Cycling through the most beautiful karst landscapes in China

Day 141: Yizhou to Long River Wild Camp Spot

After another great nights sleep in a comfortable hotel, we were ready to leave the town of Yizhou. As we left the hotel, I was surprised to see it was only 0920 – that has to be some kind of record for us! Especially in China.

 
As per usual with a hotel stay, the first port of call is to find breakfast. And as is becoming a tradition for us, dumplings were our breakfast of choice. (We’ll start to look like rounded dumplings soon we’ve eaten so many!). We found a small cafe almost opposite our hotel and were able to sit at a table rather than finding an unoccupied pavement curb. It made a nice change to eat breakfast at a table. In China, if the restaurant or cafe is busy and you have spare seats on your table, you’re dining with strangers. I don’t mind at all; there was a local ‘community’ type busyness in the cafe.
 
Bellies full and satisfied, we continued cycling out of the city. We had decided to take a quieter route today, so as we headed out of Yizhou, away from the high rise buildings and expensive shops, we started to cycle down streets that looked like the town but 20 years ago. Older buildings and quieter roads made us feel like we had gone back in time. The further we went down these roads, the further back in time it felt like we were travelling. The buildings became less high and older until we were cycling along country roads alongside dilapidated old brick dwellings.
 
We were sincerely glad we chose this quieter road, as we did have the option of an alternative road heading in the same direction that would likely have been much busier. Our country road was peaceful and had much less traffic. We enjoyed pedalling past miles and miles of crops, including sugar cane, orange trees and corn. The karst hills were still present but a bit further in the distance. White fog still lingered, but not as thick as yesterday thankfully.
 
We spent the morning musing and discussing our future: where we might like to live in the UK once we have finished the cycle trip. That’s the great thing about spending 4-8 hours a day cycling, you have plenty of time to think and ponder your future.
 
After a while, the karst hills that were so distant they looked like cardboard cutouts silhouetted on the horizon were suddenly much closer. Green hills and rugged rocks stretched out to our left and right providing a picturesque vista.
 
Eventually, we came to a crossroads and Adam consulted his various phone maps (he uses Maps.Me mostly, but often cross-references it with Baidu maps which, although it’s in Chinese, is often more up to date). We had the choice of turning right along a more well-built road but that might have been longer and busier with traffic, or straight ahead along a dirt track). Adam chose the straight ahead along the dirt track, and I followed.
 

The back roads of rural China.

 
Initially, the road wasn’t so bad, but as the road got progressively worse, my mood started to dampen. It took considerable effort to cycle over the rubble and rocks that were deep set into the mud. In places, deep muddy puddles stretched across the path. It was hard going. It’s the type of road you hope all your bolts and screws are nice and tight on the bike as if you’re going to lose one anywhere, it will be here as your bike is getting thrashed up and down, left and right. We were about to turn back as the road became a thick brown river until we spotted a drier, smoother track to the side. This track bypassed the mud but led us back onto the rickety rocks once more.
 
We endured about 15km of this turbulent track in total. I kept telling myself it would end soon, and for many cycle tourists in more remote places, they can be cycling on this type of road for days or even weeks on end. In the end, we were SO glad we took this track: the long, wild grass to our right gave way to the most stunning view of the river. Fairly wide and a vivid greeny blue, it shimmered in the valley below showing off its natural beauty. We audibly gasped and muttered “wooaahh” as we clapped eyes on the wonderful view. On we continued, trying to keep one eye on the magnificent view and the other on the rocky, pothole infested track. The odd car and electric scooter passed us, but no more than 10.
 

Not bad on the eye!

 
Finally, we reached smooth tarmac. Relieved, we felt like we were pedalling on the silkiest smooth road we have ever cycled down. Huge grins spread across our faces as we now had smooth tarmac and the awesome view.
 
