An Eventful First Week In China

Time to catch up!

As a type this, we have actually been in China for over two weeks now! It was an eventful first week in China, a lot has happened and thus I just haven’t got ‘around tuit’ for writing my journal. So retrospectively, I will endeavour to fill you in on our Chinese escapades so far… Grab that cuppa… it’s another long one!

Day 100, Monday 17th December, Entering China from Laos Border

Our last journal ended with us holed up in the ‘far-too-expensive-for-cheap-bicycle-tourists’ hotel in the building site also known as Boten, the border town on the Laos side. Our alarms were set for 0600 again; I sincerely hoped I would wake up feeling well enough to cross the border, as another night at £35 in the ‘Jing Land Hotel’ was out of the question for our budget. Luckily, I woke up feeling good enough to cycle. Ideally, I could have done with some more rest time, but the excitement of entering China gave me the energy to get up and out. 

Our £35 a night hotel on the border. The budget was blown for these two days.

We enjoyed the last of the luxuries: a wonderfully hot and powerful shower and the all-you-can-eat Chinese style breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, my stomach still felt very fragile but needing energy for the day ahead, I managed some rice, a boiled egg and fruit. 

Adam decided on a whim that it would be sensible to shave his beard off. With his beard, he looks nothing like his passport photo and he thought that it would make crossing in to China a little easier by removing any possible frictions. To be honest, I think I prefer Adam with the beard although he does look much cleaner and fresh-faced now.

From this…..

To this!

Leaving the hotel at 0740, we made it to the border crossing just before it opened at 0800. We did well to beat the long line of trucks waiting to head into China. The process of crossing the border was relatively smooth, especially on the Laos side. The border guards demanded that we leave our bicycles outside where the motorbikes park whilst we received our exit stamp. This left us feeling slightly uneasy, but we were amongst the first in the cue so didn’t have to leave them unattended for too long. Departure cards completed and exit stamps received without having to pay any fees (which was a good job as we had spent the last of our Laotian Kip on bottles of water) we cycled out of Laos towards the Chinese immigration. Farewell Laos! It’s been short but sweet, and I will definitely be back to cycle more of your beautiful country in the future. 

The Laos/China border in Boten.

When we arrived at the Chinese Immigration, we weren’t sure whether we needed to wheel our bikes into the building. It turned out we did, and luckily there was a ramp to wheel them up. The building itself was huge, modern and much more developed in comparison to the Laos side. Going through security I think was much easier compared to the procedure we have read and heard about when entering from say Kazakstan or Pakistan. They took our finger and thumbprints as well as our photo. I was let through quite quickly after they had stamped my passport and checked my visa. Adam’s passport was taken away for several minutes before it was returned and he had his prints and photo taken. The final step was to take all our panniers off our bikes and put them through a conveyer belt scanner, similar to an airport’s. Luckily, they didn’t ask us to take anything out or examine anything, so we entered without having to lose anything, like Adam’s multi-tool or our petrol bottle. 

The difference between the Laos and China border is stark.

And that was it! We were in China! It really was quite straightforward! Once we wheeled our bikes out of border control, it was akin to walking into another universe, such is the difference between the Laos and China sides of the border. Wide, clean smoothly tarmacked roads were a stark comparison to the muddy, building site dirt tracks from where we had just come from. We felt like we had just stepped through a portal into a parallel universe. The border town was bustling as people wheeled suitcases away from the bus station and towards the border control; shops were visited by regular Chinese citizens. As we cycled down the road, manicured borders of green plants and flowers enhanced the feeling of regulation. We kept an eye out for a bank so that we could withdraw our first Chinese currency. 

With excitement firing our bellies, we cycled into China. We initially took the only road out of the border town North, the G8511 which had a nice large hard shoulder. The road was a gentle downhill so our first few kilometres into China were quick and easy.

From the dirt roads of Laos to beautiful smooth tarmac. An absolute dream.

After not too long, the border town began to reduce and our surroundings became more rural. Similarly to Laos and expectantly, the landscape was still a luscious green with rolling hills. The road we had been on became a toll road, and we were not allowed to cycle on it, so instead, we took the older G213 which runs parallel to the previous road, but is just not as smoothed out over the hills (so the gradient is higher) but on the plus side it is quieter with traffic. About 2 hours into our Cycling China adventure, we witnessed the most horrific experience we have ever had the misfortune to observe…

As we were cycling along, we came to a village and on one side there was a cluster of modest, basic wooden houses. There were many scooters parked outside and a flurry of people collected around the buildings. A man heaved two immense buckets filled to the brim with rice towards two black, steaming cauldrons of boiling, bubbling water, set up on some flat grass beside their buildings. Around the cauldrons were several men, who looked to be preparing some meat for what appeared to be a celebratory feast. Everyone there was in high spirits, laughing and smiling. Slowing down to view the commotion as we passed, they beckoned us over. I could tell they were preparing to butcher some kind of animal, so decided to wait on the other side of the low, concrete barrier separating the road and their land and watch from afar. Ever the inquisitive filmmaker, Adam rested his bike against the barrier, hopped over with his camera in hand and went to investigate. At this point, one of the men proudly lifted what we originally thought was a large piglet or small pig, high into the air by its feet: it was a shaven dog, pink from its lack of hair. The man threw it back onto the ground carelessly. Close by, there was another animal, this one was a pig, and it was huge. A group of men were burning the pig’s hair off, in preparation for cooking. It was just as Adam approached the commotion, that we both realised the same thing: the dog was still alive. We could see its chest rising and falling as it lay, stricken on the ground. 

“It’s still alive…” Adam called out to me. I started crying, at the realisation that this ill-fated, poor dog was having to live through the hideous and appalling procedure of having its fur removed. I imagined how horrifyingly frightened it must be. It was so distressing for me. But it got worse. Much worse, as the happy man picked the dog up, and threw it, still alive, onto the fire. Harrowing screams came from the animal as it writhed on the burning flames. Immediately and instinctively, I walked at high speed down the road, away from our bikes and away from the abominable act I had just had the misery of witnessing. At the scene, Adam told the men how he felt about what they had just done, but those words would have fallen on deaf ears, as firstly they spoke no English, and secondly, this was their culture, their norm; it seemed like a celebration for them, but it was our nightmare. Adam came back over the barrier to find me in floods of tears. I just could not believe what they had done, and found it so difficult understanding WHY on earth that poor dog needed to be alive as they cast it onto the blaze. It was just too cruel to even imagine it, never mind witnessing it. I knew that dogs are eaten in China, so I was fully expecting to see shops and restaurants selling dog meat, but I had not expected to see one being cooked alive right in front of me. Despite witnessing such a cruel and loathsome act, I told myself that I must not judge China on this hideous experience. Unfortunately, to make matters worse, the men who were responsible for this unforgivably cruel performance were laughing as they performed it. I’m not sure if they were laughing at what they had done, or our horrorstricken faces…

The men were preparing this pig. Just as Adam took this photo, the dog was thrown onto the fire. No animal should be submitted to unnecessary cruelty like this.

The whole abhorrent episode only lasted about 7 minutes, but the sadness and grief stayed with us for the first few days really. For the rest of our first day in China, our initial feelings of excitement and joy were replaced with sorrow, shock and a deep upset that reached down inside us. We are real dog people, we have grown up around dogs and just love them. We have our own dog, a beautiful, gentle, amazing lab-pointer called Cleo, who lives with my Mum whilst we’re away. Even as I type up my journal notes nearly 2 weeks later, I feel like crying. This horrific event will stay with me forever. 

But we had to continue pedalling, and continue pedalling we did. The road led us beside immense and immaculately straight crops that stretched out for miles – I guess they do have a lot of mouths to feed in China! Eventually, as we were cycling along, we had one of those rare but amazing moments when you realise there’s a fellow bicycle tourist heading in your direction! We just love it when this happens! We waved joyously at the female cyclists as she got closer, and we crossed over to say hello.

Katie was a fellow Brit! Which made our meeting even more special. She set off on her bicycle adventure in March 2018, cycling solo from Durham, England to SE Asia! What an inspirational woman – you can follow her on Instagram at her handle: @youve_got_to_wander. The three of us were chatting for over an hour just on the side of the road, sharing stories about our experiences and offering advice and thoughts on the countries we had just visited. Katie was heading towards Laos and Thailand, where we had just come from, and we were obviously heading through China to the Stans, which is where Katie had just come from. Talking to Katie certainly brightened up our dark day.

Just as we were preparing to depart, a young Chinese man stopped on his scooter and approached us whilst holding three plastic bags. With a beaming smile on his face, he offers the bags to us whilst saying, “Welcome to China!”. In the bags were two delicious, sugary bread rolls and a bottle of lime flavoured water. It was only a couple of hours since we had experienced the disgusting cruelty with the dog, so to receive such an unprompted gesture of kindness was genuinely amazing. This man is unlikely to know how happy he made us feel by offering us all food and water.

Both these experiences show how emotions on a bike tour are hightened on a scale that is almost uncomparable to our previous working life. From the deepest dark moments to elation and pure joy – you can be thrown between the two in just a day on the road. 

On we continued, knowing we had to cycle at least 60km. (To cover the total distance across the whole of gargantuan China, we need to cycle at least 60km every day. If we do more kilometres, these can be added up and once we reach 60 extra, we can have a day off!) Unfortunately, I still didn’t feel good at all following my upset stomach, possible food poisoning, from the previous day. Once the excitement and adrenaline had worn off, fatigue hit me like a tonne of bricks. 

