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Standing On The Dragon’s Backbone, Looking Down

Spectacular, no? This view is all yours, should you feel like travelling twenty-two hours by slow train from Shanghai to Guilin, followed by two hours on a bumpy road (marred by occasional landslides) from Guilin to the village of Dazhai, and then finally hauling your travel-weary body uphill on foot for the last two hours to the top of the Dragon’s Backbone. There, as mountain breezes cool your face, the contoured layers of the very spine of the great green scaled beast spread out below to reward you.

I have visited the rice terraces of the Dragon’s Backbone (Longji titian) before, and couldn’t wait to get back there on this visit. Reputed to be over one thousand years old, the rice farming methods of the local Yao people have changed little. Yao villages are dotted throughout Longji, wooden huts cantilevered out over the steepest hills and clustered along the valley streams. The mountain paths between the villages lead the walker to incredible views over rows and rows of vivid green rice terraces.

The sound of water is everywhere, fresh cold mountain springs feeding the terraces from top to bottom, a system of bamboo pipes and channels diverting the water into and out of each terrace to keep the feet of the rice constantly wet.

In contrast to the orderly tamed rows of rice plants, the hillsides that are too steep for rice cultivation run completely wild with every kind of climbing, creeping tropical foliage, swathes of bamboo, exuberant ferns, exotic flowers, butterflies the size of small birds, and millions of frogs. It feels like wildness will cover the mountains in a smothering carpet of creeping green tendrils the moment my back is turned. The greenery presses in on the path from both sides, narrowing the broad stone stairs as I climb up and up to the mountain’s peak.

And there at last, after a day and a half of travelling, I’ve reached as high as I can go, and I can sit down and enjoy the view.

To reach Dazhai village and Dragon’s Backbone:

A minibus departs from Guilin train station every day for Dazhai village (two and a half hours)
Departs at 8am, 9.30am, 1pm and 3pm.

From Dazhai, the bus departs at 9am (direct to Yangshuo), 11.30am, 1pm and 3pm.

40 yuan per person.

Phone +86 18977392805 for information.

  • Mary Anne

    Oh, lovely! We wanted to go there when we were in Lanzhou but ran out of time and the tours would have taken too long (we were doing it over a 5 day long weekend). Next time!

    When are you going home? I miss having coffee with you!

  • Fiona

    MaryAnne (fellow Shanghai blogger who I get to have real life coffee with!) You will have to do it next time you're in Guilin – so incredibly beautiful! Will be back in Shanghai briefly next week but you'll still be in Canada I think…it will have to be a long coffee full of travel tales when we next catch up!

  • Fiona T

    Fiona this looks breathtaking. See you soon x x x

  • Fiona

    Fiona T – the pictures don't do it justice – it takes your breath away! But I am looking forward to visiting Brisbane too….;)

  • Trinh_Trinh

    Hi Fiona,

    I've reading your blog for the past few weeks now. I'm researching for my trip to china. And not to mention the amazing photos of the rice terraces, this is def is on my list to visit. Do you know if I can visit Dragon's backbone from Yangshou? I will be staying in Yanghou for 2 days (or more). And do you recommend staying up in the village over night? or a day trip is good enough in case I don't have enough time.

    Many thanks,


  • Fiona

    Hi Trinh,

    Sounds like you have a great trip planned! From Yangshuo, Dragon's Backbone is almost 3 1/2 hours' drive, longer by bus, then a walk uphill once you get there. You could do it in a (very) long day, but staying overnight might give you more time. And it is extraordinarily beautiful up on the mountain top, waking to the complete peace and quiet and nothing but the sound of the mountain springs outside your window.

    Cheers, Fiona