That Time I Took a Group Tour to the Longsheng Rice Terraces

August 2, 2012

Hello, there, fine peoples of the Internet.

If you read my last post, you know that I’ve returned to the States for the first time in over a year and a half. (If you didn’t read my last post, then I guess you have some homework to do, huh? What are you waiting for? Go. Read. Now. I’ll wait.)

Also, if you read the last post, you know that I’m seriously behind on telling you about all the awesome places I visited during my last month of traveling in Asia – not to mention all the amazing food I ate. (Again, if you didn’t read my last post, then you might want to get on it already. Because, seriously, you’re missing out.)

Being the over-sharer that I am, I’d feel really bad not telling you all about my trip. I mean, that would just be plain selfish of me, right?

Besides, I kind of have this habit of eating sixty-five meals a day while I’m traveling because I tell myself I need to try everything so I can blog about it later.

I ate all this for you. The beer was for you, too. Happy, now?

So in order to fill you in on all my summer travels and to justify the fact that I can no longer fit into my pants, I’ve come up with a new bloggy series called, “That Time I Went Somewhere And Ate Tons of Amazing Food Just So I Could Write About It On My Blog But Then I Never Did Because I Was Probably Too Busy Going Somewhere Else or Eating Something Else. Or I Was Taking a Nap.”

Or just “That Time I…” for short.

To kick things off, I’m going to start by telling you all about the time last month I took a group tour to the Longsheng Rice Terraces near Guilin, China. Despite not being particularly fond of group tours. Or rice fields. (That’s what happens when you spend two months weeding them.)

Let’s get started, shall we? (Well, all of you who read my last post can get started. All of you who didn’t read the last post can get started over there. Like, now. Seriously. What are you waiting for?)

After the last few years of living and traveling in Asia, I’ve gotten pretty used to people approaching me trying to sell me everything from package tours to postcards to puppies.

Seriously, guys.


In Kunming, I had a man walk up to me on the street, open up his jacket and pull out a squirmy puppy which he wanted to sell me. Frankly, a puppy doesn’t really seem like something you should buy from some guy’s jacket, but, really, what do I know? I’m very rarely in the business of buying puppies.

Puppy, anyone?

My usual response when approached by a tout is to shake my head, smile vaguely, look off into the distance and keep on walking.

I’d like to think this technique makes me look pleasant yet unapproachable and mysterious.

In actuality, I suspect I look partially demented like I’ve recently suffered some kind of brain trauma.

Either way, it’s a technique that totally works. So, you know, feel free to use it during your next trip.

On my third morning in the tourist-packed city of Guilin in Southern China, I was wandering down one of the city’s pretty, tree-lined sidewalks, when I was approached by a short, barrel-chested man with a crew cut.

“Hello! You are beautiful,” he began.

Guilin’s shady sidewalks — full of shady characters… ready to call you beautiful.

While my first reaction was to keep on walking, I stopped to listen anyway.

Because, you have to admit, the man had a valid point.

What’s that, you say? I’m beautiful? I’m listening…

He gestured towards a nearby travel agency, “Do you want to go on a boat cruise or a group tour, pretty lady?”

I didn’t.

But that didn’t stop me from following him into his shop to be plied with brochures and more compliments on my stunning beauty.

After which, I signed up for a nighttime boat cruise and not one but two group tours.

I should probably mention here that I don’t even like group tours.

Mostly because I’m not a morning person.

Or a big groups of people kind of person.

Or a be-on-time-to-anything-that-I’m-not-getting-paid-to-be-on-time-to kind of person.

And, you see, group tours kind of have a way of combining all of those things I don’t like.


All on to one big huge tour bus.

And, in China, there is often some kind of matching hat component involved. And I don’t really do matching hats.

Group tour in Hangzhou. Complete with matching hats. Snazzy!

But if there’s one way to get me to do anything I wouldn’t normally do it’s to call me beautiful.

Surprisingly, this kind of thing very rarely happens to me.

I can’t imagine why.


Okay, maybe I can.

The first group tour I signed up for was for the Longsheng rice terraces, which are located about two hours outside of Guilin.

Nicknamed Longji titian or Dragon’s Backbone, the terraces are built along the side of the mountain, in a way that’s said to resemble the scales on a dragon’s back.

See the dragon? No? Me neither.

