14 September - Mengla - 72km
It was a short
20km ride up a moderate hill to the border. Then a very easy
border crossing, since we had our visas. Once across the border
I draw some money at the local ATM, which was more guess work
than anything else as it never really gave me an option for
English. In the end it spat out some money and we were on our
We found ourselves
on a brand new highway with bridges and tunnels through a very
scenic country side. My bike seemed to be giving problems again
and it became increasingly difficult to turn the peddles. I felt
sick and weak with a stomach problem, but fortunately it was a
downhill ride into the first town in China. China is nothing
what I had expected. The first town was modern and not very
“Chinese” whatever that may mean. I was extremely relieved to
find a room and just lay down. I had a fever and lay shivering
under a blanket for the rest of the night.
15 September - Mengla (Meng La)
We spend the day
in Mengla to have a rest and check things out a bit, get a new
sim card etc, etc. Good thing I draw some money at the border as
there seemed to be no ATMs accepting Visa or MasterCard. I found
a sim card but was still unable to phone, although it appeared
that I could send a text message. It also appeared that one
could not access Facebook in the Province of Yunnan. It could be
due to the recent political unrest in the province or maybe
Facebook is just blocked in the entire China. Blog sites are
also blocked but at least there is a way around that.
Ernest worked on
my bike again and hopefully it would peddle a bit more freely
than before. He was also brave enough to shop for meat at the
local market. Noodles could be found in all shapes and sizes and
rice was of cause plentiful.
16 September - Mengla (Meng La)- Menglun - 75km
After a very slow
start we left at about 10h00 and cycled along the brand new
highway. Ernest had another flat tyre but he’s so good at fixing
it by now that it only took a few minutes before we were on our
We past a small
village and decided to have some lunch. We sat down at a
roadside table and were brought some sticky rice and various
other dishes of unknown origin (including chicken feet soup and
pigs ears stew). It was delicious and after we had our fill, we
tried to pay but the owner did not want to accept any payment.
We were wondering if it was actually a restaurant or just
someone’s home!!?? One thing is for sure, we have left the world
of bread and coffee.
We found a room in
Menglun just minutes before a heavy thunder storm came down.
17 September - Menglun - Jinghong - 75km
A short, scenic
and easy ride into Jinhong along the Mekong River. After a few
km we turned of the highway and onto a much smaller road, past
small villages. We also met 2 other cyclists from Austria who
has been cycling for 9 months all the way from Austria and who
will end their journey in Malaysia. We chatted for a while and
then we were on our respective ways again.
We reached our
first big town in China, and found it to be a modern and busy
city. Although it looks very European the big difference is that
absolutely everything is written in Chinese, making it rather
difficult to find a hotel. Very few people speak English which
adds to the confusion.
Ernest and I took
different rooms and I had a peaceful and quiet evening,
wondering around the night market and nibbling on street food.
18 September -
I spent the entire
morning looking for a bookshop to find a book about China and a
road map. All invane, as the only maps I could find were in
Chinese which does not help me a hell of a lot. This is
obviously not a tourist place as the whole day I did not see a
single foreigner (or Ernest) and by the way the curious locals
stare at me I guess not many “long noses” come here. Ha, ha not
that I can be described as a long nose!!
I’m intrigued by
the food as there are just the most interesting eats to be
found. One I like is dried, spicy mushrooms which one can eat
like biltong, or mix in with the noodles. Pig’s nose and ear
salad is also very popular. Bread and cheese is unheard of here
so it’s local food or nothing
19 September - Jinghong – Puwen - 105km
showed up again, so by 09h00 I decided to leave, as I was not
sure if he was still in town or had already left. I followed the
highway as I had no map or any other info about China. After
20km the police kicked me off the highway and I followed a small
secondary road, through tea plantations and rice paddies. The
road hugged a nature reserve for most of the way so it was an
extremely scenic ride, even although I had no idea where I was
Most of the day
was uphill and very slow going. By 5 o’clock I found the small
village of Puwen which fortunately had basic rooms available
where I could stay for the night. I lay in my room listening to
the sounds of the village, an old man wailing in the back yard,
chicks chirping, children laughing and not long one crying, this
could be anywhere.
October 1 is
China’s National day. They celebrated the 60th
anniversary of the PRC. So all that was on TV was the
preparation for the week long festival, and pro China
documentaries and speeches.
20 September - Puwen – unknown city - 90km
Without a map and
with no means to read the road signs all I could do was follow
the road. From time to time I checked if this was the road to
Kunming, but in most cases they just stared at me. I’ll have to
get used to people staring, this is only day 5 in China and it’s
already getting at me.
There is not an
inch of flat land in this country, I peddled up hills all day
long and eventually arrived in a fairly large city. After
finding a room and rinsing my cycling clothes (very nice room
with TV etc, etc) I decided to go to the local supermarket. I
was stared at in silenced all the way their and back. While
shopping, my every move was watched and every item I put in the
basked discussed. Arriving back at the hotel, the bag was eyed
with great curiosity.
The hotel staff
was very helpful and I managed to get the message through that I
was looking for a road map. A few minutes later the lady arrived
with a map of the province, all in Chinese, so I still had no
idea what the name of the city was. It was, however, better than
nothing and at least showed cities and towns along the way.
21 September - 80km
With map in hand,
I set off, up and over the mountains again. The km on the map
and the distance I cycled just did not add up. I tried to
compare the squiggles on the map to the squiggles on the road
signs but to no avail. On top of a mountain I found a small
village with rooms to let. It was only 15h00 but according to my
estimates it was at best another 45km to the next big town and
over yet another mountain pass. The fact that the faded sign
board indicated 71km made me stay put.
The room was very
basic but what can one expect for R10 rand, used condoms and
cigarette butts covered the floor, I just kicked them to one
side and settled in.
22-23 September - MoJiang
Early morning I
was ready to leave and found another cyclist who arrived late
the night before. He was a local guy who is cycling around
Yunnan Province. We cycled together for the rest of the day. I
did not feel very well and seemed to be plagued with stomach
It was however
nice to have some company and to see that I’m not the only one
going at snails paste up the long winding mountain passes. We
stopped regularly to admire the views and speak to the locals.
