As Chinese National Week concluded, Jamie and I rounded off the holiday with what we will both look back on as the most – um – eventful train ride we have ever taken. Needless to say, we were in the mood to be as far away from people as humanly possible. Although Mars would have likely been ideal, we were more than happy to spend 2 nights in the majestical Longsheng rice terraces hiking around the fields and generally chilling the f*** out.
When originally planning this leg of our journey through China, I was a bit concerned that it might be near impossible to find a bus or train that would take us almost directly to our hostel in the middle of these mountainous rice farms. However, it was relatively straightforward thanks to help from our hostel in Guilin, as well as fantastic directions supplied by our hostel in Longsheng.
Longsheng is not a town, but rather a county. Within the county, there are multiple towns each complete with rice terraces, hiking trails, hostels/hotels, restaurants, and what the Chinese call “minority villagers.” We happened to luck out and book our hostel in the least touristy area within Longsheng, called Dazhai. Within Dazhai, there are a couple of villages, the largest being Dazhai Village. From there, we hiked for about half an hour (uphill for the majority of the time) to Tiantouzhai Village, which is even smaller, less touristy, and more isolated than Dazhai Village. This is where our hostel was located. Although we had our enormous travelling backpacks weighing us down, we managed to complete the hike without any issues – or assistance, for that matter. Local “minority” women swarmed us as we stepped off the bus and offered to carry our bags for about 30 RMB (roughly $5 Canadian). I wasn’t brought up to heap loads of heavy equipment upon elderly women and I didn’t intend on starting now. Apparently this sense of guilt is not inherent in 99% of Chinese tourists, as the number of times Jamie and I passed by little old women carrying what must have been at least 100 lbs of luggage upon their backs, up the side of a mountain mind you, was scary. Strolling safely behind would be a young Chinese couple, possibly in their twenties, holding hands or taking endless pictures of the scenery. Although, I didn’t see any of the elderly women complaining. That 30 RMB would mean a great deal more to them than it does to us, and honestly I’m pretty sure that a few of them could have passed Jamie and I easily while skipping three steps at a time in the process.
While climbing to Tiantouzhai Village, Jamie must have taken at least one thousand pictures. Despite that near the end of the climb the stairs had me wondering if I had in fact packed a small elephant in to my travel bag, I too was reaching for my iphone to snap a few shots. The trek was as gorgeous as it was difficult. When we arrived, Jamie and I were both more than pleased with where we had chosen to stay. The building reminded us of a log cabin that you would find in Banff or Muskoka, and the lounge of the hostel looked out directly on to the rice terraces. For anyone planning a trip to see Longsheng, it was called Dazhai Dragon’s Den Hostel, and I would definitely recommend it. We had to kill a huge spider that we found hanging from the ceiling of our room on the first night and the food was horrendous, but bugs should be expected in the mountains and fine dining isn’t exactly the main draw when visiting Longsheng. The fact that it only cost about $6 Canadian per night was a huge bonus.
The rice terraces are unlike anything that I have ever seen, on so many levels. First of all, the landscape is unbelievable. Layer upon layer of rice terraces cut in to the sides of the mountains, allowing for the crops to collect large quantities of water in the spring and summer, and for easy harvesting in the fall. Throughout the majority of the year, the crops are a bright green. As we visited in the fall, the leaves of the rice plants had turned to a burnt golden and were beginning to be chopped down and collected by farmers.
Speaking of the farmers, the methods used to harvest were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In North America, I’ve seen large tractors cruising along the prairies and collecting large quantities in a quick manner. In Longsheng, the rice farmers wade in to the muddy rice terraces and cut down each individual rice plant – by hand – with a steel blade. It seems medieval, but that’s part of Longsheng’s charm. If huge machines or some other form of advanced technology were used to aid the farmers, the place would certainly have a different feel. Because the farmers use such traditional methods, and also due to the ancient dress of the local minority women who work in the kitchens of various restaurants and hotels in the area, visiting Longsheng really does feel like a trip back in time. Of course, the fact that cars cannot reach any of these villages doesn’t hurt either.
All in all, Longsheng was one of the most unique places I’ve ever had the chance to visit, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone travelling through China. Be prepared for the hike, as it’s a challenging one, and don’t expect to be pampered. But in a country with 1.3 billion people, there is going to come a time when you’re going to want some peace and quiet. For that, I don’t think there’s a better place in the country than Longsheng.