Farewell China! Our last week in The Red Dragon

Day 151: Nanning to Wild Camp near Datang

6 Feb 2019

Unwisely, we had a very late night last night: Adam video editing and me researching and blog writing. We also spoke to my Mum on video call for quite some time which was lovely. Rest days are also great opportunities to spend some quality time catching up with family online. I didn’t stop and try to get to sleep until 2am, Adam after 3am… Surprisingly, we were up and out of the hotel not toooooo late though. 1130 (ish) we cycled away from the hotel.

Leaving Nanning wasn’t so bad; as with many Chinese cities we’ve cycled through, the city provided us with a huge lane for bicycles and scooters, keeping us separate from the rest of the traffic. The first few hours of cycling provided us with nothing spectacular at all. We stopped only for a disappointing breakfast of noodles in a small but busy cafe that was luckily open. Most of the other shop fronts were closed due to it still being the Spring Festival Holiday. We did manage to pick up some delightful fruit from a stall we passed, however. After eating quite unhealthily yesterday (city temptations on a rest day often get us!) we were craving some colourful, nutritious and cheap snacks. I bought us bananas, small oranges, a dragonfruit each, a passionfruit each, an avocado and a mango each. Happy with our healthy spoils, on we continued on the route out of the sprawling city.

In my happy place!

As we progressed, the ‘cityness’ became less and less; the road became a barren vein out of the city bustle. Cycling past empty and apparently abandoned buildings, roadworks and flat, scruffy scrubland, it was one of those ‘just cycle through it’ mornings. As they were widening the road, we had to cycle through some road works, but they were nothing too horrendous thankfully.

What was nice, however, was that the sun was out in full force today. It was lovely and refreshing to cycle under mostly blue skies and have the heat of the sun on our skin for the first time since Laos. Underestimating the strength of the sun, I gained a haze of pink sunburn across both arms. It’s time to get the suncream out again!

A cheeky wind plagued us for much of today. We’ve been lucky not to experience any crazy strong winds so far on our cycle tour, but today was the first time it was an effort to pedal on the flat at times; even on the downhill, it was necessary to pedal to move forward. Adam narrowly missed being squished by a fallen tree, as a huge gust of wind caused it to crash across the road about 10 metres in front of him. Crazy weather!

After around 30km our surroundings became much more green: green rolling hills and murky paddy fields passed us by. Duck farms and clusters of houses and farming settlements meant that we rarely cycled more than a few minutes without seeing someone. Traffic was light for most of the day which was pleasant.

We stopped for a break in a bus shelter; I cooked some noodles for lunch and we both had a quick nap after our minimal sleep last night. Adam’s new foam roll mat is proving a good new addition to his kit. It was also nice to escape from the hot sun for a little while.

A much needed nap!

Despite feeling like we could have stopped there for the day (we were very tired after such a late night), the need to replenish our water forced us to keep going. It was 1620, we planned to find somewhere to camp as soon as we had replenished our water supplies.

On the road again, we luckily found a small shop and stocked up on water and a few more packets of noodles. We continued on, and once the clock ticked 1700, we started to look for somewhere to camp. We tried our luck down a couple of different dirt tracks off the main road, but unluckily they were either too close to someone’s property or someone’s farmland.

Finally, we came to a rest stop type area, with a colourful metal statue of some cyclists; we thought that the road may be part of a Chinese bicycle race route. Taking the bicycles as a good omen, we decided to stop and camp there. It was in plain sight of the road, but when you’re choosing a wild camp spot, you either need to 1) stay hidden or 2) be seen. That was definitely a ‘be seen’ camp spot, and we hadn’t chosen one like that in China before. Weighing it up carefully though, we were confident that no one would disturb us: there were no houses nearby except a small duck farm on the road behind. The road we came off was fairly quiet as there was a busier highway running parallel. As there was a brick wall, we sat behind it which enabled us to be shaded from a brazen view from any passers-by. In a worst-case scenario – there was a hotel in a town about 5km up the road, so if the police did come or we were hassled by annoying locals we couldn’t shake off, our plan was to head there (hoping they could take foreigners!). The decision to camp there instead of heading to that hotel was in an effort to save some money.

