Wednesday, 27 April 2011

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

LNT
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.

Yuanyang 
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


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