We woke to a lovely sunny morning in Chengdu and we set the bike up and spent an enjoyable afternoon getting our bearings and cycling around the city as we started to tick off our very long to do list. 

Chengdu seems like a very pleasant city and we both really enjoyed cycling around its streets. We were lucky with the weather on the first couple of days but the last 2 were characterised by Chengdu’s standard weather – drizzle, smog and a hazy white sky. 

We managed to find a big digital department store which took care of our need for a new camera lens cap and headphone splitter. We also cycled south to visit the big decathlon store and managed to easily spend 350Y buying various bits and pieces.

In the evening of the first day we headed over to meet Lluis our very generous warm showers host. Lluis has lived in Chengdu for six years but is about to leave the city for good to start a PHD in linguistics at Pheonix University. 

His lovely roof top flat would be our home for the next four days. It was such a treat to be in a proper home rather than a hotel room and Lluis couldn’t have been more welcoming or helpful. He also had some very interesting books, a piano and a great coffee machine. All luxury items for us!

Building light show from Lluis’ roof top garden

Unfortunately he had a really busy week at work so we didn’t spend as much time with him as we’d have liked.

Lluis had very kindly accepted two parcels for us from home which contained a range of stuff from a sterilisation UV pen, a new spare tyre, Paddy’s new bank card and a Goretex jacket and new Helly Hanson thermals for me. We spent an enjoyable evening playing with these new additions to our gear. 

The next four days were spent sorting a lot of stuff out. We rooted out the best bike shop in the city -Natooke – which is run by two American guys who were super friendly and really knew their stuff. They look after pretty much every tourer who passes through the city. 

Tandem was left over night at Natooke and got a couple of small upgrades including a couple of spacers placed on the bottom bracket so the chain will no longer rub in the lowest gear, new bar tape for Paddy’s handlebars, two new seat clamps and most importantly a super duper Hercules-like bike stand which says it will hold up to 75kg. 

Lluis helped us find a good dentist and hairdressers for Paddy as well as replenish our dollar stash by hooking us up with his ‘money dealer’, a middle aged Chinese woman who rides around Chengdu on her moped carrying a sports bag filled with at least £25,000 in various currencies. 

I jealously look on as P enjoys a long head massage in the hairdresser

The third day was dedicated to taking the bike to the train station and sorting out having it shipped on a cargo train – we wanted to get this process started a couple of days before we embarked on the epic four day journey to Kashgar ourselves. 

The whole thing was surprisingly easy and cheap to do. After completing a simple form and handing over 130Y the bike was casually rolled away by a guard – we just hope it will arrive safe and sound. We were told it would take between 5-6 days which means it might even reach Kashgar ahead of us. 

For those who need to go through the same process with their bike at the northern train station make your way to the cargo building which can be found to the right of the main train station entrance. Here is a picture of what you’re looking for:

We also spent a lot of time on the wifi planning our next month which will see us leave China and cycle to Osh and then on to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan.

Amongst the shopping, travel planning, posting, bike fixing and dentist appointments we did manage to find time to do a few touristy things. 

Funny electric noodle shaver – wish i could bring one of these back for my uncle Jeff…
We took the metro south to visit The New Century Global Centre which is essentially a huge entertainment space complete with hotels, department stores, cinemas, a huge, ice rink and most bizarrely it’s very own ‘beach’ which enjoys artificial sunlight 24/7 surrounded by a blue chloride pool which simulates the tide… 

It wouldn’t normally be our kind of place at all but after the remote weeks away we were both craving a little capitalist indulgence and I have to admit, the garish idea of seeing an indoor beach was slightly attractive, especially as it was teeming with rain outside. The centre also boasts the pretty cool title of ‘largest building (in terms of floor area) in the world’.

We didn’t stay long… A couple of hours were more than enough to take in the golden escalators, marble floors, big LCD screens and fast food joints (we had a McDonalds!) and unremarkably, the whole place was rather a disappointment (apart from the Maccy Ds!).
We instead retired to a bar called The Bookworm which Lluis recommended. Here we had a sublime time consuming red wine and a French cheeseboard (the first taste of both we have had in 5 months) while browsing a number of good books. 

Afterwards we took the metro to Jin Jiang bar street which straddles the river next to a picturesque bridge surrounded on every side by lit up sky scrapers. 

Drinks were expensive but by chance we ended up sitting at a table next to the manager of the bar who plied us with free fruit platters and cans of Weiss beer. 

