The second half of my day-trip from Guilin included seeing the famous Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. After visiting the Huanglao Yao Minority Village in the morning, we took another smaller bus up the hill and then walked past some souvenir stalls to get up to a little village called Ping'an.
The highlight of the village is the chance to see the feat of farm engineering called the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. Farmers, apparently, started constructing these terraces, which wrap around the steep hillside like never-ending ribbons, as early as 1271. They cover an area of 66 square kilometres (about 16308 acres) and span an altitude of between 300 and 1100 metres. It is said, 'Where there is soil, there is a terrace', be it in the valley, with swift flowing rivers or to the mountains summit with its swirling cloud cover, or from bordering verdant forest to the cliff walls. Even though the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces cover a large area, it is made up of numerous small patches of land that are no more than 1 mu (a traditional unit of area in China, currently call shimu - about 0.16 acres). The outline is very smooth with gradients between 26 degrees and 35 degrees.
Ping'an is probably the most famous and, therefore, most touristy village in the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces region. Ping'an is wonderful as it features some more beautiful wooden houses that are perched on the slopes and which can only be accessed by winding tracks as it's too steep for roads and vehicles. The village has some nice looking places to stay, plus internet, electricity and phones. This has all been provided by the government for tourism but you wonder where it will all stop. More photos can be found in my travelogues.
Huanglao Yao Minority Village is located in Longsheng County, about 93km (56 miles) north-west of Guilin near the famous Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. The village is home to the Yao ethnic minority, one of China's 56 minority people. I came here on a day tour from Guilin that I organised through where I was staying at the Backstreet Youth Hostel, which cost RMB160.
The Yao women are very famous for having incredibly long hair which can measure up to 2.1m in length. Reason for it to be so long is that they only have their hair cut twice throughout their lives - once when they turn 18 and once again when they get married which is when they finally reveal it to the public, which you'll get to see. The women put on a little half-hour long show of singing and dancing for the tourists in one of the old wooden buildings that looks like it could be some sort of communal hall. At the end they have a little dance with some of the tourists and another custom is to hit (rather hard) the backsides of men to say that they like them. So, guys, expect some to be directed at you!
The village trip is the first part of the day trip before you're then taken up the nearby hill to the village of Ping'an and the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces.
While Ping'An is by no means off the beaten path in China, assessed by the souvenir vendors and touts that reach the level of harassment, it's still not a hugely popular destination in the winter. If you're in China and want to see rice terraces, there are plenty to see around here. They are not pristine, you are not alone. They have largely been turned, especially in Ping'An, into a tourist site, even though they are still cultivated. You may not find hordes of Hans gallavanting up and down them, but by the insistence of the locals on their hotels and you getting a photo of them with their hair down (I'll talk about Yao women in the Local Customs section), they are used to tourists and, sadly, rely on the tourist dollar.
Regardless, if you can shake the Yao women, follow the paths in town to wherever they go. There are signs that point you uphill to two scenic areas, and along the way are great views, some of which offer you the opportunity to have your photo taken with a local girl in traditional dress. The views of the terraces and the valley can be great if it's not cloudy, and you can walk to two other villages, Zhonglu and Dazhai (look for the bathroom in the crook of the hill, and follow the sign. It takes a bit of navigating as the trail isn't always clear, but it's a nice walk through valleys and paddies and a heck of a lot of patience with the Zhonglu touts. Best of luck there. Maybe it was just the low season when we went, but anyway...
If you want pristine, no hassle rice terraces, I suggest the Hmong's region of Lao Cai, at the northern border of Vietnam. Just don't pay them for pictures and screw up their lifestyles. (At least, when I was there, I don't think that there were too many tourists, just a few travelers. I may be wrong.)
When you are high up either in Dazhai or PingAn - look beyond - you might find a beautiful sight of "interlocking hills". Well, I assure you the scene in sight is more beautiful than what the camera can capture!
We did not stay in PingAn but did a hike from Dazhai to PingAn which is 4hours one way. PingAn is on slightly down south of Dazhai. It is a village with a cluster of shops, houses and lodges in a valley. PingAn has its own "Seven Stars and Moon", "Nine Dragons and Five Tigers" and other fanciful names rice terraces. Most of the tourists will be based here. It is more convenient & centralised than Dazhai. I would say that it is more of a happening place than the quiet, secluded Dazhai.
Lots of cafes, pubs and eateries are found here. Lots of stalls and shops for handicrafts and souveniers.
Well, if you like "happenings" - this is the place to be....
See more pics on PingAn attached
For more views of rice terraces in PingAn, see Travelogue on " PingAn's Rice Terraces"
Well, you main purpose of coming here is to see the rice terrraces....you got it....all around you! Dazhai is part of the famous Longi Titian (means Dragon's Backbone Rice Terrraces), the other being in PingAn, slightly down south (together with some of the other smaller villages). It is said that the higest terrace is of 1180m high and the lowest is about 380m. Both in Dazhai and PingAn, you will be able to see some of the most spectacular views of these rice terraces - but like i have said, Dazhai has a better atmosphere - less touristy and so you get to "secretly" breathe in and admire .......
