Visiting the Longji Rice Terraces was the highlight of my trip to southern China.
Rice terraces can be seen in small pockets scattered around the mountainous regions of Asia.
But the most beautiful are found in China, where agriculturalists carved out the land over 2,000 years ago to allow more farming to take place.
Some of the most magnificent terraces of all are found in Longsheng County, Guangxi Province. This is where the Longji Rice Terraces are located.
I was lucky enough to explore this region, go on some amazing hikes and meet the locals.
Longji is best appreciated at your own pace, over several days. So if you want to get there on your own steam, this guide should help get you on your way.
Welcome to the Dragon’s Backbone
Longji literally means the dragon’s backbone.
When seen from one of the many viewpoints throughout the 66 square kilometre (710 square feet) scenic area, you’ll understand why.
The ribbon-shaped terraces coil around the contours of the mountainside. It’s impossible not to imagine the serpentine spine of a gigantic dragon, encircling the surrounding villages in a peaceful slumber.
Just 90 km (56 mi) north of Guilin, Longji is remarkably accessible to visitors. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive each way (or up to 3 hours by public transport).
Why you should visit Longji Rice Terraces
When I visited Longji, I was amazed at how scarce foreign tourists were in the region. It seems many visitors to Guangxi skip over Longsheng to focus on Guilin, Yangshuo and the Li River.
The scenery is completely different from what you’ll see in the Li River region but equally as epic. Most of the foreigners I met in Longji were there for the amazing hiking opportunities.
All in all, Longji comfortably edges out Yangshuo as the highlight of my trip to Southern China!
Incredible mountain scenery
The mountain landscapes of Longji are insanely beautiful. Even if you’ve seen rice terraces elsewhere, Longji will blow you away.
For all you landscape photographers, this is paradise.
Unique ethnic minority cultures
The Zhuang and Yao ethnicities make up the majority population in Longji.
Particularly in the more remote villages, where tourism is yet to become more profitable than agriculture, people still live traditional lives, practicing many age-old customs and rituals.
Many folks still wear their traditional dress today. The Yao women are particularly noticeable with their glossy black hair wrapped atop their heads like turbans.
A Yao girl cuts her hair only once, on her eighteenth birthday. With an average length of 1.5 m (5 ft), it’s little wonder the Yao women rarely let their hair down!
Longji offers the chance to experience an authentic, immersive experience, especially if you stay with local hosts in ethnic communities.
This is something rarely found in more commercialized destinations like Yangshuo.
How to get to the Longji Rice Terraces
The easiest but most expensive option is to take a tour. Single and multi-day tours can easily be booked out of tour agencies in Guilin and Yangshuo.
Definitely go for a small group tour, or if you can fork out a little extra – go with a private guide and driver.
From experience, I can heartily recommend Wendy Wei Tours in Guilin. If you’re short on time, this may be the best option for you.
2. Shuttle bus
A cheaper option is to book a direct shuttle bus. These leave once a day from some of the more popular hostels in Guilin and Yangshuo – ask at your hostel for the daily schedule.
3. Public bus
For the bargain price of 40 yuan (US$6), you can take a public bus from Guilin’s Qintan bus terminal to the main bus terminal in Longsheng.
This trip takes about three hours. From there though, you’ll need to catch one of the regular shuttle buses travelling the further 30 km (18 mi) or so to the Longji scenic area.
So all up you’re looking at about four hours.
Most shuttles to Longji head to Ping’an Village, the busiest and most developed village in the Longji area. But there are a few each day destined for the considerably quieter Dazhai village.
You can check out the Guilin-Longsheng bus schedule over at China Bus Guide.
There are no longer buses between Yangshuo and Longsheng, so you’ll have to get to Guilin first.
The regular bus takes 2.5 hours, while the newish Yangshuo-Guilin high speed train flies by in just 24 minutes. Check the timetable here.
When to visit
March to mid-May
The planting season is Longji’s rainiest period.
While the low-hanging mist and flooded terraces can provide spectacular photo opps, heavy rain can occasionally put a halt to hiking for days at a time.
Late May to mid-June
Longji’s ‘spring’ is considered one of the best times for photography, as the rice crops are newly planted.
The water that fills each individual terrace creates a mirror-like surface, reflecting the blue sky and lush green hills.
Weather-wise, it’s also the most pleasant time, with lovely warm days and occasionally heavy, but usually short bursts of rain now and then.
Mid-June to August
After months of rain, summer sees the paddies shooting up to almost half a metre in height, creating emerald green fields as far as the eye can see.
Day-time temperatures past mid-morning are hot and humid, making long hikes potentially draining.
Late September to Mid-October
Just before harvest, the colors of the ripened paddies transform Longji into a vast expanse of rippling golden fields.
Longji’s most visually dramatic season is also extremely short and requires precision timing! By late October, the rice has been harvested and the paddies are brown and barren.
December to early March
Winter is low season in Longji. While the colours are far less vibrant and heavy fog regularly obstruct viewpoints, this is the season to come to experience the true serenity of the mountains.
Snowfall is rare and brief in Longsheng, but when it does occur, the sight of the terraces completely blanketed in white is nothing short of sublime.
In fact, Longji is one of the only rice terraces in the world to experience snowfall.
Where to stay
The quaint, friendly villages of Ping’an and Dazhai serve as the region’s main tourist hubs.