This tour left at the dreadfully early time of eight o’clock in the morning the next day. Because, apparently, rice terraces are the kind of thing that you need to see really early in the day, or they’ll totally go bad or something.

When I dragged myself on to the tour bus the next morning, I was greeted by an entire busload of people and our adorable, perky tour guide. By the way she chirpily introduced herself, I could tell she was clearly both a morning person and a big groups of people person.

Despite all that, I really kind of liked her.

Probably because she didn’t make me wear a hat.

And because she couldn’t remember my name, so every time she wanted to get my attention she’d call me “beautiful girl.” (It’s like everyone involved in the Guilin tourism industry was required to call me beautiful. If only this could be a requirement of everyone everywhere.)

As I made my way to the one remaining seat way in the very back of the bus, I noticed that I was the only non-Chinese person on board.

Judging from the stares and whispers I was getting, it was possible everyone thought I was part of the day’s attractions.

I started to wish I had taken a bit more care with my appearance. Maybe I could have actually bothered to do something with my hair – like comb it or something. Or, you know, put on a clean pair of pants.

My fellow passengers. Clearly disappointed in my lack of grooming skills. Clearly.

As the bus trundled out of town in the direction of Longsheng, our adorable tour guide launched into an hour-long spiel in Mandarin complete with singing.

The entire tour group was in rapture.

Even I was entertained.

And I couldn’t understand a word of it

She then delivered an abridged version in English just for me. “Hey, you, beautiful girl,” she yelled down the length of the bus to get my attention.

The entire busload of people turned around to look at me.

Or to look for the beautiful girl she kept referring to.

I’m not sure.

At the end of her English explanation, she informed me that if I wanted I could join an optional tour of an ethnic minority village after we visited the rice terraces. The tour would cost an extra fifteen dollars and take two hours.

The travel agent hadn’t mentioned anything about this optional tour when I’d signed up for the trip, and, frankly, it didn’t sound like anything I’d be interested in. I’d been on similar tours in Thailand — in which the so-called village turned out to be a disappointing collection of ramshackle huts constructed merely for the entertainment of tour groups.

This wasn’t really an experience I wanted to repeat again.

But I found myself handing over my fifteen bucks anyway.

Because, hey, everybody else was doing it.

And, okay, it helped that she kept on calling me beautiful. Seriously, guys, it’s like my kryptonite or something.

Getting to the rice terraces required a particularly twisty, nauseating hour-long ride up the side of the mountain during which the bus hurtled through hairpin turns at breakneck speed — not really bothering to slow down for stuff like cars or landslides or car accidents caused by landslides.

We finally arrived at the tiny mountainside village of Ping’an, located at the base of the rice terraces.


As we tumbled out of the bus, our tour guide informed us that our first stop was lunch. Because there’s really nothing like a few brushes with death and a couple bouts of motion sickness to work up your appetite.

We stopped at a village restaurant which served up the local specialty — meat and rice cooked inside stalks of bamboo.

Bamboo rice & chicken.

Outside of the restaurant, a muscle-bound, shirtless man hacked away at the bamboo with a machete.

Oh, hello, there, sir. Don’t mind me. I’m just going to stand here and stare.

While nearby a woman shoved the food-stuffed bamboo into a blazing grill.

Cooking up the food — bamboo-style.

As I was devouring my meal of chicken and rice, one of my fellow tour group members handed me a paper cup full of the local rice wine – which was surprisingly sweet and mild.

Local booze! Very authentic!

Another member of the tour insisted on paying for my meal.

I started to think this whole group tour business wasn’t so bad after all – what with the half-naked men and the booze and the having my meals paid for and the being called beautiful all the time.

Yep, I could certainly grow accustomed to this.

After lunch, our tour guide informed us we had two hours to explore on our own. She assured us this would be plenty of time to climb up the mountain and take pictures of the rice terraces and then get back to the bus.

And it probably would have been enough time, if you weren’t like me and constantly taking pictures of pretty things.

Ooo, pretty.

And funny signs.


And cheesy hats.

What the?

And people wearing cheesy hats.

Nothing says love like matching his & hers straw hats!

By the time I got to the top, I was already running behind almost everybody else in my group. And there were a bunch of people wearing cheesy hats and doing cheesy poses, so I had to take pictures of them, too. I mean, how could I not?