 
Adam spotted a track leading down to the river and thought it might lead to an epic wild camping spot. He was right. It was only 1530 but we didn’t care; when you find gems like this we feel like we’d be fools to pass up the opportunity to camp in such a stunning location. We’d cycled 48km which is over the minimum we need to cycle each day for our visa deadline, so we were content with that. Happy in the knowledge that we have it in us to do a 100km+ day if needed later down the line.
 

The track down to our wild camp spot – just to the right of Adam’s bike.

 
Down a fairly steep little track where the grass has been trodden down, we carefully led our bikes down. We came to a grassy area with large sand coloured rocks dotted here and there next to the beautiful river. We gazed around us in silent awe at this gem of a wild camping spot. Even though there wasn’t an obvious amazingly flat area of ground to pitch the tent, we decided we would make it work.
Unluckily, we were not completely alone, as two young men came down to the same spot to fish, but we decided we would stay anyway. I say they were fishing – if you call throwing explosives into the river to kill the fish before scooping them out with a net fishing! We spent the next few hours before sunset taking in the stunning views, cleaning our chains, flying the drone and once the fishermen had left, Adam went for a quick skinny dip for a wash; it was decisively quick as it was so cold! We also cooked dinner and managed to set the tent up on a fairly flat patch of ground.

Not a bad spot for some bike maintenance!

Happy with our wild camp spot tonight!

Bit chilly Adam?!

We were in the tent just before sunset. I think we’ll be asleep by 8.30pm, which means we’ll likely get a good 10 hours sleep! One of the things I love about camping.

Day 142: Long River Wild Camp Spot to Liuzhou

Despite our best efforts to find a flat area of ground to pitch our tent last night next to the stunning river, the spot we chose still dipped somewhat. I managed to sleep fairly well despite that, although I did feel on edge for some reason about someone discovering us. And my inflatable mattress deflated so possibly has a puncture… 

The morning view from our tent.

As the sun rose, we peaked our heads out of the tent to glimpse the riverside view; a misty, atmospheric morning awaited us. We had arrived at this spot earlier than normal yesterday, so we set about packing away and making breakfast without delay. Today’s plan was to cycle just under 50km to the next big city of Liuzhou, aiming to get there at around midday so we could make the most of the time in the hotel (charging, washing, video editing etc). I cooked us scrambled eggs and tomatoes for breakfast and whilst I washed the pots in the river and packed away the stove, Adam put away the tent and lugged the bikes and most of the panniers up the steep, muddy track to the road. Team work makes the dream work.

Good morning world.

Pleasantly surprised it was only 0830, we set off for our morning cycle. It was one of the most beautiful morning cycles we’ve had in China, and dare I say, on the whole trip. The morning haze tinged our surroundings with a soft glow. The road was peaceful and free from vehicles. The surrounding karst hills rose sleepily from the ground and the river flowed gently on our left. We were in awe of how magical and beautiful this moment was, and felt incredibly glad that we have chosen to travel by bicycle, to experience these rare and spontaneous moments, far from any tourist spots or busy cities. 

As the kilometres cycled ticked up, we continued to cycle through the delicate and charming Chinese countryside: through calm but productive settlements, locals busy with their farming. Acres of crops stretched far to our left and right, field after field full of sugar cane. Rectangles of land where the sugar cane has been harvested stood out, oftentimes the ground singed where controlled burning had been used to fertilise the ground. 

For a while, our route remained almost car-free. But this is China, so it didn’t last too long! Eventually, our peaceful road began to receive a higher influx of traffic: lorries, trucks and cars passed us by but luckily they usually give us plenty of room. It was a gloriously flat, for the most part, route today. We pedalled hard this morning, only stopping once for a quick rest. Our aim was to get to Liuzhou for midday, dump our bikes into a hotel room and then go out for some food. And that’s exactly what we did.

Cycling into Liuzhou was, as is to be expected, very busy with city traffic. However, similarly to Kunming, there was a lane for bicycles and scooters to keep us away from the larger, faster vehicles. There is a huge river flowing through Liuzhou, the Liu river; it looked a similar size to the Thames. We crossed a mammoth bridge which made me appreciate just how big this city is. Adam found us a reasonably cheap hotel where I now sit in bed, typing away. 

The river flowing through Liuzhou.

A temple we passed as we entered the city.

A bustling city back street in China.

We ventured out of the hotel room pretty much straight away once we arrived, as we were both starving. Luckily, there is a dumpling shop right next door! In dumpling heaven, we ended up buying 5 baskets of the delicious parcels of joy (that’s 50 dumplings). We had a quick walk around this area, purchased some doughnuts from a nearby bakery (as we’ve been fantasising about them for the past few days!) before heading back to the hotel to rest. For some reason, I felt really tired after today’s ride. I sometimes forget how much physical exercise we do each day! After a while, it can catch up with you. So the best thing? Rest.  

Day 143: Liuzhou to Chuanshan Wild Camp

We enjoyed a lazier morning than normal, which we haven’t done in a while. Cycling away from the hotel just after 11am I almost felt guilty, but sometimes it’s nice to not have to rush and to just really take your time.

As per usual, we enjoyed some more dumplings from the cafe next door to our hotel. The greedy oinks we are, we ordered 4 plates which they placed in front of us quickly, steam billowing from the trays. We were in breakfast heaven.

Fully satisfied, we also stocked up on fruit from a stall conveniently in front of the hotel. I just love how much fresh fruit is available in this part of the world, and you know it’s all locally grown. We got our usual order of a bag of oranges each, plus some bananas. Feeling fruity, we also went a bit exotic and got 4 pieces of fruit we didn’t know the name of, but have since realised are called mangosteen (‘The Queen of Fruits’) and one huge dragon fruit we couldn’t resist after cycling past so many dragonfruit plantations. We spent 60 yuan in total on fruit, which is more than normal, about £7, but we feel great eating healthily and it’s great to make the most of this colourful array of local produce whilst we can! It can be tempting on a bike tour to eat fattening foods a lot as you’re burning so many calories with the exercise, we certainly love our food and don’t eat brilliantly all the time, but we love making the most of the amazingly fresh local fruit.

Leaving the hotel and cycling through busy Liuzhou wasn’t as bad as I thought. My confidence cycling through busy cities has really grown. It was hectic but weirdly enjoyable. As we progressed through, more cycle lanes became available and the further out of the city centre we cycled, the more we had the cycle lanes to ourselves.

Outdoor haircuts are the norm in some areas of China and S E Asia.

Cycling along the G209 out of Liuzhou wasn’t so bad. We guessed beforehand that it would be busy with traffic so we were mentally prepared for a few hours of cycling beside the belching fumes. Podcasts came on and we cycled along happily. There weren’t any particularly nice or stunning views to admire, so we just pedalled onwards away from the hustle and bustle.

Eventually, we turned left onto the S307 which proved to be a quieter road and more pleasant. Unlike the previous road, there was no hard shoulder but as the traffic was thinner it wasn’t a big deal. We had stopped briefly on the previous road for a 10-minute rest, and we stopped again at about 1500. We had pedalled hard and cycled 45km in 3 hours, which isn’t so easy with two heavily loaded touring bikes. We pulled down a track and sat down (me on my camping stool, Adam on his coat as his stool broke a few days ago) in a harvested sugar cane field. We enjoyed some of the fruit we had bought that morning, sharing the huge, juicy dragonfruit blissfully.

We were discussing this and that and somehow began talking about our onward route. Adam was looking at his phone at a map and threw a huge curve ball: how about, instead of our current plan (cycling to Hong Kong, getting a new Chinese visa, cycling north through China, stop off in Taiwan to cycle for a few weeks, back into China to continue north to Qingdao where we get the ferry to S Korea)… instead of that – how about we cycle south to Vietnam, into Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and then fly to South Korea from Bangkok…