Ping’an is the more developed of the two villages. It has plenty of accommodation options from bare-bones hostels to luxury hotels with seriously knock-out views!
Ping’an’s narrow flagstone streets are lined with souvenir stands and snack stalls. The area can get quite busy during peak holiday times. Fortunately, once you hit the hiking trails, the crowds thin out really quickly.
This village is generally much quieter than Ping’an with a more traditional, less touristy atmosphere.
If you prefer a slightly livelier atmosphere, you might prefer Ping’an, although Dazhai’s setting is even more scenic.
Because the streets of both Ping’an and Dazhai are so steep and narrow, vehicles can only access the carparks at the foot of the villages, meaning that both villages are essentially car-free.
If your hotel is quite high up, you may face a steep walk of several hundred metres. Porters at the bus station will carry your bags for a small fee.
Tip for hikers: If you can, consider leaving your heavy luggage in a hotel or train station locker in Guilin.
Hiking in Longji
Day hikes from Ping’an
There are several day hikes from Ping’an. No guide is necessary, provided you stick to the main trails.
Viewpoint 1 – Nine Dragons and Five Tigers
This is an hour’s trip one-way. This trail ascends steeply and immediately into the hills surrounding the village, with the rice fields surrounding you on all sides.
As you climb higher, the views simply get better and better until you reach the top, which overlooks nine ridges with serpent-like scales.
Viewpoint 2 – Seven Stars Around the Moon
This hike takes you through a series of stone-paved laneways lined with cafes, shops and hawker stalls.
Push your way through the tight alleyways and steep narrow staircases and you’ll reach a magnificent viewpoint over the beautiful rural villages of Longji. You’ll see rice paddies rippling across the mountains in every direction.
Two other easy day hikes from Ping’an are the Ancient Zhuang Village Hike (2.5 km or 1.5 mi one way) and the 9 km (5.5 mi) walk to Tiantou Village.
Day hikes from Dazhai
Hiking around Dazhai will take you through the rice terraces of Jinkeng. This is arguably the most beautiful place in the entire Longji region.
Again, no guide is needed. The short hikes to the three most famous viewpoints are well-signposted.
Viewpoint 1 – West Hill Music
This is the highest viewpoint in Jinkeng. It gives you the most expansive panoramas of the stunning curvature of the rice terraces and the picturesque villages nestled in the crooks of the mountain.
Viewpoint 2 – Thousand-Layers to Heaven Terraces
Heavenly as this viewpoint may be, it’s a steep climb straight up a rocky, uneven trail. It takes a good hour to reach the top from the bottom of the village.
Viewpoint 3 – Golden Buddha Peak
Sure, you could take the 20-minute cable car ride to perhaps the most beautiful viewpoint in all of Longji. However, to truly appreciate the magnificence of this enchanting peak, you’ll need to be up way before the cable car’s 9am opening time.
Take a torch and tackle the 2.5 to 3 hour ascent to reach the peak just as the sun rises. You won’t regret it!
Multi-day hikes in Longji
The entire Longji region is made up of 11 villages.
Apart from the stunning scenery, the main reason to go on a multi-day hike is to visit the villages without road access.
In these remote, rarely visited villages, you’ll find most of the inhabitants lead a genuinely traditional way of life, without the need to put on performances to fit the tourist ideal.
As you can see from this map of the Longji region, the villages are quite spread out.
As you venture further afield, the trails can get confusing. Finding accommodation and communicating with your hosts can also be a challenge, especially if you don’t have any Mandarin skills.
For this reason, I don’t recommend multi-day village hikes in Longji without a guide.
Ping’an to Dazhai hike
The only exception is the popular Ping’an to Dazhai hike.
This reasonably easy 16 km (10 mi) walk takes around 4 to 5 hours. Here, you can gain a genuine glimpse into the lives of the local Yao minorities.
The hike passes through two villages along the way. If you’re coming from Dazhai you’ll first reach the village of Tiantou. Only 40 minutes’ walk from Dazhai, it gets its fair share of tourists, with a few Chinese-style shops, eateries and accommodation options.
Other than the magical scenery and serenity of this hike, the highlight is undoubtedly the ancient village of Zhongliu, about 10 km (6 mi) between Dazhai and Ping’an.
Made up of stone bridges, crumbling stables and less than a dozen residences, this 600-year-old hamlet is home to just a few deeply hospitable Yao families.
They will gladly offer up home-cooked meals to hungry hikers. Think sticky rice in bamboo with salted egg and the region’s ubiquitous ‘oil tea’ (a lot tastier than it sounds!)
In the high season, between May and October, it’s a good idea to book your end-of-hike accommodation in Ping’an or Dazhai in advance.
Then it’s up to you whether you bus it back to Longsheng the next day, or simply walk back the way you came — and enjoy one of the most scenic, surprising and culturally amazing hikes in China all over again.
My final tips
If you want to hike around the Longji Rice Terraces, you’ll definitely need to bring some comfortable walking shoes.
And, if you’re wanting to use Wi-Fi in your accommodation, make sure you grab a VPN before you leave your country. Otherwise, you won’t be able to access all your favorite websites and apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google, WhatsApp and many more.
You can check out this VPN review for China.
I fell in love with the Longji Rice Terraces and I think you will too. I’ve also traveled to the more touristy town of Yangshuo – you might want to check out my blog on the best things to do in Yangshuo.