A Travellerspoint blog

China

pedalling out of the cold

overcast 11 °C

You might be able to tell from Rob's last blog post that the bad weather in China - particularly the lack of sunshine - is starting to wear us down a bit. Every morning we hopefully draw the (often slightly mouldy) hotel curtains at about 7.30am to be greeted by dull grey sky and a cold blast of air if we are crazy enough to open the window. From Tanluo (the 'shit town with no redeeming features') we had initially planned to cycle for 2 days to get to the Detian Waterfalls, a transnational waterfall (between China and Vietnam) that is meant to be quite beautiful - it is the image used on the back of a 20 yuan note and on there is looks pretty good! However when we got up in the cold and saw grey sky again we made a snap decision that we weren't going to be able to spend another 2 days cycling through fairly bland scenery to stay in another tiny village with an unhygienic and cold hotel - instead we were going to head for the border crossing to Vietnam as quickly as we could.

To get to the next decent sized town en route to the border we were going to have to cycle 110 km to Chongzuo so we set off straight after our breakfast feed of youtiao and soya milk. For the first 25 km through Fushu and Zhongdong the roads were pretty bad - very dusty and bumpy so we were struggling to go at a decent speed. Things picked up a bit after about 11am. The roads were smoother and flat and banana plantations gave way to sugar cane fields, as far as the eye could see, and as it was less misty we could also enjoy the karst mountain scenery. Although we still couldn't see the sun it was warm enough to take our gloves and hats off for the first time while cycling and the day passed the breath test as we spent the entire day not being able to see our breath for the cold. Things were looking up!

We pulled into Chongzuo at about 6pm, pretty tired and in desperate need of a good shower. The responsibilities we have individually taken on since our trip started have developed organically according to our strengths. As Rob definitely has a more discerning eye for a good hotel it has naturally fallen to him to pick out our sleeping spot for the night when we pull into town while I 'guard' the bikes. Usually we pick the one that looks the nicest from the outside (although appearances are misleading as the facade of the building is usually the best bit, masking a shabbier interior). Anyway, Rob marched assertively into a decent looking hotel smack opposite the station. Five minutes later he reappeared 'It was alright but I think we can do better for that price' (a tenner). In hindsight it seems that we have been spoilt by our hotel experiences in Hezhou and Zhaoqing as four hotels and one hour later we slunk back to the original hotel. We had done the rounds of pretty much every hotel in Chongzuo (we should be on commission from the lonely planet!) and they were all pretty grim - particularly the bathrooms - and they were all about the same price. Back at the first hotel they gave us a room, but they took pleasure in telling us that they had let out the last double room ten minutes earlier so if we still wanted a room it would have to be a twin. Penance for procrastinating!

We got up early again and set off for a short day after our long cycle the previous day. So far most of our cycling days have been 'journey days' rather than 'destination days' so we decided to visit one of the few tourist sites in Chongzuo county: a leaning pagoda - apparently one of only 18 worldwide! Including our getting lost kilometres it was a 10km round trip to the pagoda that was perched precariously on a rocky outcrop in the middle of Phoenix lake. Although it was very well signposted (in English!) from the city centre there was no sign - not even one in chinese - at the actual turn off so we sailed past it, ending up by a sugar factory. Eventually after numerous attempts at asking for directions we found it. One of our best excursions in China, we were chauffered over to the pagoda on a lovely gentleman's houseboat. We did try to converse with him but didn't get very far... perhaps we were a bit ambitious when we tried to enquire about how the pagoda came to be leaning....

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We left the pagoda by mid morning heading for Ningming for what we thought would be an easy day but turned out to be one of the most punishing days of cycling yet. 10km after leaving Chongzuo we started climbing - going through the hills where we would spend the rest of the day, relentleessly going up and down. Although the gradients were initially quite gentle (they got steeper later) there were no sections of road that were flat for longer than 200 metres. The morning was pretty exhausting and we didn't pull in for lunch until about 2.30pm - into a nameless town as it wasn't on our map. Apart from a witnessing a frenzied card game there was not much there - the only cafe/restaurant in the town didn't have toilets and didn't serve tea and the only shop in town didn't sell coke (not a bad thing in principle but on a practical level it was inconvenient as it deprived us for a much needed sugar hit!).