On top of our last mountain pass we were offered tea by a local
lady, we sat in her humble home enjoying tea and cucumber which
is dipped in chilly powder. On our long downhill run into the
city of MoJiang my cycling partner had a flat tyre and waved me
on. I arrived in the city of MoJiang and found the city fairly
large and very modern. My hotel room was reasonably priced and
very modern, but no internet.
I was sick all
night with stomach problems and decided to stay in bed the
The next day I
stayed in bed just leaving to see if I can find an internet. I
found an internet café where hundreds of Chinese were sitting
playing computer games. I could not use the internet as it
appeared that I needed a prepaid card for that purpose. From the
hand signals I also understood that they could not sell me one,
how strange. I’ll have to find out how it works. Shops along the
street were however happy to let you use their computers without
24 September - 75km
I woke and felt
slightly better than the previous days. Although not 100% and
feeling rather weak from lack of food I decided to move on. It
was probability not the best decision. I could hardly get up the
first hill out of town. I was creeping along with thousands of
flies buzzing around my head, getting into my ears and nose!
Someone up there must have been looking after me, as after the
first hill it was virtually a downhill run into the next big
city. The road was rather bumpy and although it made the
downhill rather slow it was better than going up. I was so
relieved that I booked into the first hotel I spotted.
I managed to make
some plain noodles just adding salt and hoping I could keep it
down. At this rate its going to take me a long time to get to
25 September - Xingcheng – Yang Wu-
Every morning I
wake up, convinced that I feel better than the day before, but
as soon as I eat or drink something, it comes straight out
again. Nevertheless I got on the bike and set off up the
mountain pass. 35km of climbing took me 4 hours and left me
totally exhausted. I realized that I would never make the next
big town and that I just not have the energy to do it. At lunch
time I found the first room I could get and probably the worse
room imaginable but I was in no condition to argue and just went
to lay down, surely by the next day I must feel better. I still
could not eat anything and even drinking water left me feeling
nauseas. Staying without food and water is not a solution as
that’s what I need most. It must have counted as one of the
worse cycling days to date.
A strange set of
circumstances played out as after a few hours, the lady of the
house woke me up to say that the bus will be there in 30 min.
This was probability not a place to stay overnight but maybe
just a rest stop where people wait for the bus. I did not argue
and packed my back. She walk me all the way to the highway where
the bus stops and waved it down. (Maybe they just did not want
foreigners to stay over). At least the bus took me to the next
big town about 65km further down the road. Once there I found a
rather nice hotel and stayed for the night.
26 September - Eshan
I spent the day in
Eshan to see if I could feel any better. I tried in vain again
to do the internet, but at least found a supermarket and a ATM.
27-28 September - Eshan to Kunming
On the morning of
the 27th I woke feeling even more nauseous and this
time with a sore throat and snotty nose. There and then I
decided to take the bus to Kunming, hopefully there I’ll be able
to find a chemist that can understand English. The ride to
Kunming was much shorter than expected and less than 100km and
at a fee of R30.00 I thought it very reasonable. Once in Kunming
I found the city much larger than expected, with flyovers,
highways and extremely heavy traffic. After what felt like ages
I found the place I was looking for. A very nice backpacker’s
hostel with all the facilities one can wish for (free internet,
Wi-Fi, restaurant and laundry) - now that’s my kind of place. I
took a room in one of the dorms which were spotless with white
linen and all.
I spent the
following day wondering around all the fancy shops, supermarkets
and excellent outdoor stores. Parks are plentiful and real
havens, especially early morning when elderly ladies are doing
their exercises in the park to local music.
29 September -
4 October - Kunming
Hostel is a great get-together for all and I met some real nice
people, I took a walk with Zoe to Green Lake Park, the 1000 year
old Yuantong Tempe and we had a bit to eat at an excellent
vegetarian restaurant. Arriving back I found Ernest already
booked in at the Hostel. I was kind of pleased to hear that it
was not just me who took for ever to arrive at Kunming, and who
found the road extremely difficult.
I was still
suffering from severe stomach cramps and an extremely bloated
stomach; I was rather listless and quite desperate to feel
better. I found it impossible to eat anything at all. This
condition carried on for the next 5 days. I felt more and more
weak and was only able to eat very small bits at a time. By that
time I had lost so much weight it was scary – I only weigh 48kg.
In the meantime
there was more than enough drama to keep me occupied. Two of the
lockers in Ernest’s dormitory were broken into and with him
being the only other person there he was suspect number one.
Fortunately the one guy’s alleged stolen goods were recovered in
his locker, and together with a whole list of other
circumstances, he became the prime suspect and Ernest was
cleared. However, he is still a witness and had to provide
lengthy statements to the police – hopefully we’ll be allowed to
5 October - Kunming –
Unknown town - 80km
Wow, how time flies! It was
defiantly time to move on. Again we followed a secondary road
out of the city (bicycles banned from Expressway as usual) and
headed in the direction of Dali. The road was a bit full of
potholes and the going not as good as expected. I was definitely
not my usual self but pushed on until we found a town to sleep
for the night. Rooms are very cheap in the small places, but
without frills. Ernest, as usual, went to the market – and later
prepared potatoes which we ate with a fresh salad.
6 October - Unknown town
to Lufeng - 38km
I felt weaker than expected; my
legs just did not want to go around and around! We followed a
really bad road; past more rural villages with corn hanging from
balconies and rafters, etc. (some obviously had a better crop
than others). With local dogs snapping at our heels we pulled
into Lufeng, which was a fair-sized town, and we found good
hotel accommodation in the center of the town for R50.00.
7–8 October - Lufeng –
Chuxiong - 83km
A most scenic day on the road
again, although the road was in poor condition it was an
enjoyable day as we followed a narrow and steep river gorge.
There were many narrow dark tunnels with broken road surface,
making it rather tricky to share with trucks and other traffic.
We again found cheap accommodation in the city centre (first
look for the food shops, then find a room in the vicinity!).