We eventually reached the town of Mengla, where we endeavoured to buy Chinese Sim cards. This was to no avail – it appears small phone shops won’t sell Sim cards to foreigners. We will have to wait until we get to our first Chinese city. As we still hadn’t reached 60km, we left the town of Mengla behind. I type town, but it was more like a building site. Leaving Mengla, we took the main highway (which wasn’t a toll road here). We went through our first few tunnels, something we will likely encounter fairly frequently in China. Let’s just say I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t the worse experience. 

One of the many tunnels we are likely to encounter in China.

The highway road we were on seemed to come to an abrupt stop, and we had no other option but to head downhill onto the G218, an older and more hilly route. Cycling through rolling hills and solid forests to our left and right, it certainly wasn’t an unpleasant road, but the feeling of illness was continuously creeping over me. 

I still wasn’t feeling in top form.

Miraculously, we then cycled past another two bicycle tourists! Three in one day! Yvonne and Kevin are from Switzerland and started their cycling trip in April 2018. They’re not sure where their trip will end, but similarly to Katie, they were heading to Laos next. Again, we spent some time chatting to them at the side of the road, before bidding them a safe onwards cycling trip. 

More cycle tourists. We are passing through the only route from China to Laos. Everybody is heading towards the warmer weather other than us.

After we left them, we knew it was time to find somewhere to camp. After our expensive two nights at the fancy hotel in Boten, we were keen to recoup some of the money by camping as much as possible. Luckily, we began cycling through a National Park, so had our fingers crossed we would find somewhere suitable to pitch our tent. At 18:20 it was still light as we had gone forward an hour entering China. We had cycled 68km so when Adam found a perfect little hideaway spot in the trees we ended our first day in China. It certainly was an eventful one! Once the tent was up and a big bowl of noodles had been cooked and consumed, we collapsed in the tent and debriefed today’s experiences. For good reasons and bad, today is not a day we will forget quickly. 

Setting up the stove for dinner.

Day 101, Tuesday 18th December, Wild Campspot outside Mengla to Menglun

An awesome night’s sleep was had by two bicycle tourists on their first night in China, after camping in a perfect stealthy spot. We awoke early in Laos time (6am) but that’s 7am in China due to the whole country being on Beijing time; we didn’t waste too much time and packed away our muddy panniers swiftly, eager to make good progress today with that visa ticking down. Luckily, the sickness and fatigue I had felt the previous two days seemed to have dissipated, so after an ever-reliable breakfast of porridge, we were on the road, mindful to keep positive and put yesterday’s sorrow behind us and to enjoy every day.

An awesome first night of camping in China in the Xishuangbanna nature reserve.

The day greeted us with an initial uphill. We prefer to have our uphills first thing when we’ve got bags of energy so, with a bounce in our pedal-stroke, we began the not-so-steep ascent. At the top, Adam took the opportunity to get some drone footage of the clouds covering the tops of the neighbouring hills and mountains – this is always a good opportunity for me to have a little rest! 

A downhill ensued, which is always good! We came to realise we were cycling through Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, which was really quite beautiful. Small, Chinese villages were nestled into the bottom of the valley beside fields of abundant crops. The temperature in this area of China seems perfect for a plentiful harvest. 

The views are worth the climbs in Yunnan province.

Around lunchtime, we had reached our minimal ‘midway’ target for the day – 30km. Coincidentally, we arrived into a small town, so after stocking up our bicycle pantry with noodles and biscuits, we stopped in a restaurant for our first experience of dining in China.

Firstly, we were subject to intense stares of, I presume, disbelief as we turned up on our heavily laden bicycles. Whilst attempting to lean our bikes somewhere (we don’t have kickstands) I inadvertently scratched a parked car with the stick which lived horizontally on the back of my bike. Praying it wasn’t noticed, I found another spot away from the car. Once we had taken our seats on a big, circular table we were beckoned over to a huge fridge in the kitchen. I had heard this is how you order food in many restaurants in China: within the fridge is a large array of different foods, including vegetables and raw meat. You point to whatever ingredients you would like, then they bring you that cooked in a magical way! After yesterday’s horrendous incident with the dog and as my stomach was still feeling fragile, I just couldn’t face eating meat yet. But we pointed to some pork for Adam and I pointed at some green beans. We also pointed at someone else dish which was just being taken out of the kitchen, and we also asked for some rice. 

We’re quickly learning to embrace the attention we get for being foreigners by turning the moment into our own photo shoot.

