China 2017

Gone Cycling to China intro

The Challenge:

In June 2017 John cycled with his guide and a support vehicle leaving Kunming early on the morning of 13th June to The Stone Forest in Shilin and from there on day two to Puzhehei. On day three he cycled to Bamei, total mileage since start 188m. Day four from Bambi to Baise located in the west of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and from there to Bama on day five. Day six took him to Hechi on the southern end of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau and from Hechi to Guilin on day seven. Total mileage since start 550m. Day eight to Yangshuo, day nine to Guangning and then the finish in Guangzhou. The total cycled mileage was about 680 miles, but thats only half the story. There were plenty of hills!

John set himself a personal goal. One that confirms his mantra

“We’ve got Parkinson’s, it hasn’t got us!” 

To see the video that was used to promote this challenge go to:

Gone Cycling China Advert

To see the video that puts 10 days into 11 mins, have a look here:

Gone Cycling to China in 11 mins

12th-13th June – The Journey to Kunming

We depart from London at 2235hrs to Guangzhou (formally Canton) and fly with China Southern, and expect to land at 1705hrs local time (+7hrs) on the Monday 13th. We then have a wait of five hours until we board the plane to Kunming at 22.25hrs arriving 0055hrs on Wednesday 14th. Hopefully we will arrive at our hotel around 0100hrs for a few hours sleep before the start of the cycle ride.

Arrived at Guangzhou at 1705hrs! Bang on time… after a very long 10hrs seated just in front of the loos and with the minimum amount of leg room on any flight ever made – excruciating! Anyway, John and I have found a comfortable placebo lay our heads for five hours and hopefully get some kip. Watched Logan on the seven inch screen – good film! Its 33c here but expect it to get a bit cooler when we get to Kunming.

Day One 14th June: Kunming to Stone Forest

This is what we have to look forward to:

Kunming Stone Forest, Shilin in Chinese, known since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.) as the ‘First Wonder of the World’, is in Lunan Yi Nationality Autonomous County, which is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kunming and requires only a three-hour drive. It covers an area of 400 square kilometers (96,000 acres) and includes both large and small stone forests, as well as many other scenic spots. An old local saying says that ‘If you have visited Kunming without seeing the Stone Forest, you have wasted your time.’ Truly, the site is one of the most important attractions of Yunnan…

Never actually made it to the Stone Forest but saw parts of it from a distance and that certainly looked impressive! First day on the dusty road, and not a truer word was said. Roadworks was the order of the day which led to some uncomfortable cycle for the dynamic duo (John and Sang). Sitting in the support vehicle there were times you couldn’t see them beyond fifty meters, the dust was so bad.

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Which doesn’t lead to comfortable progress. Lorry drivers don’t like using the motorways as they have to pay toll, so they use the smaller A roads which in turn break up and need to be re-laid, hence the problem. So our DD changed colour to grey by mid afternoon and we had to think about how to get around this issue for the sake of their health.

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It was decided to go to higher ground and use the mountain passes when possible even though it will take up to four times longer and possibly use the SV to aid passage. But about 80 miles was covered today bearing in mind John had only about four hours kip over the previous two days as our journey to China took 29 hours due to atrocious weather at Guangzhou delaying our flight to Kunming. Our driver Alex who speaks excellent English took us to probably the best Duck restaurant for lunch, we just happened to be passing it at 2pm so decided to stop, and had duck, chicken, rice and vegetable soups served with copious tea! Amazing.

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The views along the way of the rice terraces and fruit plantations is wonderful so much of old China still exists as the road advancement trundles on.

We arrived at our hotel in Mile, a spar resort which lots of people walking around in white towelling bathrobes spa-ing. Very nouveau chinese. Bar food (chips and chicken wings, spicy fried fish and boiled pigs ears) and beer for supper. We left John going for a two hour chinese massage at 10.30pm… hopefully he will be at breakfast for 7am as we start day two.