Ernest went to the market and came back with a bag full of
take-away food, rice and 4 types of vegetables, all for R6.00. I
felt stronger but not a 100% yet.
The next day we stayed in town and
extended out Chinese visas for another month. We found a better
room close to the Foreign Affairs office (a few k’s from the
previous day, but close to another market area). The fact that
one can buy the most delicious food on the street corner
encouraged me to stay and I spent the day eating rice and
various types of vegetables.
9 October - Chuxiong -
Shaqiao - 61km
I felt somewhat stronger after a
day of rest and good food. We set off on the bumpy road, hoping
it would improve but we had no such luck. I could feel winter
approaching and had to dig out the old windbreaker from the
bottom of my bag. Gee, I have not used that for more than a
year, maybe even longer. It’s still sweaty work up the hills but
on the downhill it’s really getting a bit chilly now.
Chinese are big tea drinkers, and
you will seldom see a Chinese without a jar from which they
refill with water and seem to sip all day long.
10 October - Shaqiao -
Xianyun - 95km
A most difficult day on the road,
the road was in poor condition and very bumpy, something that
tested my mental strength. Not only did we encounter steep hills
but a head wind as well. We pushed on regardless and only
arrived at our destination at around 5pm.
We did the usual and looked for a
room around the food alleys and I had the most delicious meal of
rice and veg I could have wished for. It was an early night for
me as I was totally exhausted.
11 October - Xianyun –
Xiaguan ( modern-day Dali City) - 71km
I was still tired in the morning
and wondered how I would fair. The road started with a long
mountain pass but once over the top it was a down hill run into
Dali City. The road lead us past numerous small villages, where
crop harvesting was in full swing and all types of conceivable
grains were being dried by the road side, everything from rice,
corn, chilies and beans were spread out in the sun for drying.
Although it was fairly early, and
we could carry on to Old Dali, we decided to take a room and
find some nice Chinese food again. We were rather disappointed
as now that we were in a more touristy town the prices were much
higher and the food not nearly as good as the previous days.
12 October - Old Dali – 14
We left Dali city at a leisurely
pace as it was hardly 15km to Old Dali where we found a room at
a reasonable price, just outside the walls of the old city. The
Old city is very touristy with loads of tourist busses pulling
in all day long. It is, however, still a relaxing and easy going
village, with cobblestone streets, surrounded by a restored old
wall and gates.
I could not wait to explore the
alleys, shops and touristy stalls which lined the streets. There
was food aplenty and just as many clothing and jewellery stalls
all offering overpriced items for the bus loads of tourists
(mainly locals). Many restaurants offer pizzas and western style
food (which I’m not going to complain about right now).
13-14 October - Dali
Three days in Dali
and so many pizzas later, it was definitely time to move on. I
bought some warm clothes as we were heading north where I was
sure it would be much colder. I also spent some money on a new
pair of pants as the old ones kept on falling down. The people
here are so small that the pants fit but are only three quarter
length for me.
- Dali – Songgui - 99km
The day started
with an easy flat cycle along the lake with a bit of a tail
wind. Then we had a 15km winding uphill ride which was not too
bad as the road for once was in a fair condition. The scenery
was great as we could look down over the deep valleys. I even
spotted some snowy peaks further north and felt thankful for the
warm clothes I’d bought in Dali. To our surprise we had a 12km
downhill run into the village of Songgui where we found a room.
A brand new hotel with all the modern fittings, snow white
bedding and towels all for R60.00. So all in all a very pleasant
day on the road.
It great walking
out to find some food as it’s always a surprise what ones going
to find. The typical street-side restaurant will display all the
ingredients, so one can just point to it and they will cook it
up for you, and of cause usually served with rice (and sometimes
a choice of noodles).
- Songgui – Lijiang - 74km
Again the weather
was perfect for cycling, sunny, cloudless skies, (even a bit of
a tailwind) what a pleasure. Even the road was in good
condition. The scenery was again outstanding as we cycled up and
down hills past rural villages. (Darn, those hills are steep!).
At lunch time we
stopped for a bit to eat (rice, with side servings of beans and
cabbage all fried up in a wok) and with full bellies we set off
up the next mountain pass.
We reached the old
city of Lijiang in good time and managed to find a room in the
narrow cobbled stone streets of the old city.
The next two days
were spent exploring the old city, getting lost and eventually
finding our way back to the popular budget Ma Ma’s Naxi Guest
Ma Ma’s is a great
get place to hang out, besides the cozy courtyard, mamma looks
after every guest and fed us fruit and copious amounts of tea
(all for free).
I decided to play
backpacker/tourist for a few days and to take the bus North to
the highland town of Shangri-La (formerly Zhongdian) and from
there back to do the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike. I felt the need
to do something different from cycling, eating, and sleeping day
- Lijiang to Shangri-La (by bus)
Ernest decided to
join me on the bus to Shangri-La but with his bike, so he could
cycle back instead of going to the gorge to do the hike. I was
all excited to get on the bus as this was quite a novel thing
for us to do. The bus left the town and in no time headed up the
first hill and one could see Lijiang far below us. The bus
snaked up and down steep mountains and for once I was thankful
not to be on the bike.
After more than 4
hours we reached Shangri-La and at an altitude of 3300m it was
bitterly cold (1000 m above Lijiang). Definitely not my
“Shangri-La”. Well the place is fairly touristy and in my
opinion not a Shangri-La at all (although there is an Old Town
area with a strong Tibetan influence).
It was really hard
getting up and out of our warm beds, but eventually we braved
the weather and headed for the square were we could found local
BaBa (fried flatbread served with chillies). Just around the
corner from the square we also found the ever present steamed
rice dumplings, but this time not with meat inside but veggies
or mushrooms, so I was in seventh heaven and ate a whole bag
We wondered around
the old town, along narrow alleys and cobble-stone streets,
dodging hordes of Chinese tourists. We tried going to the nearby
monastery but the entrance fee was so steep that we gave it a
miss, and rather went back to town and walked up the hill to the
picturesque temple overlooking the old town.
