We stood high in the mountains of Southern China, surrounded by some of the world’s most incredible rice terraces. These paddies had been built over 600 years earlier and continued to be farmed to this day. We had the perfect view as the mist rolled across the valley below, making the water in the fields shimmer in the golden light. These were the famous Longi Rice Terraces, and we had traveled halfway around the globe for this sight. After stops in Hong Kong and Yangshuo, our trip in China was off to a fantastic start.
China has been one of the most surprising countries we have visited. Before our arrival, we applied for our 10 Year China Visa in Laos and traveled here after Getting Lost and Found in Vietnam. We spent a month in this unique and quirky country, covering as much ground as possible to include the incredible history, natural wonders, outdoor activity and food. This post encompasses our visits to Hong Kong and Guangxi Province, including Yangshuo and Longji Rice Terraces. There are four subsequent posts detailing the remaining segments from Yunnan and Tiger Leaping Gorge, Szechuan, Great Wall Trekking and our overview post of how to travel in this funky country.
Hong Kong Itinerary – 2 Days
We started our China trip in the flashy and colorful modern city of Hong Kong. This metropolis has lots of European influence from the former British rule, which makes the city a great “intro to China” given its Western style amenities. After Britain returned Hong Kong, the city has been under a 50 year period of separate governance, meaning that many things are handled differently than mainland, such as visa requirements. As US citizens, we were allowed free entry in without the need of our China Visa. In addition, there is free access to the internet without the constraints of the “great firewall” that censors usage across the border.
The bustling city is full of lights and striking skylines, made more interesting by the unusual use of bamboo scaffolding on even the highest skyscrapers. Many Chinese travel here to purchase their brand name goods and jewelry, which usually guarantees the authenticity. While in town, we took the cable car up to Victoria Peak for a superb view of the city from above, and walked along Hollywood Road to see some of the largest, gaudiest and most expensive pure gold jewelry imaginable.
Hong Kong is a food haven, with a wide range of Asian cuisines to whet anyones appetite. We tried several of the local specialties including the milk tea, Hong Kong style crabs and pineapple buns. After dinner, make sure to head down to the water and watch the daily light show on the skyline at 8:00pm. While we did not have time on our visit, the city also boasts many hiking and trekking trails in the surrounding hills.
Food – 4 out of 5
Culture – 3.5 out of 5
Scenery – 3 out of 5
Off Track – 2.5 out of 5
Accessibility – 5 out of 5
What To Do in Hong Kong: Take the cable car to Victoria Peak; Walk along Hollywood Road; Watch the light show on the skyline over the harbor; Sample the local eats; Hike the surrounding hills.
Yangshuo Itinerary – 3 Days
Yangshuo, located on the Li River in southern China, is covered with the striking forms of karst mountains. This same landscape continues into Southeast Asia, which we recently encountered in Ninh Binh and Bai Tu Long Bay in Vietnam. Like many places in China, the city of Yangshuo has become a hotspot for domestic tourism and is filled with kitschy knick knack shops and overpriced food. We stayed at Outside Inn, a local guesthouse in Chao Yang village, a few kilometers outside of the main town. This is a serene mountain encircled area set alongside the Yulong River, which is a tributary to the larger Li River.
Taking a bike from the hotel allowed easy access to mostly vacant countryside with some of the most beautiful mountain reflections in the valley rice paddies. A little further ride gave us access to Moon Hill, where a few hundred steep stairs reaches a giant limestone archway eroded from the mountain top. Another fun thing to do around Yangshuo is to take a boat ride between the karst range, on either a bamboo raft down the Yulong or a small motored craft on the Li. The boat docks in town are near local markets, where you can see people painting, sewing and making various crafts.
One of the most interesting things to do in town is to people watch at the local Yangshuo Park, where you can witness all kinds of fascinating activities. Groups of people play mahjong, cards or dance. For whatever reason, solo karaoke is a huge thing here, where several older locals bring an amplifier to the park and sing their hearts out, each competing for air space over other performers. This is not a group activity, just one person singing into a mic alone. When asked, our guide responded that he “could not explain this type of culture”. We also got the opportunity to take a cooking class nearby where we stuffed flowers, stir fried eggplant and enjoyed our food overlooking the ever present mountain scenery.
Food – 3.5 out of 5
Culture – 1.5 out of 5
Scenery – 5 out of 5
Off Track – 2.5 out of 5
What To Do in Yangshuo: Bike ride through the Chao Yang countryside; Visit Moon Hill; Bamboo boat ride on the Yulong River; Take a cooking class; Visit the local markets; Walk around Yangshuo Park.
Longji Rice Terraces Itinerary – 2 Days
After leaving Yangshuo, we drove a few hours north to see the famous mountain top rice terraces of Longji. The mountain air here is very cool compared to the intense humidity of Hong Kong and Yangshuo. We stayed in the picturesque hillside village of Ping’an, which is the less touristy of the two neighboring towns set amongst the terraces. Nearby Dazhai attracts more tour buses due to its installation of a cable car to the top of the mountain.
Ping’an is a dense cluster of hotels visited mostly by Chinese tourists. The boom in domestic tourism is ever apparent, with hotel construction visible in all directions. Each new building is vying to claim the best scenery and popping up in front of others, entirely blocking their view. The town is packed with amazing vistas which offer sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and rice fields. As with most places in China, we were able to get away from the crowds with a hike off the beaten path. We did a 10k+ hike through the rice terraces between Ping’an and Dazhai, where we encountered only one other couple trekking between the two villages. At the end of the hike, we found a spot for lunch with another incredible view before our driver brought us back to our start point. The trip took the better part of a day, and the trail is shown on maps.me.
Food – 3.5 out of 5
Culture – 2.5 out of 5
Scenery – 5 out of 5
Off Track – 3 out of 5
What To Do in Longji/Ping’an: Climb to Seven Stars viewpoint at top of Ping’an; Get away from tourists and hike from Ping’an to Dazhai through the terraces.
Are you dying to explore China? We spent a wonderful month seeing some of the most amazing places. If you are looking into flights, make sure to check out our favorite places in the country and our China Photo Gallery for some destination inspiration. And as always, feel free to contact us with any thoughts on our visit or logistics.
You can see other posts from our adventures in Asia including Non-Touristy Places in Cambodia, Trekking the Annapurna Circuit, Reasons to Put Malaysia on Your Travel List, and the Most Memorable Things to Do in Laos. These are some of our favorite experiences! Also take a look at our Adventure Gallery where you can see our travel pictures from dozens of countries around the world.
Do you have an interest in long term travel? Check out our Trip Planning posts, where you can learn how to prepare for a lengthy trip, see how to never check your bags on planes, find out about travel security and make sense of travel insurance, amongst others.