One of the places I miss the most during the pandemic is the Dragon Back rice terraces of the Longsheng district in the Guangxi autonomous region in China. Set amongst the backdrop of the minority villages of Yao and Zhuang people.
The swirly and intricate patterns of the fields are alluring all year round, even though I have to admit to not yet seeing the fields covered in snow. When I work for the tour company TEMA, the stay here is always considered a highlight on any tour, no matter spring, summer or autumn.
The mountain range looks like the backbone of the dragon and the rice paddies are the dragon’s scale. The Yao and the Zhuang people built these terraces over 600 years ago, at times in conflict, when they moved higher up in the mountains. If you couldn’t grow your rice in the lowlands, then you had to do it in the highlands.
With the new highway from Guilin airport, it takes just around 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive to the main parking where you have to change to a local shuttle bus to start a climb up the mountain to different popular scenic spots and villages. For the village of Ping An, you ride the local shuttle on a curvy and twisty road for roughly 40 minutes until you reach the point where you start walking. There is no lack of vendors selling smoked pork, local tea, all kinds of cheap souvenirs and handicraft on your walk-up. Chickens and ducks crisscrossing the street while you can look out on a view where clouds touch the fields that stretches from the river up to roughly 1000 meters above sea level. It is such a pleasant contrast to arrive here after visiting mega-cities like Beijing and Xian. The rice fields are a feast for the eye when it is near harvesting time in September and October, then it feels like a sea of yellow kowtowing to its visitors.
It is a time of the year when the weather is often sunny and temperatures a bit cooler. But the soft green colours of summer gives the feeling of a never-ending green carpet, and the dramatic tropical rainfalls create a spectacle of cloudporn and mist. For some people, the early spring when the fields are filled up with water is when they mirror the sky and the rice itself is not the dominant player. Before the rice is planted you can see how locals harvest frogs in the water, and alternative crops are grown here such as cabbage and you also see passion fruit vines on the fields.
The people of the mountains; Zhuang and Yao
They are the largest ethnic minority of China, mainly occupying the Zhuang Autonomous Region of Guangxi and parts of the Yunnan province. They numbered some 16 -18 million in the early 21st century. The Zhuang speak dialects related to the Tai language. They are distant cousins to the Thais in Thailand and have been pushed southwards when meeting with the Han Chinese historically.
The Zhuang are very well integrated and mixed with Han Chinese in the cities nowadays. But in the countryside, you can see their distinct clothes and culture more in detail. The Zhuang didn’t have a written own language so the government helped them to get a kind of Latinized alphabet in the 1950s.
The group of Yao people that inhibits the mountains and other parts of South China are roughly 3 million today. The Red Yao women that live in Longji are famous for their long silky hair. Some of them with hair that is almost 2 meters long. They claim to have healthy diets and wash their hair with a special shampoo made out of rice and water. Unmarried women stick their hair into a headscarf; married women have a wrapped-up style with a large bun at the front.
Accommodation in Ping An
The first years we stayed at the old building of the Ping An hotel which was decent. But since the upgrade a few years ago we stay at the new building with its amazing views and fragrant smell from the wooden structure.
These hotels lack nothing really, great home-style cooking in the restaurant and an amazing supply of Belgian beers!! Yes, you heard it right. And another thing, having a cocktail in the bar you don’t have to worry that they don’t provide enough alcohol in the drinks.
Do expect some shortages of water, electricity on occasions and winter and early spring can be cold up here in the wet and humid climate. Ping An Grand hotel is popular. There are plenty of choices of hotels and guest houses though. From Ping An Grand Hotel it is easy to reach the two most popular viewpoints, the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers and Seven Stars around the Moon.
The area of 56 km2 consists of Dazhai/Jinkeng which are a lot of small villages with walking paths between them. Great scenery and a cable car. A bit less commercialized than Ping An. Ping An has also stunning views and more life in the village. Neither of these places will disappoint you.
People in Guangxi are famous for eating everything on four legs. You might find dogmeat, snake and bamboo rats on the menu. However, you don’t have to eat that. There is a culinary tradition with sour and a bit spicy here. In the village, excellent chilli oil is produced. But try the mouthwatering eggplant, varieties of taro, small pieces of salty tofu, or why not try beer fish Longji Bamboo rice, and Guilin style fried noodles.
The price to enter the area was 80 yuan the last time I visited. This price covers the whole area.