05.11.11 Day 91 Lijiang – Rest Day 0km
A good restful day, we have a nice breakfast and walk to the new town to pick up a box for Johns bike to fly home and other bits and bobs that we need. Up and over a hill we get a good view over the tiled roofs and we have lunch sat by one of the canals running though the city. The water is completely clear and it’s allegedly ok to drink the water before 8am – after that people do their washing in it! In the afternoon we find some cheap rucksacks for the 2-day gorge walk we are starting tomorrow, stumble across a bakery and catch up with emails and the blogadyblog. And… seeing as we are in a touristy place, we take advantage of all the western food on offer and have veggie lasagne, chips and cheesecake!
06.11.11 Day 92 Tiger Leaping Gorge – Rest Day 0km (maybe 10km or so walking!)
We take a mini van early this morning to the beginning of the Tiger Leaping Gorge. Half way through the two and a half hour journey the driver stops and we can see the 5000 odd metre high ‘Snow mountain’ that runs along one side of the gorge in the distance. As the name suggests, the peaks are capped in snow and they are shining in the sun. We arrive at 12ish and start walking straight away. The track is marked with little red arrows and it works its way up the side of the gorge and through the middle. Little ladies sell ‘ganja, ganja’ for the same price as a bag of walnuts and there are few other people about. The tall sheer grey and white mountains remain a constant backdrop on our right and the sun is shining and sky is blue. The so called 28 bends are the steepest part and take us to the highest part of the walk with a tremendously wonderful view down the gorge, the rushing Yangtze below and white peaks behind. Goats clatter about above us in the cliffs and we walk past a few remote houses and settlements. We stay the night at the ‘halfway house’ – a beautiful guesthouse with wooden shutters and simple rooms with the best view – like wise, the squat toilets were missing one wall and had the best open air view any toilet can possibly have (I believe mr Michael Palin has also used these toilets and commented on it in one of his documentaries!) Its really cold in the evening and the moon lights the clouds and sky, we are glad of the heavy felt blankets in our room which is extra cold with shaky windows on three out of the four walls.
07.11.11 Day 93 Tiger Leaping Gorge – Rest Day 0km
A great view for breakfast and coffee this morning before we finish the rest of the walk as the sun rises high enough to reach over the peaks. Peaceful and beautiful we follow the path looking down the other way the gorge is sweeping and steep. The bus back to Lijiang is slightly less traumatic than the way out and in the evening we are tired from the walk but discover a new part of the old town and wander around until dinnertime and night fall.
08.11.11 Day 94 Lijiang – Rest Day 0km
We say goodbye to John this morning and now we are just back to the two of us again. We try to rest and do as little as possible. Wander through the town, watch films, draw and make the most of a day off. My muscles are actually aching from the gorge walk! Too much cycling and my walking muscles have completely disappeared!!
09.11.11 Day 95 Lijiang – Beiya 106km
After four days off the cycling, back on the bikes today – it’s a beautiful day and there is fresh and bright snow on the peaks surrounding Lijiang. We are still high up and the morning air is fresh and I have to buy a new pair of gloves having lost mine somewhere along the way. The morning is surprisingly flat but we take the wrong road accidentally which is a muddy, rocky track, but eventually, it joins the one we want. We are chased away from our coffee break by bees and when we pass through a village called Xintun and see a market, we stop for a look around. The Naxi people live in this area, like Lijiang although there is seems like some of the traditions have been lost in favour of a tourist hub. The women wear blue or burgundy tunic tops with blue aprons fastened with embroidered ties and wicker baskets are held on with colourful woven straps. Some wear hats that are blue too and look a little like a train drivers hat. Red umbrellas, fried pea jelly and dentist tables on the street with false teeth and consultations with onlookers from the surrounds. Lunch in Hegins and the afternoon becomes hillier. Cooler as we get higher and it seems we are not far from the snow. We had decided to stay in Beiya, which from my map seems to be on the road we are using, but we end up cycling 15km down a tiny road, in the cold as it is getting dark and we are far out of our way! Two guest houses wave us away – probably no tourists would ever come here but the third time luckily and the lady gives us tea to warm up and there is two cheeky but cute girls and a hyper active dog!
10.11.11 Day 96 Beiya – Dali 90km
This morning we drag ourselves back up the steep 15km we flew down last night! Actually it is not as bad as we expect and we are back on the right road just after ten. But we are still going up and after 25km when we stop for a break we can see Beiya, where we had stayed, but directly below us. As the crow flies it most only have been a kilometre or so away, but much lower than us and down a ridiculously bendy road! In the distance we can still just about make out the snow peaks behind Lijiang. We had planned to take the east road around the huge lake before Dali, but we realise that we had been looking at Dali City on the map and actually the town is on the west! So we change our route and the last 30km or so the road is flat with rice fields on either side, big towering mountains to the right with the lake on the left. We are having 3 days off in Dali before the final 2-week cycle down through Yunnan into Laos. We spend the evening in a Brit run place called the Bad Monkey, they brew their own ale with water from the mountains – which is actually really good, especially as it is the only ale we have had in over 3 months!
11/12/13.11.11 Days 97/98/99 Dali – Rest Days 0km
We spend 3 days in Dali and just potter around, drink beer coffee and chat to all the nice people staying at out hostel. We walk down to the lake through the little cobbled streets between people’s houses – all painted white with grey patterned landscapes and birds. We get a Sunday roast, more ale, which tastes soooo good. But other than that we just try to catch up with boring bank stuff (fraudulent activity – boring!), email friends and family and watch more films! We also make it to a colourful market – it has taken over a street with the most red chillies I have ever seen and colourful Bai women (Dali is the capital of the Bai people) in traditional dress.
14.11.11 Day 100 Dali – Nanjian 129km
Tom gets up this morning, puts his t-shirt on straight from the washing line and gets stung by a bee! A good road out of Dali towards the new city where we get a bit lost and have to ask numerous people for directions. We pass though a village and the women have the most fantastic traditional dress – so many flowers, crazy embroidery, headwear and flowing colourful skirts and belts. Amazing. Up and over a hill until we have a huge flat valley ahead of us. In the Yunnan province all the food places display all their food produce, which make ordering easy and it seems fine to squeeze or prod anything to check on its freshness (I presume!) We pass through Midu and the side of the road is full of newly carved gravestones and statues. Further through a tight gorge into the sun and headwind until we get to Nanjian, about a tenth of our journey to Laos complete.
15.11.11 Day 101 Nanjian – Yunxian 117km
We climb all morning, 30km gradually into the hills and get chased by a few dogs. Its sad really, so many big, crazy looking dogs, in chains, or in cages going so mad they look like they might strangle themselves and I have never seen anyone walking on of these big animals. But some aren’t tied up and they are the ones that chase us! A big 3km long tunnel, but it’s the top and we get a 30km down hill, smooth, tyres buzzing on the road down to a huge green river still and carving its way though the hills. The lower we get the warmer it gets. A soon as we get to the bottom we are climbing again. Mango, banana and papaya trees and we have greens and tofu soup for lunch. We see an insect kind of like a grasshopper that looks a bit like a courgette on legs and coming down a busy road a woman has a water buffalo, a calf, a goat and a pig! I slow down but the pig freaks out and I nearly run it over as it panics and runs across the road! Earlier a herd of goats on the road had run away from us and were nearly hit buy a huge lorry careering down the other side. I can’t believe they are more scared of us than the lorry! Tom gets his 5th puncture from a sharp piece of wire. Anyhow its hot and we are sweating up another 30km hill finally at the top (another tunnel) we see a joyous sign for 24km downhill which doesn’t turn out to be entirely truthful, but most of it was nice and relaxing and just what our legs needed! Big arches of bamboo, bright green and the sun setting behind the clouds as we get into Yunxian. Finally in the centre it’s dark. 3 places turn us away and make no sense but we find somewhere in the end. Large parts of the town seem completely new, whole streets of new empty shops, new houses and even the trees have just been planted – surreal. We have been finding cheaper accommodation recently and from the condoms by the beds we are slightly worried about the clientele!
16.11.11 Day 102 Yunxian – Lincang 76km
This morning its hazy and the sun looks like it has been cut out of the cloud and the smell of burning Eucalyptus in the air. A la yesterday a big 20km hill that isn’t marked on my map! But after a sign for 17km downhill we stop for our morning coffee break by a little waterfall down a track away from the road. The colours are changing as we get further south and we can feel more heat each day. We pass a sugar factory with a field of sugar cane. The second half of the day is all upstream to Lincang round each corner we can see the next green hill lining the river. Steep terraces with horses along them and so many tunnels – more than anywhere else we have been so far. We get chased by 3 big dogs on 2 occasions and manage to out pedal them (whilst screaming and maybe attracting some odd looks!) In Mongolia, it was so vast I could see them coming. Here they just appear from behind plants on the side of the road and we have less time to get out the way of their savage teeth. If I stop sometimes they stand back but I don’t like to try this too much just in case they don’t! We find a cheap hotel on the outskirts of Lincang – it has been a relatively short day but 2 big days previous and our legs are tired. The owner of a restaurant looks after us at dinner and makes us feel welcome and we show the guy from out hotel where we are from and our route on Google Earth despite the language barrier.
17.11.11 Day 103 Lincang – Shuangjiang 86km
We are on a new road today – it looks like it may have been finished in the past year and it doesn’t seem to match the one on my map. Its crazy how many new roads here are being built – stilts appear in the distance to support new high ways and minor roads are widened. And along the new road are new buildings – houses and businesses, and many landslides. But it is nice to have a smooth road – and its quiet and we can hear our tyres buzzing again. Its hot and still getting hotter, more tea bushes, rice fields and arched bamboo. For coffee we sit on one of the narrow patch separating the fields. Another 40km up, 40km down day – we are getting more used to them now – each day just getting over the next hill! Struggling up a boy stops and gives us an orange each. For lunch a Yunnan speciality, a big bowl of noodles in stock, and an array of condiments – chilli, garlic, sauces, herbs etc (msg!) to add as you want. In Shuangiang we are almost exactly on the tropic of cancer and about 40km as the crow flies from Burma.
18.11.11 Day 104 Shuangjiang – Nr Fuyong 100km
This morning everything is covered in a grey haze and the mist makes me feel like i’m cycling though a tunnel. Still the new road cut into the valleys steep edges and there are more and more landslides and already big sections of the new road have been ruined. This is the quietist road by far we have ridden on in China, no houses and almost no vehicles, just following the stream south – this will eventually join the Mekong which we will be following on and off for the next few months. The forest seems to have turned to Jungle and waterfalls flow from high up in the cliffs. At lunchtime, we are probably only about 20km from Burma. The lady who gives us out lunch comes from Burma too – she sits with us and brings us loads of extra food and keeps insisting on refilling our bowls of rice and tea so we feel too full to cycle! Through a huge banana plantation, a sea of banana plants, all the bunches hang in blue plastic jackets and in the afternoon it is so hot. We cycle up an amazing green valley with some of the most intricate terracing I have seen so far. Everyone in the past couple of days has been carrying the same woven shoulder bag, men, women and children. This is a world where men commonly bong cigarettes with their breakfast, one town has carrier bags with no handles and we still get ridiculed and laughed at regularly! The road sweeps further up – we see it at the top on the far side and we are not sure if we will make it over by dark. A girl kindly fills our water bottles up for us and we look for somewhere to camp – something we have not done at all in china. Down two tracks we ask a few people but they keep pointing us over the next hill – camping is not something the Chinese seem to do and I think wild camping is illegal here and it is hard to find a spot that doesn’t have cabbages of tea bushes on it. Finally, behind a landslide, which had previously practically taken out a section of the road, we find a spot (kind of on a landslide!!) out of view but it’s a rush to put the tent up before it gets dark.
19.11.11 Day 105 Saturday Nr Fuyong – Lancang 70km
As per usual with camping we get up with the sunrise and we make our get away quick before we attract too much attention. Push our bikes though rows of tea bushes and down a steep rocky path to the road. The morning air is cold and we get to the top before the sun has come over the hills. Through a tunnel to the other side, the sun is up and has lit the most beautiful mist in the valley that looks like a sea of floating cotton wool disappearing up and down valleys and over the rows of fields and bushes. Tom sees a snake – he said he only saw the tail end and it was about a metre long and as thick as a tumbler and i’m glad I didn’t see it and that we camped before it made an appearance! Further on we are following gorgeous green scenery, forest, streams and the road is quiet. We stop at Muhai where there is a colourful market, patterned headscarf’s and black embroidered skirts – this is home to the Dai people I think and the colourful bags everyone carries are for sale at many of the stalls – adjourned with pompoms and beads. We cause quite a bit of attention with an arch of onlookers developing around us. Continuing, its up and over one last hill to Lancang. We get in early and have chance to wander around – get followed by a guy in a pink jacket and find a relaxed place for dinner with low tables and the usual point at what we want to eat in the kitchen! The supermarket has the most peculiar layout with interconnecting corridors with items laid out along them. A song comes on over the loud speaker and the oddest thing occurs – all the staff stands in rows and enthusiastically sing along with dance moves and one arm fist pumping the air. Surreal like a weird music video or something.
20.11.11 Day 106 Lancang – Mengzhe 92km
Through Lancang further south eastish and it seems everyone is either coming from, or going to market. Loaded motorbikes with people, barrels, wicker boxes. And trucks of women wearing patterned leggings and elaborate decorated headscarfs. The Dai people in this region are apparently divided into 4 groups, those of water, land, floral belt and Kemu. There are differences in costume, lifestyle and location. Other people today have had stretched earlobes and headwear with ribbons and pom pom decorations similar to the bags yesterday. A kid has a dead bird hanging from a stick as a toy and she is waving it around from the side of the truck. At lunch an old lady gives us monkey nuts and after we take our bikes and have a look around a Sunday market. Lots of stalls selling all the ribbons and decorated edges that are used to decorate the women’s outfits. We pass into the Xishuabanna region – the last part of the Yunnan before we cross into Laos in 4 days or so – and we also pass through our 7000km waypoint! Towards Mengzhe we roll down into a huge flat valley – flooded fields and fish farms and the sun setting behind banana trees and everybody still busy in their fields. The last 10km is flat into the village. Mengzhe is left with the destruction of market and some sort of firework celebration. Cows wander aimlessly across the road, unbothered by the loud beeping cars weaving their way around them. Odd people from stalls and houses seem to know what we want and we follow their pointed outstretched arms. Eventually we find a quiet family run guesthouse and cute twins help us with our bags. At night the street is full with the sound of karaoke, becoming more popular as we head south and pretty horrible – high pitched squeaking amps and out of tune wailing!!
21.11.11 Day 107 Mengzhe – Jinhong 75km
Hectic market chaos has already begun as we get out of Mengzhe and though the morning mist which seems to be characteristic of this area. It’s fairly flat which is a dream and practically unheard of compared with the last few months. Red earth, green trees and pineapples bushes, mango and banana trees. The pace of life seems to have slowed over the past few days as we have almost reached the most southerly parts of China. Less honking horns, more flip-flops scuffing along the floor and shop owners sleeping in front of their shops. Jinhong, the streets are lined with trees and its bigger than we thought but still not too hard to find somewhere to stay for a couple of days. It feels weird that winter will be setting in at home and Christmas will almost be in full swing. But we do miss it and our friends – thinking of warm pubs, ale and films under duvets (and a roast at Chris and Laurens!)! Nice evening of aimless wandering and we seen the Mekong for the first time.
22.11.11 Day 108 Tuesday Jinhong – Rest Day 0km
A day of the necessary – lie in, washing, internetting and picking up bits and bobs that we need. I really like Jinhong. Every street is lined with palms, which are really green and keep us in the shade. We walk though a big covered market selling everything from fruit and veg to clothes and furniture. We seem to notice the heat more when we are not cycling and it makes us feel tired. Little hospitals have wards with floor to ceiling windows right on the street so anyone passing can look in at the patients, which is odd.
23.11.11 Day 109 Wednesday Jinhong – Rest Day 0km
After a lazy morning we walk along the pebbly beach along the river and basically just hang out in town and pick up cheap DVDs (sopranos box set and the office!) Mostly just chilling and taking it east! And have almost watched the entire first series of ‘game of thrones’ (beards, kings, swords!) Also I bought a pretty awesome new dragon sticker for rose to add to her Mongolia sticker. Drawing and patchwork.
24.11.11 Day 110 Jinhong – Mengyuan 124km
An early start and over the Mekong river to pick up a road that follows it on the other side. Palm trees line the road and seem to arch over creating a green tube, which we are cycling though. It’s helping to keep us cool. The first part is unpaved and anything, which passes, churns dust into the air. With the heat the dogs have become sleepier and big toothy yawns seem to have become more common than the barking and chase we are accustomed to. Further on it’s a lovely undulating road so we can go fast through the huge banana plantations and villages with wooden houses on stilts. Further away is the tropical rainforest – it sounds loud and smells nice. Earthy, and sometimes of raspberries. One insect makes a sound high up in the trees which sounds like a high pitched drill. We stop in the morning in a cool overgrown park with statues and an elaborate arch entrance which we sit under for shade. We stop in Menglun for lunch, late about 3ish – it’s getting quite hard to eat hot food now the weather is better – and its only going to get hotter. Passing villages kids scream ‘halloo’ to us and wave before bursting into laughter. We get caught out… again half way up a pass in the rainforest at 5.30 realising we still have a way to go before we reach the top, The rain forest is buzzing with noise, dark greens lush plants, huge leaves. Sooo many squashed snakes and massive spider strung between the trees. Nice to take in the smells and sounds until someone pops their head out their car window to bellow some sort of greeting at us while we wish they would keep their eyes on the road. One summit is a fake summit and we carry on climbing and by now its getting dark. A pinky orange glow in the sky and the hills losing their detail. It is quite hard to see how dark it actually is… and then we see fireflies everywhere – getting brighter as the day finally fades away. We cycle 10km or so in the pitch black to the next village. Cycling in the little tunnel lit up by a head torch. In our room we notice mosquitoes for the first time in a few months.
25.11.11 Day 111 Mengyuan – Shongyuan 95km
There is a fruit and veg market under a disused petrol station and we pick up some nice fresh fruit before we get started. Morning mist hangs around the forest and we are climbing straight away. We are still in the green leafy tube but this morning the sun casts amazing rays like laser beams through the trees. The road is so quiet, practically nothing passes us and it’s nice to just listen to the birds and sound of the forest. We stop for coffee on the side of the road and it must be just as school is out for lunch and we have to wave and say hello to what seems like an entire primary school going past us! Coming down the far side of a hill a woman is sat on the back of her husbands moving scooter and is waving her hands frantically as if to say ‘don’t go down there’… I am thinking of hungry wild animals and muggers! Further down bunting across the road with a sign we don’t understand but presume says ‘no access’. We can’t bear the thought of cycling back up the hill we have just come down so we go under the bunting and carry on to where the road just disappears into a huge hole and few meters deep. We unload our bikes and manage to ferry our stuff in a few goes around the steep edge feeling pretty chuffed we didn’t have to turn around. In nature news, more squashed snakes, a huge green and red bodied spider, a stick insect almost as long as my foot (actually in being too bloody like a stick I ran over it…) a huge lizard and a green bug that looks like a leaf. Huge plantations of trees all fitted with a spiral around the trunks and a bowl to catch (maybe) rubber. We stop in Mengla for lunch and spend nearly an hour hunting for cash points of which none would accept our cards. So we carry on towards Laos without money, a map or even knowing what the border town on the China side is called! Chickens run frantically across the road and beautiful villages of stilted houses with flat tiled roofs and families sat in the shade underneath. Lots of friendly greetings and waves and we have to ask in one village where we can find somewhere to stay. A point and 4km so we carry on. It turns into another 10km and again we are practically riding in the dark. Waved away from 2 guest houses and the 3rd isn’t sure what to do, makes the standard call to the police and finally lets us have a room. We are not quite sure but we think we are practically at the border with Laos. It is mad to think we have cycled from the top to the bottom of China, from the Gobi desert to the tropical rainforest – and we have been met with pockets of complete overwhelming friendliness, but also with pockets of befuddlement and seemingly easy tasks taking ages and becoming mammoth! W started with the heat of the desert, then had 2 months of weather not dissimilar to England and now once again riding in the heat. It’s been fascinating watching the landscape; villages and people change around us.
26.11.11 Day 112 Shongyuan – Luang Namtha (LAOS!) 70km
Setting off in the morning mist we are not quite sure how far we are from the border with Laos. There are no signs and the road is quiet. Mohan is the border town and we are met with enthusiastic women offering to change money, but other than that, not to many people about. Most of the town looks new and crossing into Laos is quick and easy and once on the other side it seems the mist has cleared and it is bright and sunny. The beeping is no more! Remarkably the small dogs no longer have under bites and from every passer by, particularly children we are met with ‘sabaidee’ or ‘hello helllo’. Still surrounded by thick green forest, but the villages are different – different houses and everything seems more relaxed. Laos’s time! We stop for our first Laos meal and a ‘lao beer’ to celebrate entering our 3rd country so far. 7200km into our trip. Small wooden houses on stilts with straw roofs and the road is curvy and undulating. Lots of rustling in the bushes but where not quite sure what it is! Finally along a long flat straight road with square fields either side wooded platforms shaded by straw roofs where workers escape from the midday sun and we arrive at Luang Namtha and find a cheap guesthouse to stay at. Laos is an hour behind China and it starts getting dark early – at 5.30 ish. We meet another cyclist to chat to who gives us tips about free camping in SE Asia.