Several minutes later, we were served the most delicious meal: spicy pork, green beans with some sort of edible flowers (?!) cooked in a buttery sauce and peas in the pod in a garlic sauce. We were impressed with the quantity of rice that came with our meal as well – perfect for cycle tourists. And it’s served with a paddle! Noticing that the other diners discarded their unwanted items, such as bones, tissues and the cellophane from their UV cleansed utensils, by just throwing the items on the floor, we decided to get into the ‘Chinese Spirit’ by throwing the bones and rubbish on the floor ourselves. Feeling rather like naughty children, we giggled and felt guilty but thought, ‘do as the locals do!’ Our delectable meal came to a whopping total of £6. Not bad at all.

Our first meal in China (that we didn’t cook).

Following our lunch, the road was a continuous rolling hill until we came to what I like to call a ‘Big Momma Hill’. This one seemed to go on and on, but luckily it wasn’t too steep (compared to the roads in Mae Hong Son!) As always, we were rewarded with an epic view at the top. 

The view of the road that lay ahead of us

One of our favourite signs!

True to what appears to be the norm in China, we were also then rewarded with a legendary downhill – 7km! Amazing stuff. As we were quickly descending, we realised the road was quite slippery. This was also when we realised how reckless some Chinese drivers can be, as trucks were overtaking other trucks around blind corners: we really had to have our wits about us! Adam had a scary moment where he was going too fast down the hill and very nearly came off. I was quite far ahead, but when we reconvened at the bottom of the hill, Adam confessed his close encounter with disaster. We were both more mindful to take it easier on the downhills…

This area of China really is stunning: Yunnan province is a cycle tourist dream. With amazing views of rolling green hills covered in rubber trees, and in areas the road cut straight through the valleys. Huge rock precipices towered over us from both sides. Cycling at the bottom of the hills, extensive banana plantations stretched far and wide. 

We came to a T junction at a town called Mengxing and reached a decision point: the right turn would take us down a more minor road that hugs the Laos border. This would be a more direct route to Kunming (our first aim). Usually, (and certainly in this case), a minor road also means more elevation, fewer towns and uncertain road quality. Or we take the left turn – the more popular road towards Pu’er. As it is a busier road, it should be flatter and be in better road condition. However, it’s not as direct as the road heads west before heading north. As we were deliberating, two friendly, local young men came over to speak to us. Through the wonders of a translation app, they confirmed the minor road was in poor condition. That made up our minds. Before we left the town, we attempted to buy a SIM card again but to no avail, again.

Although the left turn road we chose had rolling hills, they were nice rolling hills. We managed to fill our gas bottle which was nearly empty for the bargain price of 2 Yuan (that’s about 20p!) Along the road we bought some more snacks from a small stall: spiral bread with sugar in the middle. Perfect. I also bought two what appeared to be apples… bright green in colour and slightly oval shaped. I’ll try them tomorrow.

We found some Chinese flags for our bikes.

China has cameras everywhere. Even on the most minor of roads.

We reached 65km which is our minimum target for the day, but we both felt we had the energy to continue for another 20km or so, and as it was only 16:30 we still had plenty daylight left. Unusually, I had a strange burst of energy (not sure why! It could be down to enjoying my first galaxy chocolate in 4 months, or Adam’s promise of a hotel if we reach 80km…) and so I beasted it up the short hills and left Adam way behind. He, of course, passed me on the longer hills though!

Fuelled on Dove

Reaching the next town of Menglun and we had done 80km. Success. Sadly and yet again, the town was more like a construction site. (Everything in China seems to be under construction so far!). Mounds of gravel were piled up along the pavement in construction; children were sat playing in it as their parents laboured around them. All hands, male and female, were on deck – even at 6pm. Instead of road bumps, we had huge divets to gentle cycle over as we joined the cars and electric scooters weaving through the chaos. 

Menglun is a pretty dreary town with little going on other than construction.

We began the rigmarole of finding a hotel. First try: ‘no rooms’… it looked too fancy to admit two stinky cycle tourists and I guess they couldn’t be bothered with registering us with the police, which is the law here in China. Our second try had rooms, but the man working there wanted to take our passports away to get a photocopy to give to the police station. We definitely didn’t feel happy with him going away with them, so Adam went with him whilst I took our bags and bikes up to our room. Luckily, after not too long Adam came back and had no problems. (We made a note to get a handful of photocopies of our passports when we get chance, so we can just hand a photocopy to the hotel if needed in the future).

The room was very basic, but that is to be expected for only 50 Yuan (about £5). However, it seems clean: two single beds, basic furniture and a ‘bathroom’, consisting of a sink, a lovely squat toilet with a shower over the top… This is something we just have to get used to in China. Initially, the internet connection seemed appalling. Quite annoying as one of the reasons we chose to stay in a hotel rather than camp was to take advantage of having some internet. However, on the plus side, we had the chance to charge all our electronics and hand wash some clothes.

Uncommonly for us, we decided to bypass a proper dinner as we were both still quite full from our huge lunch. We also couldn’t face going back out into the construction site of a town. So we ate our breaded snacks and some leftover vegetables that we took away from lunch. We’ll make sure we have a good breakfast in the morning.

Menglun is a noisy town: outside our hotel, there were children banging and people shouting, but thankfully it quietened down at about 9.30pm. Bizarrely, we heard a bugle playing purely from, we guess, the local police station. China never ceases to amaze! 

So all in all a great second day in China. Tomorrow we’ll aim for another 80km, then another 80km to the large town of Pu’er. That’s the plan anyway…

Day 102, Wednesday 19th December – Menglun to Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Valley

Waking up and checking our phones (guilty as charged), we realised that the appalling internet from last night was now pretty good internet, so we used this first opportunity to update our family and friends that we were safely in China. We also caught up with other cycling admin, such as uploading our route to Strava, checking emails and website admin.

Despite the internet time, we still left the hotel at about 0900 which is pretty good going, as we set our alarms for 0600 to get an earlier start. Conveniently, there was a small cafe opposite the hotel at the back where I spotted locals enjoying a breakfast of noodle soup. So we stopped there for breakfast: we helped ourselves to the ‘toppings’ that were available and then passed our bowls to a woman in the kitchen who added noodles and broth. Extremely tasty and very cheap, costing only £1.37 for both of us! What a bargain – China is cheaper than we thought. Unfortunately, despite feeling a lot better yesterday, I seemed to take a backward step and felt much worse today. I felt very nauseous, but I made myself eat some noodles to give me the energy to get on and cycle. With the visa restraints on us in China, we really can’t afford a day off unless we’re on death’s door!

Quickly and with relief, we left the town/construction site of Menglun. Much to our delight, the road swiftly became much more rural. We just love cycling through the rural villages and past the simple Chinese homes; the locals grow a lot of their own produce and there’s always a hive of activity.

Morning cycling in Yunnan is a cycle tourists dream.

All morning we had uphill. Up, up and up with no respite. Luckily, the gradient wasn’t too bad and if I was feeling better it would have been a much more enjoyable cycle, especially considering the absolutely stunning views around us. Dare I say it, even more beautiful than the Mae Hong Son Loop. People who said Yunnan was a beautiful province were so right! Rolling hills, much more huge and continuous than in Thailand and Laos – stretched for as far as the eye could see.

I found today really, really tough (and actually turned out that today, for the elevation, was in the top five of the highest climbs Adam has cycled!). Today’s climb was just lower than yesterday’s; we’ve cycled 4,000m of elevation in the last three days. And considering I’ve been feeling sick and unable to stomach much food (which is VERY unlike me!) I think we’ve done pretty well! Adam was great and very patient – when the sickness feeling became too much we stopped and rested – pulling out our camping chairs and just taking however long I needed. What made the climb more bearable was the stunning views. As well as the aforementioned rolling hill vistas, we cycled alongside a small babbling river which was below us in the valley the road was winding through and up. It was also very quiet for cars today: there’s a quicker route for vehicles so this road was nice and quiet. For long stretches of time, it was just the two of us and the sound of nature around us.

After one pit stop, I stupidly left my glasses on the side of a concrete barrier wall I was sat on. I only noticed about an hour later, after we had climbed and descended a hill: there was no way either of us was prepared to cycle back down and then up the hill to get them! Bye bye glasses! Luckily my eyesight isn’t too bad – I mostly wear them for cycling to keep bugs and dust out of my eyes. It’s just quite annoying to lose them but these things happen.

If you look closely at the yellow road marker, you will see my glasses (which are probably still there 😢).

FINALLY, after 3 hours of constant uphill with very little respite, we were, justly so, rewarded with a glorious downhill. 7km of downhill a roadsign informed us: hallelujah and about time! On the way down, we decided to stop on a patch of grass on the side of the road and cook some noodles for lunch, enjoying the views. Adam got the drone out whilst I cooked.

We’ve had much worse cooking spots than this.

From there we had a bit more much needed and hard earned downhill. We rolled through reasonably sized villages. We often see dogs outside people’s homes in China: the ones that aren’t chained up are generally not bothered with us – thankfully! But usually, they’re chained up which is good in one respect as they can’t chase us (which they obviously would love to from their rough barks!) but sad in another respect as I doubt that dog will ever get off that chain… That’s China.

After that blissful downhill, we did have a few more cheeky uphills. We came to a town and stopped to buy water: we always try to replenish towards the end of the day in case we camp so we have enough water to cook dinner and breakfast the next morning. We also bought some eggs for breakfast, two passionfruit juices, a bag of small bite-sized sponge cakes which are divine, and two more packs of ‘Mama’ noodles (a brand of instant noodles are called in Thailand!).