Colourful bicycles: hopefully a good omen!

The wall on the right is where we ‘hid’ behind to shelter us from sight of the road.

We made sure we didn’t erect the tent until after the sun had sent, and as there were some street lights dotted around, we sort of hid the tent around the corner of the shelter where it was darkest. I cooked us a delicious meal of spaghetti which went down splendidly.

Looking forward to our first taste of pasta in months!

Day 152: Wild Camp to Fangchenggang

7 Feb 2019

Unusually, we awoke to the sound of Adam’s alarm at 0630. As we had camped in a ‘be seen’ wild camp spot, we wanted to be up and off as early as possible, before attracting too much attention. I had treated myself to a travel mug from the camping shop in Nanning, so my first action upon waking was to make myself a cup of tea for a change! It went down a treat. (I’m looking forward to buying some Vietnamese coffee for a morning pick-me-up once we cross over in a few days time).

Our wild camp spot for the night: we were up as the sun rose.

We had also stocked up on porridge oats and honey in Walmart in Nanning, so we enjoyed a rather large portion of porridge with banana and honey for breakfast. On the road for around 0830, the route ahead was foggy and dense with a thick, white, morning mist. We could barely see 20m in front of us. Luckily, within no time the sun’s blaze burnt through the cloud, revealing the stunning blue skies which would be the backdrop to what was set to be another scorching day. It is clear to see and feel that we are now in the ‘tropics’ since we cycled below the Tropic of Cancer. I had made sure I lathered on the suncream this morning after burning my arms yesterday.

We pedalled hard today and were rewarded with some stunning scenery for the majority of the day. Lush green hills, thick with vegetation, rolled along to our left, whilst pleasant woods or farmland stretched out to our right. Spirits were high from the off, as we began our day with such pleasant scenery, in comparison to yesterday’s blandness.

Colourful flags were prominent as we cycled past small villages, we assume for the Spring Festival celebrations.

A cheeky headwind continued to test us, however, as we experienced some of the strongest headwinds we have had to endure on the tour so far. Head down, I tucked in as close as I could to Adam’s back wheel in an attempt to benefit from his slipstream. (One of the perks of cycling with another person!)

Battling the wind!

After 2 hours and 30km, I managed to persuade Adam to let us have a break. (Only kidding, he was happy to rest but seemed to have a lot of energy and enthusiasm today!) Taking a seat on a low wall at the side of the road, we enjoyed some of the exotic fruit we bought yesterday. I devoured a very ripe mango (a sticky process indeed!) whilst Adam enjoyed a passionfruit and a banana.

Head-shot time for Adam! (That hair is getting long!)

After our good rest, we got back on our trusty steeds. A short time later, the road led us to a dirty, manically busy and hectic town. After the Chinese New Year Celebrations, towns and villages we cycled through have mounds of decaying rubbish every few metres along the side of the street. Mingled in with their usual garbage was tonnes of cardboard from the multitude of fireworks that have been set off over the past few days. Strips of what looks like red tissue paper from the fireworks littered the streets whilst colourful flags and traditional red lanterns still adorned the streets as the festivities continued. In some areas, the locals burn the heaps of rubbish, resulting in a disgusting smog we have to cycle through.

We thought it would be a good opportunity to buy a meal in this town, but we were put off by how crazy and hectic the streets were. Stopping briefly at a bakery, we bought a disappointing baked item each: China will win no awards for their baked goods!

A sneaky look into a local’s home with their Chinese New Year decorations up.

Escaping the horrible town, we continued on. After another few hours of pedalling, we stopped mainly to escape the scorching heat, taking refuge in a bus shelter. I made us some noodles due to the failed attempt to find proper sustenance in the previous town. A short afternoon nap was also in order.

