Upon seeing these stunning images of rice terraces in Southeast Asia and China, one could think that rice is actually only the byproduct of a bigger project: landscape art. The technique of rice farming and the work today is done pretty much the way it was millennia ago – one reason why most of the amazing rice terraces are still intact.The Philippines
The rice terraces in Banaue, a mountain village in the central Cordilleras in the north of Luzon Island, are located about 330 km north of Manila. Their construction was started more than 2,000 years ago by the local communities, ancestors of the Batad indigenous people, and with only primitive tools.
Banaue’s rice terraces are 1,500 meters (5,000 ft) above sea level and cover more than 10,000 square kilometers (4,000 square miles) of mountainside. It is said that if the plots were laid out next to each other, they would cover a distance of about 25,000 km (10,000 ft) – in comparison, the Great Wall of China is “only” 6,000 km (2,800 ft) long! No wonder then that Banaue’s rice terraces are frequently referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Window to the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the rice terraces in Banaue:
The ancient irrigation system is fed by the rainforests above the terraces through an intricate combination of collecting the water of mountain springs and transporting it via bamboo pipes, dams and sluices to the upper rice terraces, from where it flows through selected openings to lower paddies.
The whole of the rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, just to put them on the Red List of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2001. Almost 30% of the terraces are not managed any more and are therefore threatened by decay.
Rice farming is also backbreaking work, as most of the narrow paddies can only be farmed by hand, like they were millennia ago. No wonder then that the younger generation is more drawn to jobs in the hospitality industry, or moves away to Manila to make their fortune there. Pollution and an increasing number of tourists visiting the site are gnawing further on the famous “Stairways to the Sky.”
A village nestled in the rice terraces in Batad, 12 km away from Banaue:
The rice terraces in Batad look pretty and dramatic on a gloomy day:
Rice terraces in Banaue (right) and the Dragon Backbones in China:
What has saved the rice terraces built by the Hani people in China’s Yuangyang County so far is their relative remoteness. They are located in Yunnan province in southwest China, a region not easily accessible and therefore not exploited for tourism but rich in natural beauty and untouched scenery. The spectacular rice terraces drop from almost the summits of the nearby, 2,500-m-tall Ailao Mountains to the bed of the Red River.
The rice terraces in Yuangyang, China, look like an artwork:
The rice farmers who built the terraces almost by hand more than 1,000 years ago had to know about ecology and land preservation long before those concepts had names. Otherwise, without the hard work of maintaining the terrace walls as well as the ancient irrigation system, the precious top soil would have washed down the hillsides into the rivers.
Even today, the Yuangyang rice terraces are a self-sustaining eco system, perfectly in sync with nature like it was a thousand years ago. Just like the Banaue rice terraces, the Yuangyang rice terraces are irrigated with spring water from the rainforest above. The water then evaporates from the rice terraces and forms clouds whose rain water is collected and trapped by the rainforest, from where it is used for the irrigation of the rice fields again.
The clouds burst open over the rice terraces:
There is only one harvest per year but the landscape changes throughout with the many flooded paddies creating reflecting pools that are a photographer’s delight. In fact, the Yuangyang rice terraces remind one more of a painting than a real landscape.
Stained glass or impressionist painting?
The Dragons Backbone rice terraces in Longji, about 80 km north of Guilin or 27 km southeast of Longsheng County, in comparison, have been well-documented and attract a steady stream of visitors every day. Each terrace has been carved out of the mountainside during the Yuan and Qing Dynasties from the late 1200s to the early 1600s.
Rice terraces in Longsheng, perfectly in sync not only with nature:
The terraces cover an area of 66 square km (about 16,308 acres) and span an altitude from 300 m (984 ft) to 1,100 m (3,608 ft). They are still being farmed today.
Flooded rice terrace fields in Douyishu on the way to Yuangyang:
A house’s reflection in flooded rice paddies in Yangshuo County in southeast China:
Not a rice terrace, but definitely rice art:
IndonesiaUbud, with a population of only 8,000, is a small town in the southeast of the Indonesian island of Bali. Because of its scenic rice terraces and steep ravines, Ubud has become a popular tourist destination and major arts and cultural hub.
A building’s reflection in the rice fields of Ubud, Bali:
Flooded rice fields glinting in the sun in Pupuan, Bali:
On the way to Amed in Bali - rice terraces everywhere:Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam
A stunning view of rice terraces near the Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal:
Lush green rice terraces in Mae Rim, Thailand:Sapa in the northwest of Vietnam, near the Chinese border, is about 380 km away from Hanoi. It is a popular trekking destination because of the spectacular scenery of the Tonkinese Alps, home of the Montagnard hill tribes for centuries.
Browns, greens and symmetry in Sapa, Vietnam:
Like a stairway to the sky, a rice terrace in Sapa:
View of the Muong Hoa river and valley from Tavan, a 13-km hike from Sapa: