Day 6: Longsheng
This morning we got up early, had a quick breakfast, and met our taxi driver at 8:30 AM for the trip to the Longsheng Longji Rice Terraces. It was a long drive, almost 3-1/2 hours, but the sun was out, the roads were clear and soon we were zooming up an empty expressway, listening to Michael Jackson and enjoying the views.
After a couple of hours we stopped at Liu Sanjie Tea Farm, a neatly groomed orchard with hills of tea leaves growing everywhere. We had a nice tour of the grounds, including big rock pools or “tea spas”, and our guide showed us the many kinds of tea they grew and how it was dried and finished. A tea tasting was next, and we sampled oolong, jasmine, and black teas prepared in a neat “ceremony” that involved washing first the cups and then the leaves. The teas were fantastic but too expensive, so we thanked the girls for the tasting and tour and were on our way.
Driving on, we eventually turned onto a winding, narrower road up through the mountains. The scenery kept getting better as we ascended, and soon we arrived at the base of the terraces where we paid a small entrance fee and got maps of the area. Our destination was another 30 miles further up the mountain via a series of switchbacks and blind curves, but with the help of her blaring horn and expert stick-shift skills, our driver got us there in one piece. 🙂 She initially asked us to meet her back at the car around 4 PM, but after we attempted to ask her a question about the map she motioned as to ask “Do you mind if I come along?”, and we happily accepted. We hadn’t hired an English-speaking guide for this trip, and while she didn’t speak English, our driver became our hiking companion.
We were in Ping’an, a small village built on Dragon Back Hill, the home of the Zhuang people, and the main sightseeing area for the Longji Terraces. A stone pathway led us through the village, where we said hello to people cooking, sewing, and carving wood. The houses were simple two-story wooden structures that looked a little like Swiss mountain chalets, and they were built in stacks and layers up into the mountainside. Dogs, cats, ducks, and chickens wandered around, all seemingly oblivious to the steady stream of tourists.
We stopped for lunch at the Countryside Cafe where we had pork fried rice, spring rolls, and a bamboo stirfry that our driver ordered and graciously shared with us. The bamboo was sliced thinly and mixed with veggies and bacon; it was amazingly tasty. We chatted with each other as best we could, learning our driver lived in Yangshuo, and we drew maps on napkins to show her Chicago. She taught us the Chinese names for everything in the stirfry and we taught her the English ones. It was great fun and definitely something we would have missed had we gone it alone.
Lunch over, we headed to the first of two major lookout points of the terraces. To really see them, we climbed to the top of Ping’an village where the terraces blanketed the other side of the mountain. The three of us climbed hundreds of steps, peeking into villagers’ homes and occasionally catching glimpses of the terraces. Eventually we were high enough to overlook the village and see the full extent of the terraces.
We climbed and climbed, the narrow staircases cutting through lush vegetation and at times offering not much view other than what was right in front of us. Just when we thought we’d gotten to the top, we would turn a corner and find more stairs snaking higher yet. There was no one else around, and it gave the whole journey a cool aura of solitude.
The Dragon Back Rice Terraces cover almost 16,000 acres and are built to fit the shapes of the hills. They are entirely the creation of the Zhuang people, and we would occasionally see some of them in the paddies, hoeing and planting rice seedlings. In late spring, the terraces are flooded with water, giving them a silvery, reflective appearance. Our visit was too early to see them totally flooded, but we were able to see some filled areas. By summer, they’re lush and green, and in autumn everything turns gold.
When we finally reached the top, the terraces stretched as far as we could see. Words won’t do this area justice; pictures are better…
We kept walking along the tops of the terraces toward the second major lookout point, beginning to see more tourists and the occasional elderly village lady selling postcards and hand-sewn crafts. When we got there, there were shops, restaurants, and opportunities to have a picture taken with girls in their local dress. After taking more pictures, we began the descent back down into the village.
Before leaving, we stopped to buy a bag of snacks best described as Butterfingers with nuts and sesame seeds instead of peanut butter. Two guys with enormous mallets repeatedly slammed them into a large round of the confection, and when it reached the right texture, it was cut into pieces and bagged up for sale. We were back in the car by 3:30, tired but ecstatic over our choice to come to the terraces. Having our driver along was a great bonus; she was very familiar with the area, patiently waited for us to take pictures, and pointed out bamboo trees and other plants along the way.
The drive back to Yangshuo was uneventful until about halfway through, when traffic slowed and then stopped completely. Unable to see what was happening, our driver turned the car off and offered us a plethora of snacks, including packets of pickled chili vegetables, cookies, and some sort of soybean pastry. We offered her our trail mix and apples. 🙂 People began pulling their cars up as far as they could, inching along the shoulder or straddling the line, eventually just getting out to go investigate. Occasionally a car coming from the other direction would inch through, horn blaring at the cars in its way.
After fifteen minutes traffic began moving, and we discovered that the road ahead was only one lane. Our direction had been stopped for a while, and now a policeman was holding up the traffic in the other direction. After this, the roads were clear and we drove on to the hotel.
A word on Chinese driving: there do not appear to be many rules, if any. The median is a simply a suggestion and the car horn is used more often than the turn signal. The way of the road seems to be this: pass as much as possible, even if it means driving headlong toward an oncoming car before you swerve back into your lane at the last possible second, or if there’s no time to merge, straddle the divider until there is, all while avoiding the ever-present scooters and pedestrians and blaring your horn. Everyone drives this way, and they co-exist rather peacefully in this crazy chaotic traffic dance. We have seen no accidents and generally feel safe in cars, though a few of our driver’s passing attempts were a little close for comfort.
That being said, we arrived safely back at the hotel around 7 PM, thanked our driver for an great day, and went for dinner. We tried the famous local dish of beer fish, which was catfish or carp sauteed with vegetables and served in a beery soy sauce. Delicious!
What a day — no rain and a trip to one of the most amazing places either of us has ever been. The Longji rice terraces are definitely a must-see place for anyone visiting Yangshuo.