The afternoon consisted of battling the headwinds and long sections of unsealed roads that started to begin. The bumpy, uneven ground rattled our bikes and scrambled our brains as we attempted to search for the least bumpy sections of road. Three boys sharing a scooter stalked us for a while, taking photos and videos of us. Ignoring them, we pushed on. By this point, we’d been on the road for over 7 hours, and I was starting to get tired. We decided to push on to the next town and find a cheap hotel for the night.

Unpleasant cycling conditions.

Unfortunately, that plan failed. Upon reaching the town, we headed to a hotel on a quiet street in the outskirts as we entered. Far too expensive, we continued into a busier area of the town. Our ears were assaulted with the screeching music and advertisements coming from the shops. Adam found a hotel which was advertised as 95 yuan on the ‘Trip.’ app. It seemed positive at first, Adam just needed to accompany a member of the hotel staff to the nearby police station to register. This was not unusual; it hasn’t happened often but we know it is the correct procedure. The police told Adam that there are only two hotels in this town that can accept foreigners – the one we were attempting to stay at is not one of them. Unsurprisingly, the hotels that accept foreigners were crazily expensive at 250 yuan a night (around £27). This was way too expensive for us, so we tried another hotel around the corner to see if they were a stickler for the rules. Unfortunately, they were. It appeared staying in this town was not meant to be!

Frustrated and tired, we started to cycle out of the town, resigned to find somewhere to camp in the last little bit of daylight we had left. Our stomachs were protesting and grumbling, so we treated ourselves to a little boost of morale: a naughty ‘DFC’ – you read that right, not ‘KFC’ – this was ‘Delicious Fried Chicken’! We ate our chicken burger and chips outside the fast food place so as to keep an eye on the bikes. It was actually really tasty! Much better than the real KFC I’d say!

A boost of morale was much needed at this point, as I was getting frustrated that we had to continue cycling out of the town when I was so tired and there was little daylight left.

Finally leaving the town, the sun had almost set so our bike lights came on. It was a quiet road but we were still very much in the town (perhaps it was a city?). It was nice to have a huge bicycle lane mostly to ourselves, bar the odd electric scooter. I could see that Adam, who was ahead of me, was scouting out a camp spot. However, I really didn’t fancy camping in such a busy place.

The town/city merged into another, much bigger ‘definitely-a-city’. It looked like we weren’t finding a quiet camping spot. Huge skyscrapers loomed upwards, their flashing lights illuminating the night sky. As we cycled, Adam managed to find some hotels on his app that were cheaper than the previous ones in the last town/city. We pulled up to one and, happy with the price and the fact that they took foreigners with no hassle, we checked in and paid for one night. Phew!

Hauling our bags in the lift to the 5th floor, the man at the desk let us know it was not possible for us to take our bikes up to the room. We hate to leave them out of our sights, so once Adam had seen there was plenty of space in the room for them, when the man wasn’t looking, we snuck the bikes into the lift and up to our room. We’ll beg for forgiveness in the morning.

96km and over 10 hours since we left our campsite this morning, we are thoroughly tired and ready for a much-needed rest! After all the calories burned today, we are a little hungry still even after the ‘DFC’, but our stomachs will have to wait until the morning, as venturing out of the hotel room into the crazy China streets is just too much effort. Tomorrow, the border to Vietnam is only 50km away! This means we will have a nice steady day, stay in another (hopefully cheap) hotel in the Chinese border town, before we’re up bright and early to enter Vietnam the next day! 

Day 153: Fangchenggang to Dong Xing (Border town!)

8 Feb 2019

As we had a long day on the bikes yesterday, and we stayed up a little too late in the hotel room, we enjoyed another lie in this morning. That being said, we were both awake from 0700 as our neighbours were frustratingly noisy, stomping up and down the corridors conversing in loud, high Chinese to one another as they came and went from their rooms. Even the cleaners decided it was perfectly OK to have an emphatic and rowdy discussion right outside our door before 0800. Donning a Tshirt and shorts, Adam opened the door to politely ask the women to quieten down. They didn’t.

Resigned to the fact sleep would not return, we took the opportunity to do some ‘laptop admin’ before getting ourselves sorted for the day. I was happy to leave that hotel room: although it was spacious, the window faced the corridor (hence the noise), creating a claustrophobic feel. We’ve had that several times in China now (the cheaper rooms are cheap for a reason).

