Guilin in the south central province of Guangxi is reputed to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole of China. Today we are heading slightly further north to the town of Longsheng to see the rice terraces and to visit the minority village of the Red Yao people.
The day starts ok and we are up by 7. We get on a tour bus at 8 and things unfortunately deteriorate slightly from that point, as first I then Simon both bang our heads really hard on the roof of the bus. We have a row and it starts to rain in a big way.
Two hours later, tensions have improved slightly and we arrive at The Red Yao minority village. I have read that in this mountainous province of China there used to be more tribes but eventually they have been integrated into the majority Chinese Han society. The Red Yao are also known as the Long Hair Yao and we learn that the women do not cut their hair. We watch them perform some singing and dancing and taste their tea. It’s a bit like weak gravy with rice crispies floating in it.
Their voices are very high and sweet and they are dressed in black and pink traditional dress. The guide explains that their hair is tied in different ways dependent on whether they are married. have children etc. They also stretch their ears with weights which is quite a sight to see!
Back on the bus, we journey for around another hour and eventually reach the base of the mountains where the rice terraces start. This is what we have really come to see. The Longji Terraces were first cultivated in the 13th century Yuan dynasty. The tribes of mountain people who have lived here for many generations ask the mountains for food and have created the terraces over hundreds of years in almost every available spot.
I spend some time reading some local information and although it takes a while to decipher the “Chinglish” there are some wonderful descriptions in there of the terraces in all seasons – At the start of spring the terraces are full of water, reflecting the skylight as layers of silver ribbons folded together. Then greasy green seedlings, the breeze rolls green waves. Summer, the colour is spilled, golden stairs and golden storeys. In deep winter silver and plain clothing implants terraces and villages into a fairy world of ice and jade statues.
How beautiful, I don’t think anything I can write can do the terraces justice and as we start to climb up the steps the glimpses that we get behind the rolling mists are nothing short of spectacular. We climb and climb and get steadily more and more soaked! In retrospect we must have been mad to even attempt to get to the top but despite the now torrential rain we figure we have paid our money and we’re here now so might as well get on with it! We buy 4 umbrellas and long rain macs. My transition into a Chinese tourist is almost complete as we gamely follow “Nick” our guide up and up with the rest of our tour group.
At last we are there and by this point the mist is so thick we can hardly see each other let alone the rice terraces. We dance around in the rain a bit, get a woman to take a few photos of us and start the long swim back down. (We actually did see a fish on the path!) In reality it is like making our way back down through a fast flowing stream as the water pours down the mountains and over the paths.
Finally we arrive safely at the bottom and back onto the bus, 3 hours later and we are dropped outside the hostel. I’m convinced I have trenchfoot by this point and can’t wait for a shower and some coffee. Despite the rain, lack of photo opportunities, head injuries and arguments we’ve had a good day and I’m glad we went. So glad we’re not going tomorrow though, there is something to be said for lazing in bed until late, doing jack shit all day and warmth and dryness. Bring it on.