 300km from Kunming. The name covers two settlements: the riverside township of Nansha (元阳南沙, yuányáng nánshā), terminus for Jianshui buses; and, where you actually want to base yourself, XINJIE (元阳新街镇, yuányáng xīnjiēzhèn), 30km uphill at the top of a high ridge. Xinjie is a small, untidy brick-and-concrete town which becomes a hive of activity on market days (every five days), when brightly dresssed Hani, Miao, Yi and Yao women pour in from surrounding villages.