Upon leaving the hotel, we made a rookie error. Instead of finding somewhere to have breakfast in the busier streets surrounding our hotel, we thought we could find somewhere along our route within the first half an hour or so. However, the road we took just contained large, empty, faux skyscrapers and closed shops. No dumplings in sight (it had been a few days since our last dumplings and I was hankering after them, seen as we were so close to leaving China!).

Within the first few kilometres, we caught our first glimpse of the sea! It had been almost 4 months since we last saw the coast in Thailand. Before we spotted the waves, however, we smelt it. We sensed the salty vast South China Sea before we clapped eyes on it. Despite the clouds stretching across the sky and the moody, dark rain clouds threatening, the smell and sight of the sea perked our spirits; we had come pretty far! A sense of accomplishment and pride washed over us.

It was pretty clear there would be nowhere to grab breakfast, so we decided to stop and cook ourselves some food whilst the rain stayed at bay. We pulled up and took a seat on a large curb in the empty cycle lane of a bridge. Our stomachs empty and craving the energy of carbs, we decided to cook pasta. Stereotypically not eaten for breakfast, the influx of carbs were much needed and appreciated. I just add a small glug of oil and plenty of garlic powder, pepper and ‘Spanish mix’: delicious.

Carbs inhaled and the stove packed back away, we set off cycling again. Our route towards the border town between China and Vietnam took us down one busy road for most of the day, which felt like a highway. It wasn’t, as there was no toll booth, but it definitely looked and felt like one. Luckily, we had a huge hard shoulder, basically a whole lane to ourselves, so we were kept well away from the fast traffic flowing next to us. It wasn’t overly busy, but a steady stream of vehicles created the background noise for the whole day. A pretty boring road, with another cheeky headwind slowing us down. Much of the journey along that road was bland and monotonous, however, the odd fleeting moment of lush green fields and hills, a winding river or a curious Chinese house kept the boredom at bay a little. As I’ve previously mentioned, my phone is on its last legs since having the screen fixed in Nanning, so there’s no alleviating a boring stretch of road with a podcast for me. However, I was happy enough escaping to the recesses of my mind, pondering the future: how this trip will unfold and what life will be like once this is all over. Inevitable, my thoughts turned to food, and I imagined all of the culinary delights that await us in our upcoming countries, plus the foods I miss from home and ‘normal’ life.

On and on down the boring road…

Eventually, we came into a town and stopped at a Supermarket to stock up on supplies. Realising we needed to make sure we spent the smaller yuan notes of our Chinese currency, it was a good opportunity to use these up. We devoured our first chocolate in a while (we’ve been trying to be good!) and enjoyed a refreshing passionfruit drink in the shade outside. We had cycled around 35km, with another 15km left until we reached the border town.

On we continued along the same monotonous road we had traversed all day. The sun was hot, blazing down on us giving us just a small taste of the temperatures we have to come. Luckily, Adam spotted an alternative, quieter route we could take that would lead us into the city on the back roads. Taking this opportunity was much welcomed as we savoured the quietness and peacefulness of this route, leading us through sleepy settlements, past bewildered locals and acres of vivid green crops.

We took very few photos on this day, so here’s a random picture of me.

We finally entered Dong Xing without any hassle. The entrance to the border town was smooth and quiet. We set about finding a reasonably priced hotel. Expecting to have to pay a higher price than normal, we crossed our fingers that we would be able to find a hotel under 200 yuan. We tried four or five hotels which were all too expensive before we found one for the bargain price of 100 yuan! Not expecting to find a hotel for that low price in a border town, we were very pleased. Even better, our room is spacious, we were allowed to take the bikes up to the room and we have a large window overlooking the street! It’s amazing to get air (not quite fresh, but air!) circulating into the room, rather than having a window that overlooks a musty, noisy corridor. Although the room is dated, it’s clean and even has a sofa and coffee table.