We discussed it for at least an hour, thinking about the pros and cons and finally decided to go with it! We definitely want to cycle through South Korea and Japan, and we need to be in Tokyo in July for our flight to Anchorage which is already booked. We would like to be in South Korea for the beginning of May at the latest, to give us at least a month in South Korea and at least 6 weeks in Japan. So, knowing that we want to be in South Korea for 1st May, we have just over 3 months, and what won us over was asking ourselves the question: how do we want to spend the next 3 months? Do we want to spend it continuing cycling through China, OR do we want to spend it cycling through two new, beautiful countries (Vietnam and Cambodia which we missed out beforehand in our China excitement) and spending more time in Laos where we only spent a week? Our consensus was the latter. We are still quite close to Vietnam here – we’re actually slightly closer to Vietnam than Hong Kong! So if we were going to change our minds on our route, we needed to do it now.

Our new route plan

My outlook for this trip has transferred. For me, (and Adam agrees) it’s less about ‘Cycling from Singapore to the UK’ in one continuous line, but I see our cycle tour as ‘we’re travelling for 2 years, by bicycle, to places that excite us and places we want to explore’: exploring the world by bike. We started in Singapore and will finish in the UK, but where we go in between is completely up to us, and us alone. We relish and think it’s important to be flexible and continuously consider if the route we’re taking feels right and we’re happy with it. We do change our minds a lot! But that’s OK. They are informed decisions that, despite what it may appear, are informed and well thought out. Adam particularly does a lot of research and we constantly discuss things together. 

Happy with our decision, we actually had to go 10km back the way we came! That was the best route now we had changed our route to head southwest to Vietnam, rather than southeast to Hong Kong.

As it was now nearing 1630, we looked out for somewhere to camp along this road. Despite already cycling along this road in the opposite direction (!) it felt like a different road as the views ahead we’re different. Low karst hills dominated the horizon as we cycled through small farming settlements. Past fields and fields of sugar cane, at different stages: lush young canes with their green and yellow stalks lolling over, some were ready to be harvested, some fields had been harvested, some were being burned and some areas the ground was churned up and sewn in neat rows, ready for new plants. I found it so interesting seeing and noticing the process and different stages.

Sugar cane, sugar cane, everywhere!

After not too long, we spotted a gravel track off the side of the road and headed down. Bumpy and rocky, we cycled along for about 100m or so and found a small wooded area off the track that looked like an ideal spot. The trees were bare and the ground was mostly flat with a carpet of dry, dead leaves. It was 1700 and we decided that this was as good a spot as any. I set to making noodles for tea as we hadn’t eaten a proper meal since our dumplings breakfast feast. A big bowl of noodles with some fried green veg was just what we needed. As I was cooking, a truck which was heavily laden with harvested sugar cane slowly (painfully slowly) drove past on the track. I was hoping the driver wouldn’t see us, but he definitely did. Fingers crossed he won’t be back.

Adam instructing me to smile as I always frown when I’m concentrating on not burning the noodles!

Food eaten, it wasn’t long before we had set the tent up and crawled in just before the sunset. As I lay typing my journal notes into my phone, a powerful and core shattering boom shook the earth. It felt like a mortar bomb had gone off not so far away. Possibly a ridiculously loud firework? Who knows. Hopefully, there won’t be anymore! Tomorrow we head south and slightly west towards Nanning. We might stay there for Chinese New Year as it’s a big city to enjoy the festivities. We would then have a week to get to the border with Vietnam before our visa expires.

Day 144: Chuanshan Wild Camp to Laibin

We awoke as the morning light started to filter through the canopy of our tent. We had enjoyed another successful wild camp where we were undisturbed by any locals. We had also managed to dodge the rain that seemed to threaten. As we only had the choice of noodles or fruit for breakfast, we decided to just have fruit and get out onto the open road. So earlier than normal, we were cycling by 0830.

Back along the road, we had actually already cycled the opposite way down it the previous day (!) but it didn’t take long until we were onto our new route: south towards Vietnam! After sleeping on yesterday’s decision to change our route, we both woke up with our minds deeply set that we have made the correct decision for us. Life is ever changing – and our route reflects that!