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After lunch the roads got bad, then very bad. Better for the last 15 km as we approached Ningming where we would stay for a rest day as both of us were getting knee pain from all the hill work. Ningming is quite a small town and not unpleasant. Unlike most Chinese towns and cities we have been to it does seem to have a 'centre'. The buildings are generally rectangular concrete slabs but many of them have very intricately decorated facades and frontages.

As we will be leaving China in a couple of days after only 2 weeks here we wanted to take our rest day to explore the area before heading over the border. Only 15 km from Ningming are ancient murals on the cliff of Mount Huashan drawn by the Zhuang people about 2,000 years ago. Nice and local to where we are staying and perfect for our rest day. We woke up to rain and a drop in temperature back to about 8 degrees. A short trip on a louis vuitton upholstered rickshaw to the murals which were lovely (although we did spend about half an hour arguing over the price and Rob got quite irate that we couldn't get any tea to drink in the freezing cold!).

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So our time in China has been quite a mixed bag. We plan to head back into Yunnan in about a month hopefully when it warms up and it will be interesting to see how it compares to our experiences so far. Tomorrow is chinese new year and also the day we plan to cross the border into Vietnam heading for the warmth so our future blog posts will hopefully contain fewer obsessive rants about weather!

Posted by mrs lewis 05:50 Archived in China Tagged cycling cold karst dusty language_barrier Comments (1)

china video

We were unable to upload this video while we were in China due to most websites with anything but pro-china content being banned. This short clip was filmed when we were still relatively upbeat!

enjoy!

China video

Posted by roblewis 00:37 Archived in China Comments (1)

Yangshuo to Tanluo

overcast 7 °C

Our cycling days in china so far go something like this:

1. Wake up feeling very cold and stay in bed for 20 minutes before getting up and putting on all our clothes.
2. Go to breakfast and eat some steamed buns, dough sticks, warm soy milk, tea, sometimes a boiled egg (cooked in tea)
3. Go back to the hotel, get changed and get cycling (wearing most of our clothes ontop of our lycra - thid is not a modesty thing)
4. Cycle till lunch occasionally glancing up at the sky to see if there is any chance of the sun making an appearance (never)
5. Eat lunch at a random shack of a restuarant in some dead end dirty, dusty town. Communicate that we want some of the noodles in chicken soup but without all the bits of pigs head in them. A crowd of about 20 people have usually crowded around us to watch us eat in what seems to be their most entertaining event of the day.
6. Cycle through some pretty karst scenery on dirty dusty roads till about 5 when we will arrive in another dusty town. Find the best looking hotel (usually the one with the most obscene amount of marble in the lobby) and check in. Rooms in such an establishment as this will usually cost 8-10 pounds. Drink some tea. shower. find a decentish looking restuarant and eat a LOT of food. This is great not only because we are usually famished but because the Chinese sure can cook. The street food is particulary good. Definitely my favourite part of the day.
7. Wander round the dirty dusty town remarking how dirty and dusty it is before returning to the hotel.
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Anyway, back to matters of business...

We arrived in Yangshuo after 7 days on the bike. The cold weather was beginning to take its toll on seemingly everything; my gear cables were frayed rendering me down to 6 usable ones (it was too cold to attempt fixing this anywhere we stayed), our GPS refused to work, and i was coming down with a nasty cold. We checked into a hotel and pondered our next move. we needed to get somewhere warmer and fast. After a day of eating some western food and drinking ginger tea in some of the many touristy places in Yangshuo, and chatting to the first westerners we have met in China, we decided to change our route which was originally going to be heading west towards Yunnan province. South was the only option to get some warmer weather so after bagging ourselves a couple of massages, we jumped on a bus to Nanning, 400km south. We seemed to have bagged the last 2 tickets on the bus and were unable to sit together so mariana sat up front whilst i was on the back row. Mariana had a particularly pleasant journey with the lady next to her using the adjascent bin as a spitting receptacle for her and a toilet for her 3 children - it was a rather smelly affair to say the least.

