Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Week 25 Yangshuo to Rongjiang 416km cycled

Highlights: Karsk landscape, pine scented air
Low blows: Incessant beeping of horns
Music of the week:  Trinidad, Sound of the Sun – Westland Steel Band

Yangshuo to Xingping  25km
Fancied a lie in but was woken by the tour group heading out of hotel from 6:30 till 7. Ignored it for a bit then decided to get up anyway. Had dumplings up the road, packed and left at 11ish. Decided to head to Xingping not far upriver and see if that was a bit quieter.
Felt like I was in Krabi as I passed Karsk outcrops in the sunshine. Soon out of town heading along road, farming on either side, rice paddies and later on fragrant orange orchards with blossoming flowers and ripe fruit. Crappy surface to road so had to pay attention rather than daydream, and a lot of tourist buses to and fro.
Arrived at Xingping a few hours later, amazing scenery. Looked for a place to stay and found a YHA - room in 3 bed dorm for 35Y. Had noodles up at mkt, did laundry  in twin sinks as down to last tshirt then went down to river. Chatted with an American bloke sat in best seats overlooking river for a while, then back to gh and off up a big karsk peak nearby with a girl from hostel who’d invited me. Steep steps and whizzed up it. View at top really impressive, a 180 degrees view of bend in river karsk peaks all around. Convoys of big boats and small bamboo boats ferrying tourists about, big boats blasting their horns and spoiling ambience a bit, and later on one long boat leaking petrol into river a big rainbow spill, seeping out of the back of it.  Sat and chatted for a few hours as we took in the scene perched on rocks. Really beautiful scenery here, busy river, surprised most people day trippers and don’t stay here as far more impressive than that other town.
Eventually joined on peak by some elderly Chinese photographers trying to find the best angle. Came down before sunset as didn’t fancy a dark descent. No sunset as such which was a bit disappointing as waiting on roof of gh for photo op.
Thought I had room to self but young Chinese lad arrived and wondered if I wanted to go paddling in river even tho already dark – no ta. Impressed by YHAs in China so far, both modern and nice places.

Feels like Krabi

Lovely limestone

Lovely limestone

Great view in Xingping

End of day in Xingping form the hostel roof

Xingping to Wutong  98km
Bouncy road, orange orchards, fruit being packed into trucks, bloke shouting at naughty cow going up hill, brilliant scenery first half of day. Lots of pick ur own strawberry places. Lunch in small town, was making good pace then had to try and find my way through the sprawl of Guiling which was frustrating, laborious and tired me out.  Looked like a dump eventually found way across city and onto busy provincial main road until arriving 5:30pm at Wutong. Couldn’t find gh so asked and ended up on road although later saw a few in town. More egs of fakes brands Kewesekl and Yamahnd or summat. GH a dump but itll do. 60Y for crappy room and shower bust up too. Noticed an Ethernet cable behind table so got free internet too!  Long hot day, bit burnt and tired.

Morning view

Orange orchards

A great road

More quality scenery

Wutong to Longsheng  60km
Traffic beeping annoying. Oranges. Trad wooden houses/villages along way. Flat then up then good downhill then steep up and long downhill to finish. Took a while to find accom. Tired so couldn’t be arsed with hot springs and thought about Tengchong experience. Wander around town, riverside full of old people and mothers  - drum and dancing performance, , a couple singing, nice riverside walk and a lot of new building on opp bank of river – felt sorry for people whose houses mustve been in an ideal spot now perched on a dug out hillside/banking or surrounded by road /huge buildings. Same all along new roads Ive been on -buildings with rooms  half torn down. Price of progress. Town not that bad.
Longsheng to Chengyang  77km
Lovely ride along turquoise river. Trad villages of dark wooden homes along way. Overcast. Easy downhill to Sanjiang. Lots of wood yards along the way cutting pine into planks of various sizes and shapes, air fragrant with fresh cut wood. Good lunch, then over bridge and nice windy country road to Chengyang to see the wind and rain bridge, passing a few large wooden water wheels along the way. Got student price entry 30Y after chatting with ticket people a while and then haggled for room overlooking bridge about 100m away for 50Y. Went to watch the tourist dance display which was actually pretty good entertainment –some tiny and almost bent over double old ladies peddling colourful hand made souvenirs to the crowd as this went on. Had a wander through villages, which were all almost interconnected so not far to go. Loads of higgledy piggledy large wooden houses tightly packed together on hillocks and along small streams. Lots of chickens but no pigs. Interesting to see a typical Dong village up close. Rained at night. Chatted with 2 blokes from HK at gh. Later sat and watched the floodlit bridge for a while.

Traditional Dong wooden houses

Traditional Dong wooden house

Dancing display in the town square

Chillin beneath the drum tower
View from the gh balcony

Wind and rain bridge by day

Decorative birds

A poster in the village - the machine that goes ping!

