Built 500 years ago during the Ming dynasty, the Longji rice terraces, located in Longsheng county 2 hrs. from Guilin, are a masterful as well as beautiful testament to human ingenuity. Carved into the sides of steep, fertile hills, these narrow, miniature rice fields appear from above like glistening scales covering some gigantic ancient beast, hence the name “Longji,” Dragon’s Ridge.” A trip to this region provides unforgettable hiking opportunities as well as authentic cultural encounters.
Every season offers a unique perspective of the fields. In spring, the terraced fields are full of rainwater sparkling in the sun. Summer brings a lush verdure to the fields; the autumn harvest looks out upon a landscape of bronze and gold, while in winter the steep hills are accented by sheets of glimmering snow and ice.
Begin your visit in the Zhuang minority village of Ping An. Despite a strong tourist element, this village still retains its charmingly unique character. Crazily-constructed wooden stilt buildings ascend hillsides too steep for rice cultivation. Narrow, winding cobblestone streets take you past idyllic scenes of village life: chickens foraging in kitchen gardens, colorfully-dressed locals chatting in doorways.
There are a number of trails leading from Ping An to the summit of the hillside, from where you can look down upon the spectacular arrangement of the rice fields. The two main viewing points are fancifully called “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” and “Seven Stars with Moon.” Both of these are well-marked and circle back to the village in a trek that takes about 1.5 hours.
A more intensive but definitely rewarding hike is the three hour hike between Ping An and the less-touristy Yao village of Dazhai. Trekking through the rugged terrain, you’ll come across numerous vantage points opening out onto gorgeous vistas of meandering terraces and bucolic country scenes. Stop by one of the villages along the way to sample the local cuisine. A simple but tasty traditional fare consists of rice, vegetables, meat and spices stuffed into a hollowed bamboo core, then sealed and cooked over a fire.
On the way, you’re likely to encounter some of the friendliness and hospitality particular to this region. Look out for Yao women at work in the rice fields, plowing with horses and oxen. You’ll recognize them by their black and pink embroidered jackets, black turbans, and the baskets of tools on their backs. Young Yao ladies take great pride in displaying their rich and terrifically long hair which can be up to 6 feet in length! For the price of RMD 10-20 they will happily show it off and pose for photos.
Once in Dazhai, take some time to admire the two-story wooden farmhouses and stone steps leading to country roads. If you spend the night, it’s definitely worth your while to wake up with the rising sun. The view of the village shrouded in the early morning mist drifting up from the valley is truly unforgettable.