Nanning was another big Chinese city with skyscrapers galore. the scale at which the chinese are building these cities has to be seen to be believed. It's almost as if they are mobilising for war with every able resource (human and natural) being thrown into all manner of building projects. This brings me onto some sweeping generalisations about things that the chinese love - well there are over a billion of them!!!

1. Building. you name it they will build it. Favourites include massive skyscraper, damns and roads.
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2. spitting. everywhere in anything.
3. Shouting at each other for no apparent reason.
4. Smoking (our waiters were once smoking whilst they served us our food)
5. Playing computer games - imagine walking into an internet cafe with 200 people all playing computer games
6. honking their horns. this is incessent and get pretty tedious. it doesn't matter what vehicle they are approaching the chinaman will always hoot at least 5 times using what appear to be the subwoofers of vehicle horns. This seems to me to be the equivalent of walking down the street shouting "Me, me, me, me, me!!!!!"
7. Mass extraction of all available resources, primarily in order to facilitate number 1 (building). This includes destruction of large sections of the country. As there are no apparent regulations on activities of any kind to protect local people of the environment, this is pretty relentless and very depressing.
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8. Chopping up bits of pig on the side of the road. This is happening every 20 metres along an average high street. I guess its more interesting than having a Boots, next to a WH Smith, next to a KFC.
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Anyway, back to the travelling... Nanning is an ok place but has an awesome food market where we ate dinner twice. All manner of animals and vegetables are displayed including crocdile, toad and numerous live birds such as sparrows.
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Another thing of note about Nanning was the sheer number of people. We spent a lot of time wandering round feeling like we were leaving a football match. The Nanningians love their electric bikes with thousands of them everwhere. These have totally taken over from bicycles which are now seen as something you only use if you can't afford an electric one which is a bit sad.
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The plan was now to continue south towards Vietnam in search of warmer weather so after obtaining our visas we headed south east along a very bumpy road - road quality is very variable in China with some being fantastic and others resembling a WW1 battelfield. We spent a couple of hours in an old town called Yangmei which was pleasant enough but not a patch on Hangyao as very little had been done in the way of preservation. We then cycled another 20km through miles and miles of really depresing bannana plantations before reaching the shittest town yet. I dont know the name of this place but it doesn't really matter, it had no redeeming features. Whatsmore, the weather was still really cold (7 degress in the day and 3 degrees at night). This conversation seemed to sum up the situation:

Rob (looking up at the grey sky trying to feel his toes): Well, it could be worse. Its cold and grey but it could be raining.
Mariana: It could be even worse than that. It could be freezing and raining.

... and i thought we were supposed to be on holiday. Evasive action needed to be taken before we were consumed by an all pervading misery.

Posted by roblewis 04:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Wo ting bu dong

Our first week cycling in China

overcast 8 °C

One of the many things we discovered we were not prepared for in China was the cold. Arriving in Zhaoqing it was noticeably cooler than Hong Kong; about 10 degrees and the rough route we had plotted was heading north where it was only going to get colder. On the upside our panniers are much lighter as in order to stay warm we are wearing about 70% of our clothes at any one time. Our planned route was along state highway 321 heading towards Yangshuo and Guilin in the Karst Mountains. Yangshuo is a fairly well established tourist destination in South China. We estimated that it would take us about a week to get there but we had little to no idea about any of the places on the way, what they are like, whether there is anywhere for us to stay in any of the little villages and the condition of the road that connects them.