Chengyang to Congjiang  bit of bus and cycled 75km
Light rain /drizzle in morn. Wild white roses in bloom all along river banks. Horses/mules ploughing fields/paddies. Lots of horses in Dong country, one running off from bloke trying to harness it. Cycled down to town, went to bus station on far side of river to be told it was back over other side so made my way to that and put bike in boot after removing front wheel to get it in. Odd to have bus station here cos it has to go back across busy bridge, would ease congestion to have it on other side. Knees cramped on bus and blokes smoking. Glad to get off at Fulu as road had been pretty knackered, bloke putting a load of musical instruments in boot as I took bike out and I saw him later in Congiang with a crowd buying from him. Had lunch in this lively little town, lots of trad dressed people in mkt.
Had been overcast all morning but sun came out for pleasant afternoon ride along river. Many Dong villages of dark brown wooden houses. Traffic eased off too. Arrived Congiang 4pm. Found gh room overlooking road but so are all other gh’s. Lots of horn blaring in this town too. Decided to go and find Baisha village which is a Hmong village so had to do a 8km uphill to get there. Road good and lots of pine trees, ferns and greenery further up. 2 lads walking home from school decided to run and have a race with me going uphill – I managed to keep them at bay, and saw one lad up at village just as I was leaving later on- must be healthy walking 16km round trip to school everyday. Had to buy ticket to get in – only 12Y but Idve missed him if 5 mins later as bloke just shutting up shop. Road into village and through it before going up a set of steps – a bloke coming through forest dressed in black pyjama type clothes with a long sheathed sword, he went off down the hill. Path took me back into village so had a brief wander about, not much going on a few old people about and kids back from school. ‘Chatted’ with a bloke Id seen bringing his buffalo up hill earlier, then set off back, saying hello to a rowdy bunch of kids in carpark on way out of village and them checking out all the fancy bits of my bike (disk brakes, suspension etc). Fast downhill ride and back into town in 10 mins. Ate up road, got some supplies in supermkt as snacks finished. Happy to find my favourite brand of crisps which hasn’t been available in last province and the crisps they did have were terrible.

Congjiang to Rongjiang  81km
Terrible nights sleep, traffic all through night but worse was that the partition wall wasn’t sealed at the window so could hear neighbours TV and snoring and smell their cigarette smoke. Went round at 2am to ask one bloke to turn TV down then at 3:30 banged on other metal window frame as other tv going, then banged on other blokes window as super loud snoring coming through. Arrgghh! Horn beeping idiots woke me up. Knackered. No hot water either despite running it for ages so went for bf, had dumplings and noodles after as hungry. Hot water strangely available when I got back to gh but sod it.  Glad to get out of this town and idiots blaring horns.
Pleasant days cycling. Road followed turquoise river practically all the way, road ok but intermittently knackered and a lot of dust churned up by passing trucks but traffic not too bad. Some lovely Dong wooden villages along the way, some with tiered drum towers and a couple of small wind and rain bridges. Trad dressed locals working in paddy fields, tending vegetables, or slowly driving herds of water buffalo along the road or down on the banks of the river, some fishing boats being punted up river in the shallows and some rowed down river in the current. Easy ride with steady up and down all way. Had noodles in a towns only shop along the way and he’d just closed up so had to get stuff out again thankfully, as otherwise there’d have been no food for rest of way. Bloke brought bowl to table. Put a large spoon of MSG in then was about to dump a heaped teaspoon full of salt in too. Luckily I stopped him or it would’ve been hard to stomach.
Last 10km broken road and really dusty, probably because of construction of expressway on a bridge a few hundred meters up over the river and spanning the valley. Further on the new part of Rongjiang town nearly finished, rows of identical appt blocks next to each other and dust everywhere. Main town also full of dust. Took me a while to find a place to stay as first 4 said no foreigners and everyone kept directing me to an expensive gh. Asked them and they insisted nothing less than 100Y in the town. Went in search and eventually found one for 50Y after haggling. Daft cos this area is only 2 blocks from centre and it has loads of gh’s. Theres usually such an area in each town – its just a matter of finding it. Washed off the dust then went in search of food – a pick your own up near the bus station, where you point to diff types veg in small square plastic baskets, then select meat and chef will fry it all up for you. 10Y Very tasty. Cycled briefly round dusty streets of generic shops, bought some munch then back to gh.

Along the river

Getting ready for planting rice

Dong village with drum tower

Expressway high above

Slept pretty well, only a few clacking of heels and horns to wake me during night. Overcast day. Decided over dumplings and noodles to stay here for day and head out to a market described in LP as a must see 40km away. Got in mini van and soon bouncing over bust up roads (heavy lorries building expressway responsible), arriving in Pingyong just under 2 hours later and feeling travel sick. Asked where mkt was and wandered down there. Could tell something was amiss along the way as a distinct lack of life and people in the town. Hardly anything in mkt so back to van stop. Driver said mkt day was today in Rongiang and tomorrow up here! What a waste of time. Bagsied front seat of van but a woman with baby turned up so they got it and I bounced around in back again with cramped up knees, hunched over trying to look at scenery through super smoke glass windows. Friendly bloke asking me all about what Im doing here- I gave him my phrasebook so we passed it back and forth pointing at questions and answers for a while.  Into town by 1pm feeling sick again. Lots of hilltribe people doing there shopping in the mkt which is 2 lanes along from where Im staying and where Id also been for breakfast – not bad a 40km round trip to within 100m of the gh.
Stretched legs and got some air in my gills before having lunch, then wandered down to a temple style building. Inside was an exhibit about Chairman Mao’s rise to power from what I could grasp by the photo’s (writing all in Chinese). Mooched about in afternoon and relaxed, lots of hilltribe people doing their shopping, and seemed to be more interesting for them to gawp at me than vice versa.

