Luoping, Yunnan Province, China （中国云南省罗平县）
Photo Travel Guide
Main photographic interest: landscape, waterfalls, rapeseed flowers
Located 230 kilometers east of Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, and neighboring Guizhou and Guangxi Provinces, Luoping County is home to one of the largest plantations of rapeseed flowers in Southwest China. Fields covered with golden rape stretch as far as the eye can see and form seas of yellow buds. Combined with a unique terrain dominated by karst features with small basins among mountain ranges, the place boasts very unique landscape features. On top of that majestic waterfalls can be found in the area. All of this makes Luoping a very unique and attractive destination for landscape photography.
Luoping County is easily accessible from Kunming by both bus and train. It takes about four hours to reach Luoping by train and costs around RMB30; going by bus costs about the same but might take slightly longer. Luoping is also accessible by train from Guangzhou （广州）, Nanning （南宁）, Zhanjiang （ 湛江 ）, etc. Going back to Kunming is easier by one of the numerous buses departing from Luoping bus station (RMB40).
Main photographic destinations described in the Photographic tactics part below are scattered around Luoping County. While some of them are relatively easily accessible from Luoping town by public transportation, I strongly recommend hiring a car (approximate cost: RMB200/day). While very cheap, public transportation is primarily represented by minibuses that are run to maximize profits, i.e. without exact schedules and completely disregarding the notion of service. Even more importantly, hiring a car is the only option if you intend to photograph at sunrise and sunset.
Accommodation and where/what to eat
There are many hotels in Luoping and prices range from RMB30 to RMB200. Most of them are reasonably clean and comfortable. If you are on a budget, you might consider staying in one of the small private hotels near Xiguan Road （西关路）. The place is not very central but this is unimportant as all photographic destinations in the county are quite far from Luoping town anyway.
Finding a place to eat is easy as there are plenty of restaurants in town - most of them are reasonably hygienic and quite cheap.
Main photographic destinations in the county include Jinjifeng, Shiwan Dashan, Niujie and Jiulong Waterfalls; details are as follows:
Jinjiling (金鸡岭, also known as Jinjifeng; Golden Rooster Hill) is the classic spot for photographing rapeseed flowers of Luoping. It offers an excellent and expansive view of the fields and hills in north-south direction. Located in the middle of the hill, Lingyi Temple （灵仪寺） offers a perfect platform for photographing the fields (although I did climb further up the hill in search for a better view). The only problem with Jinjiling hill is that the fields that spread below it are flat; also, everyone will be photographing from the same spot and in more or less the same direction; it thus is rather difficult to find unique or interesting compositions. I suggest exploring other numerous hills in the area, too.
Shiwan Dashan (十万大山; Hundred Thousand Hills) is about thirteen kilometers away from Luoping town in the direction of Baise （百色）. Landscape here is not as grandiose as at Jinjiling and the place apparently is not very well-known. However, I found it much more exciting for photography: terrain here is hilly and much more varied; it thus offers many more creative opportunities - it is one of those places where you can have several photographers shooting for an hour and producing entirely different images.
Luositian (螺蛳田, Snail Farms) at Niujie （牛街） are located a few kilometers to the north of Luoping town. Again, the fields here are of smaller scale and, unlike Jinjiling and Shiwan Dashan, are carved out of a shallow valley with gentle slopes. As you follow the road on the opposite slope and view them from an increasingly higher viewpoint, you discover that the flowers are grown in circular rings following the contours of the slopes and the fields look like the rings of a snail's shell.
Jiulong Pubu (九龙瀑布, Nine Dragon Waterfalls) is a ten-tier waterfall located within an hour's drive from Luoping town and listed as one of China's biggest and most beautiful waterfalls. First take a cable car or hike up the hill to the platform overviewing the valley and the waterfalls and photograph the grand vista. After that you can walk further and down the hill to the biggest waterfall (56 meters high and 112 meters wide) to photograph it up close.
Apart from the destinations mentioned above there is also a place called Duoyihe （多依河）. It is located 40 kilometers south-east of Luoping town and said to be interesting because it is home to the Bu'yi Minority （布依族）. Many photographers who traveled there, however, found it rather trivial and probably not worth the effort of visiting.
You will need at least two full days to explore these sites. On the first day set out early enough to arrive at Jinjiling in time for sunrise photography. After sunrise explore and photograph the fields and other hills in the area. When the sun gets too high in the sky (about 10 a.m.) you can rest, have something to eat and move on to Niujie. Start photographing at Niujie when afternoon sunlight becomes sufficiently mild and drive back to Jinjiling to photograph sunset.
On the second day set out early enough to arrive at Shiwan Dashan in time for sunrise photography. After sunrise explore and photograph fields in the surrounding area. Once the sun gets too high in the sky (about 10 a.m.) you can rest, have something to eat and move on to Jiulong Pubu. Photograph the waterfalls in the afternoon and drive back to Jinjiling area to photograph sunset again.
Obviously, the sequence of exploration is unimportant and if you have more than two days to photograph in the county, so much the better.
Best time of the year to visit
Rapeseed flowers bloom in February and March and these are the only two months suitable for going to Luoping. Mid-February to mid-March will be best.
Sunset and sunrise
There are two main locations for sunrise photography. Again, the classic spot is Jinjiling. As mentioned above, though, the nature of the place poses creative challenges; using wide format cameras is problematic, too, as left-to-right contrast is too high at sunrise (especially if you use slide film). Jinjiling is also perfectly suitable for sunset photography (with the same compositional problems, though).
The second location for sunrise photography is Shiwan Dashan. I personally found it much more intriguing but this, of course, is a matter of personal preferences and you certainly should try photographing at both places.
Photo and other gear recommendations
You are likely to scour the place in search of interesting shooting perspectives but will not have to do extensive hiking; due to this, you can indulge yourself and bring all the equipment you think you might need.
Luoping is a great location for photographing landscapes with flowers in the foreground and for this type of photography you will most certainly need a wide-angle lens. I found that telephoto lenses are also useful but you are unlikely to need too much reach and medium-range telephoto lenses should suffice. Luoping also offers a unique opportunity to do macro flower photography - bring macro equipment of your choice (macro lenses, extension tubes, etc.) if this is your type of shooting. As always, tripod is a must for sunrise and sunset photography and having sufficient recording media (film or digital) is mandatory.
Issues to be aware of
During Chinese New Year / Spring Festival (by whatever name you know it) as well as during the period when rapeseed flowers bloom (i.e. when you really should be there) finding accommodation after arrival might be problematic - try to book it in advance.
More photographs of the rapeseed fields can be found here.
You might want to consider going to Yuanyang to photograph terraced rice fields while you are in Yunnan province. Unless you hire a car, though, traveling to Yuanyang is far from straightforward - you will have to either go via Kunming or follow the route that goes through Luxi （泸西） and Gejiu （个旧）.