The rural, countryside road we cycled along was pleasant; as is becoming the norm in these parts, for many kilometres we cycled past sugar cane fields in all stages. For the first time in what feels like months, the sun came out: we were treated to blue skies and Adam even unzipped his trousers to wear shorts! We are really heading south now.

Eventually, we came to a small town and picked up, you guessed it, dumplings for a late breakfast. We also stocked up on bananas and oranges. On we continued, along similar country roads, enjoying the warmth of the sun. 

We began entering the town/city of Laibin. Initially, it felt like a fake city: it was eerily quiet with many buildings under construction and zero cars on the road. Unfortunately, the roads on Maps.Me app did not match up with the roads in front of us at all! We ended up cycling along some dirt tracks and getting a little lost, but only for a few minutes. We eventually came back out onto a bustling road and entered the real city. 

As we were searching for the main city, we saw these children playing on the railway line. Now we understand why train drivers honk their horns so loudly and so frequently.

We had cycled 50km and stopped for lunch. You guessed it – more dumplings! Even I am starting to get tired of them now… I thought I would never type that. Dumpling stalls and cafes are just everywhere and so cheap, and upon reflection, I don’t think they’re too unhealthy – they are steamed after all. After lunch, we decided to stop for the day in this town and grab a hotel. We have plenty of time to get out of China into Vietnam before our visa expires, so there’s no rush.

Adam booked and paid for a hotel on the ‘Trip’ app, endeavouring to get a cheaper deal. Unfortunately, once we got to the hotel we learnt that they don’t allow foreigners. The app didn’t mention that minor detail. After some frustrated communications through a translation app, Adam managed to cancel his booking on the app and get a refund. We headed to another hotel a few doors down on the opposite side of the road; it was slightly more expensive but accepted foreigners. 

Again we were lucky that they allowed us to bring the bikes up to the room. Another afternoon of laptoping and researching ensued: we have lots of route planning to do and website admin now we have changed some of the dynamics of our cycle tour. 

Day 145: Laibin to Qianjiangzhen

Another late start from a comfortable hotel room in China. These late starts have become more common in the last week or so. Subconsciously, I think we are beginning to tire slightly of China, therefore the hotel stays are becoming more frequent and the cycling day shorter. (Also, Adam’s inflatable roll mat has epically broken, which may be another reason for the hotel stays!) The main reason the cycling day is shorter however is due to our change in route; we have plenty of time to get to the border between China and Vietnam now, so there’s absolutely no rush – which makes a refreshing change. So we had a lazy morning, making the most of the speedy internet and updating our family, friends and any followers about our recent change of route plans.

Reception staff kindly gave Adam two free breakfast tokens yesterday, so we made the most of the food on offer. We filled our bellies so we could save money by skipping lunch later.

At a not too shabby 1030 (ish!) we cycled away from the hotel and into the bustling town. A common occurrence we have noticed in China is the busyness of the outskirts of a town or city. They become much busier with locals as the buildings become lower in height and often times more dishevelled in appearance. We usually find the locals out on the street, behind tables laden with a wide variety of different cuts of raw meat, live chickens clustered tightly in small cages, fresh vegetables laid out in all their colourful splendour, huge mounds of oranges spilling out of the back of someone’s truck. Within the space of 30 seconds, we went from seeing a man handling the skin from the face of a pig, to a small boy peeing directly onto the road. It certainly is another world compared to what we would experience cycling through a town in the UK!

One of our favourite sights!

The app Adam uses most of the time to navigate, Maps.Me, led us down a jewel of a route today. Rather than taking the busier road, the app navigated us down the quietest country back roads we have had the pleasure of cycling down in China so far. It reminded us of Thailand as the road was a thin tarmacked track through farmer’s fields. The horizon was lined with dark coloured karst hills and the sky was a moody dark white. Being brave, we both went for shorts this morning for the first time since we entered China from Laos almost 2 months ago. The weather was pretty splendid: not too cold but not boiling hot. We made a mental note to enjoy this, as we know the temperature will rise considerably the further south we go.

