It is a cool and foggy morning as we pull in to the Chinese border. Until very recently, to take a foreign vehicle in and out of China you are required to have a guide. This usually involves an English-speaking guide, a driver (who does’t speak English) and a support vehicle. Thanks to Ken who we met at Horizons Unlimited, we found out about ridechina.com where you get one English-speaking guide – on a motorbike! Our tour guide for the next month, Wang, is there to greet us and take us through the formalities.
We are happy to sit back and watch him in action. Our clocks are put forward again and we learn that it is the same time all over this huge continent. We head off up town for breakfast – noodle soup with a very tasty mince on top, some greens and stock. The KTM’s are proving a hit every time we stop and people want to sit on them. The Honda and the BMW aren’t getting a look in!! And once again I am getting lots of thumbs up being a woman! We set off and find ourselves on a super highway – bikes are allowed here but can only do 80kmh – only Wang does between 55-70kmh – very slow going after the last month!! The highway is amazing – massive bridges that span whole valley’s and instead of carving the road through the hill they make a tunnel – hundreds of them!!
They don’t seem to waste power in them though, as there is little or no lighting and depending on the length – full of fumes. One really, really long one Paul and I both thought of our friend, Suzi – she would have hated it!! Every piece of arable land is intensively farmed with miles of banana and rubber plantations, vegetables and fruits. Unlike Thailand and Laos, everything is quite neatly planted and symmetrical. Lots of gardens with huge screen covers over the entire paddock. The hills are shrouded with the ever-present smog and one crop of sunflowers looked very forlorn! We pull into a town for lunch and a chance to talk with Wang. He’s quite cute with his smattering of freckles and rides a Jialing JH600 Adventure Bike – with all the trimmings. All his gear is immaculate and clean – right down to white clip boots – we must look like real hobos coming from the dust and dirt of Laos!!
He organises temporary driving permits for us and insurance. Lunch is a selection of 5 dishes which he chooses – the omelette was exceptionally juicy and I really enjoyed the shredded potato which seemed to have been stir-fried with garlic, shallots and chilli. We learnt there are 56 minority groups in China and that in five days time we will be riding up in the snow in Tibet!! We arrive in Jinghong for the night and our guesthouse is a new standard altogether – there’s even a blow-drier in the bathroom – still only $15AUD each per night. We are in a fairly up-market part of town called Jilang Village, complete with a large temple and the most amazing street -lights I’ve ever seen!
After visiting an ATM to all get yuan (RMB) we have to do a u-turn in a very busy street. It’s quite simple in China – you just go round the side of all the traffic to the front of the queue and turn in front of the cars first in line and you’re off the other way!! Imagine doing that down under – road rage would prefail! We are taken to dinner at a restaurant where we meet up with Wong’s friends and share a magnificent, freshly-made 21 course local minority meal around a large, round table in our own self-contained cabin.
The property is huge with lots of different-style rooms and paths, ponds, statues and lovely gardens. The meal only has one dish I won’t touch – it’s a stew thing with all sorts of unidentifiable pieces of animal in it – Paul goes in and has a go but even looking at the sauce is churning my stomach!! One vegetable dish looked like miniature NZ tree ferns which you dipped in a peanut cream sauce – delicious. Wang’s friend, Sormay, was just delightful – full of life and humour and enough English that we could have a night to remember. When we parted she asked me not to forget her – she was very special. Back in Jilang Village the whole place has come alive with an enormous night market – full of all the usual things but add in a million tea shops, Chinese medicines, jade, stone, wood and fungus, – and not a white tourist in sight! We are often the cause for devices to come out and our photos to be taken – doing whatever we are doing – just walking, maybe sampling tea, looking at a product – let alone pulling up somewhere on our bikes!
We head off next morning and the pace is ridiculously slow – a minor road but we are all still doing 55-70kmh following Wang. If he passes a truck he will slow down until everyone is past. We are all getting frustrated to say the least! The road winds its way up a huge mountain and there are now tea plantations everywhere along with rice paddies and vegetables. Down in the valleys there are more bananas – man, the Chinese must eat millions of them! It seems to take forever to get anywhere and we finally stop for lunch in a city that just pops out of nowhere. The women in the shop come and sit with me and take photos – they really don’t see many white people in this part of the country! Out on the road again and a black Volvo cruises past me with 3 guys with their thumbs-up – the boys don’t get this kind of attention! We come across a huge road block where rocks from the hillside are coming onto the road and there are men on ropes jackhammering – it’s all looking very dubious and then the flags come down and it’s mayhem like you wouldn’t believe as cars come up one way and bikes start going down the other on a single lane!
We are pulled up at a soldier checkpoint where the road comes from Myanmar and they are checking for drugs. Finally we pull in to Shuangjiang for the night. Wang makes sure we try foods from another minority group and again it’s delicious. Eggplant deep-fried in batter with a sauce made from tomatoes, shallots, garlic and onions and a stir-fry with just shredded zucchini, shallots, and chilli – yum. It’s very cool having Wang to order for us as we are trying all sorts of great foods. We have a discussion about speed and can we go faster! Our next day of riding is much more pleasurable and he even lets us go in front and create our own pace at times. The roads are just amazing – up and over huge mountains with masses of bridges and tunnels again. Wheat is being harvested in all different stages. There are no bobcats in China – every single piece of tilled land has been done by hand – levelled, rocks removed or walls created – the sheer scale of it on the hillsides is mind-blowing as is everything Chinese. Our lunch spot overlooks a hydro lake and the vegetable dish is a bitter melon sautéed with capsicum and dried chilli – quite unusual but mixed with the shredded potato dish very palatable.
