It covers an area of 2200 square kilometres and has a population of approximately 365,000 , of which 88% belong to ethnic minorities and 95% is associated with agriculture. The of Yuanyang county in 2002 was 630 million . The administrative seat of the county is the town of ''Nansha'' down in the valley at an elevation of 240 meters. It is situated 12 km towards the north-east of the former administrative seat ''Xinjie'' to which it is connected by a 27 km long twisting mountain road. To the south of Old Yuanyang, the town of is positioned near the top of another major valley of rice-terraces. There are a total of 928 settlements in Yuanyang county, 826 of them being inhabited by only one single ethnic group.
The town of Old Yuanyang is a minority settlement atop a ridge of the mountain range at an elevation of around 1570 metres. It is a popular destination with photographers due to the vast areas of nearby mountains which have been cultivated into rice for at least the past 1300 years by the Hani people. Despite the overwhelming scenic beauty of its landscape and colourful local minorities, mass tourism hasn't developed in this region as yet, mainly due to its remote location, lack of a nearby airport, and until fairly recent, relative inaccessibility due to bad road conditions.
The terraced areas of interest to visitors are mainly found between 1000 and 2000 metres above sea level. The winter temperatures here, although never freezing, are such that they only support one rice crop a year. After the harvest, from mid-September till mid-November depending on the elevation, the terraces are filled with water until April, when planting begins.
The vast majority of the ethnic minority women in Yuanyang county still wear traditional clothes as their daily attire. The main ethnic group is the Hani who share the region with several other minorities such as the and . Market days in the villages tend to be very colourful when the different minority groups in the vicinity, each in their own traditional costume, come together to trade and socialise.
In 2002, the government of China submitted the ''Honghe Hani Terraced Fields'' for World Heritage Site status.
Yuanyang county lies at an altitude ranging from 140 along the Red River up to nearly 3000 metres above sea level in the and is situated about 50 km north of the border with Vietnam.
The climate of Yuanyang county is mainly ''central sub-tropical monsoon'' with wet summers and dry winters. Average temperatures range from 26 Celsius down in the Red river valley to 4 Celsius in the upper reaches of the mountains.
The closest large towns to the west of Yuanyang county are Shiping and . Gejiu is the major town to the north-east and also the capital of . 70 Km directly to the north of Yuanyang lies Jianshui, a small city with interesting monuments. A few hours to the south-east of Yuanyang is Luchun, another major Hani minority settlement turned modern city.
Due to recent highway construction, Old Yuanyang can now be reached in about 7 hours by direct bus from Yunnan's capital Kunming, situated 300 km to the north of the county, a trip which only a few years ago, would take 10 hours or more. Buses also connect Yuanyang with the town of Hekou and the border crossing with Vietnam .
Vertical distribution of the various ethnic minority groups:
The Hani and Yi, the creators of the monumental rice terraced mountains which have made Yuanyang famous, are the original inhabitants of these regions. Both their languages belong to the group. Their villages can mainly be found between 1300 to 1600 metres above sea level.
The Dai moved here 700 years ago. The Zhuang 400 years ago. Both their languages belong to the language group. Their villages are situated in the warmer areas below 700 metres elevation, near and along the rivers. Their main crop is rice grow in paddy fields.
The Miao and Yao are fairly recent arrivals to the region, only settling here 200 and 270 years ago. Their villages are in the cooler and drier upland areas, between 1600 and 1800 metres above sea level, where they grow maize.