Fields of gold
Published: Apr 18, 2013 06:18 PM Updated: Jun 03, 2013 05:41 PM
Rapeseed flowers cover hills as far as the eye can see, casting the landscape in a lovely yellow in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province. Photo: CFP
Rapeseed flowers cover hills as far as the eye can see, casting the landscape in a lovely yellow in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province. Photo: CFP


Rapeseed flowers cover hills as far as the eye can see, casting the landscape in a lovely yellow in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province. Photo: CFP
Rapeseed flowers cover hills as far as the eye can see, casting the landscape in a lovely yellow in Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province. Photo: CFP

 Every April and May, conversation among backpackers in China inevitably turns to the best places to see the country's stunning yellow rapeseed flowers. Now that spring has sprung, consider these blooms a great way to experience the stages of the season and a perfect excuse to take yourself on a vacation. Just imagine that you're standing before a sea of these bright flowers. As far as the eye can see, yellow is everywhere, and the air is filled with their fragrance. No one could find this setting unattractive, not to mention the many other captivating scenes of the season. Those who travel through the countryside this time of year will be rewarded by the beauty of the natural landscape, covered with cheerful rapeseed flowers, no matter how far they have to trek to get away from the noise of the big city. It's always worth the trip.

Every spring, rapeseed flowers, like golden migrating birds, gradually spread across China's vast fields, from Hainan Island, to the northern part of China, then to the Northeast. By the time the last rapeseed is harvested in North China in July, the blossoming period is still in full swing in Northeast China, the Northwest Prairie and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

The nearly six-month blossoming season not only provides a rich source for beekeepers, but also offers photographers and backpackers an exciting chase to view these flowers as they spread. As a little boy, I liked to visit my grandparents in the countryside during the weekends. I still remember how the rapeseed flowers blossomed, first light yellow decorating among greens and blues before spreading and growing ever brighter until, in the end, the fields became shining and splendid.

People all over China grow rapeseed flowers mainly for the production of cooking oil. It is said that China plants one-third of the globe's rapeseed, without a doubt leading the world. Sightseeing is just a side effect brought on in recent years by urban people who are tired of gray city views and fast-paced metropolitan life.

However, in ancient times, this plant was mainly used as a type of vegetable, a very cheap one at that, and was not as popular as it is now. Its blooms were not held in high regard in ancient Chinese poetry. Ancient poets liked to compare flowers like the peony, chrysanthemum, and peach blossom to moral qualities. Rapeseed flowers, on the other hand, were suggested to be of low quality and worn by village girls in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) poems.

As times have changed, so too have people's tastes. Today, rapeseed flowers have risen to become one of the most celebrated in China. In springtime, they can be seen everywhere from large advertisements to daily newspapers, but traveling to the countryside and seeing them with your own eyes is the best way to appreciate them. Based on the travelogues of backpackers and travelers, the Global Times lists some must-see spots in China for rapeseed flower viewing.

Wuyuan, Jiangxi Province

This county is probably the best-known area in China for viewing these golden blossoms. Known as China's most beautiful county, Wuyuan is full of architecture typical of the Hui style in neighboring Anhui Province. Buildings feature white walls and dark blue tiles, full of South Chinese favor. Complete with a landscape filled with yellow flowers, the whole scene looks like a living Chinese landscape painting. Every year from March until May, the town is flooded with travelers from big cities who crave a respite from urban life.

Top sites: Jiangling is probably the place most worth seeing in the area, with its fields of yellow flowers covering patches of land from the tops of the surrounding mountains to the valley below. The color of yellow dominates your vision as you stand and take in the scene, likely being charmed additionally by the tiny Hui villages dotting the mountains. Other places, like Xiaoqi, Likeng, Sixi village and Qingyuan Yueliangwan (Moon Valley), are also great places to see the flowers. 

What to eat: Wuyuan is located at the crossroads of three provinces: Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Anhui. The best flavors combine in the area's typical local fare of stewed and steamed dishes.

Getting there: Jingdezhen Airport, also in Jiangxi Province, is the newest airport near Wuyuan. Take a taxi from there to Licun Bus Station, where buses leave for Wuyuan every 10 to 15 minutes. There are also direct buses from nearby cities like Wuhan, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hefei.

When to go: From now through May

Where to stay: The county has over 200 hotels and guesthouses, running from 50 yuan ($8) to 500 yuan per night.