To save us over-ruminating about this we set off our of Zhaoqing early the next morning. There is a 'cycle lane' in the city supposedly designated for bicycles but we found that it was more hazardous to cycle in it than on the main road. Motorbikes, which seem to have usurped bicycles as the most popular form of transport, race against the traffic as well as with it competing for space with tuk tuks, the occasional car that manages to squeeze into the cycle lane and the minority of bicycle users. It was pretty daunting picking our way out of a city with over 4 million people (the same population as the whole of New Zealand) on a busy dual carriage way. The traffic showed no sign of lessening after about 10 km on this road and we were both silently thinking to ourselves 'what are we doing!'

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As we set off on 'the china leg' of this trip we wondered how long we would be cycling for before encountering other cycle tourers on the road. By the time we left New Zealand we were meeting at least one a day, sometimes more, but here in China we are miles of the tourist trail and cycling in winter... We reckoned at least a week. Amazingly we were completely off - we met five chinese cyclists within the first hour. They spoke no English and we speak even less Chinese but somehow with vigorous gesticulating at maps they communicated that there was a much better route going on the backroads getting off the 321 at Lubin. They would ride with us to the turn off to make sure we didn't miss it.

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Once we were off the main road we spent the next 2 days weaving our way through small rural villages and towns. While soaking in the changing scenery our main preoccupations were: not getting lost, staying warm and of course food. We decided to go (mainly) vegetarian through China. Going through villages we saw fifty odd chickens, sparrows and pigeons all stuffed in cages on market stalls suggesting that animal welfare is perhaps not China's top concern. Just as every english village has a pub and a postoffice every chinese village that we went through has a bloke hacking up pork on a tree stump. Many of the villages don't have fridges so rather than risk cycling with a dodgy stomach from unrefrigerated meat we decided it would be easier to abstain altogether. As long as we can communicate that we are vegetarian we should be fine. We looked it up in our phrasebook: 'Chisu de' - vegetarian. Not as simple as it might seem. The running order of our meal time rigmarole to communicate this goes along these lines:

We walk into a street restaurant asking if we can have zaofan (breakfast) / wufan (lunch) / wanfan (dinner). A bit rhetorical as we always wander in somewhere where food is bubbling away so the answer is always yes. But anyway so far so good.
Then we come out with 'Chisu de'
This is greeted with complete blankness.
We repeat 'chisu de' and point at all the vegetables we can see
Response in very fast animated chinese
Us: 'Ting bu dong' (I don't understand) and continue pointing at vegetables
Them: 'Ting bu dong' (they don't understand either)
Out comes the phrasebook and we point at the word 'Chisu de'
'Ahhh Chisu de!!'
Sounds identical to the way we were saying it but obviously it isn't. Suddenly it is all completely clear and they set about preparing a vegetarian meal.

Happily we are rewarded for all the exersion in ordering . Our meals so far, particularly street food, have been amazing. Our typical breakfast consists of youtiao (doughsticks) dipped in fresh hot soya milk or in baimizhou (rice porridge). Occasionally we have tea eggs which are poached in tea and star anise and all polished off with our favourite - dousha bao - steamed sweet buns filled with beanpaste. We also take a stash of these with us for cycling sustenance as we are yet to find chocolate to snack on. This is all washed down with lu cha (green tea). Lunch and dinner generally alternate between rice and noodles with vegetables and tofu. We have been eating like kings and in the little countryside villages they come to a grand sum of about 3 yuan (30p) for both of us up to about 20 yuan (2 pounds). In bigger towns with 'proper' restaurants this can go up to 70 yuan.

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Our first couple of days cycling we took it pretty easy. Although the minor roads are generally very good there are sections where the road is worn down creating big concrete chasms and stretches of dirt gravel. After our lunch stop on our first day the condition of the road really deteriorated and we had a very bumpy ride. After a 75 km day we arrived in a small village called Mucon. Other than a few stalls selling pork and a small hotel there was very little there. The next day we did a 85 km day through a nature reserve. There were some rolling hills but so far we have found that even for longer climbs the gradients are quite gentle - perfect for long distance cycling. That evening we reached an even smaller village than the day before about 20 km south of Xindu. It was just off the edge of our Zhaoqing map as we were crossing the border from Guangdong province into Guangxi so we don't actually know the name of it. It took us a little while to find a hotel - eventually we found somewhere that was apparently a guesthouse ith a room above a restaurant (if you could call it that). I have fairly low accomodation standards and even my mine it was grim.... and freezing. That night we were huddled under the least clean duvet I have even seen let alone touched. We wore all our clothes, hat and gloves included, as a protective layer from the filth as much as from the cold.