Old ways and new ways converge

Both in high spirits, we sincerely enjoyed the ride through the peaceful countryside and rural settlements, past friendly locals, some who smiled and waved at us – unlike many town locals who stare at us like we have three heads each. Strong water buffalo towed wooden carts carrying long wooden logs or helping the farmers plough the fields. A beautiful herd walked slowly past us as we stopped to admire their sturdy and regal passage.

Stunning animals.

The awesome quiet road eventually led us onto a busier road – not all good things last. Luckily, it wasn’t crazily busy, so our cycling wasn’t too disturbed. We continued to cycle past crops, now containing the familiar sugar cane as well as areas of woodland. Those dark coloured karst hills that were on the horizon earlier on in the day were now close by, and provided a welcome sight to our pedalling vista.

After two hours of cycling, we stopped in the entrance to a dirt track for a rest. Having broken his stool, Adam took a pew on a huge mound of harvested sugar cane. Trying some, his eyes grew wide as the delicious, sugary nectar flowed into his blood system.

We see these huge mounds of sugar cane everywhere in this area of China.

Once rested, we continued on our way whilst Adam was on a serious sugar high. With our Bose speakers set to ‘party mode’, we both listened to the same music, Adam performing his best cycling dance moves which made my sides split with laughter.

Let’s go dancing man!

Around 1430 we entered the dirty, dishevelled, small town of Qianjiang. As we are much closer to the China/Vietnam border and in no rush to beast out long days, we decided to stop early for the day and get a cheap hotel. Adam found one for 80 yuan, which is the cheapest we’ve paid for a long while. Like the town it resides in, it’s basic and dishevelled, but it will do for two unfussy cycle tourists.

We spent the afternoon researching routes and video editing (Adam). I ventured out for food alone as I was starving and, unusually, Adam wasn’t hungry. Without internet access on my phone, I had a hard time communicating and ordering food in a restaurant nearby. When directed to the fridge and, I assume, asked what meat I would like, the look of it all turned my stomach. Big silver bowls of animal body parts – what looked like tongues, ears and other extremities glistened from the silver cupboard. I shook my head – I didn’t want any of it but I was just so hungry! I ended up with a bowl of bubbling, spicy soup which was placed over an electric hob in front of me. A mixed plate of the suspicious meat was offered to me to add to the soup to cook in the steaming liquid. I ate the vegetables from the soup, a big bowl of rice and some of the least suspicious looking meat. When I came to leave, I was charged 60 yuan – almost as much as the hotel room! Perturbed and tired, I left and made my way back to the hotel. China provides epic and wonderful moments, but right at this second I just thought, ‘Get me out of this country!’

Hankering after a bar of comforting chocolate as I walked down the dusty, muddy road, I tried my luck in the petrol station next to our hotel. Bingo! A box of scrumptious Snickers awaited me; I grabbed four: two for me – two for Adam. I plan to save one of mine for another low moment as a boost of moral… that’s if it lasts until the morning that is!

Cycling through China - Guangxi Autonomous Region
Hosted by a Chinese Family during Spring Festival

3 comments

I hope we get to see Adams cycling dance moves some time! 🚵‍♂️🕺🏽

Mrs. Lucia,
I hope you still remember me, I was in your class. I have followed you all through your journey and lived through all the happy and sad moments of your trip. I am really fascinated by all your work and effort for this. Wish all the luck posdible, and PLEASE be careful on the roads.
With love,
Marfa

Hi Marfa – of course I remember you! How could I not remember Marfa and her love for horses <3 That is so lovely that you have been following our journey and you are enjoying hearing about our travels. Thank you so much for your message and your kind words. We are very careful - we always wear a helmet and try to find the quieter roads to cycle down away from traffic. I hope YOU are well and I hope you're enjoying year 7. How is everything going? I think about Heritage and my lovely year 6 class often. Say hello to Makar and the rest of 6C from me. All my best wishes, Lucia x

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