Week 24 Yuanyang to Yangshuo 364km cycled

Highlights: Blood red soil, and a sprinkling of limestone rock striped with polythene
Low blows: Long bus journeys, traffic jams, passive smoking, hawwwwwwwwwwk
Music of the week:   Theme from control – The Herbaliser

Yuanyang to Yanshan  30km then rest by bus
Sunny in the town. Had 1st batch of dumplings from shop then set off down hill. Bottle neck and tail back with everyone beeping due to daft parking near mkt blocking road. Just managed to squeeze through it all, then 30km downhill ride to the bus station. Soon hit thick fog/mist so took it easy and had to keep an eye as road quite bumpy. Fleece covered in dew and started to feel cold. Twisty windy road and eventually came out of the bottom of the cloud but still about 15kms to go so nice to warm up and dry off. None of traffic suck up in town caught up either which was a bonus. Stopped to take a photo of defaced cardboard cut out policewoman mysteriously stuck in bushes on a bend and 2 women cyclists pulled up next to me, one of em on a recumbent bike. Had a brief chat about routes etc then carried on.
Found a bus going to Kaiyuan so got on - all seats well knackered and bus old. Got some food from a pot stall next to station then haggled for price of putting bike on roof – 10Y in end so 45 altogether. Supposed to leave at 11:05 but went at least half hour after that. Good road until mining town of Geiju and a nice valley too, would’ve been nice to ride this uphill stretch but there was a police box at top and don’t know if you’d be allowed to go through the long tunnel. Would be gutted if came all way and had to turn back. Driver swopped passengers onto another bus just out of Geiju and then it was road under construction for a fair while bouncing along through the dust. Geiju looks a dump as did Kaiyuan on arrival.
Driver helpful and directed me towards other bus station but over shot it and asked in a truck garage who pointed me back up street. I had been expecting a big bus depot but it was just a small place with small buses. None left for Nanning or Baise, but after consulting map with a bloke who worked there we figured out there was a bus that went to Yanshan, departing in 30mins. Bought ticket and bloke helped carry bags down to bus. Slob of a driver put bike on roof but no consideration for me asking him to tie rope onto frame and nothing else.
Bag bloke showed me a pot stall round corner where I ate then onto bus. Figured the 150kms would be covered in no time but after a promising start on the express way we ended up taking a circuitous route through the countryside on shite roads picking up all and sundry in a bid for the driver to make a bit of extra cash. Tired and fed up and just wanted to get to destination, only consolation was the scenery which was really impressive – blood red/brown soil with hillocks, and fields covered in limestone boulders, some had been cleared and neat terraces/walls made in parts over a rolling landscape. What made it more visually interesting where the strips of plastic put down to protect the crops from frost damage so you had this eye catching landscape enhanced by lots of linear white stripes going across it. Hate to think about how many millions of tons of plastic are used in this way and the soil contamination, but it did look interesting.
Also passed through lovely rural villages, adobe homes with wooden fronts, bulls pulling carts along too, although the driver blared the horn at anything in our way and really spooked a few animals leaving the driver of the cart trying to get a bucking galloping panicked bull under control. Stopped off for ages in one village for no apparent reason and trawled another picking up a set of pans for delivery further on and a ton of heavy laundry in bags (which got dumped all over my bike on roof). Picked up 6 farmer blokes in one village who smoked out the bus with cigarettes. Frustrating everytime we snaked under the expressway – if only could just plonk bus on it we’d be there in no time.
Eventually arrived at 8pm- has to wait for people to take cargo off bus then dropped at bus station. For some reason a taxi driver wanted to take me somewhere even though Id already pointed out my bike. Doh!  Checked bus time to Nanning tomorrow. Found  a bargain place up road for 30Y then went in search of food. Had to persuade cook to do mixed veg and him unsure of it all until Id plopped veg I wanted in a tray and said just fry it up. Chatted with retired couple who’d also been on same bus, they were from Peking and retired so having a tour. Back to gh, exhausted and out like a light.

