China – the grind north

First private blog. Good timing because this first China post has stuff in it that we’d normally hesitate to write about.

A 23 day tour, 3023 miles / 4869 km’s.

As mentioned before, the only practical way to ride a bike here is with a China-approved operator. It’s still not an encouraged activity on a motorcycle and still in ‘test’ mode by the Chinese. I went into this assuming the management would be something like the 12 day tour I did with Helge Pedersen 3 years ago, but that wasn’t going to be the case unfortunately. Since arranging this, I’ve a favorable visa that makes entering solo easier.

China was a vivid experience and I realized afterwards how important it is on a world tour. It’s so different from anything that’s come before.

However, when the ride ended, we didn’t think we’d go back soon.

Lots of stories.

Chiang Mai to Luang Namtha
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There’ll be pictures of riders as we go. There’s R (guide, Chiang Mai, F800GS) Andrew (engineer, Singapore, GSA1200) Jamil (logistics, Bangkok GSA1200) Stephan and Bpui (photographer and wife, Thailand, CRF650) Greg and Bee (ex-Aussie motorcycle cop and girlfriend, Vstrom) and me.

We meet at 7:00 and off we go. A big day ahead, 475K through Laos to close to the China border
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No pictures until the Laos border, which is here, very nice
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There are tons of people and it immediately looks like we’ve started on the wrong day, a national holiday. We watch the queue go nowhere and think, uh oh. But the smart and resourceful Thai assistant to the guide (handing us off here) comes to the rescue and arranges a ‘payment’ and we’re through in about 90 minutes
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Thai border building on the left of the river below, Laos to the right. It’s the Friendship Bridge across the Mekong. A newish bridge. The two countries fought on opposing sides in the Vietnam War, Thailand with the U.S.

Mekong pictures later
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Google Earth of this famous crossing. Our group of bikes was escorted across by a car
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Into Laos, riding fast
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Lush, hot as hell
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A quick lunch stop. I should have taken a picture of this baked egg thing, delicious
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North, towards the rain
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Yes, that’s all of Laos for now. Much more when I come back from my own Laos ride through

Luang Namtha to Jinghong
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Through the Laos exit quickly. Building #1
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Building #2
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You had to push your bike out of Laos, lol! We never found out positively why, but probably so you can’t make a run for it. Why you’d want to make a run for China from Laos is an interesting question though. Here’s Andrew
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To the China border
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Which was the most impressive border building I’ve seen in 3 years. This is just the gate
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Inside it’s state-of-the-art
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There are movies showing elite Chinese troops in action. Pretty interesting intro
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And fairly quickly through, due to the huge amount of paperwork and official ‘permissions’ already processed before the ride. Obviously everyone is looking at us like we’re aliens. Foreign riders are a rare occurrence.

We stop for lunch in Mengla. Jamil on the left, Stephan and Bpui on the right. Check out the size of Stephan’s tank bag. It’s like a suitcase!
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To vehicle inspection. That’s me, watching Andrew ahead
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You push your bike up to rollers, a Chinese inspector jumps on and runs the bike on rollers for a minute or less. He freaks out trying to get on Lucinda and we’re through fast
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Here’s the screen telling him what the bike is doing. That’s my plate number in the back, U00238. All documented. Super-documented: on every highway we ride, flashes go off photographing and recording the movements of travellers
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Then, after an hour we get a laminated Chinese driver’s licence and a temporary vehicle registration. Plus an instruction and rules book which none of us read. Great souvenirs
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About 30 minutes down the road we get pulled into a military inspection point ad have to produce our new documents and answer questions. They’re all business, no Mr Nice Guy. Cool
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To Jinghong
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Our first night in China. Anecdotes and things later
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Jinghong to Yuanjiang
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Tunnels. We’d heard about this. Chinese tunnels on our way to the Yunnan are going to be a trial. They can be long, more than two miles, unventilated, unlit, littered with anything and worse, the drivers often don’t stay to their side. Cars and trucks have a cockpit of air to make the distance, bikes don’t, for instance
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It rains on and off for the next 3 days, sometime heavily. Which brings us to the next thing: the road surface. I’ve only once seen a road as slick. It’s the same problem as the pass to Bariloche from Chile, melted bitumen, polished smooth as glass, reflective and stupid slick. Plus I’m on the death tires, Heidenaus. Needless to say we’re cautious, despite having to make big headway for a few days.