Consequently we stayed until late and ended up chatting to her lovely English speaking Tibetan friends about the current situation there. It was an interesting evening and we didn’t get home until 3pm.

We also had time to make a visit to Tianfu Square where there is the customary tribute statue of Mao – I still can’t get over how weird it is that there are statues of him everywhere –

and wonder around People’s Park where the trees are all on drips…

It’s a fantastic place to people watch. Here is a man practising his calligraphy using just water on the stone slabs.

We spent a nice hour sitting by the rowing pond in a traditional tea house where I partook in the ultimate Chinese relaxation treatment – having your ears cleaned. 


Many Chinese people find having theirs ears cleaned intensely pleasurable but I found it rather uncomfortable, slightly nerve racking and, at points, a bit painful!! Maybe my ears were very, very dirty! I did comment to Paddy that I felt I could hear better after though. 

Our last night was spent in a small French cafe with Lluis and his friends drinking more red wine and eating even more cheese.

So we’ve nearly completed our two months in China and it is time to sweep our way north west to Kashgar from where we can cross into Kyrgyzstan. The journey will take the best part of four days and three nights and will see us cover a momentous distance. 

We have booked ourselves a hard sleeper seat so will have bunks where we can sleep but nevertheless we expect it to be a cramped few days. 

Cycling Inertia

We naturally needed a rest in Ganzi to recover after the past week. The plan then was to cycle south to Kanding where we would sort some public transport to get us to Chengdu.

Taking this rest day however meant we had to cover the 330km to Kanding in four days. Normally 80km average a day wouldn’t be too much of a problem for us, but there were some big climbs involved, and to tell you the truth, even after a day’s rest, we were both still pretty exhausted from our northern expedition across the western Tibetan mountains.

It ended up being a hard couple of days, mainly due to the fact we were both just so tired. 

Here I am making a bridge across an open sewar so we can reach the town after we found our road closed and traffic being directed around a long diversion.

On the morning of the second day I realised that we had only given ourselves two days out of 12 off the bike – no wonder our legs were giving up on us – and we were both a bit sick of the relentless cycling/camping drill.

Half way through struggling up a climb on the third day we stopped for a drink and a horrible little kid threw rocks at us.

Later in the afternoon we were chased by a couple of really vicious dogs. Luckily the large stick which we had been using as a temporary bike stand was strapped to the back. I’ve never hit an animal before, but these dogs were really going for my ankles and I gave them both a good whollop on the head before they were finally chased away by a passing motorcyclist who stopped to help us.

Tired and grumpy…

Later again, the rain rolled in and we agreed to give ourselves a break and get to the next major town, Bamei, find a hotel and organise transport for the last 110km to Kanding.

This turned out to be a very good decision as we managed to organise a shared taxi to take us and the bike to Kangding for 200Y and the foul weather got worse overnight and continued all throughout the next day.

Despite our driver’s slightly erratic overtaking  and the countless crashes we passed on our journey to Kanding we were glad to be in a vehicle rather than battling up hill through the rain, fog and wind. 

On the way down to the town we passed a huge group of Sunday cyclists climbing the long switchback road up towards Kanding airport. Many of them looked soaked through and miserable and we were very happy to be in the car!

We reached Kanding at around 1:30 and booked ourselves on to the 4:30pm local bus which would carry us and the bike to Chengdu.

Before it got dark we were able to look out and appreciate the vastness of the Dadu river which is repeatedly damned the whole way to Chengdu. At one particular section, it was like we were driving around the edges of a huge lake rather than along a river. We enter a long straight tunnel and on reaching the other side find ourselves suddenly driving along a deep, empty valley instead.

Looking back over my shoulder, I gaze open mouthed at the imposing concrete wall stretching across the full length of the gorge. It must be nearly a kilometre high, the biggest hydroelectric dam we have seen by far.

The journey took nine hours and we sleepily disembarked in the centre of Chengdu at 1:30 in the morning. 

We had had to take both wheels, seat posts and handlebars off the tandem and we were not looking forward to putting it together in the dark and rain before finding a hotel. 

Luckily a family approached us and said they owned a cheap guesthouse just around the corner. We settled on a 50Y price and were able to carry the bike frame and luggage between us. At least we wouldn’t need to worry about setting up the bike until tomorrow morning and, dog tired, we fall easily asleep despite the very loud snores coming from our neighbour in the room next door.