Sunday, July 15, 2012

Travel Advice in China: Guangxi Province (Part 2)

Part 2: Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces

If you go north from Guilin a couple of hours, you can  hike through the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.  The first step is to take a bus to Longsheng (the town’s name means  Dragon Victory, from an old folk tale about a battle between the good Dragon and evil Tiger); there are a few run-down hotels there if necessary, with different prices depending on if you want  air conditioning or just a fan.  From the bus station, you can take a bus out to the rice terraces; you can start hiking from either end, at Ping’an or Dazhai.  The hike is supposed to take about ten hours; I took a little bit longer as I stopped to take pictures constantly, but that’s a pretty good average.  The hike is not too strenuous, just long; I don’t remember having any trouble even though I'm not very athletic. There are plenty of places to stay if needed in Ping’an and Dazhai, as well as a larger village an hour or two hike from Dazhai.  I paid a  hotel in  Ping’an to hold my large backpack for me, and just took a day bag; when I got to Dazhai I took a bus back to Ping’an to retrieve my things.  

I had to break my trip somewhere in the middle because of a thunderstorm, but I didn't have any trouble finding food and a place to stay in a random little village there.  In fact, it was one of the highlights of the trip, staying with a local family in their wooden house with the fire in the middle of the floor and the nearest designated 'bathroom' (hole in the ground) three houses away in between pig pens.  They didn't speak much English, but we used charades, and I got along pretty well with their little boy as we drew pictures together.  Many local villagers are more than happy to feed or house a traveler; it's a great way to earn some extra cash.  I think she asked about sixty yuan for a night's lodging and two meals.  Just be careful of the local liquor they'll probably offer you; it's strong stuff!

The people who live in the rice terraces are mostly minority tribes; one group is often referred to as the 'tribe of the long-haired ladies'.  These women never cut their hair; most have hair at least to their waist if not all the way to the ground.  They wear it wound into a bit knot just over their foreheads; some of the older women still wear the traditional clothing as well: a knee-length black skirt (long dresses were impractical if you worked in a rice paddy), intricately embroidered belt, and a colorful jacket, usually pink or purple.  Of course, many still wear it because they can get donations from hikers who want to take photos of them.  Some will ask for four or five yuan, and then they will take down their hair and show how long it is, and how they wind it up.

The rice terraces themselves are a fantastic landscape; the people in these mountains have no flat land to raise crops, so they have survived for centuries by terracing all the way up these steep hills and raising rice.  The villages along the way are all made up of large wooden houses that look a bit like barns, tucked into the ravines where it's to steep to even terrace.  Anywhere it's too steep to farm along the path, there were tombs built into hillsides where the families of the villagers are buried.  There are little shelters built in a few places along the path, where both hikers and local porters can stop and rest in the shade.

Be sure and take an extra water bottle and some snacks in your bag; there were often long stretches between villages large enough to offer things for sale. Here's more information.


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