In the northernmost part of Guangxi province, up along a winding road more harrowing than most, are the fabled Longji Rice Terraces — also known as The Dragon’s Backbone. The name comes from their appearance: like scales on the flanks of a giant dragon lying coiled in the hills. There are actually several terraces connected by trails in the area, and the intrepid traveler can walk the lot with an investment of several days’ time.
And Fall, with her yeller harvest moon and the hills growin’ brown and golden under a sinkin’ sun.” – Roy Bean
After a week relaxing and exploring in the Yangshuo and Xingping areas, I was ready for a change of scenery and a proper hike. The Longji Rice Terraces gave me those and more, and I spent several days in Tiantou Village before hiking all the way to Ping’an.
I learned right away how difficult getting from Point A to Point B can be in the Longji Rice Terraces. Laden with all my gear from the past year, I trudged along and followed signs towards Tiantou Village until I noticed I hadn’t seen one for a disturbingly long time. Bone weary and in a hamlet not mentioned on my tourist map, I found a hotel with food and WiFi.
I’d gone in entirely the wrong direction. The good news was, I’d managed to see an entire section of the terraces and would be able to see another before reaching my hotel. Less hiking for the next day!
When I made it to Tiantou at last, I found my hostel and enjoyed a meal outside on the veranda, looking over the terraces gleaming gold in the gloaming. Some fellow backpackers were making plans for a pre-sunrise hike, but I knew I would sleep in. It was, after all, my holiday.
I spent the next day finding viewpoints — easy enough to do. When presented with turns, I took the uphill option until I reached the top of whatever slope I found myself on. The scale of the terraces is impressive, as is the fact that most of them were built over 600 years ago.
A Yangshuo local had told me that most of the rice would be harvested by the time I arrived. Expectations sufficiently lowered, I’d been pleasantly surprised by golden fields untouched by that season’s scythes. The harvest would take place in the coming week, after the mid-autumn festival. I couldn’t help but wonder what the terraces would look like in spring when filled with water, in summer when the rice shoots first appear, in winter when frost coats the ground…
The village of Dazhai and the surrounding hamlets (including my base of Tiantou) have perhaps the greatest number of viewpoints within easy walking distance, but the village of Ping’an has its appeal as well. After getting directions from my hostel (which turned out to be 100% necessary), I set off on a 4 hour hike through the Longji Rice Terraces from Dazhai to Zhongliu and on to Ping’an.
Within an hour, I found myself alone. The crowds of people who’d descended from all over China for the holiday disappeared — confined to the popular viewpoints. There on the pathway between villages, I saw one large group of Germans making the trek in the opposite direction. We nodded our greetings and carried on our separate ways.
After the huge crowds of the past few days, the solace was something I sorely needed. It was broken briefly outside of Zhongliu when a Yao couple bade me rest in their shelter and proceeded to squeeze some money out of me. Yao women are famous for never cutting their hair, and this lady was no exception. After agreeing to pay her a small sum for a picture, she unbound her hair and held it aloft for my inspection.
The Longji Rice Terraces would be a very different place in the coming weeks, but that’s all part of the magic, isn’t it?
How about you? Have you visited rice terraces anywhere in the world? Where were they, and what did you think? Share your experiences in the comments below!