After my first visit to the rice terraces, in April 2015, I wrote this article for the June 2015 issue of the Shenzhen Women's International Club (SWIC) Magazine.
There are many places around the world, especially in Asia, that have terraced rice fields. Those of us living in Shenzhen have the privilege of being a short distance away from some of the best! The Longji Rice Terraces, also called Longsheng or Dragon’s Backbone Terraces, are about a 2 ½ hour drive from Guilin, in Guangxi Province.
These terraces have a 600-650 year history, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty. As I sat staring at the terraces, I tried to imagine the work that must have gone into building the terraces all those years ago! Today, the terraces are still actively farmed. Because of the limited access to the fields, modern equipment can’t be used. The farmers starting to plow their fields, when we visited, were using horses and simple plows.
The Longji Terraces have four seasons. The best time to visit is April thru November. We visited in April, and they were just starting to prepare the fields for planting. The planting date varies according to the Lunar New Year. Once the fields are ready, they will be flooded for planting. There is a reservoir at the top of the terraces which is used for flooding and irrigation. As we walked through the terraces, we could see stones, bamboo and even PVC pipes used to direct the water. The rice is typically germinated in a separate area, then, once the fields are flooded, the rice sprouts are transplanted. This is the time when I think the terraces look the most stunning! I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the silvery looking ribbons winding around the hillsides!
Summer arrives and the fields become lush green staircases. The rice paddies continue to be irrigated until harvesting time. In China, when “Golden Week” arrives in early October, the rice paddies have turned to a rich, vibrant gold of their own! This is a very busy tourist time in the villages around the rice terraces. The farmers wait until after Golden Week to harvest their rice.
In the winter, the snow covered rice paddies take on a whole new look. Early spring often brings heavy fog and mist.
Wherever you first enter the Longji Terraces Tourist area, you pay a 100 yuan entrance fee, which is good for 3 days as you travel around the area. Be sure to carry your ticket with you!
If you are short on time, you can join a tour and see the terraces in one day, but personally, I would recommend staying longer, at least overnight. We spent 2 ½ days and I wish we had stayed at least one more. The first morning was clear and sunny, but the second morning was quite foggy. Within five minutes, the view of the terraces from our hotel room would go from crystal clear to being totally engulfed in fog, it created an entirely different atmosphere from the previous day! The clear day was great for pictures, but in person, we really enjoyed watching the fog roll in and out across the terraces and the village.
We stayed in the village of Ping’an, which seems to be a popular choice. Cars do not enter the village, so you are met in the parking area by locals who you can hire to carry your bags to your hotel. The walk to your hotel is all uphill, and while it starts on a road, after about 10 minutes, the road ends and you follow a stone path.
We stayed in a wonderful place called the Baike Hotel, which was still on the road section, only a 5-7 minute walk from the parking area. We had an amazing view of a terraced hillside and the distant mountains. The owner of the hotel, Jason, spoke very good English and was there to handle all of our needs. It is a family run hotel and his wife does the majority of the cooking. I require a special diet and they were careful to make sure I had what I needed. When we did our local tour, Jason’s mother–in-law guided us. It was easy to see why the Baike Hotel is rated #1 in Longsheng County and won the 2015 Travelers Choice Award on Trip Advisor. www.baikehotel.com
If you want lower cost lodging, there are many hotels and hostels farther on in the main village, that can be a 30 minute walk from the parking area. The benefit is that then, when you want to explore, you are already part way up.
There are 2 main viewing points in the Ping’an Rice Terraces to climb to: #1 is called “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” representative of nine ridges or dragons, and five hills or tigers who are said to be guarding the village. #2 is called “Seven Stars with Moon,” there are 8 visible hills and when the center one is filled with water, it looks like the moon surrounded by stars. These are on opposite sides of the hills surrounding Ping’an Village. The #2 viewpoint is the more visited and has many souvenir stands, restaurants, and snack options.
We also stopped here to have my daughter dress up in ethnic costume for a special souvenir photo. Great prices, 10 yuan to dress up, and another 10 if you want them to take a picture. You receive a laminated 5 x 7 photo.
Supposedly, most people visit these viewpoints in 2 hours. We stopped many, many times to take pictures, watch birds, catch frogs and tadpoles, and just to stare at the beauty surrounding us, and it took us 5 hours! If you don’t want to, or can’t physically do the hike, you can hire a couple of men to carry you in a sedan chair.
The residents of Ping’an Village are of the Zhuang and Yao Chinese ethnic minorities. The women still dress in their colorful traditional clothing. The Yao women are known to have the longest hair in the world. They cut it one time when they are 18 years old, then save that hair and add it in with their current hair when they put it up each day. Traditionally, only a woman’s husband and children would see her hair down, but now, taking their hair down has become a tourist attraction. For 10-20 yuan, they will take it down for you. There is even a special “Long Hair” show in the neighboring Huangluo Yao Village.
The village of Dazhai is located within the Jinkeng Rice Terraces. The terraces around Dazhai cover a much larger area than the ones in Ping’an. Many people hike from Ping’an to Dazhai. It takes about 5 hours, and then, if you are staying in Ping’an, you can get a ride back, which takes less than an hour. There are also many guesthouses in Dazhai, which is less touristy than Ping’an, but if you are accustomed to Western food and lodging, you may not be as content there. (Even in Ping’an, you will NOT find burgers or Starbucks!) We opted to hire a roundtrip driver from Ping’an for our visit.
We took the cable car from the Dazhai entrance gate up to the Golden Buddha Summit, which is the #3 Viewpoint in the Dazhai area. It was a 25 minute ride, offering amazing views of the surrounding terraced fields. At the top, there are some small restaurants serving local food. Bamboo cooked rice is very popular. The rice, other varied ingredients and spices, and water are put inside a long piece of bamboo and cooked over a fire, then the bamboo is split and served, and you eat it right from the bamboo. After our lunch of bamboo rice, we walked back down to the village. As you start the walk down, you pass many souvenir stands. The most popular souvenirs are Zhuang embroidery, Yao batik, combs made from oxen horns, Longsheng tea and Longji chili sauce.
It had rained in the morning, so the stone path was wet and I was very thankful to have my trekking poles to assist me! I normally have knee problems when going up or down a large amount of stairs, but with the poles, some “guanjie zhitong gao” Chinese medicine patches on my knees, and taking it slow, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the experience.
Walking down the narrow paths curving around the contours of the terraces was fascinating to me, each new curve we rounded brought a new view to enjoy.
I also enjoyed the bird watching in the rice terraces. Although you could hear birds almost constantly, it was difficult to find them, but, rewarding when you did!
I hope to return in the future to see the terraces at a different time of year.