The mountian roads take their toll

Yanshan to Nanning by bus
I bought a ticket at the bus station for 180Y, then ate some dumplings outside before going back to the room to drink tea. Returned to the bus station at 10 AM, any worries about getting my bike on board were put aside as a huge motorbike was loaded into the hold and my bicycle slotted nicely in beside. We set on time to but had to stop down the road because a lady had left her money with her friend. The money turned up after about 20 minutes and we set off. Soon zooming along the expressway, passing small mountains covered in limestone rocks a little bit like areas of Wales or Scotland. The journey was supposed to take six hours. However, we soon came upon a huge tailback as both carriageways were blocked. Surprising to see people wandering about the carriageway with no regard to being rear ended by approaching traffic; people also crossing the other carriageway to go to the toilet in the bushes being narrowly missed by oncoming traffic approaching at speed.
Our bus was soon descended upon by business minded local ladies with baskets full of instant noodles, flasks of hot water, and Styrofoam cartons of rice topped with delicious lamb and vegetables. I chose the latter for 10Y as the instant noodles were going for a marked up 5Y. As we were on the bridge the rice paddy's below were soon covered in trash. Later on some more food ladies told me the crash was 6 km further up the road so nothing to do but wait it out. People wandering around and one person even flying a kite! 2 1/2 hours later, the driver suddenly shouted and everyone to get on the bus and everything started to move. Turns out it was the start of the long downhill section and a truck’s brakes had failed. They destroyed vehicle had been removed but the wall leading to the emergency lane was thoroughly scraped up and the pebbles in the pit were scattered all over the place. Traffic moving quickly but reached another small jam at the next toll gate as a lorry had broken down at the booth. A truck with a cargo full of beehives was also pulled over to one side and surrounded by a massive swarm. I think some of the hives must've been shaken up and opened and the bees were not at all happy.
The rest of the journey commenced at high speed and was surprised the drivers  bothered to stop off for a break even though we'd been sat in traffic so long. Eventually arrived at Nanning by 8:30. Had a look at several guesthouses near the bus station. The first one had tiny, tiny, rooms the size of a single bed with about a foot of room down one side. The next place I tried was okay but there was no water in the room and the guy wanted me to pay more for what usually comes as standard. Carried on the road and found a small family place again with small rooms and a bit crappy but right enough. The woman had said there was a towel in the room when I asked, but it turned out to be more like flannel -it would have to do. Wandered about looking for food and eventually had fried noodles with meat and veg served up by a real character with a deep gravelly voice, who shouted a lot and did everything at high speed. Tried a beer as well which turned out to be terrible. Back to room and bed, again really tired.

Towards the back of a 6km roadblock

Drivers sit it out

Entrepreneurs make their rounds

Adobe farmhouse opposite the expressway

The world's smallest towel

Nanning to Guigang   by bus
Went up to the bus station to find out where I need to go to catch the bus to Guigang. As I didn't know where I was it took a while to get the people there  to simply give me directions to a road on my map where I could find my own way. Having got the information I needed I bought some dumplings outside the station, but they were stale and horrible so dumped those and found another shop whose dumplings with twice the size and fresh. Ate them back in the room, packed and set off. Stopped off at the ATM along the way, which turned out to be like a watering hole for foreigners as about 9 people were milling about while I was there. Pretty easy navigating across the city although rather a long way to the bus station. Some young lad also cut me up so close I actually had to shove him away or he would’ve pushed my handlebars and had me over. He looked at me as if I was crazy. They wouldn't let me in to use the toilet unless I had my bags scanned so I got a policeman to watch my bicycle while I had a quick pee. Then bought some fried rice from a restaurant around the corner, rushed back to the station, scanned my bags but God knows why because the alarm didn't even go off then was ushered onto the bus. The bus cost 45Y and took less than an hour to reach Guigang.
Tried a few hotels near the bus station but all expensive. A lad who worked in one let me follow his motor bike to a cheaper place, but seemed dodgy. The road leading to this area had loads of guesthouses on it so soon found one with friendly owners. A lot warmer now at lower altitude and also plenty of mozzies too, think they were getting into my room through duct in bathroom so put up the net although got nibbled on whatever rested against net during night.
After getting directions from the guesthouse I bought a Chinese map of the province and found some cans of tasty stout in the supermarket nearby, which I'd chill in the fridge for later. For dinner was directed to a really good pot stall just up the road.

Guigang to Guiping   70km
Had noodles for breakfast, got directions from reception and headed off up the road and turned right then straight all the way to Guiping. Doublechecked a few times along the way just to make sure, and while I was studying a road sign a friendly bloke who spoke English came to help me so we had a short chat too.
Flat busy road, lots of traffic, dusty hard shoulder and quite a bit of broken glass too. Rice paddies being planted either side of the road with tok tok trailers loaded with baskets containing seed trays of rice plant seedlings ready for planting. The method here is to simply throw rice plant into the mud like throwing darts; very fast and effective. Further on paddies being prepared for planting with various designs of vehicles whizzing about in the mud, one looked like a skidoo, but the one that looked the most fun was a tok tok but it was steered by the farmers feet on a rear wheel. One guy was flying around the paddy and making tight turns going up and down fitting the exact limits of this space as he twisted and turned at speed. Later I passed a strange looking place where many new buildings had been recently made out of a dark coloured concrete but as nobody had painted the concrete it was just a grey monotone high rise town.
Stopped off for lunch in a really dusty town, a lot of trucks going through there churning it right up. Cycled around for a good 15 minutes before settling in a place off the main dusty drag. Friendly people inside and had pork and mushrooms for only 10Y. Turns out I was only 13 km from my destination and arrived there around 2:30 PM. Looked at a few places around the bus station one was cheap but really badly designed inside so decided to carry on into the centre of town to where the road met a park. Asked around and soon found a guesthouse for 60Y after haggling. Didn't like the room at first but actually looked okay once I was in it.
Had a spin around the small town park were lots of old people were playing cards and Mahjong beneath shady trees, then down some back lanes until I found the river. Later I went in search of a pot stall but couldn't find one. I eventually saw an old man eating from a Styrofoam carton with his friends so asked him where he bought it from. It was from the supermarket across the road and inside I got a massive portion of lamb type casserole and vegetables in one carton and a pile of rice in another. Also picked up a few mooncakes then back to the room for my feast.