- Shangri La – Qiaotou
We were reluctant
to leave our warm beds and it was late in the morning before I
eventually donned my little backpack and headed for the bus
station and Qiaotou. The bus took app. 2 hours to reach Qiaotou
and once there I first wandered around the small town before
heading for Tiger Leaping Gorge. The entrance fee to the gorge
was 50 Yuan and once past the ticket office the signs for the
High Trial were clearly visible, as all the Guest Houses on the
trial advertise themselves on large stones along the way. I
started the walk fairly late in the day but reached the first
Inn after about an hour and a half. Right from the start the
views were exceptional and I felt extremely happy and privileged
to just be on the trail.
According to my
brochure it was a 3 hour trek to the next Inn so I decided to
stay at Naxi Family Guest House for the night. The Guest House
is a traditional Naxi home run by a very friendly Naxi family.
The rooms had excellent views and were very comfortable and even
came complete with electric blankets.
- Tiger Leaping Gorge - Naxi Family Guest House – Tina’s Guest
I woke up to
excellent views of Jade Dragon Mountain from my bedroom. At a
leisurely pace I had breakfast consisting of a plate of fried
noodles and veggies as well as a walnut pancake. By 9h00 I was
ready to start the walk and just ambled along the path with high
mountains on both sides of the trial and the river far below. I
walked past small villages high up in the mountain, where people
were going about their daily chores, feeding their livestock and
collecting wood for the fast approaching winter.
Every now and
again I came upon a lodge where I could stop and have a cup of
tea, which is always provided free of charge.
Further along the
path I came across high waterfalls spilling over the path and
had to be careful not to be washed away over the edge. With a
sigh of relief I made it across and continued along the path.
The views of the gorge with the river far below were excellent.
In no time I reached Tina’s Guest House, which is located at the
junction with the road and as there was a bus leaving for Lijiang, I hopped on and found myself back in Lijiang at around
21h00. Ernest had arrived a couple of hours before me.
I could not wait
to head for the BaBa and fried potato-stand down the alley, all
very oily and greasy, but yummy. I spent the day lazing in the
sun, eating and chatting to other travelers. I have defintely
picked up the weight that I had lost before Kunming after my
illness and I’m feeling strong and healthy again (thanks to the
fried babas and all the fried potatoes).
I love China,
especially the fact that there are so many ethnic groups, all
still with their own customs. Besides the Han majority, in the
South-East there are regional minorities such as the Dai, Bai,
Naxi, Yi, Mosu, etc., who all differ not only in looks, but also
in architecture, food, clothing and customs. Many of the places
where we’ve stayed are part of the family home and one gets a
peep into their daily family life. The restaurant area is
normally where the family eat, watch TV, kids play and pets laze
Just as I find
something really nice to eat, it totally disappears as one moves
into another area and one finds totally different food. We are
now around the lake where there is, obviously, a lot of fish.
Small pigs are also being barbecued on a spit around every
corner. Here one sits at a low table with wire mesh in the
middle and coals underneath, so one can “braai” your own food,
all provided half cooked in individual dishes.
24 October- Lijiang
Instead of heading
off we spent another lazy day at Ma Ma’s Naxi Guest House. This
was such a relaxing place. I sat talking to other travelers in
the courtyard, while being constantly fed fruit and tea by Mama
- obviously in charge and constantly busy organizing lifts to
the bus station, or train, bus and plane tickets for travelers
(while Baba does the driving or dozes in front of the TV).
It’s amazing that
Lijiang is such a nice place to hang out, given that it is
immensely touristy. I loved the fact that I was not constantly
being stared at (something that I get a bit tired off in the
countryside) at least in Lijiang there are thousands of tourists
(albeit mostly Chinese) and one can just blend in and feel half
- Lijiang – mountain camp - 61km
After being fed
coffee and banana pancakes by Mamma (all free of charge) she
sent us on our way with a bag of fruit. We headed out of town
towards Lugu Lake, home to Mosu villages. I believe the Mosu are
the last practicing matriarchal society in the world. So after
reading “Leaving Mother Lake” a fascinating account of the
author’s childhood memoirs growing up in a remote pat of China,
I was keen to see what it’s all about.
After a long
downhill we crossed the Yangzi River and encountered a 40km
mountain pass. Not only was it a climb of 1700m to an altitude
of over 3000m, but it was on a rough cobblestone road. Heavens,
who still paves a road with such rocks? - definitely not
cyclists, a plain old dirt road would have been much easier on
my backside. The going was dreadfully slow and half way up the
hill we decided to put up camp and carry on in the morning.
An easy place to
camp is near the water point where trucks and busses fill up
with water for their brakes, as there is always toilets, water
and normally a small amount of stuff to buy. It, however, comes
with loads of buss passengers all wanting to chat and take some
photos of the 2 mad cyclists (they think they are roughing it in
a bus). The owner of the water point was however very friendly
supplying us with a flask of hot water and a spade full of coals
to keep us warm.
- Mountain Camp - Ninglang - 74km
We were reluctant
to get up, as it was rather cold so high up in the mountains. We
slowly emerged as the sun come over the ridge. Soon loads of
tour busses arrived and we spent, what felt like hours, trying
to explain where we’re from and where we’re going. We posed for
innumerable photos and eventually carried on up the never-ending
At snails pace we
moved up the mountain slipping and sliding on the cobblestone
road, and dodging stones rolling down from the steep mountain
sides - landslides seems to be a regular occasion and every now
and again the road was blocked with just a small section cleared
to let traffic through. Eventually the cobblestone road gave way
to a perfectly good tarred road, (now why could they not do that
the whole way?) and we managed to make better progress. Once we
reached the top (3100m) a real good downhill awaited us, and
with long shadows we coasted into Ninglang with the long hill
In Ninglang we
found a room and good take-away food, and settled in for the
night, after a luxuriously hot shower.
