We have really enjoyed our route through the mountains over the past five days and couldn’t be more glad to get away from the main highway and miss out the tourist trap of Dali.
We have had to really get to grips with the Chinese language as the people we’ve met have barely spoken any English. We both find the language fascinating – it is so different from any western language either of us have learnt – and we have been using a combination of apps to learn words and phrases.
We downloaded memrise which has been good as it allows you to download different courses and it’s good for helping you recognise the Chinese characters. Paddy also downloaded the dictionary Hanping which has been very useful as you can use it offline (we still haven’t been able to get a SIM card) and I have Chinese Skill too which is good for learning the structure of sentences.
Learning the different characters is highly addictive especially when you start to be able to combine them to make new words. For example, ‘to eat’ is a combination of ‘mouth’ and ‘to beg’…
We have yet to see another foreigner since crossing the border with Ruili and our cycle through rural Yunnan has felt very special and personalised. It’s good to mix things up though and it will be nice to have a coupe of days in a more touristy place where we can maybe meet some other travellers and enjoy a well needed rest day!
We will be heading towards Shaxi which will definitely see us back on the tourist trail. It is the first place since Ruili that has an entry in the Lonely Planet guidebook. The ride will take us 3 days to get there from our current position in Ying Pan.
Day 1: 51km
We woke up to a grey, miserable and very wet morning in Ying Pan. It has rained pretty much every night in China but this was the first morning the rain was still beating down. We contemplated having a rest day but agreed we should keep going so we packed up and donned our rain gear.
Today will see us complete another climb – 1300m to 3090m (the highest we’ve been so far). Mist is clinging to the mountains so we linger a bit longer to see if the weather clears a bit and warm up with two helpings of steaming dumplings.
By the time we set off the rain has turned to just a gentle drizzle. The first section takes us along a little river through a small valley (well comparatively small for China). We both agree it feels like we could be cycling somewhere in Wales, maybe the Brecon Beacons?
There are some very steep climbs here so we play a round of 20 questions which takes our mind off things.
The sensation of being somewhere in the UK quickly ends when we cycle up to this very Chinese looking bridge.
This marks the beginnings of a beautiful old town called Lajing which clings to the valley on either side. All the houses are still built from wood and compact earth with very quintessential grey tiled roofs.
We keep climbing and reach the the more modern part of town. With the colder weather comes hearty food and we stop for a steaming beef stew. We, and the tandem, spark quite an interest in the town and a big group of locals waves us goodbye from the square.
We keep climbing, it’s still very cold!!! Again, the views are pretty spectacular though.
Finally we reach the top and snake our way down the other side to a town we think is called Hualian… It’s the first big town you come to anyway!
We cook up a vegetable broth in our hotel room, have a nosey around town and then snuggle down into bed our breath creating clouds of mist above the bed!
Day 2: 76km
Not much to report on this day as it was cold, grey and a pretty boring cycle on the main road. A medium climb and then downhill for 15km.
Two lovely things did happen though:
We hadn’t passed a place to eat for a good couple of hours and when we stopped to ask a family where the next town was we were told we had a 35km cycle ahead of us before we could properly eat again. All we had was cake, peanuts and oranges in our panniers.
I, in particular, was very cold, tired and hungry at this point and the look on my face obviously showed it… The lovely family invited us into their house, gave us tea, fed us and let us warm up next to their fire. They refused to take anything from us in return.
I was still feeling very tired and pretty grumpy, I let myself get cold and then couldn’t get warm again. Never let yourself get cold!!! Paddy basically pulled us through.
Later in the day a guy stopped us on the road and passed us two yoghurts through the window. Perhaps we were giving off a ‘we’re struggling today’ vibe… People are wonderful.
It gets gradually warmer as the day goes on and at 5.30pm we stop in Madeng for dinner.
We cycle out of town and find a great camping spot in the hills above the town.
We set up camp amongst the cover of a forest of pine trees and at dusk decide it’s safe to light a campfire which makes us both very happy.
Day 3: 67km
It rains all night and although all our stuff stays dry and our Hubba Hubba tent holds up well we both don’t sleep well… We also leave our shoes too near the edge of the vestibule and each wake up to a soggy left foot…
We cook breakfast in the rain but thankfully it subsides and beautiful blue skies appear in time for us to take the tent down.
We had decided to take this yellow road route to Shaxi which takes you south and then north rather than following the main road around and down.
We get going and enjoy a wonderful 20km cycle downstream through a beautiful valley, acres of farmland on either side. We make good progress with an average of 24km/ph.
Then we come to a turn in the road and are faced with a cobbled road… It’s very, very, very bumpy and there are a couple of minor landslides. We definitely wouldn’t advise this route in the wet season… It’s hard going on Paddy who can’t really look up from the road to enjoy the views. The cobbles continue for 22km (!) until we reach the next major village and turn north and upstream towards Shaxi.
If you do decide to take this route be sure to bring plenty of stuff for lunch as there isn’t really anywhere you can get a good meal between Madeng and Shaxi. We ended up eating a horrible quick noodle pot at a shop…
Tired and very hungry we reach Shaxi which is very pretty and filled with lots of Chinese tourists. Do not try and push your loaded bike around the cobbled, twisty streets while you find a guesthouse!
We’re staying in a lovely place just up from the main square. It’s probably the nicest place we’ve stayed in the whole entire trip but is only 60Y.
We are looking forward to a lie in and a day moseying around this sleepy town.