Hiking amongst the chinese rice terraces
13.10.2012 - 14.10.2012 22 °C
The Longji Rice terraces, 100km from Guilin were my next destination and after an early start saying goodbye to Katharina, Rodrigo and I headed off for the 3 hour bus to the terraces. You can gather how bad the roads are when it takes 3 hours to do 100km, although 1hr of that is through mountainous terrain. The bus was actually very nerve racking as we had a bus driver on speed who always wanted to overtake, even on blind corners around mountains with only a drop to the river on the other side. He got stuck so many times that at one point people on the bus were yelling at him. But after 3 hours we arrived at the bus station of Dazhai village within the Longji rice terraces. It was great to get off the bus.
The area is a cascade of rice terraces up and down the hillside with a collection of small villages all over it. We were staying in Tiantou which is 40 minutes up and around the hill from the bus park and so we set off, slightly disorientated in search of it. Either i'm really out of shape or the walk was a little on the steep side but no matter what it was beautiful walking along stone paths throughout the area. It was very exciting to find our hostel and stop to take in the stunning sight in front of us.
This area has three main viewing areas to lookout over the terraces and the villages and so after some lunch in the hostel we set off to visit all of them. The area exists now in a harmonious union of tourism and farming. They need to farm for the tourists to come, so their lifestyle is maintained but they also get extra income and support from having tourists visit. We were surprised by the number of hotels and hostels in amongst the area, and I was glad that all of them have maintained a traditional wooden architecture. The walking was great, for 4 hours going up and down and along lots of terraces and at parts through the forest that they haven't cultivated, all the time with interesting and spectacular although foggy views of the area and the farmers working it, either cutting the crop or bunching all the cut crop up. The only blight in the landscape was the cable car that ran to bring tourists up to one of the viewing points, it is a massive overdevelopment and a horrible thing to see.
After our sweaty work of walking around and taking photos we returned to the hostel just before sunset. Even though our room was very basic and the shower was a cold shower over a squat toilet, I was so glad to have a shower! Then with a beer each we sat down to dinner. It was great until I accidently ate the hottest chilli I can remember eating and then had to pick at the rest of the meal. The great part was that we ordered bamboo rice, a local speciality where fried rice is cooked in a stick of bamboo in the fire. It was absolutely delicious, although a little tricky to eat!
The next day was an early start, but I hadn't had a good night sleep, being woken up by roosters at 3am and then struggling to get back to sleep. With bleary eyes we forced ourselves up and had rice noodle soup for breakfast and then set off on a hike. The hike from the Dazhai village area to the Ping'an village area was the main reason I came to see this, after reading about it in the bible of travel - the lonely planet. We had an incline straight away and with my tired heads and slightly stiff body this was probably the hardest of them all to me. The walk climbed up through the forest out of the Dazhai valley and passed into the next Zhonglu valley, an area not set up for tourists staying but instead they just pass through. As with yesterday we followed along the rice terrace contours for quite a while and then climbing up and down through the forest over a hill and into the Zhonglu village. Here the path diverged many ways and we had to rely on gut and asking to constantly keep finding out with path to take and if we were going the right way.
We were passing lots of local men and women carrying rice themselves or on mules and the nice thing was that everyone always said nihao. Othertimes we passed lots of local women acting as guides and carrying all the bags of the tourists in big baskets on their backs. As we climbed out from the valley floor of the village we met two local women at a rest point and here we got to take lots of pictures of and with them. The women of this tribe are extra extraordinary as they have amazing hair. Their hair is exceptionally long, with it going down to their feet, when it gets too long they cut it off and start again. They fold their hair in an amazing way, throwing it over their head, where they comb it straight and then tie it into a pony tail at the top of their forehead where they then join in bunches of their hair that had been cut off when it got to their feet and then all together they comb it and then fold it around their head like a turban, with a big knob onto of their forehead, then they hold a black cloth over it all except for the knob at the front. I had no idea all that was under there. It was so amazing to see, I was speechless.
After all our pictures with them they then did what we were expecting and asked for money for having shown them their hair, I was happy to oblige with a small amount and in also walked away with a handmade coin purse!!
We continued on the second half of our walk, spending most of it walking along a rough dirt and rock path through the forest, up and over the hills connecting the valleys. After almost an hour we hit a massive dirt road in the forest and didn't know if we going the right way, but all turned out and with joy we reached the Ping'an village area! The walk had taken us 2.5hrs including our long stop with the women and it was only 10:30am. Not bad for a morning's walk. The only sad thing was that we had extremely foggy weather and our visability was quite reduced.
We spent the next hour walking around the village, visiting it's viewing points. Ping'an is much smaller than Dazhai but it was lovely as it much greener as not so much of the rice crop had been cut yet. It was nice to see both grown and cut rice terraces. The saddest part of Ping'an to us was the shear number of tourist groups walking up and down to one of the viewing points, it was like a packed shopping alley of traditional items.
We had a bamboo rice lunch at a popular little restaurant before heading off to the parking lot to work out how to get back to Guilin. It turned out to be much easier than expected, with only an hour and half wait before getting a direct and much calmer bus that played Mr Bean movies all the way back to Guilin!
I couldn't wait to get back to guilin and have a shower and some food as tonight I was off on the night train to Hong Kong! China has been really interesting and I'm back here before long, but I'm really excited to get to see Hong Kong!