- Ninglang – Mountain camp - 59km
It was freezing
cold in the morning and we struggled to get out of bed. After
unsuccessfully searching the town for an ATM we left and
immediately encountered a mountain pass. It would also not be
the only one for the day. The road to the lake was narrow and
not in great condition, but at least very scenic. This was truly
rural China with loads off colorful villages and locals going
about their daily business. Once we reached the second mountain
pass for the day we, to our surprise, found yet another
cobblestone road. Our pace slowed, once again, to snails pace as
we headed up the hill. The road was so narrow that every time a
bus or truck came along I jumped off the bike and rather waited
for it to pass instead of being flattened or forced over the
sheer edge into the ravine far below. (The bike tends to jump in
all directions on the stone road, especially when crawling up
the steep hills).
As night was
falling we thankfully reached the only piece of level ground
we’d seen for a while – a patch bordered by the curve of the
road, a homestead, and an animal shed – just big enough for our
tents. Importantly, there was also water, as there was a stream
and the residents supplied water to the trucks and busses (brake
coolant). At 3000m it was rather cold as soon as the sun
disappeared and we donned all out warm clothes. Again our
activities where closely observed by all, including the pigs,
dogs and chickens in the makeshift shed a metre or 2 away.
- Mountain Camp – Lugu Lake - 21km
We only got going
after 11h00 as the sun just never seemed to rise over the high
mountains around us. The pass continued up for the next 6km and
but eventually we reached the top at 3350 metres. There was no
mistaking the top for all the prayer flags and the excellent
views. I was more than happy to rather go down, cobblestones and
all. The road was so narrow and the cobblestones so slippery
that I was constantly wondering whether I was going to slip off
the edge and just disappear down the gorge.
It was, however,
a good downhill run to the lake, and what a view!! The view was
worth every slippery cobblestone. Luoshui was the fist village
we came to and we took a room as; we understood, they could give
as some cash in advance on the credit card. The phone line was
however off and if I understood it correctly they said we must
try again in the morning (big risk!).
- Luohui – Lige - 10km
machine accepted my card and I could pay for the room as well as
get some cash. Phew, that was a huge relief. We packed up and
cycled along the dirt road leading around the lake which later
improved to a newly tarred road). Ten k’s later we found another
pictures village and I couldn’t justify coming all this way and
cycling right past such a beautiful spot. We found a great room
with floor to ceiling windows with a lake view for R50 and that
was me set for the day. No one was going to get me away from
that window with its bench windowsill complete with cushions
where one could sit in the sun and look out over the lake.
The lake may not
be as remote as it used to be, but it is still absolutely
stunning. One can now even find some curio shops selling very
colorful embroidered clothing, long stem pipes and all kinds of
animal skin clothing. New guesthouses are also going up fast and
furious and it will not be long before the whole area is totally
developed. Still I have not seen any western tourist in the
- Lige – Wuzhiluo - 27km
What a place it
was, stunning, stunning, stunning. We carried on cycling around
the lake and came upon many small settlements, with villagers
still fishing in the lake and living a traditional lifestyle. We
went pretty slowly and it was only around 15h00 that we reached
the small village of Wuzhiluo. It was so peaceful and tranquil
that we decided to stay the night. We found a real nice place
(Wind’s Guesthouse) and even had food there that night. For
R15.00 we ate and ate and ate and until it felt like I was going
Over the previous
few days Ernest had developed a nasty cough and they even went
to all the trouble of making and delivering to the room a
special remedy for his chest (steamed pears in honey). Here we
also encountered the first Western tourists we’d seen in the
Lake area – Marie and Robert from France.
- Wuzhiluo – Yanyuan - 124km
I was ever so
sorry to leave the lake but China is a big place and there was
so much still to see. We set off down the valley following the
flow of the river and had a stunning ride through the gorge.
Unfortunately this also came to and end and we started climbing
out of the valley for the next 80km.
Although my legs
were tired it was a most stunning ride, once again past small
villages, rivers and waterfalls. What can I say, this is a
beautiful country. I was however more than happy to reach
YanYuan, find a room and have a shower.
Ernest and I
walked out and found a restaurant where once again we could go
into the kitchen and point out what ingredients you would like
them to prepare. So with a bag full of food we returned to our
room and that was me for the night.
- Yanyuan – Yalong River - 77km
Once we left the
town we immediately started climbing up the mountain (this must
be the most mountainous country I’ve been to). It was a long
climb up to 3200 meters but that was not the biggest problem, we
cycled into a freezing head wind threatening to blow me over the
edge of the mountain. I found it fairly nerve-racking as there
was no railing, just a sheer drop down into the valley.
Once we reached
the top there was however a 45km downhill was and we raced down
the mountain in bitterly cold weather to 1200m - descending 2000
meters in the process!! Halfway down we stopped at a small
place for a bite to eat, just to get some warmth in our bodies,
and then we continued down until we reached the Yalong River.
Once I noticed how
the road climbed again after the river bridge, I thought it a
good idea to find a room and rather continue up the mountain in
the morning (conveniently there was a small hotel shortly after
we’d crossed the bridge). We had some good noodles for supper,
which we cooked in the room.
- Yalong River – Xichang - 79km
We left the river
and immediately started climbing up the mountain pass. The going
was extremely slow as we climbed and climbed. Every now and then
we viewed the river from higher and higher altitudes, also
magnificent views of terraced villages which seem to have no
link to the outside world except via the river. Eventually we
reached the top of the pass after Ernest had 3 flat tires.
At least the route
from the mountain top was mostly downhill to the city of Xichang.
We arrived rather late, cold and hungry as we had not eaten
since the previous evening, except for a few sweets which I
still had in my bag.
It was after dark
before we found a suitable room, then Ernest was off to the food
shops and returned with fried rice dish, noodle soup and
dumplings. At least there is not a room to be had that will not
automatically come with a flask of hot water and tea, so before
I even had a shower, I sat down and had some tea, which I had
now also taken to carrying with me on the road.
We slept late
before we headed out to the nearest dumpling and rice bun stall
for breakfast. The street food is so cheap and delicious that
one can just not get enough of it. After doing some long overdue
laundry we went to the local PSB for our visa renewal. It was so
easy and the people so friendly and helpful that it is nothing
like what I have expected. The extension was processed while we
waited, and I got the feeling that if we’d asked for more than
another month it may have been granted.