Xinghua, Jiangsu Province

To me, and not just because I hail from this area, Xinghua boasts some of the most breathtaking views of this yellow-petaled crop with a pleasant river running through duotian, or raised fields. It is said that about 750 years ago, local peasants dug out earth from the water and stacked it into these duotian. The resulting patchwork of countless irregular fields gave rise to the name of this scenic spot, Qiandao, thousands of islands.

The scenery there will fulfill many expats' dreams about South China's beauty. Hire a local boat to take you on a meandering tour among these fields on the water. The perfume of flowers filling your nostrils, the scene will take you in and overwhelm your senses as you pass slowly through a sea of yellow blooms. Any lingering stress or nagging thoughts from daily life will simply disappear at once. Qiandao's scenery is so spectacular that it was featured in the popular Chinese documentary A Bite of China of 2011.

As the wind blows, these swaying flowers wave like girls in pretty sundresses at travelers passing by. Every year around April, the blossoming flowers, blue sky, still waters and golden islands form a gorgeous picture of this Chinese water town.

Top sites: Qiandao Rapeseed Flower Scenic Spot, 20 yuan for admission. The best spot to overlook the entire area is from the three-story tower in the tourist center. In addition, the city of Xinghua offers other attractions like Shagou Ancient Town, Shangfang Temple, and the former residence of well-known Qing Dynasty scholar and painter Zheng Banqiao.

What to eat: One of local specialties that you won't want to miss is longxiangyu, or dragon purple taro, which was also featured in A Bite of China. Braised taro and pork is another popular local dish. Other local dishes include Tofu Sheet and Chinese Cabbage and Steam Egg with Shrimps.  

Getting there: You can fly into the airport in nearby Nanjing and then take a bus to Xinghua. Or you can take a train to Taizhou and then take a commuter bus to Xinghua.

When to go: The best time for the flower scenery begins in early April and continues on through May.

Where to stay: There are numerous options in the city of Xinghua. Plenty of decent hotel rooms can be had for 200 yuan.

Hanzhong, Shaanxi Province

This prefecture-level city is a traditional base for rapeseed flowers. Its unique basin terrain is completely covered with these yellow flowers during blooming season. It is splendid to climb up to the top of the surrounding hills to look out on the endless yellow sea below. In Hanzhong, everywhere is a good spot to see rapeseed flowers. But perhaps the best spot is on the Han Mountain in Nanzheng county, south of the city. The mountain is also great for hiking, and tourists are sure to enjoy wonderful scenery during their climb.

Top sites: Tourists should head to Nanzheng county as well as Liuyuan, Fenghuang, Nongfeng and Hetongyan villages for great flower viewing. Fans of the Chinese classic novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms will be interested in seeing Dingjun Mountain, which is mentioned in the book. Huayang Ancient Town and Yipin National Forest Park are also worth visiting.

What to eat: The city is full of street snacks and delicious dishes, the most popular being Mianpi (flour skin), and Cai Doufu. 

When to go: It's better to make a trip before May.

Getting there:  Hanzhong has an airport and a train station, making it a very convenient destination from every part of China.

Where to stay: The average price for local budget hotels is about 150 yuan. It's better to book online ahead of time for the busy travel season.

Menyuan, Qinghai Province

If you need plenty of time to plan your trip, then Menyuan county in Northwest China's Qinghai Province should be your destination. From this moment, you have over three months to plan for your date with the beautiful rapeseed flowers there. Under the deep blue sky of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the fields of rapeseed along the Haomen River look like part of a movie set. This destination may be farther away for many of us, but it is also home to arguably the most magnificent flower scenery in the land. More than 60,000 hectares of farmland in the region burst forth in springtime with an endless sea of rapeseed flowers.

Top sites: Everywhere in Menyuan offers a different angle for flower viewing. The best spot is on Qinghai Lake, where you can enjoy images of the serene lake, beautiful sky and a vast band of yellow. This lake is also a favorite spot for backpackers.

When to go: July and August

Where to stay: Local guesthouses can offer a place to stay, but be sure to pack warm clothing - it gets cold at night.

What to eat: While you can get lots of good Western-style dishes here, the local yogurt is a must-try. 

Getting there: Take a plane or train to Xining, where you can catch a bus to Menyuan county

If you are not fond of long-distance travel, you can always take a day trip from your city to get a look at rapeseed flowers in peak season, though it will be less dramatic.