Asia has a few areas with impressive rice terraces. Several of them are in China.
The Longji “Dragon’s Back” rice terraces near Longsheng are one of Guangxi’s great draws, alongside the karst landscape of Guilin and Yangshuo.
They are among the most diverse and impressive of these beautiful landscapes.
- Location and Parts of the Longji Rice Terraces
- Visiting the Longji Rice Terraces in October
Such terraced rice fields are among the greatest, most fascinating, examples of the ways in which history and landscape, human labor and natural conditions, can interact.
They are also among the greatest examples of satisfying, beautiful – and ecologically functioning – cultural landscapes.
Location and Parts of the Longji Rice Terraces
Located in the Longsheng “Various Nationalities Autonomous Region” near Longsheng county, the area is home to different ethnic groups (with somewhat different traditions).
As they have lived in different parts of the area, there are names for different parts – and for all of them together.
One often hears of the whole area as the Longji Rice Terraces (龙脊梯田, Longji Titian, “Dragon’s Backbone Terraced Fields”) or Longsheng Rice Terraces.
The different areas of terraced fields here are the
- Longji Ancient Zhuang Terraced Fields
- Ping’an Rice Terraces (平安梯田 Ping’an Titian) and
- Jinkeng Dazhai Rice Terraces (金坑大寨梯田 Jinkeng Dazhai Titian)
The Longji Ancient Zhuang Terraced Fields and the Ping’an rice terraces surround Longji village and Ping’an village. They are inhabited and were created by the Zhuang people.
The Jinkeng rice terraces’ main villages are Dazhai and Tiantouzhai (and there is the “new village” Xinzhai); they are inhabited by the Red Yao peoples.
At all (or certainly, Ping’an and Jinkeng), there are also famous viewpoints with their own names.
The Ping’an Rice Terraces’ most famous viewpoints are
- Jiulong Wuhu, 九龙五虎, “Nine Dragons (and) Five Tigers,” and
- Seven Stars around the Moon (七星伴月)
At the Jinkeng Rice Terraces around Dazhai village, there is
- Xishan Shao Le 西山韶乐 “West Hill Music”
- Qianceng Tianti (千层天梯) “Thousand-Layers Terraces”, and
- Jinfodeng 金佛顶 “Golden Buddha Peak”
Construction of the terraced fields that became known collectively as the Longji rice terraces began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).
Probably, as usual, it began with ethnic minority peoples forced into these hard mountain environments.
They built several small villages here, in different parts of the mountain range, and constructed the terraced fields to grow rice and vegetables.
From a backwards area where the living is hard, they have developed into a major tourist destination; from a necessity to eke out a living, the terraced fields have developed into a cultural-natural wonder.
Walking up and down the paths through the rice fields, it is easy to understand why locals gladly use the chances that tourism brings them. What is hard to understand is how anyone ever managed to build those terraces in the first place. That was some work…!
In fact, apparently, this has long been recognized.
I have stumbled across histories of Dazhai according to which it had already been a popular spot for visitors of a rather different background than tourists these days:
Communist Party representatives, back in Mao’s days, visited Dazhai. For them, the village was used – and they used it – as an example of the glorious accomplishments possible with commoner’s hard work. They could change entire mountainsides!
Ping’an village, with the Ping’an rice terraces around it, was the first to be developed for tourism.
When I went here in 2009, I think we went to Longji village and we definitely went to Ping’an village and the Jiulong Wuhu viewpoint.
Therefore, Ping’an is the easiest to reach, but also sees a lot of visitors.
The area of the Jinkeng rice terraces is the farthest from the entrance, but has been heavily developed for tourism in recent years. It also has the rather more impressive views; most photos one now sees of the Longji rice terraces are taken here.
One of the peculiar tidbits to observe is the way that cooking and crafts can now be found.
The cooking available here is nice. It’s rural Chinese cooking as available most places, with a bit of a local flavor.
When I first came here in 2009, however, the bamboo rice (which is cooked inside a bamboo tube) was still available in its more traditional version: With a field mouse cooked inside for meat.
Now, it’s bamboo rice chicken you can get.
Traditional costumes can also be found on the locals, and in various places, you can watch local women doing their weaving. “Handicrafts” are on offer.
The bamboo looms look locally-made; the technique and the patterns are traditional (or thus inspired).
