Our first impressions of China are that it couldn’t be more different to bordering Myanmar. In fact, it seems that whenever China does anything it does it bigger and better that pretty much anywhere else.
China, quite literally is awesome. We have two months here but we will barely be scratching the surface of its vast countryside. We’re likely to cover anywhere between 2600 and 3000km by bike but we will only cycle through two of China’s many provinces – Yunnan and Sichuan.
Having crossed the border with Geart and Sytske we found ourselves cycling through the border town of Ruili. The difference between the two countries is instant and it’s a bit like entering a completely new world.
As the four of us walked around Ruili city centre we gaze open mouthed at the clean streets, perfectly paved roads, silent electric motorbikes and huge neon lights which completely dominate the city centre. After 3 months in Asia, parking lines on the roads and street bins which have different compartments for recycling are a real sight to be seen!
The next morning Paddy and I head off without Geart and Sytske as they need to stay to sort out their breaks.
We don’t set off until 10am (Beijing time). The whole of China officially works on Beijing time but because the country is so big this means that the East provinces enjoy later evenings and some towns will unofficially work on two time zones. If we were still over the border in Myanmar it would be 8.30am!
Huge, lush valleys and rich forested slopes appear from nowhere as we snake our way up to 1100m. It is very beautiful and the wonderfully smooth road, comfortable incline and decent hard shoulder allows us to relax a bit and really appreciate the views as we climb.
Another example of how the Chinese do things here. A simple sign to tell drivers to slow down just isn’t enough…
They say that China will be the top economic superpower in 20 years and you can well believe it, the country oozes productivity.
Despite the obvious challenges that come with this landscape, some major infrastructure has already been completed with evidence of a lot more still to come. We pass at least two huge complexes of new flats, we see the evidence of hydroelectric dams and we spot new roads connecting once remote villages.
The road we follow is actually the old road, running parallel to it for most of the day is the new high-speed road. It is an amazing piece of engineering. Some of it is jaw dropping…
We pick up supplies as we plan to camp – food is cheap to buy and we’re looking forward to clawing back some of our budget after the huge expense of Myanmar.
A camping spot was tough to find because the road mostly just cuts its way through a valley, but finally we find somewhere semi-private with a bit of cover 20km from the large town of Mang. We pitch up just before dark and during the night there is an almighty thunder and lightening storm with heavy rain. We snuggle down into our Big Agnes sleeping bag and wonder how all our gear will hold up in its first proper rain test.
The next day is much the same – 73km to Zhen’an were we will sleep. We stop for a late lunch in Longling and drop by the small museum which focuses on telling the story of the Comfort Women system which the Japanese ran all over Asia during the war. It’s worth a visit if you find yourself passing through.
We keep climbing up to 1900m – the highest we’ve been so far – and then drop down towards Zhen’an which is a small town surrounded by beautiful tiered wheat fields gently blowing in the breeze.