Ping’an – The Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces

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Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces

Up and up we climbed the red mountain.  Our tiny bus swerved back and forth narrowly missing mounds of rock that had been chisled away from the mountain.  Small rocks tumbled down the side of the mountain towards our bus while motorcycles whizzed around us at blinding speed.  Tour buses honked as they sped through blind corners, just grazing us as the past by. My makeshift seat rocked off its base as the bus “gingerly” climbed through giant potholes, mimicking a Jeep commercial.

To be a bus driver on the road from Heping to Ping’an Village you have to have some serious skill (and cohones) in order to do that job day in, day out.  During our travels we have seen some bad roads, but this one was by far the most dangerous.  On the way up to Ping’an we laughed, we cringed and we even shut our eyes at certain points.  As it sometimes goes while travelling, the journey up was an adventure all in its own.

rice farmer

The mountainous landscape was absolutely gorgeous as we reached Ping’an Village.  The red slate rock had turned to lush rice terraces, recently flooded from the morning rain which were stunning as the midday sun bounced off them. I could immediately see why the Chinese call this place, “Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces”.

rice terraces china

We set out for day long hike into the terraces and with the exception of the major two viewpoints, we felt as if we were the only ones there.  We would pass by a few local farmers planting rice one-by-one into the terraces, while others hauled large amounts of rice and vegetables in huge hand weaved baskets on their backs.  The locals were very friendly, always quick to flash a smile and say “Nihao” as we passed by.

ping'an baby

The terraces of the “Dragon’s Backbone” are made up of an intricate series of flooded gardens, connected to the one below it by piping.  Once the rain water has reached a certain level the water is displaced through the piping and send down the mountain to the next terrace, and on and on it goes.  This irrigation system has been used by the Chinese for centuries and was even taught to the Vietnamese as you can see in the rice terraces of Sapa.

irrigation system rice terraces

Chinese rice terraces

As you can imagine, the grandness of these terraces which go on for miles is hard to fathom until you are standing on the mountain overlooking this amazing feat of human ingenuity.  When we stood on one of the walking paths overlooking miles of rice terraces near the top of a mountain we couldn’t help but feel as if we were as small as the insects who often roam our hostel floors.

Ping’an Village is a sleepy town on the verge of something big.  You can feel it everywhere as the infrastructure of new roads, new buildings and new restaurants were all being worked on during our stay.  But they haven’t gotten there yet.  On certain  days of the week bus loads of Chinese tourists flooded the town, but for the majority of the time while we were there, the hotels, restaurants and shops were all virtually empty.  While saying this however, the prices of the food in the restaurants and markets are already inflated to tourist prices and it is tough to find a really cheap meal.

rice cooked in bamboo

A local delicacies of sorts, rice cooked inside bamboo over an open fire was one of our favourite meals during our time in the Dragon’s Backbone.  There’s no getting around it, rice in China is miles better than back in Canada.  The way it is prepared has made me a born again rice eater!

We really enjoyed our time in Ping’an.  The locals were some of the friendliest we’ve met on our travels, it was quiet enough to feel like you were the only one there at times and the hikes to the many different villages in the area is a treat for all other nature lovers out there.  To sit on the mountain, at peace with nature and take in the vast landscape of rice terraces was something that will hold a special place in our hearts.

Us at the rice terraces



Ross and Alyse



Lover of travel, photography, nature, movies, and nachos. If you love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings we'll probably become best friends.

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