Visiting The Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces
China is such a beautiful country with so much to offer. It has an incredibly diverse set of landscapes that range from tall mountains to beautiful, flowing rivers to just complete insanity. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite place, but I have a very soft spot for my day trip to the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces in Longsheng, a 3 hour drive from Yangshuo.
Getting To The Dragon’s Backbone
I was able to arrange a trip through my hotel. It was expensive by Chinese standards at 800 rmb for the full day, but I was able to go on my own and could trust the operator. If you’re on more of a budget and have the patience to be part of a crowd, there are several operators and tour buses that leave from Yangshuo. If you’re one of the very daring travelers who rented your own car in China, then just head up on your own as there is plenty of parking.
There are 2 main villages that encompass the Dragon’s Backbone – Pingan and Dazhai. If you have the time, it’s roughly a 4 hour hike from Dazhai to Pingan so you can see everything the Dragon’s Backbone has to offer in one day. If you’re still exhausted from all of your other amazing hikes in China, there’s a cable car at Dazhai that will take you to the top and you can hike your way back down.
The Yao People Of Longsheng
The beautiful terraces of the Dragon’s Backbone exists thanks to the hard work of the Yao people, who you can see and buy things from as you hike along the countryside. Of particular note is the Yao women, who have a tradition of only cutting their hair once in their lifetime, when they get married.
Their hair is worn up in a wrap, but there are some who offer to take their hair down for a fee. Be sure not to go up to random Yao women and ask them to take their hair down for a photo, as they may get offended.
The Beauty Of The Rice Terraces
We’ve all seen the photos of the stunning mirror-like terraces of the flooded Dragon’s Backbone reflecting the sky above them. Unfortunately, this only happens once per year in the spring. For your best bet of seeing the flooded terraces, visit at the end of May or early June.
I was about 2 weeks too early for the flooding when I was there, but the views still didn’t fail to blow me away. Looking out over the fields, they seem to go on forever as far as the eye can see. It’s unbelievable to think that every hill you see is filled with these huge terraces, all cultivated by hand over generations.
Stepping out onto the individual terraces, you realize that they are BIG. It’s easy to forget that fact when you look out over the sea of them carved into the land, but standing on the terrace and realizing that it extends over 10 feet horizontally gives you a true sense of the scale of the place.
REAL Chinese Food
After your hike you can head down into Dazhai village (and probably Pingan as well) for some authentic Yao style home cooking. I had already grabbed a snack on the trail of rice cooked in a bamboo shoot which was fantastic, so I was looking forward to our lunch. Our driver had a place in mind and drove us down the road to a small community. The first thing I noticed were the chickens roaming around every house…
I was handed a menu that thankfully featured photos of the dishes, so I decided to go with the chicken soup (hey, it must have been pretty fresh, right?). Knowing that I had to be careful with my food choices in China (not everything is guaranteed to be safe), I went with something I knew would be a safe bet in this remote village. I was pleased to see it was fully cooked when it arrived.
It may have looked like a scene from a barnyard horror film, but it was actually great soup prepared with care by a local family. This was just another reason why I was grateful that I booked a solo drive instead of a guided tour. Not only did I get to avoid the crowds and go at my own pace, but my driver had great insight into the area and allowed me to have an authentic experience.
If you find yourself anywhere near Guilin or Yangshuo, you owe it to yourself to make your way out to the Dragon’s Backbone in Longsheng. It’s a completely different experience than the mountains and rivers in China, and a truly awe-inspiring sight.