Rice seedlings ready for planting

All eyes on the game

Guiping to Taiping   94km
Noodles for bf then off. Overcast day. Easy to find the way – just up road and turn right then straight. Bridge over river being renovated - blocked to traffic and at either end a huddled of cars/buses/motorbikes waiting to transport people. Pedestrians and bicycles allowed through. Decent graded road through rice paddies for most of way, road followed river. For last few days Ive been noticing all the earthern funeral tombs in the fields and hills have got sticks in the top with white paper or other fancy bits of material hanging from them and the area area the tombs looks cleaned up with tinsel stuff too. Maybe a time of year to honor/remember dead?
Stopped off in a truckers resto for lunch, friendly, inquisitive people inside. When I left lad who worked there was trying to tell me I was about to set off in wrong direction because he’d seen me arrive from other way as he didn’t know Id done a drive by and turned around.
Road soon deteriorated into upgrading and then really broken and dusty for about 15kms. Several huge cement factories along this section so heavy trucks transporting quarried rocks to the factory not helping the road. Went through one town and life looked awful, everything covered in dust and looks like people had given up even trying to sweep it or put water down to subdue it. Terrible. Also downwind of the chimneys which had yellow smelly smoke coming out. Would hate to live here.
Road started to improve as passed sections being freshly cemented and once past that onto smooth new road – yippee. Had a bit of an uphill section through pine covered hills, rice paddies still along the way then down onto flat and across another closed bridge to meet up with main highway. A long water viaduct overhead. Had been impressed when I was in the mtns how they transported water across to the other hillsides by having huge sections of pipe in a massive u shape the outlet being lower down than inlet so natural momentum and pressure moved it all along high up the other side of the hill, very clever.
Arrived Taiping 4ish. Busy town. Looked for gh off main strip and 1st one had rooms for 70Y – overpriced and damp. 2nd on only 40Y, bit basic but fine. Thought Id found a pot place up road but it was pot style but in fast food shop so turned out to be 10Y and portions not so big (when ur hungry) friendly people inside. Not much in this town and pretty old and grubby looking. Got nuts n raisins from supermkt, woman from the weighing counter followed me round to practice her English which was fun.

A grey day

Taiping to Mengshan  85km
Was woken early 6am by lots of hubbub going outside, ignored it for a while then had a look – turns out there’s a root vegetable mkt outside my gh. Huge piles of ginger, tapioca? and an odd mini rugby ball shaped root thing too. The whole thing was finishing off when I went for bf at 7. Had noodles then just one road to follow.
Up and down through pine tree covered hills. Early noodles for lunch and commented to owner how clean her resto was, everything sparkling, even the toilet, she went inside to tell everyone what Id said. Road eventually followed riverside which was quite scenic. A lot of mini dams keeping the levels high and people actually fishing with rods. Arrived Mengshan, a stretched out town. Looked for a place on a backstreet but too expensive. Went back up road and got nice room with internet 70Y. Ate greasy aubergine for dinner. Didn’t seem like much at all in this town so got my money’s worth on internet.

Who needs an alarm clock when there's the early morning roots market

Mengshan to Yangshuo  85km
Awoke to sound of rumbling thunder and soon started to rain so had a sluggish start to day as I waited for weather to improve. Set off by 10 but and light spitting but soon turned into a downpour which soaked me through. Glad to stop for lunch in a noodle shop and get something warm inside. Carried on through a large city, dirty gritty roads spraying up.
Stopped off to buy some oranges from a roadside vendor, recently plucked from orchard across the road and sweet and juicy. Impressive karsk hills and mtns all around. Rain gradually petered out but sky still overcast. As getting closer to Yangshuo groups of Chinese tourists wrapped in plastic macs on bicycles and tandems going other way – they’d done well to get this far out of town (10km).  Passed some interesting formations. Felt like I was in Krabi.
Had been in middle of nowhere but as I arrived at Yangshuo it turned out to be a very busy tourist destination more for Chinese than Johnny foreigner. Took a while to get my bearings . I was looking for a YHA but gave up and soon found a descent room for 60Y after haggling from 100Y. Recently fitted room and interesting plug socket feature right under the showerhead! Put a towel over it as I showered.  Went into the throng of the town and had a MC D’s which after studying a few resto menus was same price as normal food 25Y and I needed food fast as hungry. Wandered along the main thoroughfare and felt like I was in Leicester Square or some other such busy tourist destination, shops selling Tat and people wandering aimlessly. Eventually got to river and really beautiful view of surrounding karsk – best part of the town! 
Two bamboo boats went past with the fisherman and their cormerants on boat drying wings, heading upstream for a tourist show. Found a pot stall as hungry again and had a wander up through the town, surrounding karsk floodlit and looking good.

Water viaduct

Delicious oranges picked from across the road

Start of the karsk scenery

Tourist hot spot

View from McDonalds

After fighting through the tourists a view!