Fully stocked up, on we continued. We still had 20km left to do to reach our minimum target of 60km. After a final few uphills, the downhills came again. I thanked the hill Gods for being good to us in the afternoon! Surprisingly, we cycled past rice fields and lots of crops as we passed through a flat valley.
When we reached 55km, we arrived in a town with a few hotels. It was an option to stop there as it was about 5pm. However, we decided to push on to reach our target and find somewhere to camp outside the town. We also still had about 90 minutes of sunlight left.

Chasing the sun.

Unfortunately, once we got into the rural area, it became apparent that finding somewhere to camp was easier said than done. After a few more cheeky steep uphill climbs to finish the uphills for the day, we had a lovely, sweeping downhill slope that continued through the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve. To the left of the road, was a steep drop leading down to a river. To the right of the road was a steep cliff face! This meant that there was literally no flat land to camp, and certainly nowhere hidden. We considered setting up camp under a road underpass but they looked too dingy and full of mounds of rocks, mud and discarded furniture, among other rubbish and litter. Not ideal…

Adam knew there were three hotels 8km away, so we decided to cycle that 8km, continuing to find somewhere to camp in the meantime. If we didn’t find anywhere to camp in that 8km, then we would try to stay in a hotel. Luckily, the road continued to be so kind to us and was downhill. So we didn’t even need to pedal really! With no luck on the camping front, we arrived at the hotels. They really were smack bang in the middle of ‘nowhere’ – in the middle of this nature reserve. However, this area is known as the ‘Wild Elephant Valley’ – the only place in China where wild elephants exist. According to the internet, there are around 55 herds of wild elephants roaming in this region of China. How cool! So there is a tourist element here, hence the hotels in the middle of this nature reserve.

The first hotel said ‘No room in the Inn’! (or words to that effect). We learnt that, by law, all hotels in China are required to notify the police station if they have foreigners staying, showing them a copy of their passports. I think some hotels can’t be bothered with this hassle, so they just say no. Luckily, the second hotel we tried were very friendly and just took a photo of the photo page in our passports and showed us up to a clean, spacious room. Bingo! Awesomely, they also had a restaurant attached to the hotel, so we had a meal too. Just what we needed as it was getting dark.

So far, we’ve found two ways to order food in China – the traditional way of pointing at ingredients in a fridge and hoping for the best. Or pointing at other people’s meals and holding up 1 finger to say, ‘I’ll have one of that dish!’ We got the usual mountain of rice alongside some pork (for Adam, I still can’t stomach eating meat) and a plate of buttery spinach. Usually, I love my food, but my stomach still feels really sick and I could only manage to eat plain rice. But it’s better than nothing. We love the hot Chinese tea that comes with the meals too.

So as I typed this, we were snug in our hotel room, the bikes locked up at the bottom of the stairs (we were on the third floor, naturally). It was absolutely pouring it down outside, so I was quite glad we were in a warm, dry hotel room (although I do love the sound of rain on the top of the tent). But the last thing I wanted was to be awoken by a wild elephant in the pouring rain! As I drifted to sleep, I had my fingers and toes crossed I wouldn’t feel sick tomorrow. An early night and good sleep were in order.

Day 103, Thursday 20th December, Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Valley to Puwenzhen (‘Accident Day’)

Waking up in our hotel in what felt like a ‘jungle’ – the Xishuangbanna Nature Reserve, we had both enjoyed a comfortable and great night’s sleep. The nauseating feeling of the previous three days had finally left and I felt full of energy – hurrah! After a breakfast of camp-cooked eggs outside the hotel (rather salty for Adam, as he spilt the whole carton of salt onto his eggs, much to his dismay!) we were on the road. The day started off brilliantly with a beautiful road out of the Wild Elephant Valley; luckily it wasn’t too hilly and the views, as ever in this province, were stunning.

Knowing we had a big, big climb ahead, we began to wonder if we could get onto the main highway. In China, bicycles are not allowed on those toll roads, which are akin to motorways in the UK, but they stretch out across the country with a very low gradient, which can be attractive to bicycle tourists! But to begin with, the road we were on wound through small towns and villages. Mindful of our visa ticking away and the need to make good mileage each day to reach Leshan to extend our visa before our visa expires, we began looking out to see if there was somewhere we could sneak onto the highway. There were pros and cons of that road: Pros – it’s quicker as the gradient is much lower because the road cuts directly through the valleys instead of going over hills and mountains. There is a hard shoulder on the highway and unlike the UK, it’s not that busy with cars, so although it seems more dangerous as the cars are going faster, there are not as many cars and we are kept apart on the hard shoulder. Cons – the highway is nowhere near as scenic. We would miss the beautiful views at the top of the big hill climbs. Obviously, the cars and lorries travel much faster by us than they do on the other road.

The last photos of us before it all went wrong.