And, well, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, if I didn’t stop and get lots of cheesy photos of myself. And, you really can’t get much cheesier than a big white girl dressed up in an ethnic minority costume complete with a weather vane on top of her head, now can you?

I think the weather vane really brings out my eyes, don’t you?

I was already running kind of late for the bus, so I tried to make it quick.

But it took a while (and a whole lot of safety pins) to get me stuffed into that costume. Apparently, they don’t make ethnic minority dresses for sturdy girls like myself.

Plus, the husband-wife team who were manning the stall that rented out the costumes to tourists kept on calling me beautiful and insisting they take more pictures of me.

And, well, we all know what happens when people call me that.

What’s that you say? I’m beautiful? Well, I guess I can stay for a few more photos….

What’s been your most memorable group tour experience?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On August 2, 2012 at 2:19 am CheezyK said:

    That view alone looks like it might have been worth the tour!

    Most memorable tour group experience? Definitely the time we got left behind … Thankfully we were in Switzerland and able to take care of ourselves to a certain extent. In fact it ended up being a much better afternoon than we had planned 🙂
    CheezyK recently posted..there’s a word for it …

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:31 pm Sally said:

      Wow. Left behind? That sounds like quite the adventure! I’m glad I didn’t get left behind while on my tour. I was a bit worried I would since I was running so late. But one benefit of being the only white girl on the bus was that everyone knew when I was missing!

  2. On August 2, 2012 at 3:23 am Allison said:

    This post makes me so happy, it’s like a blast from my past! The first trip the (future) hubs and I took together just the two of us was to Ping’an, when we were wee exchange students in Hong Kong. In 2004. Awww.

    And then in 2008 we had our worst tour group experience. We accidentally booked ourselves onto a German 21 day trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls. It was efficient. To say the least.
    Allison recently tissue paper flowers

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:30 pm Sally said:

      Omigosh. That German tour sounds kind of like some of the tours I went on in Japan. I could usually only take one day of them as they were way to cram packed with stuff and by the end of the day I’d be whiney and in serious need of a nap. I don’t know how you did 21 days of that!
      And I’m glad the post brought back happy memories!

  3. On August 2, 2012 at 3:47 am cosmoHalliton said:

    My most memorable group tour took place in Germany. Our bus blew a tire on the Autobahn during a terrible heat wave. But instead of just hanging out by the side of the road watching life pass us by, we walked up to the next exit and found a delightful little spot to have lunch. After some spatzle and several mugs of cold beer, we rejoined the tour and found that the bus tire was just then being changed. Sure glad we didn’t stick around for that!
    cosmoHalliton recently posted..Middleton Place Restaurant

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm Sally said:

      Wow, I think I would have been worried to walk off on my own for fear that the bus would get fixed and take off without me. But it sounds like you made the right choice!

  4. On August 2, 2012 at 12:26 am penguinlady said:

    You look fabulous in that “local costume”!

    The Egyptians have perfected the “compliment the tourist” routine. They called me “Shakira” and my husband “Rambo” constantly. And hell yeah, I’m more willing to buy from a guy who offers my husband 10,000 camels for me!

    OK: best group tour. On our honeymoon, we went all over Australia. We took one group tour to the zoo where Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter) was based out of. But! Before we get there, we have to stop at The Big Pineapple, the most visited tourist stop in Australia! It was, of all things, a large, hollow, metal pineapple at the side of a road, beside a farm and an impressive gift shop. We were stopped there for HOURS. Y’know what, though? We got to see Steve and Terry Irwin in action at their home zoo. Completely worth it.

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:28 pm Sally said:

      Remind me to never go to Egypt. I’m pretty sure I’d be BUYING EVERYTHING if people were offering to buy me with camels. I’m obviously a sucker for flattery.
      And glad to hear you had a good time on your group tours in Australia. I went on two group tours while I was in Australia and had kind of a mixed experience.

  5. On August 2, 2012 at 1:04 am DebbZ said:

    I love your last 2 pictures in local costume ! You look beautiful 😀

    Most memorable group tour was my trip to Jordan, Israel and Egypt. It was the most difficult border crossing I’ve ever had. When we arrived in Israel I went through a full body check which mean I had to be nearly naked…..oh la laaa~~~
    DebbZ recently posted..Netherlands: A Flower-Filled Day In Keukenhof

  6. On August 2, 2012 at 1:39 am Camels & Chocolate said:

    I’m still pretty stuck on PUPPIES(!!!!). Way to distract, Sally. 😉
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Celebrating 5 Years + Win a 25-Day Trip for Two!