4 November Xichang – Mountain Camp - 47km
We left rather
late at 11h00 as the next place we spotted on the map looked
about 65km away so we reckoned there was no rush. We had,
however, a bit of a surprise waiting for us as the road led us
up jet another mountain pass.
We crawled along
and as we climbed higher and higher it became increasingly
colder. By the end of the day we had still not reached our
destination and were freezing cold, so we decided to camp along
the road. We found a small roadside restaurant where we camped
for the night (at least there was water and a basic toilet). It
was bitterly cold as we set up camp at above 3100 meters, cooked
our food and crawled into our tents.
Mountain camp – Unknown town - 85km
We stayed tucked
in our sleeping bags until the ice on our tents melted, and then
slowly crawled out and defrosted ourselves in the morning sun.
At least it turned out that we were almost at the top of the
pass, as shortly after we left we started descending down the
It was a most
interesting day past rural villages, with pigs, goats and
chickens munching on garbage along the road. We cycled along
rivers with high waterfalls, where the mountainsides were thick
with ferns and moss. Every now and again we came upon villagers
herding their goats along to better pastures. Eventually we
reached a small village at a junction in the road, where we
found a very basic room for the night. Kids were staring in
absolute amazement at this spectacle coming along. We were no
doubt the topic of conversation as we unloaded our heavy bikes
and carted our bags up the stairs to the room. Our every step
was watched as we went to the shop to get some stuff to eat.
- Unknown town – road side camp - 93km
scrutiny we loaded up our bikes, waved good-bye to the
on-lookers and took a fairly obscure road, which followed the
river in the direction of Leibo. Although it was mostly
downhill, the road was in such poor condition that the going was
fairly slow again. It was, however, so stunning that we made
little headway as we stopped every couple of kilometers to
admire the view. The gorge became deeper and steeper as we
followed the river. As we dropped down into the Jinsha river
valley it became warmer, but a heavy mist/fog/dust engulfed the
whole area. There were plenty villages along the river, none of
which I’m sure, has ever seen Western tourist. It was Friday and
obviously market day. We spotted plenty of villagers with loaded
horses, and others carrying large baskets on their backs loaded
with everything from noodles to plastic basins - all on their
way back to their mountainside villages.
As usual there was
a surprise waiting for us at the end of the day! Suddenly our
downhill ride came to an end, and the road left the gorge and
snaked up the mountainside to the next big town (Leibo). This is
orange country and all along the road there were orange orchards
with locals selling oranges along the way. At least this part of
the road looked brand new, which made the going a bit easier. As
it was already late and as light was fading fast we camped next
to the road at a truck stop (to great amusement of the locals).
We were given bottled water, bananas and of course, a flask of
hot water while they pulled up chairs to sit and watched us
pitch our tens.
- Road side camp – Leibo - 7km
We woke to a thick
mist and could hardly see the river in the gorge way below. It
was a short but very steep ride up the hill where we found Leibo
to be a fairly large town. We spoiled ourselves and took a
luxury room (by our standards), had a much needed shower, did
some laundry and stocked up with some supplies again. Ernest
spent the day fixing punctured tubes, spraying the bikes down
(with the hotel fire-hose), and sampling the local brew. All I
did was to fill my stomach with the local food, from fried
noodles, steamed buns to fried potatoes, all served with chilies
and soya sauce. The food was so tasty that I just could not stop
eating (it must be the large quantities of MSG that they put in
- Leibo – Ma Hu - 50km
We reckoned that
we were on top of the mountain so were looking forward to a good
downhill. Surprise, surprise!!! The road continued up and up to
a devastating height with small villages clinging to the
cliffside, barely visible though the thick mist. Toothless old
women sat on their haunches, smoking thin long stemmed pipes,
wrapped in cloaks of blanket-like material.
A heavy mist hung
over the whole area and we could hardly see the valley floor or
the top of the mountain, which was maybe a good thing. It’s best
not to see where the road was to lead us. We even spotted some
kids with their go-carts flying down the hill.
After climbing for
33 km we were over the pass we encountered the long awaited
downhill. We flew down the mountain for the next 20km and landed
in a small village with good food and friendly people. We booked
into a basic room, and then went looking for food. We found
steamed buns, fried potatoes, grilled vegetables and loads of
rice. It felt that the entire village was following us as we
strolled from shop to shop. Each shop owner was eager for us to
come and have a look what he had to offer.
- Ma Hu – Bridge junction town - 58 km
We woke to a misty
morning again and prepared ourselves for another day of climbing
over high mountains. Instead we were pleasantly surprised as the
road carried on even further down the mountain. Leibo Lake
popped up out of the mist and it was a pleasant ride along the
misty shore of the lake. The road lead us even further down the
pass until we reached the Jinsha river again. Up to there the
road had been good, but once along the river the road
deteriorated again. Fortunately, however, it was not long before
we found ourselves on a brand new highway running along the
Cliffside way above the river, consisting mainly of tunnels and
bridges (the Chinese surely do things on a grand scale).
We reached a
junction town where the highway ended (construction of a huge
bridge which dwarfed the town was still in progress). It was
still fairly early, but the town was quite big and it looked
like a good place to spend the night. This is clearly not a
touristy area as hotel staff become extremely shy, giggle and
push one another forward to deal with the strange Westerners.
By the time we’d
negotiated for a room, half the town had gathered around us, all
trying to help with the bikes and jabbering on in Chinese. The
strangest thing is that when they realize that you don’t speak
Chinese they painstakingly write it down (in Chinese). Now, what
are the chances that if you don’t understand it, you will be
able to read Chinese characters?
10 November - Bridge junction town - Shuifu - 90km
What a confusing
day. With the poor visibility and our inadequate maps it
continuously felt as though we were heading back in the
direction we’d just come from. But, with the aid of Ernest’s
GPS, as well as everyone along the way pointing us in the same
direction, we managed to keep going. In the process we crossed
the Jinsha river onto the Junnan province side (totally
unexpected, as the map didn’t indicate as much). Most of the day
we cycled along a very dusty road, and the dusty conditions were
made worse by a lot of quarries and construction at many places
along the river.
