Walking The Dragon’s Backbone

Asia, China

Mist at Longji Rice Terraces

In a drizzling afternoon we arrive at the entrance to the village of Dazhai to see the famous Longji Rice Terraces. Nestled between mountains and hills with small, rocky rivers carving their way through the deep valleys, this place is a perfect escape from the busy cities of China. When we get out of our taxi, a number of local Yao women surround us and speak Mandarin very loudly. Of course I have to rely on James’ Mandarin skill to understand what is going on. Apparently they are offering to carry our bags because to get to the nearest place to stay we have to hike for 45 minutes. After constantly saying no to the women using my very limited Mandarin, I change my mind after seeing James who eventually hands his carry-on to one of the porters. Most of them seem to be my mother’s age, which makes me quite hesitant to give them my backpack which weighs about the same as James’ suitcase. But the drizzle turns into a real rain. Hence I decide to do what James does, though with a guilty feeling.

The hike turns out to be harder than I thought. I need to stop frequently along the way just to catch my breath. Even though the path is fairly well-paved with a little dirt here and there, it is the thin air which makes me struggle to complete the hike. Or maybe it is simply caused by my lack of physical exercise. Periodically I check the women who carry our bags, but from their faces I know that I have underestimated their strength and health. On our way up, I try to see things from a different perspective. It does feel bad letting those women carry our bags, but on the other hand I would not make it if I decided to carry the backpack myself. Moreover it’s one of their main sources of income to make ends meet in this relatively remote part of China.

Just before sunset, we arrive at our inn which is very basic. Nevertheless, I am glad to have picked this place because it offers the best view of the rice terraces around Viewpoint No. 3 – there are two other viewpoints at nearby mountaintops. But on this occasion the mist has covered pretty much everything, hiding the rice terraces from our sight. Slightly disappointed, we decide to have a dinner which is basically the only thing we can do in this place. With only one cook working in the kitchen and a hungry party of at least 10 people ahead of us, it takes a long time for our meal to come.

At the next table there sits a group of Chinese tourists playing cards and drinking beer before their dinner. Then all of a sudden one of them shouts very loudly and the rest of the group runs outside the house. Curious with what is happening, we rush to the windows and seek out the cause of all the commotion. Below us the rice terraces are emerging from the mist. I instantly grab my camera, running out the door and following in pursuit. There are also rice terraces in Indonesia but I have never seen anything on this scale before. It doesn’t take too long for the mist to hide the verdant landscape, turning it into a white, swirling mass all over again.

The next morning we wake up with a little disappointment due to the lingering mist. Seeing the rice terraces is the main reason for us to visit this place. So if we cannot see them then the whole trip would be such a waste. But fortunately that is not the case. We get out of the house and walk around, climbing up and going down almost every path we see. After snapping some pictures and checking how they look on our cameras, I realize that the mist actually adds a cool ambiance instead of ruining the landscape. When the sun eventually breaks through and the mist thins out, we end up missing its mysterious appeal.

A House Sitting on A Terraced Slope

The Rice Terraces as Seen from Around Viewpoint 3

Endless Terraced Slopes

The Dragon’s Backbone

The Longji (Dragon’s backbone) Rice Terraces are a magnificent man-made landscape which stretches over hills and mountains. We are told of its utmost beauty during harvest season when ripe yellow paddies set a stark contrast against the blue sky above.

Just before taking our last pictures of this place, we meet Tommy – a Chinese student – with his friend from Switzerland at a hut. After having some conversations we tell them the location of our inn from which they can have the best view of the rice terraces. Little do we know that Tommy would soon become our savior in Guilin.

A Traditional House

The Place Where We Stayed

A Unique Local Flower

Wet Spider Web at A Hut

During our short stay at this secluded place, we ­make friends with one of the porters who carried our bags the day before. She is such a warm and energetic person. Despite her strength in carrying tourists’ heavy bags, I happen to notice her gentle side when she uses her sewing skills to mend some loose parts of her colorful outfit. Of course I never make any direct communication with her but I am excited enough seeing how lighthearted she is when she talks to James. One of the most interesting things is when we learn how to say hello in the local Yao language. I am not sure if there is any perfect way to write it in Latin but it sounds like “Ng ng” or “E e” with normal e in French, only the sound is produced in the throat instead of the mouth.