Besides the "Seven Stars and Moon" rice terraces, there are 3 other vantage points to view the rice terraces. There are termed as Vantage Points 1, 2 and 3. If you are not an "expert" in rice terraces, well, they might as well be the same for all the three points. You can just feel the same "awesomeness" for the 3 views that you see.
Rice terraces are terraces formed by cutting "steps" along the contours of hills and does making the hills into cones with staggered little, little steps. Previously, bamboo tubes were used to direct water from falls and rivers/streams to irrigate the rice fields but now with modern technology and so said our guide, Mrs Pan, the government has build a dam/reservoir to irrigate fields via pipes. The Longi Titian is about 700years old, said to be much older than those in Bananue, Philippines. I find them to be more extensive and higher as compared to Bananue's.
See more pics attached...well don't ask me which Viewpoint is it...i am really not an expert on rice terraces to notice the difference, except maybe the "Seven Stars and Moon"which is quite distinct as there are 7 clusters of hills with the so called "moon" within.....
See Travelogue on "Dazhai's Rice Terraces" for more angles of rice terraces
Most travelers will give this a pass as they will be looking for the Longi Titian instead. Visitors from other parts of China's provinces might drop by for a "dip". Did not visit this place but saw a pic on how it looks like and thus would like to share with you if you are interested to go...
Our destination was 20 kms over several valleys to the village of Ping’an from Dazhai. As we ascended to a viewpoint before dropping down into the next valley the sun peeked through the clouds and the water flooded terraces reflected the light in ribbons of silver and gold. We left the terraces with a local guide named Ting by following a small non-descript trail through the forest of pine and bamboo. After 30 minutes of walking through pine forest we entered another valley that was also completely terraced to the horizon. Along the way we noticed tombs in the side of the hills decorated with ribbons and offerings. Ting explained to us that there was a recent celebration for the ancestors of the village. The stunning landscape of terraces, earthen water works, covered bridges, quaint villages, and stone paths continued through to the village of Zhonglui and then to our final stop of Ping’an. Ting explained to us that each family has their own fields that are handed down from one generation to the next. They grow their own rice and harvest it once a year. The fields are now being plowed to remove grasses and wildflowers that grow during the fallow period. The fields are flooded in June and the rice planted. This must be a spectacular site. In autumn, the deep green of the rice turns golden and the rice is harvested. The winter drapes snow and ice across the valley, which must also be a beautiful sight.
If you can do a little hiking this is one of China's best. Ask the guesthouses in Ping'an or Dazhai if there are any locals that can act as a guide. We got a little lucky but a university student from the village asked us if we wanted a guide. We gave her $20 for a full day guide for two people.
The terraces are cut along contours of the land and run all the way up a series of 800 m (2600 ft) peaks making the entire landscape look like a three-dimensional topographical map. Waterfalls are abundant across the terraces and create a magnificent chorus. More importantly, the water gives life to land and the people who till it. Water is cleverly diverted by earthen canals and by suspended bamboo aqueduct bridges that even span gaps across large mounds. Quaint covered bridges cross larger streams and stone paved pathways criss-cross the entire complex linking the villages and terraces in a vast network. The amount of labor required to clear the mountains of forest, cut the terraces in the earth, divert the water, build the villages, and pave the pathways must have been staggering. The Zhuong and Yao people who built these marvels of farm engineering immigrated from the north of China 700 years ago possibly as a result of the Mongol rule under Kublai Khan. These people are still here growing rice and living a traditional life. Besides what little they may get from the tourist trade, life here is still hard. Even now in the 21st century, the only means of building, repairing, and planting rice in these terraces is by hand or by use of the water buffalo or pony. In our village of Dahzai, there is a population of 3000 people. Each family, consisting of seven to eight, has their own three-story long house. The houses are tiered with each story slightly larger, which takes up less land giving them more room to grow rice and is pleasing to the eye. The first floor is for the livestock; chickens, pigs, and ponies. The second floor is the sleeping quarters for the family, and the third floor is for cooking and tends to be open on the sides. The villages are charming to behold snuggled up along the terraced mountains . The people compliment the beauty of the land with there colorful dress and long hair.
The village of Yao people. Very poor (ie no money) but they practise subsistence farming so nobody starves. Quite self-sufficient in a way.
The Yaos women keep very long black silky hair. We visited their house, watched them cook, and ate our lunch, and engaged them in conversation. Was told their hair doesn't turn grey until the age of 70. How do they do that? I forgot to ask.
Grab your camera, a bottle of water and start exploring!
Best of all is to wake up before sunrise, and climb to View point 1 (which is only 5 minutes away if you stay in LanYueGe, where I stayed).
It's most amazing to see the entire valley turn hazy with smoke as the households start the day with cooking breakfast in the kitchens.
Dazhai is located in the area known as the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. It's far less visited than the increasingly busy Ping'an and getting there can be rather difficult...The walk is very interesting though and worth the extra effort.
Walking up and down the rice terraces is fun. There are several official view points you can follow. Or just get lost in the fields, and ask any locals to point you back to the village (you have to know the name of the place) you came from.
The village of Huanglao, itself, is very small and consists of some beautiful wooden houses that line the banks of the Xun River in a steep valley. More photos can be found in one of my travelogues.