Southern China and Tibet – Day 3: Longji Rice Terraces

On day 3 of our trip, we headed out to Longshen, to see the famous Longji rice terraces. Built into the mountain slopes of Southern China, Longji (meaning Dragon’s Backbone) terraces have been used for paddy (rice) farming for centuries. In this post, I will tell you about our day trip, and a few things and tips to know if you would like to visit yourself.

0745: It’s an early start from our hotel in Yangshuo as the Longji terraces are 160 km away. Last night’s rain had finally taken effect and the water level in the river had risen up above the small bridge. Just as I was starting to wonder if our car could get to the hotel across the bridge in the current condition, the hotel reception called to say the driver was there, using a back road!

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Overflowing river, next to the hotel in Yangshuo

1000: Drive from Yangshuo to Longji ticket office took about 2.25 hours. You have to stop and buy a ticket here to enter the Longshen scenic area. The ticket costs 80 RMB (~ £10) per person and can be used over 2 days.

The area covered by the ticket has a number of villages. Many people do multi-day hikes from one village to another, but as we were only doing a day trip, we chose to go straight to Ping’an village, which is the largest and most famous of the 3 villages.

Ping’an village is a further 16 km from the ticket office. If you arrive on a coach, you have to disembarked at the ticket office get on to an official yellow coach. The reason for this soon became clear. The next 10 km of the road turned out to be in a terrible state (roadworks to fix this was ongoing). The last 6 km to Ping’an Village was a steep ascent drive on winding roads. It is because of this that only official coaches are allowed on the road to Ping’an.

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Road upto Ping’an

1045: Once at Ping’an, we were welcomed by our local guide, Liao Mei. She was born and grew up in Ping’an and still lives there. Like many other local guides, her day job is farming, but in the tourist season she acts as a guide part-time to supplement her income.

Ping’an has two rice terraces; Seven Stars and Moon and Nine Dragons and Five Tigers.

We first went on the hike to Seven Stars terrace. This is the less busier of the two terraces. It has smaller paths, so not suited to groups and as a result tends to have less tourists.

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Scenery on the way to Seven Stars and Moon viewing point

We walked and climbed up through the fields, stopping for photos. Liao Mei was great and told us some facts about the village life on the way.

  • There are about 800 people living in Ping’an at present.
  • Everyone is related to each other (going back several generations) so they all have the surname Liao.
  • There is no school in the village. Children go to a nearby village for primary school and to a boarding school further away for secondary education.
  • Farming season is from May to September/October. Given the temperate weather with four distinct seasons, they can only farm once a year (so only get a single crop), whereas many other countries that grow rice (like Sri Lanka) are tropical, so can grow 2 crops per year.
  • Everyone is allocated an amount of land from both rice terraces. This is so that if there is bad weather, everyone is equally affected.

After about an hour, we climbed to the viewing point for the Seven Stars and Moon Terrace. Longji terraces are famous for being photogenic in every season. In the spring, the terraces are cleared and filled with water, so it looks like layers of glass on the side of the mountain. In summer, the young shoots are growing, so it’s all green. In autumn, the crop turns golden when ready for the harvest. And in the winter it is white with snow.

Farming hadn’t started when we visited in April, but it had rained so the terraces were filled with water and looked stunning.

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Seven Stars and Moon Terrace from the Viewing Platform

We started to climbed down the and as we did, heard a clip-clop behind us. We turned around found ourselves face to face with a horse!. It was making its way down the stairs, on its own. The owner followed, about 5 minutes later. According to Liao Mei, this is a common occurrence in the village, and the animals know where they are going. Sure enough, we caught up with the horse few minutes later, dutifully waiting outside a shop!

1200: It was time for lunch and Liao Mei took us to one of the hotels with a restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was very comfortable. The food was freshly prepared and delicious.

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Local Hotel/Restaurant
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Lunch!

1300: After lunch, we headed through the village to start the climb to the second terrace; Nine Dragons and Five Tigers.

The village almost entirely consisted of wooden houses. Traditionally, the  ground floor was for livestock and the family lived on the first floor. More recently, the ground floors have been converted to living space, with the livestock being turfed out. There were small chicken coops built in the gardens in some cases, but most of the time, chickens were free roaming.

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Traditional Wooden House

I also finally understood why the in most of the houses we’d seen in China, the first floor overhangs the ground floor. This is so that the rain doesn’t damage the building foundations.

We also came across a house that had been built over an existing stream running through the living space. Again, this apparently is traditional practice; it means you can have a house with running water, but without the need for any plumbing!

We were able to see some local food (rice baked in bamboo) and crafts on the way.

