Walking among the Dragon’s Back Bone Rice Terraces

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces

In the mountains to the north of Guilin, a spectacular dragon slumbers. Here rises Longji, a mountain so coiled in rice terraces that it resembles the back bone of a mighty dragon. Every bit of this famed mountain is covered in terraces and the rice field stretches out beyond Longji to the hills surrounding it.

Dragon's Backbone Rice TerracesTo reach the terraces we first had to catch a bus to Guilin from the main Yangshuo bus station, this dropped us off in front of Guilin railway station. From there we took a city bus to the outer, Qintan bus station, this was after we had discovered we couldn’t get a bus to the terraces from the central bus station.

The Qintan bus station was much smarter and we were soon on a bus heading north, we had simply gone up to the counter and asked for tickets to the Dragon’s Backbone/ Longji and were given tickets to HePing where we would then have to change buses. There was a bit of a language barrier, as usual, but our tickets got us where we wanted to go!

An hour and bit later we were told to get off the bus, this was HePing apparently. HePing was a strip of buildings and not much else, we were told to cross the road and catch the minibus that was sat there. It was already crammed with people but we squeezed in. What a bus, there were farmers, young girls, bags, bundles, buckets of goodness only knows what, minority women in costume and the odd Chinese tourist, and us four stood, trying to keep our balance, in the middle of it all.The female bus conductor was venomous, screaming at one particular man for what we couldn’t deduce.

The bus bumbled up the winding road, higher and higher we climbed, terraces began to appear cut into the hillsides and rocky gorges dropped below the road down to rushing rivers and streams. Eavesdropping over his shoulder, Sophie and I watched a young Chinese backpacker show a local girl the photos he had taken in Yangshuo on his phone, he’d done way more than we had!

The mini bus dropped everyone off in a large carpark after pulling over for all the tourists to buy the National Park entry fee. We were now in possession of a large, attractive ticket. All of a sudden we were besieged by the local tribal women wanting to carry our bags, when they saw we had backpacks they moved on to the other tourists.

A wide path leads from the carpark to the villages, and here is why you need to leave your luggage back in Guilin or Yangshuo: you have to trek up to your accommodation. You could of course give your luggage to a minority lady to cart up there in the basket strapped to her back but we opted for a simple change of underwear, and our toothbrushes, in a day pack.

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces

It is a fairly flat walk to the first village, gorgeous wooden lodges spanned the lower valley aside a babbling stream. We had booked accommodation at the Dazhai Jinkeng International Youth Hostel but the instructions to find it were sparse to say the least.

The path continues up to Ping’an where three paths fan out from here to the upper villages. We asked at the Youth Hostel here for directions but got a mute answer. It took three attempts to find the right village, but hey, at least the hike was scenic!

amusing Chinglish signs

amusing Chinglish signs

Being late December, the rice terraces weren’t that photogenic, it was absolutely the off-season up here. They were brown, not flooded, and many had been burnt back, the smoke creating a haze over the valleys. The ingenuity and grandeur of the scene was not lost on us though, the sheer human effort of reshaping the land on these hillsides is remarkable and even in their autumnal hues the terraces have an incomparable drama and majesty.

The paths linking the villages seem to be numbered, there are {occasional} signs marked #1, #2 and #3, however I think these were to the three main viewpoints rather than being trails. We had been given these numbers in the instructions for find the hostel but they proved useless.

Eventually we reached the Dazhai Jinkeng International Youth Hostel, perched on the edge of TianTouZhai village, it would be much easier to follow signs for TianTouZhai, to ask for the village and forget the numbers. I think it would have taken about 45 minutes had we hiked directly to it from the carpark.

Dragon's Backbone Rice TerracesThe hostel has great views, a pleasant, if very chilly, common area and friendly staff. We had booked into a six bed dorm and we had to ask for extra blankets as it was so cold. There wasn’t much in the way of food in the village at this time of year so we ate in the hostel, the veggie noodles were delicious.

We spent the evening playing cards by torchlight in the dorm, huddled under our blankets. I slept in my thermals, and under all the heavy bedding I was super-toasty and slept like a dream.

Noodles again for breakfast, after that we checked out then the four of us went for a hike to one of the other scenic view points further along the hillside. The trail took us out of the village and four little dogs joined us for our walk, they were super friendly and very cute. They tumbled and fought all the way, just happy to be in our presence.

Out beyond TianTouZhai the terraces seem to stretch on miles, from this privileged viewpoint the terraces coil snake-like around the hills, like giant steps down to the valley below. You are walking along the spine of a mighty slumbering dragon, it is truly breathtaking. Interestingly, each rice patch is roughly the same size and is made to fit the contours of the hillside.

For the first time in China, we were alone, just us and the dogs. No one to hound us, no one trying to sell us something, no tourists wanting to take our photo, no tourists at all, it was bliss. The sun came out and bathed the view in warm light.

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces

We walked back to the TianTouZhai and the dogs disappeared back amongst the houses without even a goodbye and we continued down to the village at the bottom. Here we had time to kill, we had booked a ‘tourist’ bus back to Guilin through the hostel but it didn’t leave for a while. There were a few shops open for passing trade and we bought some food, the owner even bought some chairs out for us so we could sit and eat it right there.



During our hikes through the villages we had seen quite a few of the local Yao minority women going about their daily chores, and it was down in the carpark that I had a better look at their wonderful clothing. Most noticeable is their headwear, they don’t cut their hair so it is wrapped around their heads and held in place with a headpiece.

When one lady came over to try to sell us some bracelets I was able to see that she was wearing a black skirt with fine, crisp pleats, swinging like a kilt. Her black waistcoat was trimmed with red embroidered tape and she was adorned with large earrings and silver jewellery. In contrast to the traditional dress, all the ladies were wearing trainers, which looked awesome!

The tourist bus whisked us back to Guilin a lot faster than the local transport we’d taken up to the terraces, dropping us off at the railway station. Another bus from the bus station just along the street took us back to Yangshuo where we reclaimed our luggage and settled back into the Greenforest Hostel to see in the new year.

Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces
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4 Responses

  1. Absolutely stunning. So jealous. Longji is just beautiful and I love the comparison of the mountains to a dragons back bone. Thank you for sharing your photos. The dogs are very cute too. Emma xx

    • The dogs were just so adorable, they must have been waiting for some hikers to pass so they could go for a walk!
      The Chinese name Longji translates as Dragon’s Backbone, I just love their poetic names for places.
      Thanks for popping by!

  2. Dave Rowley says:

    Lovely post! Great writing as usual and love your photos. Once again I can see how traveling in winter lets you get away from tourist crowds in places that are probably very touristy in high season. It must have felt great wandering the Dragon’s Back Bone by yourselves!

    • Cheers Dave! I live on ‘slack seasons’ (as the Chinese called it), places aren’t at their very best but have a charm without all the masses distracting from in. It’s bliss exploring alone 🙂