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China – Dragons Backbone Rice Terraces

Confucius say – for man to make rice, he must make land look nice

overcast 25 °C

Feeling pretty confident in getting around in China now, we decided to attempt an overnight hike out at the ‘Dragons Backbone’ rice terraces. These are said to be most accessible from Guilin where we arrived after an hour long bumpy and thrilling bus trip.

The guidebooks all say Guilin is not that great a place, and that was just the impression we got on arrival. Its just another big city with not too much on offer. On the upside, we had some planning to do before heading out to the rice terraces for some hiking so we had the afternoon to sort out logistics and pick up supplies. We also managed to book an advance train ticket for 2 days time (necessary as they sell out pretty quickly) then still had time to wander around the night markets.

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We started out catching a bus downtown to an alternative bus station where we joined a massive queue for tickets and by the time we got our ticket, earlier departures had been sold so we had over an hour wait for the next bus. Once our bus was ready it filled up and then set off, but once around the corner it stopped outside the gates to let on another dozen people at what looked like the same price as us. The 26 seater bus was now at 38 with people on stools in the aisle and all over the engine bay. Then we set off for the usual thrilling bus ride, Dan almost had the craziest overtaking manoeuvre on film.

It was a long ride which took about 3 hours before we were dropped at the side of a dusty road at HePing village. We were not too concerned as we were promptly approached by people offering to take us to Dazhai. Dazhai is the smaller of the 2 main rice terrace villages, from what we had read we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of souvenir shops on the way through like at the bigger village of PingAn.

We joined another 3 Chinese tourists for the minivan ride and soon arrived at the Dazhai checkpoint. There weren’t as many touts here as expected and we got started on our hike pretty quickly, following some signs taking us the long way around the village out to one of the look out points. Maps for the terraces are not very good. The best one we had was on our Iphone - a picture of a map we had seen at the hostel.

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Happy with the signs at the beginning of the trek, we felt pretty confident. Then we soon reached a small village with about 4 paths to choose from. Luckily while looking around we saw someone who confirmed that 3 (look out point 3) was up a set of stairs so we continued on. Some of the Chinese tourists were keen to practice their English with us so we spoke with a few people on our way up to the lookout point. Others were simply content with yelling out a ‘helloooo’.

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After seeing the lookout number 3 we asked a tour guide to point out how to get to lookout point 1, he showed us on a stone map and pointed to go behind a big building. We took his advice but weren’t sure where to go next so we asked a lady hanging out her washing. She said to continue around a hill and keep going (this is what we got from the hand signals). The stone path immediately ran out but we could follow a small track which took us onwards.

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We looked back at the lady and she signalled to continue so off we went. We were a little unsure when the road forked into 3 but used logic and opted for the high road. We had some great views, but when the cobwebs started getting thicker and we started hacking at the path we decided that we may end up staying the night in a rice paddy if we didn’t turn back. We tried another track that had a stone path although this involved straddling a giant rock over a stream, but this soon ran out too.

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Where the hell are we

We backtracked to the fork in the road and tried to figure out which other option we should take. Dan went for a look down the lower track. While we were discussing what to do we heard some voices – woohoo! We went towards some other people and discovered that another 4 tourists from Shanghai were lost too. They said that we would have to keep going towards the sun for 1.5 to 2 hours to get to look out point number 1. We decided to just go back to the last spot as we didn’t want to get stuck before nightfall with nowhere to shelter. The others were happy to have a guide! The long and short of it is that we ended up following another few people back to Tian Tou village on a well marked track which had been our planned destination for the night.

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We were glad to make it there before dark and were lucky enough to find some accommodation (although other people had been worried about us as their hotel was full). It was much cheaper than we had read about, but then we did go to the smaller village and the facilities were basic (shared facilities of cold shower directly over squat toilet).

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View from the room

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The traditional women roam around on the paths making a living carrying tourists luggage. Although we carried our own, they didn’t seem to be short of work. These ladies are also famous for their long hair which they never cut, they will even show you for the right price.

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There were some Chinese celebrations going on and we kept hearing firecrackers going off. We also saw a rather odd procession go through the village, also setting off firecrackers. From what we understood, the holiday had something to do with remembering ancestors. Further along we saw loads of ribbons attached to what we assume were tombs.

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This kids ‘Frullet’ is bang on trend in China

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We saw a bit of a sunset and got up the next day in time for sunrise but it was a bit misty.

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The hiking all around the JinKeng terraces was fantastic. We made our way to lookout point 2 first thing in the morning and spent quite a while looking for the path across to the Ping'An terraces. The people around here were very helpful and we often came across Chinese tourists who wanted to speak with us, which was helpful for asking for directions. We were told that it was too far to hike across and we should go by car. We were also told that a guide could show us a shortcut for $100US!! No thanks! We just kept looking and comparing maps that didn’t even match each other. One thing we have learned is that you can’t rely on maps around here! But soon enough we came across a sign that said PingAn, this was a relief as we knew we had 3-5 hours hiking ahead of us and needed to allow time for getting lost!

Once we got onto this path we had a few intersections to take an educated guess at but seemed to be headed in the right direction. It was at least an hour before we passed a local man who confirmed that we were headed to PingAn (which we had learned to pronounce correctly by now). So we were happy we were at least on the right path this time.

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This section really did have some of the best views and it was great to experience them on our own.

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We continued walking and passed through some smaller villages. We had to ask for directions as best we could a few times to go the right way out of the villages. We were also offered shelter from the rain but had our ponchos on and decided to continue as the rain never seemed to last for too long. A bit later in the morning we started to see a few tourists walking in the opposite direction so were reassured that we were on the right track.

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Soon enough we made it to PingAn. The views here were beautiful too but photos included roads and houses. The area was not so much for hiking as it was paths between souvenir shops. The village was quite large and we had a bit of a wander around.

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Hard day at the office for the transporters – not many unfit people to be carrying around

We found a youth hostel which had bus times pinned up on the wall inside. We opted to travel out to Longsheng and then transfer to Guilin. This seemed easier than the roadside option as we were worried that the busses would be full and not pick us up (even for an aisle seat). It was a long detour though as we had another long wait at Longsheng for the next available bus. We had a proper bus this time though and they even gave out water – a luxury perk it seems. I was lucky enough to be sat next to bird-flu kid who though it was hilarious to wake me up every time I started to nod off. I wished the kid would just fall asleep. My wish came true after he had a bout of travel sickness almost all over my feet!! But the bus only took 2 hours and we arrived back at our hostel in Guilin sooner than we expected. It was a great hostel and they wrote down some helpful Chinese for us to help us book our onwards train journeys.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Tanya –It was a good challenge finding our way out to the terraces to start with and then the decision to hike between the 2 fields and stay at a village in between was great. Never a dull moment!

Daniel – Never one to like turning back on a trek, maybe this time it wasn’t such a bad thing. When we were in the village I could see where we were headed on the little track, and it wasn’t in this direction. The rice fields are an amazing feat of engineering over the successive generations of farmers.

Posted by dbgomes 11.04.2012 07:09 Archived in China Tagged china round_the_world

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