Cormorants dry their wings

Spot the health and safety issue

Dont copy the copyright

Dont copy the copyright

Dont copy the copyright

Dont copy the copyright

Dont copy the copyright

Dont copy the copyright

Dont copy the copyright

Week 23 Luangnamtha to Yuanyang 180km cycled

Highlights: Delicious Pad Pet curry, sensibly priced suncream, rice terraces
Low blows: Trying to find a way out of a hilltop town, muddled up over distance
Music of the week:   After hours – Brooklyn Funk Essentials

Late bf, omelet and coffee again, then had a stronger coffee over the road before going in search of suncream. Had a look around but didn’t appear anywhere else stocked it. Then had a look around at booze prices. Was gonna get a small bottle of Sangsom for 3 quid but a large bottle of Johnnie Walker worked out at 9 so I went for that. My booze shopping also led me to find a bottle of the same suncream with 40% extra and same price as you’d get in Thailand – bargain and no more lizard skin hurrah!
Very hot today. Had a wander up to That Luang style stupa Id seen illuminated up on hill last night, it was hollow so you could actually go inside it where theyd had a few buddhas like a normal temple. The old bloke said they were eventually gonna build some reclining buddhas outside and have a new temple too (5000kip donation). Some eerie looking of statues of women in trad clothing at top of steps. Wandered over to mkt and bought some bananas before lunch then watched tv in afternoon.
 Had decent massage at 4pm but she only did 50 mins at best. Went for sauna at 6pm and super toasty! Theyd also fixed the light inside the room and it looked really cute with green bamboo deco inside. Had delicious Pad pet curry for tea, very satisfying. GH woman had said she’d take me to bus station tomorrow so I can afford 2 beers tonight to get rid of Laos currency.

LNT to Mengla  by bus
Had bananas for bf then got a lift to bus station. Bought ticket and chatted with a bloke that had slept there on floor overnight as arrived 2am. Bus left about 8:30 and soon at border. Took a fair while for everyone to get through but fairly painless. Usual Asian scrum at the passport window. Used fancy arrival card machine on China side, changed my remaining 6500 kip for 4Y, back on bus and into Mengla for 12pm. Said bye to the farangs Id been chatting with on bus hopping off just by hotel.
Got same room again then off to pot stall for lunch. Bought some snacks then had a wander round the newly built part of town opposite where Im staying. A lot of bars, clothes shops, and walking areas around river, not bad really. Ate in same place for dinner, as cheap and tasty 6Y. Really hot day today.

Mengla to Mojiang  by bus
Up early, packed then had dumplings before heading to bus station for 9am bus. This one had a roof rack so hoisted bike up there. Hot sunny day. Arrived Jinghong noon and just had time to grab a take away from pot stall before getting on Kunming bound bus at 12:30. It didn’t stop where I wanted so had to get off at a place about 60kms away. Once driver had stopped faffing picking up all and sundry from streets we got going. Very mountainous along the way with new road going up, down, through and around the terrain. A lorry fully laden with boxed watermelons had tipped over in front of a toll gate nearly blocking the entire road and gang of people busy picking up melons and  boxes. Looks like he was doing a uturn at speed and the whole thing went over.
Some lovely forest on way, and a terrible film – Wolverine. 2 cars crashed on a long corner, not surprising. Arrived Mojiang at 5pm passing through some really fancy entrance gates at the toll booths, beautifully painted in traditional style and even had 2 stone lions guarding the entrance to city at either side.  Tried a gh next to bus station but they wanted 80Y, asked if they knew anywhere cheaper and they said this town didn’t have any which is odd cos only 100m up road found a place charging 40Y straight off! They were still building downstairs as totally new, but fine.
Went for a wander, lovely new park and promenade area in renovated section of town. People sat amongst flowers, trees and bronze sculptures listening to miner birds sing to each other from cages their owners had brought down and hung in trees. Really nice atmosphere. Apparantly electricity doesn’t come on till 8pm so was surprised to see a huge tv in main square with the news on.  Found mkt which was finishing up but pot stalls were there and that’s what Id been looking for. Also bought a few bananas and apples for afters. Pleasant little town. Wandered back to gh, theres 3 more gh just round corner from where I am so women in 80Y lying in a bid to get me to stay there. Still no leccy so bloke brought some candles, but lights eventually came on at 8:35.

DIY dumpling steamer

The guesthouse not quite finished yet

Mojiang to Honghe  60km
Had dumplings round corner then down road to bus station. Got bossy and organised a queue and bought ticket for bus going at 8:30. Bike onto rack on roof – driver did it for me and didn’t charge either! Misty valleys along new highway and winding its way over a big mtn range. On the downside lots of trucks with steaming brakes (they have a water spray system here to cool them down) and a few escape lanes too, one which had been recently used as police were in attendance to look at truck stuck sideways in the gravel with some large sections of steel tubes scattered all around. Various people getting on along way including a woman with 2 large baskets of ducks that went on roof under my bike.
Arrived Yuanjiang an hour later, changed into hot weather clothes then set off. Grabbed a bowl of noodles while going through town as no settlements marked on map – and glad I did! Bloke selling coal from back of a bike with trailer, noodle stall owner bought the lot.
Soon going along new concrete road passing plantations of Aloe Vera and bananas. Very dry crumbly soil which is evident in land formations and hills too. Valley narrowed till going down a canyon alongside river in bottom. Some moonscape bits of cliff. Very thin red topsoil evident from cross sections revealed by road building and crumbly soil full of pebbles beneath. Road still strewn with debris in places as theyre still finishing up, rows of blokes using push along circular saws to cut the cement into segments presumably to stop it cracking through weathering? Odometer buggered so estimating my distance by time. Had a rest overlooking river and ate nuts n raisins then onwards.
Interesting cliffs and hillsides all crumbling down into the river. Past a small town on riverbanks, ugly looking linear building. Lots of pebbles being dredged from river into piles. Eventually reached a bridge and Honghe only 15kms further on. About 15 ethnic group women (Thai Lue?) in colourful waistcoats, headscarves and trousers sat under tree sewing. Said hello then carried on along river as road started to go up a bit, along lovely section of canyon, then up a lot.
Arrived at a roundabout declaring Honghe only 3 kms away – yippee. Thought Id be there in no time but it was steep uphill all the way and just kept going on and on up and up. Even in the town the road wound upwards like climbing a giant snail shell, buildings perched high up on the hill. Knackered when I eventually spied a place down an alleyway (saw the lighting in hallway on top floor). Room 50Y, and surprised to see it backed onto an infants school – my room opposite a classroom. Woman assured me they’d go home soon so took it.
Ate fried rice, showered then took bike up steep hills to top of town. An old renovated citadel type building up there and then loads of tiny lanes with many traditional houses in original brick and d├ęcor, ornate wooden carvings if slightly decaying and off colour – what a find! Great view too once Id found an alleyway leading to a viewpoint between the tightly packed houses. Eventually went back down to lower levels and back to gh.
Nearly got electrocuted as water machine cable popped, fizzed and burst into flames when I turned on power in room, so got a flask from downstairs after Id shown them what had happened. Really nice ride today.

