Drip, drip, drip. The sound of the morning rain quickly became familiar to us. Like the locals, we donned raincoats and had our umbrellas handy. We were not about to let the rain stop us from sightseeing.
After a huge, deliciously greasy Chinese breakfast, we scrambled into a van due for Longsheng County. It turned out our driver wasn’t our tour driver but our driver to the tour bus. This little man up front was bursting with humour in broken English. He was a walking encyclopedia of catch phrases and Hollywood’s favourite idioms.
We sat in the van on a street corner, watching the locals drive passed in the pouring rain on their scooters with illegally fixed umbrellas, listening to him tell us how it was “raining cats and dogs now, but maybe it will stop and you can make hay while the sun shines.”
Our tour bus (another Jinbei van) finally arrived and we transferred over, a little saddened having said goodbye to our new friend. “Longji’s Terraced Scenic Area” (as per the name in the brochure given to us on the van) awaited us. That’s about all we caught from our tour guide – a young Chinese girl who spoke incredibly fast with a very strong accent. The tour driver remained silent and focussed on the merging and overlapping traffic.
There were seven of us on board. We had booked the night before through our hostel, Guilin Wada Hostel. I chatted with a lovely Italian lady as we drove about 90 kms up into the wet hills beyond Guilin city, crossing deep gorges along the winding way.
We stopped at Huangluo Red Yao (Long Hair) village and rushed after our guide, who had sped off. We were late. The women in the village are renowned for their long, straight, black hair. Some of them have hair almost down to the floor, which they tie in big buns above their heads and which look more like stylish hats than their actual hair.
Apparently you can tell a woman’s marriage status by her hair. The unmarried women pack their hair in a cloth so you can’t see it, while the married women show their hair in a bun (aka the “bun-hat”).
Inside a hall, we found the performance already under way. The all-female cast called for some men to come forward. They went into the crowd and easily persuaded my dad to join them, and also coerced two young Chinese men. Someone translated for us that the young women were looking for suitable men to “marry” on stage.
My dad’s first task was to choose a bride. She then led him off stage to don him with a traditional sash and headwear. The women presented the three men with a series of bracelets, which they had to buy. The two Chinese men were quick and bought the cheaper bracelets. My dad bought one for ¥50 yuan.
All business was transacted off stage while we were distracted by the continuing performance. We watched as the married women unfurled their long hair and then demonstrated how they roped it around their heads to form the “bun-hats”.
The couples came back on stage. They linked arms and drank a thimble of sweet rice wine. My dad’s new “wife” placed her arms around his neck and drank another thimble of wine. He followed the sign-language instructions and presented her with the bracelet he had bought. She gave him an embroidered purse in return. They were now officially “married.”
Then they danced in a circle while the other women formed an outer circle around them and pinched the men’s buttocks as they danced passed. It was hilarious to watch. And then it was all over. Dad went off stage, returned the sash and headwear, and never saw his “wife” again.
We ate lunch across the road from the village, in a restaurant on the ground floor of a beautiful traditional-style wooden mountain house. We shared plates of vegetables, noodles and meat, and drank green tea for our digestion. Old women with “bun-hats” waved trinkets in the doorway as we ate.
Afterwards, we got back on the bus and drove further into the hills. The driver switched off the air conditioning every time we went up a steep slope. The weather was starting to clear up, but the humidity was still making us sweat, especially in the back seat.
Once at our final destination, Jinkeng terraced fields, we piled out of the van and onto a cable car. The little glass cabins took us above the mist line to the top of the rice terraces. Souvenir shops littered the landing so we quickly began our descent. The idea was to take the cable car up and walk down within two hours.
Workers in blue and black with straw-pointed hats ploughed and tended to their terraces. The sun came out and every corner became a photogenic gem. The path was muddy and slippery, but it was worth the walk. At one point, we had to avoid a landslide and follow a path signed “farmers only.”
We passed traditional women carrying baskets of rice stalks over each shoulder. They all wore black skirts, despite the manual labour. Red writing marked the entrance to the doorways of their homes. When we reached the bottom, it began to rain again.
Longji Rice Terraces tour: with only one day to spare, we chose the touristy option and booked a day tour to see Longji Rice Terraces. We booked via our hostel, Guilin Wada Hostel the night before. The rain doesn’t stop the tour from running – you only need a sufficient number of participants to go.
It takes about two hours to go up the cable car and to walk at an even pace down Jinkeng terraced fields. It’s worth getting to the top quickly as you get a panoramic view (plus you get to skip any intense exercise in the sweltering humidity).
Travel time: it takes about 2.5 hours to get to Longsheng County. We watched the Long Hair performance in Huangluo Red Yao Village and then had about 2 hours of self-discovery time through Jinkeng’s terraced fields. Walking through the rice paddies was a great way to get an essence of how the locals live.
Entrance tickets: it costs ¥90 yuan to enter Ping’an and Dazhai/Jinkeng scenic areas. The ticket is valid for two days. Our tour cost ¥350 and included transportation, entrance, tour guide, lunch and the Long Hair show. The cable car cost extra.
Travel advice: be sure to carry a raincoat with you at all times during the wet season. The weather is completely unpredictable.
Photo: locals ploughing the rice terraces in Longji, Longsheng County, China.