The shiny colors of the threads are not a local fiber, they are artificially dyed (and cotton, at best); the stitching is clearly machine-made.
I’m not judging it; I think that it all looks nice and is worth it for a little souvenir. But of course, there is some development from a lived-in (and mind you, hard to live in!) landscape to a tourism theme park in progress.
Visiting the Longji Rice Terraces in October
Talking of a theme park-like character: What I had hoped would be correct was indeed the case. In this area, they harvest the rice after the October “Golden Week” holiday, so as to satisfy the tourists.
It gets a bit late for the harvest; the rice is truly golden and bursting full at that time – but I can’t complain. It makes for a beautiful view over the terraced fields.
Jinkeng Red Yao Rice Terraces
Even just strolling along the paths leisurely to take in views is exhausting.
Actually, because of that, there is the chair lift going up from Dazhai village to the JinFoDing “Golden Buddha Peak” 金佛顶 view point – which may have been why there were fewer people in the village and on the other paths.
Day trippers only drove to the parking spot, then went to the chair lift up, and down again.
That is certainly mass tourism bordering on overtourism, but well, China is a country of a large population. Tourist spots simply mean lots of people.
There are still lots of trails through the terraces, between the settlements, connecting the three famous viewing platforms there, and on to the rest of the area.
In parts of these trails and fields, one can disappear and enjoy some (relative) solitude.
Where I Went
JinFoDing (Golden Buddha Peak) Views
The chairlift only operates during limited daytime hours, which makes JinFoDing itself a relatively solitary place before sunrise.
Sunrise over the Longji rice terraces is a major draw, so if you come early, like I did, you can wait for the sunrise and watch the people becoming more and more (and still not all that many).
Frankly, the sunrise does not make much of a difference for the view of the fields; the scene just becomes brighter and brighter.
How the sun becomes visible and then rises over the mountains to the east, to one’s left when looking down the valley, is very nice, anyway.
Qianceng Tianti Views
Another path that should not be underestimated goes up past Tiantouzhai to the viewing spot called Qianceng Tianti (千层天梯) “Thousand-Layers Terraces”
The way that the terraces had to step down quickly to fit into the steep slope is impressive and makes it obvious why it would be called tianti, which actually doesn’t mean “terrace” but “ladder.”
Going there around sunset was not exactly very sensible since the view is towards the east – sunrise, not sunset. Going down afterwards, the night got pretty dark, so it was good I had a headlamp with me.
Tiantouzhai village is also popular for tourist stays – just be aware that you first have to get there before you can relax if you stay in a ho(s)tel there!
Before sunset, the views were nice…
And the views from the drone shown earlier are also from here.
There would also be the (highest-up) viewing spot Xishan Shaole, West Hills Music, but I did not have the time to make it there.
Hiking from Dazhai to Ping’an
I could not resist – full backpack, outlook to potential issues getting back, and all – to go hiking across the Longji rice terraces, taking the trail from Dazhai to Ping’an.
It was exhausting, but interesting.
At that time of the year, the path went past more, already-harvested fields. Some fields here look to have been abandoned. There are passages through forest.
The path strangely goes through Zhong Liu village, up on the mountain slope from a road, then meandering past some houses.
And then, it leads to an impression of the other major area, the Ping’an Rice Terraces.
Ping’an Rice Terraces View
The top (metaphorical and literal) viewing area of the Ping’an Rice Terraces is the “Nine Dragons and Five Tigers” (九龙五虎, Jiu Long Wu Hu).
Turned out, this was where I had gone on an earlier visit to the Longji rice terraces, years ago (with no idea of where I was going exactly). It was already getting commercialized then, but I could hardly reconcile my memories of it with the scene now.
The fields are still terraces, the paths still steep, but lots of tourist infrastructure has been built in the meantime.
It’s still a nice view.
On the way down – or at least, a way down – one comes past the other famous scenic spot here, Seven Stars Accompany/Around the Moon (七星伴月).
It is said to be nice for taking photos – which is the major pastime and reason for a visit, it seems – but I am not sure I noticed its seven piles of stones in a moon sickle-shaped field.
There would also be the Longji Ancient Zhuang Rice Fields in the area, reachable by continuing on the hiking trail(s).
Hardly anyone ever seems to continue hiking there (or even go there), and the way had already been a rather long one…
For more impressions of the Dazhai-Ping’an hike, go here.