Located two hours northwest of Guilin in a remarkably scenic region, the county of Longsheng is home to some of the most impressive rice terraces found in China. Built into the hillside by local ethnic tribes and known as the ‘Dragon’s Backbone’, these agricultural features have become natural marvels in their own right. Phil Hammond from our London office was lucky enough to spend a day exploring these rice terraces on our 13 day Fine China tour and shares his experience with us here.
Rising early we depart the city of Guilin and head out past its famous limestone karst hills and towards Longsheng. Climbing through the foothills we arrive at the visitor centre at the bottom of the mountains. We’re given a choice of which terraces we wish to visit. Spread out over such a vast area, it’s impossible to see them all and the region is divided into three main areas open to visitors. We ask which is the biggest of the three and we’re advised by our guide it’s the Longi Fields in Ping’an Zhuang Village. So we head for Ping’an.
After a 45 minute drive up a winding mountain road we arrive at the base of a cable car in a scene more reminiscent of the Alps in summer. It’s hard to believe we’re in Asia. We clamber aboard and start our steep ascent up the mountain. Rising past fields of firs, pampas grass and bamboo our cameras glimpse upon our first rice terrace. It’s only now we get to appreciate the scale of the terraces. Climbing 1,000 metres up the mountain we struggle to view them all from the cable car but fortunately it’s not long before we reach the top and head to the viewing platforms.
From the top we’re given an almost 360 degree view of the mountains and the valley below, all laden with rice terraces as far as the eye can see. The occasional sign advises us of the evocative names of the terraces including the Smiling Buddha and the Flying Phoenix.
After an inordinate amount of photos we decide to get in amongst them. I travelled in November when the terraces had a vivid yellow hue to them. Most had recently been harvested allowing us to enter the terraces for yet more photo opportunities. On our way down the mountain we meander through the terraces and stumble upon farm houses where we’re offered warm drinks and even warmer smiles. Excusing my lack of Mandarin we navigate through the forest of bamboo and find a trail heading back up to the cable car.
As breathtaking as the walk around the terraces is, the climb back up really does take your breath away, if only for the fact it’s a steep walk! There are more photo opportunities before climbing aboard for the cable car back down. For those of you who want a few last photos make sure you’re facing forward on the way down. For those of you that don’t have a head for heights, myself included, I recommend facing backwards.
Invariably your journey to Guilin would’ve included some of China’s sprawling metropolises so the journey to see the rice terraces is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. The mountain air was also very welcome. Irrespective of the time of year you travel the terraces are a spectacular sight. In spring the terraces are full of glistening water, in the summer they are a verdant green and in autumn they are a vivid yellow. If you’re brave enough to go in winter then they’ll be dusted with snow.
Whenever you choose to visit, you’ll need a good pair of walking boots. The stone pathways can be slippery even when it hasn’t been raining.
If you decide to take the cable car up there is plenty of time at the top to explore the area. If you’re not much of a walker there are spectacular views from the platforms. There’s also a cafe where you can relax with a drink and snacks.
One last tip would be to skip eating at the top. Instead stop at one of the restaurants in the villages you’ll pass on the way back to the visitor centre. Here you’ll be able to try a local dish of bamboo chicken. The chicken is cooked in hollowed bamboo over a barbecue and served with what looks like a gravy but is, in fact, a ginger dipping sauce. It’s delicious!
If you want to experience the Longsheng rice terraces for yourself, check out our range of China tours.