I wasn’t sure whether to start with an account of yet another adventure, which left me clinging on for dear life, or at least two chickens’ lives, but also with memories of one of my favourite outings in my China trip so far.
One of the perks, nay goals, of staying in Guilin in the Guanxi Province in southern China is to visit the neighbouring areas home to some of the most breathtakingly beautiful countryside I have seen so far. Most hostels and hotels offer organised outings. So when we arrived at our hostel in Guilin we booked ourselves two trips; one to Yuangshuo with a bamboo trip along the Li River and another to the Longji Rice Terraces. Because both are a bit far out you need to be driven to your destinations. Our trip to the rice terraces saw us sit in an eight-seater van, whose smell reminded me of the upholstery at my grandmother’s summer house and which looked like the last time it had seen the face of a clean cloth was probably when that furniture was made. We left at 08:30 in the morning because we had to endure a more than three-hour drive to the terraces and another three for the drive back. We drove there in what seemed like torrential rain but serendipitously arrived to rain-free terraces.
Because I want to end on the magnificent note the outing to the terraces left me with, I’ll share my ‘little’ adventure first. Perhaps it was because the skies had cleared and we – and our driver – could actually see the road on which we were driving, we were more attuned to his driving ‘technique’, if you will. Essentially this was nothing new because driving in China is, how I can I put this, often akin to sitting in a racing car in a computer game. Speed bumps are more like different terrain to the driver and sadly so were two chickens that came his way.
As a low-risk person (really, I am) my way of dealing with this, because really there is no other way about it if you want to see these sights, is to either close your eyes or just trust the driver. OK, so that’s my adventure. Now for the fun part: the rice terraces.
We opted for a DIY trip and followed a relatively easy set of instructions to reach the peak. The trek should take some 50 minutes but ours lasted a bit longer because we stopped so many times to take photos, because the views really are quite extraordinary. One of the most exquisite is the Nine Dragons and Five Tigers Viewing Point, which allows views of the curvaceous layers of terraces.
The walk uphill is moderately easy though because of the rain, we had to trudge through some pretty muddy areas and some others were a bit slippery. I’m always motivated however when I see either women in heels or people like this lady, carrying half their body weight on their backs.
If I had to find anything disappointing in the trip it was probably just the result of a bit of naiveté in that I thought we would be on our own with only the vast countryside to keep us company. The place was teeming with tourists, and tourist buses. That said, the area is huge and once we started climbing the terraces the crowds did decrease in number. We easily managed to secure a place at one of the small restaurants up top, my meat-eating friends enjoying the speciality of bamboo-cooked rice.
The terraces themselves always remain tourist-free, the reason why, I later learnt, is a ¥2,000 (€250 fine). Just as we reached the top an elderly man from Singapore approached us. Keen to practice his very good English, we learnt that he used to work in the aviation industry and had a colleague and friend in Germany. On looking at our muddy shoes, he warned us that we should not go walking in the terraces. We reassured him that we were well-trained after living in Germany and would not dream of doing so!
We descended with the aim of walking faster this time but couldn’t resist to stop quite a number of times again to take some shots. The sun had come out now and at practically ever bend we turned, there was yet another pretty shot of the sleepy-looking terraces. A misnomer of course, for they were the fruit of endless and hard labour, the year round.
* Pack or pre-apply sunblock if you are travelling in the warmer months (May to September). And take a poncho in case it rains
* I wore sneakers but I would have welcomed some proper hiking boots, especially on muddy days like ours
* Our DIY trip cost 250. With a guide it would have cost 350. While we managed to get to the first peak easily, many advise to take a guide if you wish to go further as it is pretty easy to get lost.
* Always keep a packet of tissues on you. This applies for anywhere in China as toilets don’t always provide toilet paper. There are toilets conveniently located at the foot and top of the terraces.