Followers of this ride know we don’t complain. The minute we start to take difficulties too seriously, that’s the time commitment weakens. Rule #something. So if we do complain you know something’s significant enough to warn others about. So, the paved roads can be very bad. Dirt would be much easier.

However, the landscape is beautiful. But our sights are a ways ahead
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Jamil, parking lot. Just like this shot for some reason
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Frequent villages and fields, mostly rice. Details to follow
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The Red River, near Yuanjiang
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Much of this China ride is about the 2 epic rivers, Yangtze and Mekong, both of which we’ll cross and follow. They come close together in northern Yunnan. Below, the river starting near Ho Chi Minh City is the Mekong. The river starting on the right near Nanjing is the Yangtze
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Into Yuanjiang. We’ve got to pass through a few cities on our way, this is one of them. Not big, 1M people
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Another topic, photos are sequential so this has come up now. Squat loos, common worldwide, the standard here. This is a pretty clean one in a good restaurant, which is why I’m showing it. You wouldn’t want to see a normal one. You can tell it’s fancy because it has a water reservoir to flush it. Most have a barrel of water and a saucepan. But we wouldn’t bother with this topic at all if it wasn’t for the little green logo you can see on top of the reservoir
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The flush button is the Apple logo, nicely executed
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The town had some wonderful streets. More later
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Yuanjiang to Jianshui
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(the above route, in the pouring rain, is much longer than the day was supposed to be. Excuse another negative, but we’ll get them out of the way now. The guide, R, has messed up the route. He is having trouble with his GPS. Not only is his unit regularly falling off the homemade mount, which is unbelievable, but he’s ballsed up the routing, which is worse. The previous night he gets lost in the city trying to find the hotel. We don’t know the hotel either, don’t have GPS coordinates for it, but find as a POI and Lucinda guides the group to it directly. Other than us, 2 bikes are OK with this screw up, 2 are not (the more experienced travellers). So the group begins to slowly split apart from today. There are no excuses, an American ex-pat, we’ve seen his Mapsource route at his house in Chiang Mai, he’s familiar with the equipment, he’s just messed it up through laziness imo. He refused to give us the GPS track in advance, the opposite of Helge’s rides. It’s a big concern, this early. We won’t spend much time talking about it, but might as well fill in some background)

Next day we’re in for a treat, Jianshui. The town
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We travel about 5K out-of-town on our first rest day to Shuanglong Bridge, also known as the Double Dragon Bridge. In the pond beside it is a man in a suit fishing with a traditional net
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The  seventeen-arch bridge, Ming dynasty
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Another view
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Another. There are three reasons for the upturned comers: 1, the construction is traditionally timber and this eliminates visual (over time) sag. 2, More light. 3, moves rainwater to runoffs
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Another. Very nice dimensions to the corridor
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On our way back, out comes the net
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Here we have interesting characins on their sides and a cool striped cichlid below
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Lovely, about 4 inches long
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We went to a small village
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A temple under restoration
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(more on this in a later post)
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50’s additions
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Why do you think this figure has multiple arms? Because in a further (Buddhist) reincarnated life, physical time moves very quickly. We see the arm movement as they would appear to us in our current time
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Wrapping is something the Asians know about. They wrap fabric, a great thing
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Then a walk along a canal to a semi-modern railway station, just for a walk
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Fisherman in the pond opposite
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Disused despite the pomp
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Inside, on the wall, this photograph/painting, with the bridge we saw in the background. Trashy or important? Don’t know yet
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Need someone to take a guess at what this says, which would help
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