You can see the video highlights of Day One here:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/223253137

 

Day Two: Shilin to Puzhehei

Booked in at the Huguan Resort… We agreed last night to meet in the foyer at 7am for breakfast. But we struggled to raise John who the night before insisted on having a massage so was booked in for one at 10.30pm for 1.5hrs. Apparently he struggled to get back to his room having been demolished by a Chinese lady who dealt mean version of chinese massage on him. So, we finally awoke him at 7.30 and found the restaurant at 8. Lovely breakfast and we eventually left the resort at about 9am and went looking for a replacement iphone7 lead for the one StJ left in the hotel in Kunming together with the lead for his Garmin head camera. Got this sorted and off we went for the hills and the days cycle ride. Having made a couple of wrong turnings out of the town thecae decided to pace the cyclists and stay together, which kind of worked even though there were a few double backs. We were heading for Mile to get there before lunch. However distractions got in the way – we came across a stone masons factory at the side of the road so decided to wonder in and watch the craftsmen at work (amazing) and then as we passed through vineyards after vineyards we realised we were in the Burgundy area of China with Grape stalls at the side of the road to tempt us, which they did. We had never tasted such delicious grapes and sampled some of the locality’s red wine which was so good we bought three bottles. the boys continued to cycle up the mountain passes and eventually we found a shed at the side of the road which looked as it might pass as a cafe and wandered in to be greeted by the owner who seemed delighted to see us – we were the only people there… Sang persuaded the owner if he could raid the larder and use the wok in the kitchen and made for us all a vegetable omelette and amazing stir fry served up with fresh green tea. Bizarre and already strangely summing up this mad road movie of a cycle ride. We were now so behind time we put the bikes on the car racks and drove up the mountain passes with the plan to let the boys free at the top to cycle down to Puzhehei. The weather had other ideas and we landed ourselves in an almighty thunder storm with torrential rain at the top of the pass which made cycling down dangerous, so we stayed together and finally arrived at our destination at 7pm and booked into a family run hotel where we stayed to eat freshly caught bass which was boiled served with rice, fried kidneys, soup and crayfish, helped down with beer and red wine! If we continue to have days like today we will have had a wonderful tour through the backroads of real beautiful rural China. Lets hope so.

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Detail about the area:

The Puzhehei Scenic Area is 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) northwest of Qiubei County Town, Wenshan Zhuang and Miao Minorities Autonomous Prefecture. As a typical karst landscape, the scenic area abounds in beautiful waters and green mountains which are very similar to and even prettier than those in Guilin. Therefore, Puzhehei is praised as being ‘a unique pastoral scene in China’.

‘Puzhehei’ in the Yi language, means ‘a pond teeming with fish and shrimp. With an area of 165 square kilometers (40,772 acres), the scenic area mostly consists of clusters of limestone peaks, karst caves and natural lakes.

Puzhehei Lake, an upland freshwater lake, stands in the center of this area. It is 1,310 acres of clear, sparkling water, and is called ‘Pearl Lake’ by the local people. About 70 lakes of different sizes link together to form a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) long tourist watercourse. 300 distinct peaks tower over crystal waters; some seem like elegant pagodas while others resemble penholders. Among the peaks there are more than 200 karst caves, of which about 80 large ones can be visited. In the deep, quiet caves, milky stalagmites grow thickly and steles stand in great numbers. Outside, the vast waters are dotted in summer with shining lotus flowers and boundless lotus leaves, enhancing the picturesque scenery.

Tourists can take a traditional canoe made by the Yi people to admire the stunning spectacle. Simple cottages in good condition, surrounded with cut bamboo, are situated by the lakes. Five ethnic minorities, the Yi, Zhuang, Miao, Yao and Sani, live nearby and preserve their old folk-customs and cultures. Away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, the Puzhehei Scenic Area offers people a fairyland with a tranquil environment and beautiful scenery.

There are neither banks nor ATMs in the scenic spot, so bring some small denomination cash.

Once reaching Puzhehei, the fantastic water fighting game cannot be missed. If you want to participate, you’ll need a plastic barrel, a one-off rain coat and a water gun. Also, cell phones, cameras and other electronic devices should be protected during the game.

To see the highlights video of Day Two click here:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/223641289

Day Three: Puzhehei to Bamei

After a hard night’s sleep (the mattress must have been a piece of wood) and a hearty breakfast of noodles, vegetables and tea we went forth to Bamei. Leaving the old and beautiful town of Puzhehei which we only found by chance having by mistake spent the night in the new tourist part that is under development,  we struggled through the congestion where because of a sticking peddle cleat John had his first ‘off’ and cut his knee – not a pretty site, but a repairable one. Matters improved as we found the empty countryside and over the cause of the morning ascended into beautiful rolling countryside along roads made for serious cyclists. We needed to find somewhere for lunch and ended up in a town called Zhulinzhen with probably the world’s worst high street road – it would have rightly appeared in Top Gear as the high street from hell! Whilst lunch was being prepared in a street open cafe John and i wandered up the road to watch two large card games being played for money, both of which paused as my camera and our size and euroness caused a stir. They thought they were on tv. Great lunch of fresh boiled fish, rice, stir fried meat and tea and off we went back into the countryside for the two boys to cycle up hill and down dale. We arrived in Bamei around 6pm to find our hotel for the night – at £7 a room with ensuite! Unfortunately the cave access to the old town was closed due to high water levels but hopefully we may get access tomorrow morning. So a great day through amazing karst scenery, finishing off with a classic chinese meal of fresh chicken, it still had feathers, in a tasty stock with rice, vegetables and spices complete with a bottle of red wine bought from the vineyard-by-the-road.