  7. On August 2, 2012 at 4:30 am Amitha said:

    You are looking very pretty in ther first photo of yours in the village costume 🙂

  8. On August 2, 2012 at 6:56 am Keith said:

    Hello Pretty Lady,

    I really enjoyed this post. Tour groups were fun in China. I felt like the tour mascot a couple of times. Did you happen to see the Yao minority in Ping’an or as I call them the long haired ladies? I wanted to see how long their hair was but I was to cheap to pay for their picture.

    By the way how did the puppy taste or is that only Vietnam?
    Keith recently posted..Confuses Says Light it at Night

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm Sally said:

      Yes, there were Yao minority people in the ethnic minority village that we went to visit after the rice terraces. There was even a “long hair show” (which basically consisted of them undoing their buns). But I don’t want to reveal too much as that’s the subject of my next post!
      And I never ate dog while I was in China, although it is eaten there. At least I never ate it to my knowledge… there were a few times I was never quite sure what I was eating & I just didn’t ask questions as I was scared to find out!

  9. On August 2, 2012 at 7:08 am Sid said:

    Hey beautiful girl, clean pants are totally overrated.
    I haven’t been on many group tours. I’ve eavesdropped on other group tours …
    Sid recently posted..A Lot Like Love – Journey

  10. On August 2, 2012 at 8:14 am Selly said:

    Amazing. I don’t think it was a bad idea to join that tour. Looks like you had a lot of fun, got lovely compliments, booze (!!!) and you had your meal paid for, plus that stunning outfit is just, well, I think you look BEAUTIFUL. As for that crazy trip up the mountain, I can relate. When my friend took me to Lantau Island, we took the bus to a small fishing village on the other side of the island and let me tell you, that was one hell of a ride. Miraculously our bus always had right of way and when we took another bus from the fishing village to the ferry dock that bus also had right of way, regardless of what kind of traffic was oncoming or what or who was trying to cross the road. That crazy bus ride was then followed by a crazy speed boat ferry and another crazy bus ride, how I didn’t say hello to my lunch again is beyond me. On a final note, stunning photographs of the scenery at the rice terraces.
    Selly recently posted..The Twitter Deal Breaker

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:21 pm Sally said:

      Yes, doing the group tour was probably a good thing. I’ve heard it’s hard to go to Longsheng on your own — especially if you don’t speak much (or, ahem, any) Mandarin.

  11. On August 2, 2012 at 9:25 am Indy said:

    My best tour was in Egypt. We went a couple of weeks after the revolution- no tourists, just us and our friendly guide who had pretty much all his other bookings cancelled. Our guide was insanely knowledgeable, passionate about both the modern and ancient history of his country. He was about to start his doctorate in Egyptology as soon as he saved enough. He was also super lovely, inviting us to his house to feed us (on the day our train got cancelled unexpectedly) and have us meet his wife and small son.

    Since we were one of a very small number of tourists, he negotiated an upgrade at every stage of our trip. Our cheap little backpacker trip turned into a luxury 5 star event, complete with him coming with us every place we went to show us around. We’re still friends and in contact, and I highly recommend him to anyone going to Egypt. He’s a star.

    On the other end of the spectrum was the tour of Troy… The tour guide was something else- the ‘facts’ he presented were derived from the movie starring Brad Pitt. He got very angry when he was challenged by several people in his group, and started yelling abuse at us. Mid rant he would also… for some reason start singing whatever he was yelling at us.

    He also had a speech impediment causing him to pronounce his t’s as d’s. ‘The walls were 10 feed dick’. Nothing drives home a sense of the tragedy like someone saying the words feed and dick around you.

    I am very immature. I suppose I should feel sorry for mentally ill people with speech difficulties, but honestly.. I was too busy laughing myself silly and winding him up further.

  12. On August 2, 2012 at 10:07 am Waegook Tom said:

    YAY the costume photo finally made an appearance here! I was wondering when it was going to show up. The tour actually sounds kinda fun in a bizarre, slightly awkward kind of way.