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After 2 nights with no heating and the temperature plummeting we were looking forward to our next night in Hezhou with great anticipation. Hezhou is hardly a throbbing metropolis - and isn't big or significant enough to be deemed worthy of a mention in the Lonely Planet - but it is developed enough to have restaurants and shops with frontages and doors rather than openings in the wall and most importantly for us there were hotels with heating. Bliss.

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The following day we had planned a shortish ride (about 50km) to Huangyao. This was a slight diversion off the road to Yangshuo but worth it to stay in this peaceful beautifully preserved 900 year old village with architecture from the Song dynasty. The houses were made of stone with solid wooden doorways and tiled rooftops. They lined a network of narrow stone cobbled streets which you could get completely lost in. After dark the steets were deserted and it felt as though we had the village to ourselves. Getting to Huangyao took a little longer than expected as we had our first significant map reading malfunction that morning. We were using our new Guangxi map that we picked up in Xindu. The only one we could get was a plastic laminated wall map that we have had to fold about 10 times to fit it in the handlebar bag. The map is also only in Chinese. This means that we play a kind of matching game at every road junction between the names on the roadsigns and the names on the maps. It is pretty difficult as we don't know if the roadsign is for the next village or a town 100km away and to further complicate matters they are often not exact matches any way as apparently the roadsigns use simplified characters. Anyway in the morning on the way to Huangyao we headed 10km down a deadend road and only realised when the road ran out. We tried to ask for directions from helpful locals who are happy to try and help us but the communication gulf between us is challenging. Most locals, upon realising we don't understand what they are saying, try and write it down - in chinese. No prizes for guessing whether this helped or not!

mariana's pictures 159

mariana's pictures 159

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Despite the 20km extension we had a lovely day of cycling and started to see the outline of the Karst mountains that would become clearer as we headed towards Yangshuo. We stayed in a beautiful guesthouse owned by a lady that we nicknamed 'little rain' as these were the only english words she could say. Her few words were prophetic however. We left Huangyao in drizzle with two days left until we would reach Yangshuo. That day we cycled 120 km to Pingle - our longest cycling day yet. We staggered cold and tired into a hotel at about 6pm looking like tramps and rustling as we moved as our latest technique to try and keep the cold out is wrapping plastic bags round our feet and over our shoes. Although we look a state this does seem to work. We didn't think much of Pingle - quite nondescript, dirty and noisy and also the site of our first fleecing in China. We had gone out for dinner and found a little restaurant - nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that they had heating. As usual we ordered vegetarian and Rob made a trip into the kitchen to point at the ingredients (lotus root, chinese brocoli and tofu). The lotus and the tofu turned up - and mysteriously so did some crab. The brocoli was nowhere to be seen. By now it was about 9pm at night and knackered from the cycle without the vocabulary to communicate this so we decided to eat what we had been given. When the bill arrived we almost choked. They had charged us 150 yuan which is over double price of the most expensive meal we have eaten so far in China. We kicked up a fuss - finding the word 'rip off' in our phrasebook and told them we would pay no more than 100 yuan. Chaos ensured with lots of shouting in chinese. They brought in a friend of theirs who spoke a couple of words of english who insisted we had to pay. About 10 minutes later the police entered the fray. We finally reached some sort of compromise by agreeing a figure in the middle.

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Glad to see the back of Pingle we set off early the next morning in the cold mist riding against a dreamy backdrop of the Karst Mountains for the final 30 km before reaching Yangshuo.

Posted by mrs lewis 01:58 Archived in China Comments (0)

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