So pleased with the price and standard of our room (it’s not the ritz but for 100 yuan we’re pretty happy!) we decided to stay for two nights and have a rest day tomorrow. As soon as we enter Vietnam, we have 15 days on our visa before we need to exit the country. That familiar visa countdown clock will be ticking, so we will need to not waste too much time and get pedalling. Therefore, it’s nice to take a day to rest before we enter: exchange our money, do a last shop to stock up on some supplies, update the blog, crazyguyonabike.com and do some video editing. Vietnam can wait one more day.

Day 154: Rest day in Dong Xing before crossing into Vietnam

9 Feb 2019

Resetting and recharging (electronics, our bodies and most importantly, our minds!) is an essential part of a long term and long distance cycle tour. Taking the opportunity to have a rest day today was a wise choice; we were able to rest, wash some clothes and do our laptop admin. We also ventured out for a stroll around the nearby streets.

Laptop admin whilst devouring a dragonfruit!

Conveniently, our hotel is opposite a vibrant market, selling an abundance of vividly coloured fruits and vegetables. Wandering through the meat section, Adam reminded me not to cover my mouth and cheeks with my hands in repugnance (I don’t want to be disrespectful to the sellers); despite being around raw meat being chopped and sliced and huge animal carcasses for almost two months whilst being in China, I still feel repelled by it. But I know this is where the meat I eat comes from… Seeing the raw meat sitting there, smelling it and hearing it squawking and quacking from rows of cages and enclosed, woven baskets whilst we eat our breakfast is a strange sensation. The glazed, dead eyes of the two deer carcasses, the disgruntled ducks sitting with their feet tied together to prevent them from getting away and the distinct, fleshy smell of the meat is really putting me off. I am not disheartened by this however, I am glad I have seen this and looked closely at the process that usually hides behind closed doors.

Ducks hanging up with a hook through their delicate throats began to make me questioned myself whether I want to eat this anymore. The vibrant fruit and vegetables look so much tastier and more inviting… I know now where the meat I eat comes from: what it looks like alive before it’s slaughtered; what it looks like dead, hanging or lying there waiting to be sold; I have seen every part of the animal being chopped and hacked up – organs and all. From witnessing this, I feel I can make a more informed decision about whether I want to eat meat, rather than seeing neat and tidy cuts of meat packaged and prepared in an orderly supermarket. If we weren’t travelling by bicycle, I might consider becoming a vegetarian, or at least seriously cutting down on the amount of meat I eat. But travelling in this way, especially through these countries, it would be very difficult to suddenly cut meat out of my diet. Not impossible… but difficult. And there’s also another problem… I do enjoy the taste! Enjoying tasty meals and food together has always been a big part of mine and Adam’s relationship (you can probably tell from how much I blabber on about food!)… so I don’t think now is a good time to change my diet drastically. But I am glad I have seen and experienced what I have.

Anyway!! Enough of me jabbering on about that! I enjoyed another walk around the market stalls as Adam had a well-deserved nap. Avoiding the meat hall, I strolled slowly, admiring the colourful goods for sale and purchased some of our favourite fruits: dragonfruit and bananas. It was also interesting noticing the change of architecture: I am by far an expert, but it seems to us that the buildings look different to the usual buildings we have seen across the areas of Southern China we have cycled through. I also noticed Vietnamese items for sale in some of the stalls selling pantry food items. 

During the evening, we wandered down to the actual border crossing, to have a nosey and recce before we cross in the morning. It was an intense hub of activity: numerous stalls offering an abundance of both Chinese and Vietnamese goods; plentiful shops selling items made from precious stone and countless shops selling expensive, traditional wooden furniture. There was both an outdoor and indoor market and I took the opportunity to buy some sachets of Vietnamese coffee, 3-in-1 which is convenient for on the road. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling through this hive of activity, and we had our first taste of Vietnamese food. As far as border towns go, this one seems pretty pleasant! I’m glad we stayed here for a rest day, but we are both very excited to head into Vietnam tomorrow!

Hosted by a Chinese Family during Spring Festival
Entering Vietnam from China - The Return to SE Asia!

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