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Rice Baked in Bamboo
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Local Crafts – Handmade Shoes

1345: We had climbed to the top of the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers terrace. From here you can get great views of the Ping’an village and the terraces. And this was a lot busier compared to the Seven Stars terrace. We also discovered that you can get to this terrace on an electric golf buggy from the car park, which is one of the reasons it is popular with larger groups of tourists.

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Nine Dragons and Five Tigers Terrace, with Ping’an Village in the Middle

It also seem very popular with the local tourists to take photos in traditional dress of the local Zhuang people.

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Local tourists taking photos in the traditional village dress

As we climbed back down, we were able to reflect on village life. It is hard-work, and not for the faint-hearted. Growing rice on the terraces is harder compared to farming rice on a flat land. It is hard work to manage the water at the right level, and then you have to climb-up and down a lot to access the terraces. Each plot is quite small, so your return on investment in terms of crops is smaller compared to flat rice fields. It is more profitable to grow vegetables on the terraces as they need less work. As the terraces are on a mountain slope, they are also prone to landslides.

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Rice terraces rebuilt after landslide

1445: Back to the car park. We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Ping’an, although the climbing was hard work. We said goodbye to Liao Mei  and headed back to the hotel.

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Karst mountains on the way back

Tips for visiting Ping’an Village

These are a few tips based on our experience, if you decide to visit Ping’an.

  • Take water. Climbing is thirsty work and there are not many shops to buy water from. There are plenty of streams that come down the mountain and the locals drink the water. But if you don’t want to take that option, better to bring bottled water.
  • Plan to spend about 4 hours at Ping’an if you want to see both terraces and have lunch.
  • I would recommend doing the whole thing on foot as you will get great views of the village and rice terraces at every turn. It is about 2 hours of walking but this is all either up or down hill.
  • If you want to save a bit of time and effort, start by taking  the buggy to the top of the Nine Dragon terrace. From here you can climb down, go through the village and go to Seven Stars terrace.
  • Hire a local guide. They will be able tell you more about village life and answer any questions.
  • Take a pair of good walking shoes. Paths are uneven and can be slippery at times.
  • Visiting the rice terraces are an outdoor activity and best avoided in bad weather. So check the weather forecast before you plan the trip, especially if you are visiting in winter or early spring.

Visiting Longji Terraces: Things to Know

How to Get There

  • Private guided tour is by far the best option for visiting the rice terraces. If using private transport, you can use the motorway to get here. This cuts down journey time by about 30 minutes compared to the non-motorway route.  Although you have to pay a toll, it is worth saving the time, especially if you are doing a day trip. Most hotels and tour companies will be able to arrange the trip at short notice.
  • We arranged our private guided, full-day tour through our hotel in Yangshuo. The tour was 700 RMB (£80) per person, and included private transfer to the village and back from the hotel, entry ticket to the scenic area, local guide and lunch.  I have seen some website that say Yangshuo is too far for a day trip to Longshen, but we did not find this to be the case at all. It was an early start, but we were back at the hotel by 5 p.m.
  • Public transport is not the easiest option for getting here. There are no direct buses from Guilin (the nearest large town) to Longji. You will need to take the express coach from Guilin to Longsheng County Town and then another bus from the town to the Longji terraces area. It takes about 3 hours. Alternatively, there are buses from Guilin to Heping, a village before Longsheng, and then you can take a tourist bus to Ping’an or Dazhai.

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Which village to visit?

Ping’an Village: This is home to the Zhuang minority and is the first rice terrace area in Longsheng to be developed for tourism. The infrastructure is good, and there are good hotels and facilities. But consequently, it is also the most touristy.

Dazhai Village: This village is home to the Red Yao people and have the Jinkeng Terraces. It is further away than Ping’an, so getting there and back takes longer. The rice terraces are much higher and larger than the Ping’an rice fields. Unlike Ping’an there are cable cars to get to the view points, so it is a good option if you have difficulty walking.

It is a popular option to stay in one of the villages and hike to the other (The distance is about 15km). But to do this, you will need to stay in the area for a few days.

Where to stay

We didn’t stay overnight in Ping’an so can’t vouch for the hotels. But the hotels we saw were nice, if a bit rustic. I was told that the accommodation is basic and supply of hot water etc. can be limited. Also a number of the hotels can only be reached by walking. If you have heavy luggage, it can be stored at the entrance of the scenic area. There is also a local porter service, that will carry your luggage to and from the hotel.

And finally:

The rice terraces in Longshen are no doubt one of the most scenic spots China has to offer. It’s not the easiest to get to and requires some effort. But, if you like the great outdoors and walking and hiking, I would highly recommend visit. In addition to the scenery, it will also give you a chance to glimpse rural China with its traditions and customs dating back hundreds of years.

In my next post, read about our journey Chengdu and our hotpot experience!

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