Our Beloved Porter

It is time for us to leave, and once again she is the one who carries my bag. On our way down under the bright sun I begin to comprehend why the hike was such a hard one. Endless steps along the pathway make my feet tremble when I finally arrive at the main entrance. On our first day in this place it was clear just how strong and hardy the local women were. Meeting the Yao, I realize, is a truly humbling experience.

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

32 thoughts on “Walking The Dragon’s Backbone”

  1. What a fascinating place. A bit like the Incan terraces. I have read that although it is beautiful just before harvest, the terraces are less distinguishable. I guess each season has its own appeal. Enjoyed this very much Bama.


    • You’re right. Without the paddies, the terraces are more visible. Btw before leaving this place we noticed some men working at some construction sites. When we asked what they were building, guess what..They’re building a cable car! Mass tourism is coming soon to this place. Thanks for reading Madhu!


  2. What a wonderful destination Bama. The fog makes it special in some kind of different way. You have to be a bit lucky in order to see all the really green paddies, but these slopes are a beautiful sight all year round. Nice pictures!


    • Exactly! Each season brings different atmosphere to this place. I think I have to learn to enjoy fog because this year I’ve been to two foggy places and each of them has its own story. Thanks Emiel!


    • Speaking of the porter, I never did manage to get her name – although I was told that everyone in the village is related and they all carry the same surname (Pan). As with the post on Xingping, we ended up getting a lot of the same pictures!


      • Yeah I was thinking about that too. I wonder if she has a very unusual name just like local language. I mean, “Ng ng”, “nuovi”, not a lot of languages have such unique words. About our pictures, well we surely have lots of similar photos. 🙂


    • I have a mixed feeling about the cable project. On one side it will likely ruin the peace of this place, but on the other hand it will bring more money to local people. Anyway, thanks for reading Marisol!


  3. This Is one place in China that I really want to go. I’ve heard about it and it was great to see your fabulous photos. Breathtaking! I didn’t know that the Chinese women acted as porters! That surprises me yet I remember hearing that Chinese women work very hard and oftentimes harder than men, in the countryside.


    • Thanks Nicole! If I’m not mistaken most of the men chose to work in bigger cities, leaving their wives taking care of everything back in the village. I know you would love this place, and the one that we went to (Dazhai village) was less touristy than the other ones, but also relatively harder to reach. That’s why we hired a cab from Yangshuo to get to this place.


  4. Photo Media says:

    Lovely shots … I remember heading out to these beautiful rice fields from Yangshuo. Is this Longsheng and the famous long haired Yao women ? Yes I remember the porters waiting for tourists at the entrance 🙂


    • Yes it is. But most tourists go to the other villages. When we were there, we only met a small group of Chinese tourists. Thanks!


  5. Ditto all the comments. So amazing. Thanks for sharing. And adding this to my ever growing list of places to see! (I know what you mean about it being a bit embarrassing seeing locals, hop around the mountains with little effort … while we tourists (excuse me, “travelers” 😉 huff and puff in our high tech shoes and whatnot. Can’t wait to see more.


    • Thanks Lauren! It was very humbling to see those women. I mean most of them are much older than me, yet they’re stronger. While we, on the other hand, are too complacent with what we have.


  6. foroneplease says:

    Bma, the pics are absolutely breathtaking 🙂 Thanks for taking me on this journey!


  7. Pingback: When A Stranger Saves The Day « What an Amazing World!

  8. I’m so gutted I didn’t get to make it there when I went to china. Thanks for this post, it looks absolutely incredible. If I ever go back then it’s straight to the top of the list of things to do there!


    • Make sure you go when the time is right and the weather is perfect. Try to come before the harvest season where the rice paddies are yellow. It must be really beautiful.


    • It’s a beautiful place, indeed. But I recommend you to go there during harvest time. It must be a lot nicer than when I went.


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