by Melanie Ham
It started with an Instagram ad of a beautiful place and a traveling company with a quirky name. One of my wishes has been to travel more, but with kids in school and a husband who travels often for business, it seemed we had limited opportunities to go new places unless it was a public holiday…which of course, means massive crowds. When I saw Pacha Mama Tours was putting together a backpacking trip to Dragon’s Backbone in Guangxi, China for mid-October to see the rice-terraces turn gold, I knew I had to book a spot.
I asked around some friends if they would be interested in the trip, but the timing didn’t work with their schedules or they weren’t keen for so much hiking. It was going to be an 18K hike with an overnight homestay with a local family. I loved the idea of a new adventure so dropped them a message to get more info, despite some trepidation about not knowing anyone in the group. The cost was about 1000rmb and they gave me all the travel booking info to the rally point in Guilin, so it was super easy.
I set out from Shanghai to fly to Guilin to meet the other travelers who were on the fast train from Guangzhou. I was a bit nervous to meet the rest of the group since I knew we would be spending a lot of time together in rough conditions over the next few days. It turns out there was nothing to worry about.
They were lovely people- mostly young expats from Guangzhou. It was a fun, friendly, international group and we all made friends quickly- there were a total of 8 travelers and we were from 6 different countries. The tour guide was the co-owner of the company and a chill guy from California who has a passion to help urbanites connect to nature.
After meeting at the train station, we hopped on a van for a 2-hour ride to the southern entrance to the Longji Rice Terraces at a little village called Longsheng. This is quite a popular tourist spot and lots of little shops and vendors selling trinkets. Our guide side-stepped the heavily trafficked area and brought us to a cozy café where we were served a huge feast of locally grown veggies and unique dishes from the area while we dined al fresco overlooking the gorgeous view of the rice terraces. After lunch we started our climb up the hills with a goal of leisurely walking 10K to a nearby village to spend the night with our host family.
We hiked up and down the terraces for several kilometers, until our footpath took us into the forest and down a valley. We hiked through a local cemetery where our guide told us what he had learned about the burial customs of the Yao villagers. The Yao, along with the Zhuang, are one of China’s officially recognized ethnic minorities, and they have farmed the rice terraces for more than 700 years.
As the sun was setting, we arrived at our host family’s guesthouse where we were met with a table full overflowing with home-cooked dishes grown from their garden. After dinner, the host brought us his homemade passion fruit rice wine he makes himself. We were all a bit dubious, but it turned out to be fantastic! It reminded me of a grappa I had tried in Italy and was the perfect accompaniment to a round of games we played around the dining table. Heads Up was the ideal game with this group, and we laughed over passion fruit wine and funny impressions until midnight.
We stayed in warm cozy rooms guest rooms with an attached bathroom (this had been something I had wondered about) and woke in the morning to a lovely breakfast with fresh eggs. We had some time in the morning to explore the village and chat with the locals as they went about their normal morning routine. The village gets very few tourists since it’s not included in the travel books or tour bus stops. This gave us a nice slice of local life, but it also meant the village was mostly comprised of grandparents and very young kids since the adults had gone to the larger cities where their incomes could be higher. There isn’t a primary school nearby, so school age kids need to travel to another village to attend school.
The villagers were friendly and happily explained many of their local customs. For instance, the Yao women have very long shiny healthy black hair that only cut a few times during their lifetime. They don’t wash their hair with soap or chemicals, but use the water that has soaked rice which they say has a high level of nutrition. They coil their hair in long wraps and knot it above their foreheads.
The second day was rainy and foggy, making our hiking gear soggy but the photos were gorgeous. We hiked a few more hours through the rice terraces until we came to a Zhuang village for lunch and the end of the trail. We grabbed a coffee at café at the end and chatted in our last few minutes together before the boarded our van to travel back to the airport in Guilin.
I made it back to Shanghai that evening and felt really sad to leave this random group of strangers who had become fast friends. I also learned something about myself and pushing a limit…and I’ll definitely be traveling alone more since there are so many amazing places in China to see.
Pacha Mama tour info can be found here- https://pachamamaadventure.com
Here is some more info about Dragon’s Backbone- https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g1159371-d503008-Reviews-Dragon_s_Backbone_Rice_Terraces-Longsheng_County_Guangxi.html
I received no financial incentives or discounts for writing this. I just had a great time and wanted to share with others.