To view the highlights video of this amazing cycling day click here:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/223985729

 

Day Four: Bamei to Baise

Not much of a cycling image but one of a punt that takes you into the old village of Bamei through a long dark limestone tunnel which leads you into a hidden valley of green bamboos and ancient trees with green fields encased by the surrounding hills. Totally enchanting. So thats where we went straight after breakfast arriving about 0830 and being some of the first of the day to explore this beautiful and tranquil oasis.

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You are treated to the sounds and sight of hundreds of swallows as you enter the cave and you journey about 1.5kms through to the valley in almost darkness but you can make out the stalactites above. the people of the village are part of the Zhuang minority and appear to have a charmed life being totally self sufficient.

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A wonderful four hours away from the road. So the cycle ride of the day started at mid-day with a 7% 5 mile climb for the boys which they tackled with ease whilst Mark was exhausted just filming them! The cycling continued for about three hours stopping in Chengzhong for late lunch in a beef restaurant with one table that seats six and as you walk through the door you are confronted with a whole carcass of beef being slowly dissected by the owner depending on the customer’s wishes.

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Needless to say John had two pieces of steak whilst the rest of us have spicy beef stir fry with rice, beef stock and green leaf soup. We staggered out about an hour and a half later for the boys to continue their ride yet again ascending dizzy heights before the prize of a fast and curvaceous decent to the plains. After about two hours the bikes were laden onto the car and we drove to Baise arriving at 9pm. What a day, Yet again.

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To see the journey into the Shangri-La village of Bamei, the incredible cycling and the lunch in the one table beef restaurant, visit the video…

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/224220342

Day Five: Baise to Bama

This day’s cycling was supposed to be 112kms. Should be over before tea time. Tell us another.

We left the hotel in Baise after a mediocre breakfast. John was decidedly unhappy as there was no fresh milk and he had to raid his stash of Tetleys. He didn’t have dinner last night and his breakfast consisted two boiled eggs and a slice of water melon. Not the best diet for a chap about to cycle 80 miles. This will haunt him.

It takes us more than an hour to get out of Baise and find a decent road for the boys to cycle. We elected to find country roads which although hilly would give better cycling conditions and we could stop every 20kms to give drink and bits. This worked well for the first half of the morning’s ride, it was decided to find somewhere for lunch around 12 to help John replenish his carbs. By 11am he was having issues with his legs, they had lost all power and strength so a short break of mangos and bananas with plenty of water was consumed.

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We were in prime baby mango and peach country and as we travelled through this area we saw whole hillsides of mango trees with ripening fruit to be picked. Having tasted some from road side stalls they compete in taste with the grapes we a few days earlier. After three hours of arduous uphill cycling in high humidity the bikes were loaded onto their car racks and we went in search for lunch.

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We had veered off any sign of busy roads and were ambling through beautiful Guangxi countryside when we came across a small market town of Kunping, completely off the main maps and living in its own world. We parked up and went for a wander.

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The market stalls were still busy after their morning’s work and the place was bustling. Sang thought it a good idea to buy some fresh produce and he would persuade a canteen to give him use of their wok and burner. So he was filmed buying some liver, vegetables and beans for the fair and of course the big chap in the funny hat with his equally big video camera started to cause a following and before long the market place was full of children and their parents following us as we caught on camera the essence of the place. They of course had their mobile phones and were recording us recording them and this turned into a kind of joke. they were wanting us to film every stall and its vendor although the lady butchering the live ducks and chickens was too busy directing the blood into vessels to become a movie star… John bought some drinks from a vendor who then wanted a selfie with him. He then tried to buy six bananas from another stall which cause a bustle of ladies wanted to copy his words 1,2,3,4.5.6! Meanwhile Sang was creating in the kitchen and of course had to be filmed which again caused interest and laughter. We sat down to a great meal of duck, sauteed kidneys and beans, vegetables and noodles in stock washed down with Red Bull! We really think the community hadn’t seen people from Outside of China before, or probably outside of the county, it was so isolated and when we turned up looking like a film company doing location cooking they got very excited. Eventually we had to bid them goodbye and allow the boys to to some more up hill and down dale cycling which led us into deeper Guangxi country until we stumbled upon a major construction project extending the trans-China highway, and in this part of the world on stilts. Our road out of the area and towards Bama had been decimated by construction traffic and it took four hours to cover 30kms including 30mins digging the car out of mud and creating a surface for it to climb back onto something solid.