World's fanciest toll booth

Town square art

Bus station spitoon

Moonscape features along the way

Old housing high up on top of the hill

View from the hilltop

Honghe to Yuanyang  80km (inc 20km faffing)
In search of dumplings for bf but only a mobile stall selling ones filled with a sweet jam type brown substance so only had one before going into a busy noodle shop near the mkt. Pumped tyres then asked the way. Gh people said it was back the way Id come so set off downhill through the town until I saw sign for bypass and took that around base of town. 5km later I popped out at other end of town and realized I could’ve got here in 5 mins instead of 30 had I simply gone right as Id thought.
Carried on through new town and followed signs to Yuanyang. Road on a new almost finished section, but nothing new re: that. Carried on, the road carved through hillsides of frail sandy/grit rock looking precarious and walls of rock being built up by numerous workers. Tree planting going on further down, along with sweeping and other road building. Down, down, road looking more unfinished until I arrived at a bridge and was stopped by the bloke in charge. He was waving hands to go back but I didn’t understand where to. Stopped and waited and got phrase book out and then we ‘talked’. I could see a road right in bottom of valley so pointed to that and asked how to get there, He said must go back 5km then go left. Arse!
Turned around and headed back up hill, sun out so quite sweaty going. Asked some more workers sat around a truck and they were keen to suggest going down an earth track to valley bottom, assured me I could wade river and then Id be onto road. Definitely having a laff! Thought better to keep high ground rather than end up in a pickle so kept on back into town. Once in the town still couldn’t figure out if I had to go back all way to roundabout on other side, or if there was another way out. Asked one bloke and he was useless so stopped next to a taxi driver and he said for sure  can go down there and pointed across road. Taxi drivers might be nutters on the road, but at least they know where things are and give direct instructions.
Road soon went through a new housing dvlpt under construction, new concrete road being laid, but bike could slip through easily and soon on the old road out of town winding  down the  hillside into the bottom and joining up with the road! Halelulah. Reakon Ive done about 20kms in the last hour and half, just trying to get out of town, and already10am. Filled up with water in a petrol station, changed into hot weather clothes and off along new road. Bit of a headwind which got quite strong in parts. Stopped off for lunch early as I didn’t think thered be much else on offer and I was right.
Road following river and then heading steadily uphill following terrain. Road actually had some laybys built in and newly planted trees so might be ok when it grows back a bit. Reakon they’ll have big problems with landslips as this soil is so fragile.
Stopped off for a rest on a higher plain full of banana trees, a small transporter thing turned up – a motorbike with a trailer on back, all covered over to make a vehicle – about 25kids got out of this small thing and another pulled up behind it with similar amount in. A lot of them came over to say hello and have a nosy. It had been a village day out with a few older women there too. Had a chat and then set off for last 10km downhill to Yuanyuang. Already 3:30. Was up for doing the 30km uphill, but as Id faffed so much this morning reakoned it was too late to do it so headed to bus station and took an hour’s ride on bus having to take off both wheels and saddle to fit in the small space left in the hold. Glad I did too as a very busy narrow road, lots of taxis cars trucks and buses, all playing wacky races on narrow twisty carriageway up into the hills. A few travelers on bus too and a Chinese woman I chatted with next to me. American woman came out with a classic as we went up and up into the hills “ its not what I expected at all, I thought it would be flat”, how on earth terraces can be made on flat land I don’t know? Hit mist 20ins before arrival and ended up in a mist shrouded bus station at 5:30.
A few touts about so I went with one, hotel ok, if rather basic, but saves me hassle of looking and doesnt matter if theres a view or not cos its totally misty and cant see owt anyway.Had a cold shower then went for a wander, but cant get any idea as visibility 20m or less. Went and ate then back to gh.
After midnight went down the corridor to close the wide open door of a room full of Chinese all shouting at each other and smoking.

