I caught the bus from Guilin to the village of Dazhai, which sits at the base of Longji Rice Terraces, a place us foreigners like to call “Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces”.
The region was high on my Chinese travel photography list, and I was eager to check it off.
The only problem is that when I arrived, I did so to a white wall of mist and clouds.
For most of the first day, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, and only the very occasional break in the clouds would reveal the beauty that within our midst, in the mist.
We stayed in the village of Tiantou, an epic perch in the heart of Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces. It’s was 40-minute hike straight up into the hills from Dazhai.
Our room was perched along a cliff with a view of the rice terraces themselves.
I sat perched at the window wishing, and hoping it would clear. By the time it was dark on the first night, it still hadn’t.
I woke the following morning to the sound of my alarm clock blasting its 5am caw. I slipped on my gear, clicked my camera into the tripod and stared out the window at a pitch of black.
As the morning began to show its light, I watched a hole appear in the sky.
The clouds were breaking and spots of the Dragon’s Backbone were starting to appear. The rice terraces were blanketed in beautiful clouds.
With night still clung to our eyes we hiked up as high as we could while the clouds tumbled down the valley below. We found a spot where the scene developed down below like a set of rolling waves on the open sea. Ridges of rice terraces form like, well, a dragon’s backbone.
Below, the village of Tiantou sits atop the quilt of clouds like a town built in the sky.
Completely content with what I’d seen by 8 in the morning I climbed back into bed and slept until lunchtime.
In the evening, the sky was blue – a rare sight in the Longji Rice Terraces. But by the time the evening light found its way through my lens and onto my camera’s sensor, the sea of clouds had again flooded the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces and my view along with in.
Photography of The Yao People in China
In the morning, we crept down the hill to Dazhai.
We stopped to laugh with an elderly woman tending her flock of baby ducks. I joked with an Ethnic Yao minority woman, whose hair when unraveled would touch the floor.
But most of all, I wished that all the travel destinations in the world were still only accessible by foot.
In the village of Tiantou I had peace, solitude, and beauty. And despite the handful of tourists, I almost always felt like I had it to myself. A rarity anywhere in the world, let alone China.
Visiting Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces
This was definitely a highlight of my photography trip to China. Over 3 months, I’m not sure I enjoyed a stay more than this one. It was laid back. It was peaceful. And when the clouds broke it was absolutely epic.
If you’re planning on visiting the Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces, you’ll need to head to Dazhai. From there, you’ll have to hike uphill. There are some porters available spontaneously in town if you have a lot of luggage to carry. You don’t need a reservation at any of the hotels, but some of them are available via the online hotel booking sites.