We found a place we could hop over a low barrier (Adam lifted the bikes over) and we were on! Feeling slightly nervous and a bit like naughty school children, we headed along the almost empty of cars highway. The hard shoulder was good at first, but regrettably, it quickly disappeared. As soon as we were on the same road as the fast cars and lorries, we felt immediately uneasy and wondered whether this was such a good idea after all…

The road actually climbed 1,000m, but very, very gradually. It was strange, as the road seemed flat but I felt like I was cycling really slowly – because we were actually cycling uphill. This is the section that would have been much harder had we stayed on the other more rural road. The highway had a few tunnels we had to cycle through which I was a bit nervous about. They weren’t too pleasant though and didn’t last long at all on this occasion. We made sure our bike lights came on and stuck as close as we could to the right-hand side.

Eventually, we reached the top of the hill and were greeted with a 15km downhill sign. Hallelujah – this should be awesome! We saw a sign saying 66km to Pu’er – with the progress we would make on the downhill we even considered that we might be able to get to Pu’er that day… Wishful thinking…

Luckily, the hard shoulder returned for the downhill, but because no vehicles use the hard shoulder, it was extremely muddy and slippery. This turned out to be a recipe for disaster. As I was descending at the fast speed natural of downhill, the road became uneven and a thick branch protruded from the side. I attempted to swerve around the branch on the right but also avoid the uneven ground to the left. I think I pulled my brake (it all happened so fast) but on the muddy, slippery ground the bike just slid away from underneath me. With extreme speed, I went crashing down to the ground with huge force.

At the time, I remember thinking, “Noooo I don’t want to fall!” As soon as I impacted on the ground the shock hit me. I scrambled up as I was half in the road and began screaming for Adam who was in front. I screamed several times as I was in such shock and wasn’t sure whether he had heard me. He had, but as the ground was so slippery, he struggled to stop without falling off the bike himself. As my screams were so dramatic and distressing, he abandoned his bike on the ground and sprinted up to me which was quicker. As I waited for him to get to me, fear and adrenaline coursed through me… I wasn’t crying but really struggling to breathe and wrestling to keep my eyes open. The first thing I said to Adam when he got to me was, “Get my bike out of the road…” (I had my priorities!) We looked down at my bleeding leg: the swelling below my knee had come up so fast it looked initially like it was broken. But as I was standing and able to walk a few steps it was clear it wasn’t. Adam made me rest against the barrier and he looked down to examine my knee. As he did so, I fainted. Luckily as Adam was crouched in front of me, I collapsed onto his shoulder. Once I was awake, he laid me on the ground; the shock fog passed and my mind became clearer. Adam washed the large bleeding wound on my knee and covered it with some gauze from our first aid kit.

The swelling around the graze was the most worrying.

I wasn’t sure if I could even walk anywhere, never mind cycle. Our first priority was getting off the highway, as cars and lorries screeched past us, far too fast and close for comfort. Thank goodness we had a hard shoulder on this stretch. We considered hitching a lift to get off the road, but this was very difficult as cars were going so fast. Adam became uncommonly frustrated with our predicament: we needed to get off this road but for a while, it seemed impossible. After an hour of wondering what to do and trying to hitch a lift, I’d calmed down and realised I was able to walk with the bike. It was 15km to the next town and it was already nearing 4pm, so we needed to keep going. The palm of my right hand was also terribly bruised and my wrists were in some pain, but luckily the road was downhill, so I could hold the handlebars very gently and hobble slowly as the bike almost wheeled itself down the hill.

With Adam – my rock – walking behind me, I hobbled, very slowly, for about 3km. Not ideally, we had to go through a few tunnels but luckily there were not many cars. After 40 minutes or so of walking, I tried cycling. It was very painful on my wrists more than anything, but as it was downhill, I could almost just roll and gently press the brakes, only needed to pedal every now and then. We eventually came to a petrol station and there was a way we could get off the highway onto the quieter road running parallel. Phew! Thankfully, the new road was still downhill, much more quiet of vehicles and was much more beautiful. Flat fields stretched out to our left and right, full of crops growing chillies and green beans. Despite my injuries and the dramatic accident, I felt a wave of happiness that I was OK and finally off that hideous highway.

Randomly and brilliantly, we came across a doctors surgery! I showed a very kind man in a white coat (I assume was a doctor!) my bloody and swollen knee. He cleaned my wound and put some white, fizzy liquid onto it (which stung like a b***h!). Finally, he gently rubbed iodine on with a cotton wool bud and gestured to me to leave it uncovered. Wound cleaned and left open to air out, we very gently pedalled away.

What are the chances that we would find a doctor in the middle of nowhere?!