Really thick mist/fog all day. Wandered down hill, people and vehicles appearing through the murk and quickly being swallowed up by it again. Wet air from suspended moisture and almost drizzling. Had 2 servings of dumplings (not much filling) in a small shop then carried on downhill and found the market. Lots of people in traditional dress selling vegetables on the upper platform, about 4 different groups, so many colours, pinks, greens, blues, and really attractive clothing, the women one group having two large diamond cloth ‘tail feathers’ with designs on.
Mist drifted in and out of the mkt and not that busy as now 10am. Chatted with some art students who were making rough sketches of the people here.  Wandered about some more, the road getting a thin slick of mud across it to add to the gloom. Really hard to get bearings when you don’t know where anything is and cant see anything!
Changed hotels as the new one had large open areas in front of room that could provide ‘stunning views’ as promised in LP if the weather should deign to allow. (It didn’t).
Went on internet – lad running it scamming all foreigners 10Y an hour, except I asked price first so got it for the standard 3Y, one bloke had a big argument with him to get his change back. Chatting with another bloke in there who said he’d been waiting 3 days for mist to clear!
Found a supermarket and got some munch for afternoon of computer. Had another wander down a lane that had a massive 3 m deep water pipe trench going all the way down it, shoppers picking their way along the mud and brick embankments either side. The mist did start to clear at 6:30 revealing a glimpse of a pine tree’d  hilltop behind gh and a valley below. Could even see as far as the town square where locals were doing a type of native line dancing exercise thing. Ate expensive dinner and tried a rice wine, the portion was in a teacup sized bowl so left it halfway feeling sozzled. Back to gh and under the quilt to watch a film, with hot tea and biscuits.

A real Pea Souper

Mahjiong in the fog

Food on the hoof

Shake yer tail feathers

Students sketching hilltribe vendors

Yuanyang  to some rice terraces  40km
Thick mist in morning. Had an earlier wander round market, ate noodles (dumplings not ready yet) and decided to head off. After Id packed and was literally out the door, the mist suddenly cleared for a short while and the sun appeared! Looked promising so decided to wait a little and it was making all the noises of clearing so decided to stay. Packed a day bag and set off uphill. Mist definitely clearing now and sun burning it off. Some small sections of rice terracing along the way and some extensive paddies further along. Also road building in progress so a few short muddy sections to navigate.
Arrived at ticket hall, but nipped into gh opposite to chat with some women there eat some food and ask if it was worth the cash. Chatted a while, nice people and they said it was good. I already had a map woman from here had give me with distances on so I thought it was 36km. Paid 60Y entry fee. Map I got with ticket didn’t have any scale/distance on it either. Set off. Only 6km up brick paved road were the first set of terraces ‘Bada’. Left bike at ticket checking office and went down short trail to viewpoint. Group of Chinese having a great time all shouting, smoking, and hawking everywhere. Small herd of buffalo being gently driven up track by some old ladies, baskets on their backs.
View of terraces impressive, following contours of land all way down valley. Harsh light didn’t do it any favours but still impressive. Gawped for a while.
Carried on, small villages along the way, pleasant pine covered hills, buffalos, farmers, etc. Interesting cover on backs of farmers used as a liner between their basket made with some sort of husk/hair, so they look like bears from behind if the baskets not on. Arrived at a largish town at midday and Sunday mkt in action. Brilliant to be riding through all this colour and busyness as almost everyone in traditional dress. The usual traffic jam amongst this chaos as trucks, cars, motorbikes and shoppers all tried to get ahead of everyone else so a jam in a narrow part of town. Made my way through and carried on for a while. Mist kept blowing in and going again, 2 big mtn peaks up ahead. Went to about km 14 using road markers then road started to descend.
Still thought I had 20 odd kms to go and drawn to all the colour of the mkt Id just been through. Decided to go back and observe that instead. Cycled up and down a few times then had lunch which came super fried/cremated. Freshly purchased piglets from up the road squeeling in protest or simply refusing to budge for their new owners quite comical. Did one last drive through market - a lot quieter now as they usually finish up mid day anyway. Nearly came a cropper on a piece of watermelon rind chucked in road- skidded 2 meters on it and luckily just managed to keep balance!
Headed back, people making their way home from mkt along road. Stopped at another view point in shady trees and had a gawp for a while before heading back. Asked how far it was to place Id wanted to go at ticket office and they said only 15km so rather annoyed Id not gone. Small map I had from gh turned out to be cumulative distances and not distances between each point. If only Id asked to start with – DOH! Annoyed but still if the mist hadn’t cleared or Id left this morning I wouldn’t have seen anything so cant complain.
Headed down to a small village in middle of terraces but discovered you had to pay another entry fee so turned back and went up steep hill back to main road and home. Good view of valley below, finally got to wander around town and put all the glimpses of buildings and the disjointed map in my head into a realistic vision – quite odd really to see the town for the first time.
Went for food, told resto people I was a veggie and at first they said no. I laughed and pointed to all veg they had in their cabinet, did a mime of what and how I wanted it, then they eventually agreed to cook it. Only cost 7Y cos its veg.  Line dancers in action again down at the square, all ages too including a really old woman in traditional dress. Assume it’s a kind of traditional dance?  Lovely sunset.

Rice terraces

more rice terraces

and some more rice terraces

even more rice terraces

Old boy on market day

Colourful costumes at the market

Colourful end to a pleasant day