The longji scenic area is one of the most popular tourist destinations from inside and outside China. Aside from allowing for a holiday that takes in the back of the 20 yuan note (or yangshuo for the more pedantic), Longji is one of the most beautiful and awesome places I have ever visited – yet it’s hard to exactly say why.
The rice terraces which made this place famous stretch up from the river in great tiers in the foothills of yet larger mountains which loom, foreboding, over the scene. As your eye moves up the curving, stepping lines, and jumps up from figures spraying pesticides, the work ponies shaying amongst the bamboo, you feel the muscles in your eyes relax. You’ll at least need one muscle to relax because the rest of your body will be crying out for rest.
You come to the area by bus from Yangshuo or from Guilin itself (the Qintan bus station – everyone speaks English along the route and knows how to get you where you’re going) and will take a smaller bus up to entry villages of the main three areas. As you come in you’ll be stopped and a man will give you a ticket, in exchange for four of your Yangshuo notes (80 yuan), allowing you access to this poor farming area/beautiful instagram place.
We went to the farthest village, Dazhai, coming into a large car-park next to the brand new cable car. You’ll get off the bus into a horde of oddly dressed women saying words like “bag” and “I carry” – you (I don’t doubt) being the proud Europeandescendant that you are would never dream of letting a woman twice your age carry your bag in a whicker basket; so, you’ll smile and “don’t need” past their now sad and disappointed faces, and stride past the cable car, “who would come just to go up the cable car?”, and begin the torturous ascent to meet your maker.
We finally staggered up to Tiantou, one of the highest stops in this area, drenched in sweat and heads pounding. It was a godsend that ours was the first hostel, I was getting ready to hurl myself off the hillside, and, well into a rice terrace I guess. We stayed in the YHA which was very sweet, had lovely food, friendly and helpful staff – they let me use their computer to transfer my movies into the right folder on my tablet, eek! – and just the most amazing views, oh and aircon, blessed aircon.
We spent the next couple of days wandering around the area. The first day we went up above the village to viewing point one, the next we walked in the morning part of the way to Pingnan, and then viewpoint three – we missed viewpoint two as we couldn’t be bothered to go up the last stretch of steps.
Viewpoint one was above our hostel and was on the edge of the rice terraces ending and the forest beginning. This is an interesting transition as you move away from the clear openness of the man-made landscape to being encased in the frail thick bamboo and bushes. View point three, which the cable car goes to, gives the most magnificent views of the unimpeded terraces, villages nestling poetically within – be warned it’s quite a climb.
But, for us, the most beautiful part was the walk towards Pingnan, in particular the first hour as you leave Tiantou. Here you left the main paths and walked amongst and on the terraces, old and used; you met villagers, who always smile and say hello, coming from between the villages; and saw great swathes of abandoned terraces, the overgrown grasses waving like something for a studio Ghibli film.
It was also the only walk in which we were “hassled” – a group of women and a small grubby child had set up at a seat along the way which you had to pass. They jumped up holding water, postcards, and offering to take down their hair (the women do not cut their hair and wear it tied up on their heads normally). We, foolishly perhaps, bought two waters from two of them, for twice as much as normal, but not the rest, which led one to follow us for about 4 minutes, with the grubby child – saying repeatedly “I have no money” in Chinese.
The ascent to the ladies
It was an encounter which highlighted what we had known coming in, basically the absurdity of the place in some respects. The work there consists of either tourism or farming, but the tourism for those who do not have hotels or stalls, consists of this style of begging. The money from the entrance fee or the cable car doesn’t go back to the local area, it all leaves to the government. In these women, you saw the cruelty of development based on the exploitation of natural resources and people. I suppose the advantage of keeping the people poor is that it forces them to keep on farming, dressing in traditional clothes and showing off their minority hair.
This was our only unpleasant experience though, the rest was a staggeringly beautiful meander up and down strange paths, feeling the echoes of the people, watching the working ponies, and admiring the mountainside, the Dragon’s backbone, stripped away by the rice terraces – the hillsides’ bone edge become clear and distinct.
To see more of our Longji adventure, you can also check out our vlog on YouTube: