Cycling out of Kunming I had forgotten just how bad it was cycling in. Any of the dozen or so cycle tourers who had spent hours cleaning their bikes in the hostel would have been sorely disappointed by the time they got out of the city. I wasn’t one of them. The first day we put down bang on 100km. This took us to a town where we got a great deal on a room in a business hotel. Finally I got to see CCTV News (yes it’s real name) – China’s answer to CNN which Hilary Clinton has been pooping it over. Actually for now she doesn’t have too much to worry about – it’s not a very polished job, but the genie of Chinese state run 24 hour English news coverage available in over 100 countries is now firmly out of the bottle and it will only get better.
The road didn’t cut straight through the heart of it, but we got some great views of this alien landscape which made for fun cycling. Later that afternoon we climbed a good couple hundred metres and a thick fog came down on us. The roads were just one lane wide and the outside metre was caked in a very slippery mud. It made for particularly sketchy and unpleasant cycling. That night we checked into a different type of hotel.
Apparenly of 1.3billion Chinese people, 200million live on under one dollar per day. There was no doubt we entered met some of these people travelling through these hilly regions.
Herbert has proven to be a Demon on the downhills and also an expert skitcher. Well, semi-pro might be a better description; he was skitching on the front of a truck back in the Taklamakan Desert trying to communicate with the driver while another cyclist was skitching on the back. He lost his balance and the front wheel of his bike span around and jack-knifed sending him flying down the bank. His panniers got totally trashed and he was left with a broken thumb which necessitated a trip to Hong Kong for surgery and a 6 week timeout from his tour. Ouch.
We sampled some really excellent Chinese food those last few days in China.
An iPhone app came in really handy for ordering food. There were many occasions in China where waiters served an unordered small bowl of soup with the main dish. ‘Soup’ would probably be an overstatement. Rice/potato water would be a much more accurate description, and it was difficult to know if we were getting stitched just to see if the tourists would drink what they got given.
We saw some new cities being constructed which seemed most of the way complete, but too new to feature on our 2010 map. After crossing under railway line and coming on to the highway we would cross over the Tropic of Cancer and at last enter the tropics. About time too ‘cos it was still chilly. An incorrect reading of the map led us up a road which we thought was would take us down and along the valley bottom. How wrong we were. Instead it went up an up until it went around a bend and BAM opened up a view to breath-taking valley below. It was a postcard perfect picture of how you imagine S.E. Asia to look.
We bombed it down the other side losing about 800metres altitude over maybe 10km. Banana trees and pineapples could be seen either side of the road in their thousands.
That final night in China my appreciation of the whole outdoor dance phenomenon backfired spectacularly. We ate out in a restaurant and throughout the duration I could hear electronic music emanating from the streets outside. I was curious what it was and planned to check out it out after dinner. We finished up our drinks and made our way outside (restaurants close very early here). In the car park/market place just outside our hotel was a group of maybe 40 women line/Chinese dancing to upbeatish tunes. We looked around and observed there were no men taking part. Then suddenly the music slowed to Waltz like tempo….A group of women giggling and pointing over to us clearly wanted us, or at least one of us, to join in… ‘Go on mate get in there’, I encouraged Herbert with a gentle shove in their direction. He made out that they wanted me to join but that wasn’t the case ‘No way, definitely you. In ya get!!’ And with that Herbert bravely took centre stage. He did Europe proud. I congratulated him on his performance but I should have foreseen what was coming. The next tune rolled on and, of course, one of the other girls wanted a partner. Alas I pulled the sweater so it was already off to a bad start. It started off awkwardly, and ended with barely a shred of improvement. It was just the four of us on the dance floor, everyone else looking on. Following the second dance we retired to the side and a round of applause from the onlookers marked the end of our ordeal performance. Herbert declared that they were leading the Waltz with the left foot here as opposed to the right. Ah, so that was where I was going wrong…. A funny final night in China.
The final day was an easy 65 km or thereabouts to the border. A wheeler-dealer Chinese guy (the only English speaking person in the border town or so he claimed) helped us change the rest of our RMB to Dong and sorted us out with Vietnamese sim cards. He also asked if we needed Vietnamese visas. He was mates with the immigration official and had a tidy little business on the go with
him splitting the profit 50/50. £35 it would have cost us to get a visa through him and opposed to the £50+ we paid back in Kunming. He also said that to visit Vietnam he had a contact who would ferry him to the other side of the river instead of going through the whole visa rigmarole. And that then was China. Enter country no.18 – Vietnam.
We slept in a hotel just the other side of the border.
That first day in Vietnam was amazing fun. The forecast was for rain but instead when we woke up it was dry and refreshingly cool. The clouds resembled a giant benevolent mackerel which had descended from the heavens to greet us. People were super friendly. Everybody from the kids to the adults and elderly dressed in traditional clothing were saying hello. Bikers even slowed down as they drove past us to say hello. What a pleasant welcoming.
The North of Vietnam was scenically very impressive. It was prime stomping ground for water buffallos – some of them crashing through the bushes, others tethered to the central reservation. The first night we pitched our tents for the first time since leaving Kunming. And of course we woke up in the morning to medium rain. But it was warm and we were after all in the tropics, so who cared? Hanoi was just around the corner. The final day was a nice 130km in sunshine and tailwind.
Arriving in Hanoi was as crazy as any other big city, only this one was truly overrun by scooters and motorbikes. We checked into Hanoi Backpackers and relaxed after 8 days on the road…