By late afternoon
we were starting to look out for a suitable camp site. At one
stage the road passed through a long tunnel, and on the other
side a big surprise awaited us. Suddenly we were in a rather
large town with skyscrapers and all – we’d expected Shuifu to be
much smaller and still about 30 k’s down the road. However, we
were dusty and sweaty and in great need of a shower, so we
booked into the first convenient room.
11 November - Shuifu – Yibin - 22 km
We left Shuifu
city and were elated to find a brand new highway heading in the
direction of Yibin. We didn’t know how far we’d have to go, but
after a few k’s we were glad to see a sign indicating that there
was only about 30 km left to Yibin - much closer than we’d
expected! This joy, however, did not last very long as about
half-way we had to pass a toll-gate where we were kicked off the
highway. There the police had a bit of a problem as they could
not send as back on the highway, and there was no exit to an
alternative route. So, they phoned for a vehicle to come from
Yibin, load us up, and drop us off at the exit to the city (a
round trip of about 40 km!).
We cycled into
Yibin, a fairly big modern city with many new buildings. We had
some difficulty finding a room, as it seemed that the cheaper
local hotels did not cater for foreiners (I’ve since heard that
the problem may be related to the fact that they can’t read our
passports). They are, however, so friendly that people from one
place phoned ahead and then walked us a few blocks to a hotel
which accepted foreigners. This city is where the Min- and
Jinsha rivers merge to form the Yangzi. We walked the short
distance to this major confluence, but the visibility was too
poor to see anything. We did, however find a lot of tasty food
in the market alleys, with which we filled our stomachs.
12 November - Yibin
During the night
the weather changed, and we awoke to a cold and rainy morning.
We stayed tucked into bed until it was time to go for breakfast
(a great buffet included in the room price). It was nice not
having to pack up and load the bikes in that weather, and
instead just to have a lazy day. The rain had cleared the air
and visibility was much better than on the previous days, so we
went down to the rivers again and at least managed to take some
At first I thought
Yibin to be a rather soulless city but the more I walked through
the allies the more interesting it became. The allies were lined
with dumpling and noodle stalls. Portable barbeques selling
skewers of veggies, tofu and meat were everywhere and of course
the ever present tea-eggs (boiled eggs soaked in tea and soy
I tried to improve
my appearance by colouring my hair, but it all went horribly
wrong as it came out bright orange! That’s what happens if you
can’t read Chinese. Eeeek, that was not the color on the box.
Maybe a good thing I did not find that hair removal cream I was
looking for, I could be totally legless by now.
13-14 November - Yibin – Zigong - 107km
last a day without a mountain pass, the road was mostly in a
good condition and the weather mild, what more can I ask for?
We cycled past densely bamboo areas and typical Chinese cities,
where the old city still lines the river bank and a new modern
city rises up directly behind it.
We arrived in
Zigong as the sun was setting, and found Zigong also to be a
much larger city than expected. After searching around in the
dark for a while we found a fair enough room. Later we walked
out in search of food, but this was not as simple as it had been
in Yibin (every place tends to have different specialities, and
we were also probably not in the ideal area for good eats). The
take-aways which we took back to the room contained mostly meat,
so at least one of us went to bed with a full stomach.
We decided to stay in Zigong the
following day, as there were reportedly a number of interesting
sites to see in the city.
15 November -
With the freezing
cold weather setting in, we decided to stay on in Zigong one
more day. As we’ve already walked around town the previous day,
the only thing to do was to explore the museums in the area. After a breakfast of steamed rice buns and hot soya milk we took
a taxi in the rain to the Dinosaur Museum outside the city,
which I found quite impressive. More than a 100 dinosaur
skeletons were uncovered here (apparently washed down by a flood
and then covered by silt at this spot). It’s their sheer size
that impressed me, and to think that they lay buried here for
160 million years!! Difficult to get one’s head around such a
We also visited
the Salt History Museum in the city, which was not as
impressive, but the building in which it’s housed was absolutely
fantastic. With interesting nooks and crannies it was a most
impressive old Chinese building. The building was constructed
in 1736 by one of the salt merchants of the time.
16 November - Zigong - Rongxian
It was a freezing
cold, rainy and windy morning as we packed up and left Zigong. Now, my friends from the frozen North may think, what is this
women on about, it’s only 3 degrees C? I’m sure that my friends
in South Africa, however, will agree that, that is darn cold!
I’m just such a baby when it comes to the cold weather (as
Ernest keeps on reminding me).
We only cycled a
short distance before we came across another large town. Ernest’s gear cable broke just as we entered the town and that
was more than enough reason for us to find a room and have a hot
shower. Why pass a perfectly good town with hotels and
restaurants, when you’ve long forgotten that you have fingers,
toes, or a nose?
After a steaming
bowl of noodle soup I got into the wooden spa-like tub in the
room and stayed indoors for the rest of the evening.
17 November - Rongxian – Leshan - 92km
The people in
China are so sweet and polite, jut as we were packing up to
leave, the hotel staff presented us with a neatly written note,
stating that the weather is unusually cold and that we should
dress warmly and eat the apples which they gave us.
Although it was
freezing cold at least it was not raining. The road was good
and we cycled past temples, pagodas, rivers and valleys until we
reached the town of Leshan, know for its Grand Buddha, which I
was keen to get a glimpse of. Once again I was stuck by the
friendliness and honesty of the people, as we cycled into town.
Cycle rickshaw drivers were keen to show us to a popular budget
hotel (in other places this is normally done at a fee). Once
there, Ernest offered to pay the rickshaw driver, but he refused
to accept any money, and just waited to see that we were happy
with the room before quietly leaving.
18 November - Leshan
like a Snickers Bar and a cup of coffee for breakfast! We stayed
tucked in until fairly late. Our room was not particularly
cheap, but at least it came with a bathtub, air-con (which did
not really work) and Wi-Fi. I was, however, still freezing cold
every time I stuck my nose out the door so I invested in a half
length padded coat, to keep the worst of the cold at bay. Where
I was going to pack it on the bike was a bit of a mystery.