After another 8 hour day in the saddle we come upon the city of Dali – according to Wang it is a small city – could have fooled us – it’s massive! Our guesthouse is very quaint with carvings and lots of hand painted murals in quite a neat part of town.
We could see snow remnants on the highest peak left of the city and Wang tells us we are at 1800m now. The sky is blue and clear – a great feeling! A wander round lots of little lanes with trendy bars, shops and restaurants – our dinner is in a special place with an inner courtyard with round tables in cubicles off it. New things to try again with a Chinese cheese very like Haloumi done in egg and fried. Our next day in China has a morning of sightseeing in old Dali – we ride up to the old gate and some pagoda temples and look out over the whole town.
Then on to a 100 year old village with the famous “white” houses with the paintings on them. Lunch is superb again with the standout being a lovely dish of sautéed mushrooms. We are heading to a super highway to take us to Lijiang where we will spend two nights in the “old town”. Wang tells us to hang together as we go through the toll gate – their is no charge for motorcycles and we will go to the right. All’s well until the police stop him and this altercation starts – it goes on and on and the policeman finally tells us to do a u-turn and take the “old” road!
Wang leads us off round the lake for about 30 minutes and we enter the highway in another spot! The views from the highway are spectacular. We are at about 2100m on a vast plateau that is flanked on both sides by 2000-4,500m mountains. All the flat land is farmed with vegetables and rice and their are hundreds of workers dotting the fields. Women seem to be in groups which must be a convivial way to work. They are harvesting, planting, tilling – backs all bent and hard at it. One massive bridge is 1602m long and after a 3km tunnel we come out to 160 degree views of Lijiang. Lijiang “old” town is very quaint and to get to our hotel we are driving over cobblestones and through a maze of shops and restaurants. Wang wants us to have two nights in a hotel rather than a guesthouse and it’s very nice. We wander through the maze following the river (which comes from the mountains) and end up climbing to a restaurant with a wonderful outlook over the rooftops of the “old” town.
It’s getting chilly now so we have some tea there first and then head indoors for another scrumptious dinner. Tonight we try a sausage made from rice seed (which kind of resembles black pudding!) that has been sliced and fried – really interesting. And Paul and I get to have a Tsingtao beer!
We are really getting in to the tea drinking ritual that occurs at every meal – tonights tea was a medicine that is good for sore throats! Yunnan Province is definitely not a usual “white” tourist destination – the tourists are all Chinese and yet it is a very beautiful part of the world. Tomorrow is a rest day and then we head to the mountains….brrrr!
We are queuing up at some sort of checkpoint with millions of trucks coming in to the city of Dali. Wang has earlier given us instructions – if anyone tries to stop us – just do what he does – if he keeps going, we keep going! He has come up the side of the queue so we follow and all get in behind one truck. As he leads us through, the barrier gate comes down and wops him one on the helmet, making his bike wobble – and then the gate falls off altogether – with us all watching from behind!! OMG, what is going on! But we do as we’re told and all follow him – even though the uniformed man is trying to stop Mark and I!!
If you’re going to get stung by a bee – once between the eyes is probably enough – not twice!
Our tour guide, Wang (pronounced One) – such a gentle soul – that’s why I really like him. His favourite saying is “No problem” and he calls us Mr Paul and Mrs Lee! We are the first Australians he has had and he reckons the first for the company (usually it’s Europeans). There are five guides operating and six office staff. His knowledge of bike roads and China is astounding and he never tires of answering my questions and luckily, he gets Paul’s humour! His bush mechanic skills are becoming evident and he is always putting my bike in a good place for me – such a gentleman. I always say “Thank-you Wang” and he smiles and says “No problem”! He took two days to come to the border from Kunming – he will escort us 8,500km across China – then he will wait at the Kazakstan border for a Swedish couple to arrive and do the same thing in reverse!! Imagine finding someone to do that in Oz!! He orders all our food (usually four different dishes for lunch and four for dinner) and is always happy to talk to me about them, which minority group they are from and what it is. Using an app on his phone I am helping him with new English words! He is 42 and has a girlfriend of one year in Kunming (although who knows when he gets to see her!).
We are in Jinghong and going out for dinner. Wang is discussing the price and destination with the woman taxi driver. The boys are having a discussion about how the five of us are going to fit in the car – it’s a clapped-out manual Toyota Corolla! They have decided that Paul, Pete and I will get in the back and Mark and Wong will get in the front. We go to get in and when Mark goes for the front Wang says “No, no no – the front for lady!!” And the four of them had to all get in the back!! Inside I thought it was hilarious as I never get a say in much and secondly it was one for the girls – the Chinese know how to treat their women!!
FOOTNOTE: Maps are an issue as we can’t get Google Maps so these will be added to this and earlier posts when possible!
Skype, emails and the blog are working! However, no apps will load except Snapchat, and funnily enough with the smallest signal – Words with Friends! Thanks to all my players – keeps me sane as I often play in the early hours under the covers when sleep is not happening! The snippets of conversation are great!