    Also, I kinda want to go on this tour now. If only to try and seduce the half-naked man.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..5 Reasons Not To Go To North Korea

  13. On August 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    Actually you are beautiful … that costume – wow …. Yes … b e a u t i f u l!! See how I am winning you over. I’m a quick learner. I was paying attention! Once again thank you for the laugh. I am just trying to think of what this kind of travel would be like – with dog. No …. No sir I do not want to purchase a puppy I already have one – ummm… but thanks. LMAO!! The only tour I’ve ever taken was when I had no choice. Vatican City. You can’t go in on your own anymore. Frankly I hated it. Kept trying to sneak away but kept getting caught. As gorgeous as everything in the Vatican was – that view … kicks the Vatican’s ass.

  14. On August 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) said:

    I am generally not a fan of group tours either (not because I don’t like large groups of people but because I generally dislike even SMALL groups of people… or even one person really), but as far as they go, this one really doesn’t seem too bad! For me, my kryptonite though would probably not be someone calling me beautiful but those puppies at the beginning of a post. If someone offered one to me, even one smuggled within a jacket, I would likely be powerful to resist! Ack… what am I going to do in Asia?!?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Choosing the Right Travel Camera Part 2: Major Components

  15. On August 3, 2012 at 7:11 am Gloria Faye Brown Bates/Granny Gee said:

    I enjoyed so much your post on your trip… I got my first email I subscribed to. I look forward to reading your blog. Granny Gee
    Gloria Faye Brown Bates/Granny Gee recently posted..‘Smoke’ In The Air…

  16. On August 3, 2012 at 9:19 am Audrey said:

    Haha, this sounds like a blast! Sometimes being the only foreigner on board can be such a fun experience, you know, with all the glances and extra attention. I have to admit, I kind of love it! And you got a great photo out of it!
    Audrey recently posted..Yusong Foot Spa | Daejeon, South Korea

  17. On August 4, 2012 at 12:46 am Priya said:

    Wow. So if I ever want to you to do something, all I have to do is say you’re beautiful? I’ll keep that in mind. Love the new new bloggy series! Looking forward to it 🙂
    Priya recently posted..Networking When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing With Your Life

  18. On August 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm Ceri said:

    Love it! 😀 You look pretty fricking awesome, girl!

    I think the only group tour thing I did was going to Yaxchilan and Bonampak in the south of Mexico. It was me, my Aussie friend, and a bunch of Europeans. Oh, yeah, and an American couple – We try to forget them because the American dude was *obsessed* with money and kept talking about it the whole time in a really loud annoying voice. :S
    Ceri recently posted..48 Hours in San Miguel de Allende

    • On August 5, 2012 at 9:22 am Sally said:

      Ha ha. That’s one good thing about going on a group tour in China with all Chinese people — I could never understand what anyone was saying so nobody annoyed me!

  19. On August 8, 2012 at 6:22 pm choi kum fook said:

    Another post concerning the padi field, still fond of padi and miss the padi field. That is great!! Miss Sally! Usually, the quality of hilly padi is much better than flat land one.The highland padi are more tasty and fragrance.But, the hilly padi usually is more costly and lesser yield than flat land one. That is why we couldn’t see terrace padi field in Malaysia! I seldom take part in group tour. I think it happened only few times during school days.Anyhow, group tour makes more fun, but restricted by time. Whereas solo traveler is more freedom, doing what you like, and timeless. Finally, I like both of them because I love traveling very much!!

  20. On August 31, 2012 at 10:48 pm Uncle Ed said:

    Love the pictures, I put the street scene up as my new desktop background replacing the picture of Scott and Julia to Mexico, but it does remind me vaguely of a friend of mine who pointed out I was a bit of a suck-up, and then embarrassingly set a trap to prove it, which I obligingly fell into. You are beautiful Sally, and that isn’t just because my neighbor is selling band candy 🙂 Good teachers I think must have that odd carmine stripe of wishing to please, how else beside silly faces do you get tech school students to do linear differential equations using Laplace transforms? Or teach English in China?

  21. On July 30, 2014 at 11:28 pm Trace@TravelEggs said:

    Looking fab in the latest ethnic couture of a far off exotic country aaand you got a weather vane on your head? Move over CNN weather lady, there’s a new kid on the block who’s going to knock your socks off! Love this post, thanks for such a brilliant read:) Trace@TravelEggs
    Trace@TravelEggs recently posted..Travel Eggs Fav 4 followers on Twitter


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