After donning my
new purchase we set off to the sight-seeing ferry for a view of
the Grand Buddha. Although it was a rather expensive and
touristy trip (us and a lot of frozen Chinese tourists), it was
worthwhile as it is the only way to see the total statue at
once. Carved out of the riverside cliff in AD 713 it took 90
years to complete the job. At 71 meters high, with 7 meter ears
and big toes of 8.5 meters long it’s quite an impressive sight.
19 November - Leshan – Meishan - 89km
It was close to
zero degrees as we left Leshan, and it was not the most scenic
of days - most of the way was through built-up areas. Just to
add icing on the cake it rained for the last 30 km or so. At
least the road was mostly in a fair condition, and there were no
We arrived in
Meishan wet and frozen and obviously not looking our normal
stunning selves. Ernest (still in his wet and muddy cycling
clothes) went off to the fried potato stand for a snack, but
came back empty-handed. The old lady didn’t want to serve him
and chased him away threatening to hit him with her ladle!!
(The tramp-like bearded monster must have put the fear of God
into her). I must admit he did look a bit like the villain from
a Shakespeare play with his long cycling pants, knee length
black raincoat and beanie.
In the end I had
to don my coat and cassock hat and head to the corner to pick up
the fried potatoes. At least I had already had a shower and,
I’m sure, as a woman I did not look as threatening.
20 November - Meishan – Chengdu - 98km
It was slightly
warmer than the previous days as we headed towards Chengdu. We
cycled the entire day through built-up areas, Chengdu is a very
large city, (population of 13 million!). We had no difficultly
cycling into the city and finding the city centre, but finding
the well known Sims Guesthouse which we were looking for was
more difficult than expected. (If you’re an adrenaline junkie
try cycling around this city centre after dark with no idea of
where you are). After wandering around this big city for about
an hour in the peak-hour traffic and in the dark, we eventually
found Sims’ GH. The place seems nice, but a bit expensive in
comparison to some other accommodation. We booked in as by
this time I’d had enough of cycling up and down busy multi-lane
roads with thousand of cars, busses, bicycles, motorbikes, and
the dangerous silent electric scooters.
21 November - Chengdu
It was way too
cold in this place, so time to head South again. Our Chinese
visas were only valid until 7 December so we decided to take the
train to Kunming and then bus to Jinghong not too far from the
Laos border (we’d already cycled that stretch, and our visa time
is limited). I will also have to make a plan to get to Bangkok
before the end of December to take care of some urgent
business. This, I can only do at an embassy and the closest one
is in Bangkok. We spent the day organizing our train tickets
back to Kunming and wandering the crowded streets and alleys of
22 November - Chengdu – Kunming (by train)
What a performance
it is to take a train. We cycled off to the train station and
then had to book in the bikes at a different place to where you
get the train. Once on the train it was very comfortable as we
took a sleeper and it came with bedding and the carriage was
heated. Food trolleys came by every few minutes and as there
was nothing else to do, we just ate and stared out the window. Although the train was full it was not-over crowded as everyone
had a seat. It’s a great pity that one can not talk to your
fellow travelers, but language remains a problem.
had himself a great party by himself with his bottle of
23 November -
We arrived in
Kunming at around 9h00. It took forever to get the bike out of
the cargo section, load up and cycle to the nearest hotel. I
found a hotel close to the Thai consulate as I wanted to apply
for a Thai visa the following day. The Thai visa one gets at
the border is only valid for 2 weeks which is way too little
time to get to Malaysia.
Kunming felt like
home as it is so seldom that I am in the same place twice. I
took a walk into town to see if I could find a map of Laos, as I
will be taking a different route than on my previous visit. The
search was, however, unsuccessful. Although there was a Lonely
Planet for sale I did not buy it as it appeared a little
expensive for such a short trip.
24 November - Kunming
First thing in the
morning I was off to the Thai embassy, but they told me I need a
flight or bus ticket in order to apply for the visa and that
apparently I can get one at the border for 30 days. O well I
wait and see when I get there. I bought a bus ticket to the Lao
border for the following day. It was a ticket on an overnight
I took another
walk to the book store and in the end bought South East Asia
Lonely Planet as it was the same price as just the Laos one and
at least it covers the whole of South East Asia. I also bought
a novel as I reckoned I would need something to read on such a
long bus trip.
25 November - Kunming
The bus only left
at 17h00 so I had the whole day to do nothing and just wander
around Kunming, which I know pretty well by then.
waited as I got to the bus station. The cargo section of the
bus was full and they could not take my bike. At least they
refunded my ticket and I cycled to the “Cloudland Hostel” where we’d stayed
2 months earlier on our way North. The place is cheaper and has
more life than the Camilla Hotel where I’d stayed the previous
two nights. Shortly after my arrival at Cloudland, Ernest also
returned there (he’d been staying there) as he’d also been
booked on a South-bound bus and been refunded his ticket money.
26 November -
I could not
believe I was still in Kunming. After a leisurely start I
decided to cycle back to the bus station to see if I would be
luckier this time. Ernest decided to come with and we were
rather lucky as there was a bus with cargo space ready to leave
The most amazing
thing about the bus was that the driver had a TV that he could
watch while driving! Of cause not even the bus came without a
hot water machine, there is no chance that the Chinese will go
anywhere without their tea.
It was a long and
tiring bus ride, as I was coming down with the flu. I don’t
know how all the backpackers do it. I’d much rather cycle even
although it is so much slower. I felt sick and after the 9-hour
trip I was happy to see that there was a bus station hotel. It
saved us from re-packing the bikes and cycling around looking
for a hotel in the dark.
27 November -
We packed up and left the Bus
Station Hotel in search of a better location closer to the city
centre. I was still suffering from a head ache and body aches
and decided to stay on one more day to recover. Seeing that they
were so strict at the border with the N1H1 flu virus, (taking
your temperature and all), I didn’t want to risk being kept in
quarantine for goodness knows how long.