Eventually and heroically, we came into the town of Puwenzhen, which had been our original goal for the day anyway! Finding a hotel, the staff were very helpful and aided Adam in taking our bags up to the room as I was in no fit state to carry anything up two flights of stairs. We collapsed into the room and only left it to shuffle across the street to get some dinner a few hours later. Thank goodness my sick feeling from the previous three days had gone and I was finally ravenous for some food! That night I slept like a rock (albeit a slightly battered and bruised rock!). 

The best thing to eat after falling off a bike is a load of Chinese food. Absolutely delicious.

Day 104, Friday 21st December, Puwenzhen to Pu’er (via taxi) 🙁

Waking up the day after my accident, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Not only was I feeling the stiffest and the most arthritic I had ever felt, but I also felt very emotional. The tears that had neglected me yesterday were out in full force this morning. Doubting my ability to continue with the trip at all, I wondered whether I should just quit and take a few months out to recover. As I was feeling so horrendous, I thought my injuries were quite bad. My wrist was in so much pain I considered whether it was broken…

We decided it was best to go to the hospital to know for sure. Adam enquired at reception about a bus to Pu’er where the nearest hospital was, 50km down the road. A man who I think worked in the hotel, overheard and said (through Google Translate) that his friend could take us in his Toyota Hilux (with the bikes) for 300 yuan (about £30). Perfect.

With 10 minutes to pack up and get downstairs, we quickly packed up and began bringing the bags and bikes down to the reception. My wrist was in so much pain I couldn’t lift anything, but again we had some help with our bags from the kind hotel staff.

The end of the unbroken cycle journey from Singapore.

It took about 45 minutes on the highway to get to Pu’er (which is what we had planned to cycle that day!). The men first took us to a military hospital for some reason. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t help us. We asked if they could drop us off at a hotel so we could get rid of the bikes and all our bags and then go to a hospital. Kindly they did so, taking us to a hotel they recommended (a little out of our price range but incredibly comfortable). They then drove us to the hospital. There are three hospitals in Pu’er; we wanted to go to the ‘People’s Hospital’ but they took us to a Traditional Chinese Medicine one… but actually we would come to realise that it was fine.

As they dropped us off at the hospital we thanked them profusely before they left to go back to Puwenzhen. Armed with our iTranslate app, we went to the counter where we paid 20 yuan for a card. Initially, we weren’t sure what it was for, but we came to realise that you top the card up with money to pay for whatever services, or treatment you receive (there’s no free health care like the NHS in China). Whilst waiting at the triage station, a young woman came over and asked us in English if she could help us. She is a 19-year-old student at University studying English and asked us if she could try to be our translator. We, of course, said yes, please! That would be amazing!

This amazingly helpful young woman is called Yang, and she stayed with us for the whole time we were in the hospital, translating for us as we went along. Firstly, I went into a small room where a doctor examined my leg (as that was obviously damaged) but I knew that there was nothing wrong internally with the bones, it was just grazed and bruised. It was my wrist that I was most worried about.

Through Yang, I made it clear I needed an X-ray on my wrist. The hospital was very efficient, and it didn’t take long at all before I went upstairs to have an x-ray on my wrist and leg. They told us it would take two hours for the results to come through, so we could leave and come back. How awesome! So Yang took us out for dinner! Amazing woman. She ordered some delicious Chinese food and we enjoyed learning more about Chinese traditions and her life over dinner.

Sometime later, we came back to the hospital and were relieved to find out that there were ‘no abnormalities’ with my x-rays. The results procedure was a little confusing as I didn’t actually see a doctor – you just put your card into a machine and out comes the x-ray with a letter with the diagnosis. To get confirmation though, we went back to the little room I first went in and the doctor confirmed. He wanted to clean my leg up again though, so they did the same procedure as yesterday (and just like yesterday, it stung like a b***h!) I also received some Yunnan Baiyao tablets, which are a well-known traditional Chinese medicine, but I decided not to take them. 

Yang even kindly organised a taxi for us using Dede (like Uber in the UK or Grab in Thailand) and came with us back to the hospital to help me get the results. Despite being nearly 10 years younger than me, she really mothered and looked after me, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. We arranged to go for traditional Chinese tea with her tomorrow and to take her out for dinner to say thank you.

 

Yang was an absolute star. Without her, we would still probably be waiting in the hospital.

So I have the all clear! It will just take time to recover physically and mentally from my accident. We decided we would head up to Kunming by bus, the first big city on our route, where I can take time to rest and recover. Amazingly, I found an extremely kind and generous Dutch lady called Vera through a post I wrote on the Facebook Group ‘Bicycle Travelling Women’ who lives in Kunming. She offered for us to stay with her to get back on my feet. This is especially generous as we will stay with her over Christmas. Then we will see how I am recovering and take it from there… but for now, the cycle tour is having to take an unexpected break.

Hello Laos! Country #4 - A week cycle touring from Thailand to the Chinese Border
Rest and Recovery in Kunming

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