This is third world meeting 21st century head on with drama. An incredible sight which will be in evidence when we produce the video. The greatest evidence of China’s might, focus and affluence to build such colossal projects. it was breathtaking and at the same time gut wrenching to see it scar outstandingly beautiful countryside and settlements.

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We arrived at our hotel in Bama at 9pm. Today has been like no other. But that isn’t surprising as no other on this trip has been replicated. The wonderous journey continues.

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To view the high and low lights of the day caught on video go here:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/224608863

 

Day Six: Bama to Hechi

A quiet day. No dramas. Just the boys having a good cycle ride.

Breakfast in the hotel was a non event, there was nothing John could stomach so it was agreed to pack the car and go into town and find some grub that would give him energy. At the same time the car needed a good clean after its forestry trip of the previous day and petrol. So we spent a happy 30 mins strolling the shops and buying up cakes, fruit and hi energy (at least we think they are) drinks to consume along the way, and then we set off at about 0940.

The area is surrounded by the Phoenix mountains on the north west and the Fenging Mountains to the east, the road to Hechi cutting through the ranges giving us dramatic back drops and super cycling along excellent surfaces. The tallest mountain is 5,554ft so you can get an idea of the geology we were travelling through. The boys loved the cycling and devoured the kms arriving in Donglan for some much needed lunch.

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A very attractive town with a river running through its centre. The afternoon was a repeat of the morning, cycling mostly down through the valleys and soaking up the wonderful landscapes.

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As the driver and videographer wait during the cycling part of each day for the cycling duo to turn up at the end of each section we are normally close to a food outlet or shop, and is the case insects of all sizes gather to feed. Here is an example, this one is about 8cms in length seen this morning.

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The photo of the duck bus at the top of the page was taken in the petrol garage forecourt in Bama at the start of the day. I think the ducks had a one way ticket…

We drive into beautiful Hechi and have dinner in a goat restaurant. Excellent food and a fascinating evening. The owners of this posh restaurant wanted their photo taken with John and Mark and then the customers asked for the same! We were celebraties! We had beer and cigarettes offered, it is rude to say no, and there were many toasts. Really moving.

John and I have been travelling south west China now for 7 days.We have not seen another European or American. Wherever we go we cause warm interest. The Chinese are such generous lovely people.

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Day Six video can be watched via the following link. It purposely contains a 5 mins section caught on John’s head cam that captures the arduous and monotonous nature of a long ascent cyclists sometimes have to endure on their journeys, so bare with John! There is also exciting coverage of a long descent!

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/225202324

Day Seven: Hechi to Guilin

Day Seven turns out to be a transit day because of a mistake in the planning… John and Mark have it down as being a 120kms day when in fact it is over 300kms. So, we have to make a big decision, either to cut back on the cycling today or to move the destination closer to the departure. It was decided the former would win simply because if we stopped short of Guilin this would have a knock on effect for the remaining three days.

So, whilst Sang and Alex went to the bank in Hechi at opening time 9am, John and Mark went to the meat, fish and vegetable markets to spy the action which as always with such locations was colourful and vibrant.

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We left the town at 1015 and after about 30 mins gave the boys the opportunity to cycle which they did for about 30kms. Then it was full stream for Guilin stopping at Yizhou for lunch. We used the motorway to cover ground and by about 1230 found ourselves in Yizhou and had a great meal of beef and potato stew, rice, beans, parsnips and vegetable soup.

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Back in the car we hit the motorway again and travelled for a further three hours before arriving at the beautiful city of Guilin, considered to be the pearl of China’s tourist industry helped by its stunning landscapes of strangely shaped hills and karsts, crystal clear waters and wonderful caves. Unfortunately I don’t think time will allow us to savour its charms.

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But we did note a Macdonalds AND a Burger King on the way to the city centre hotel where some of us will spend time both for dinner and the following day’s breakfast.

The link below takes you to a video of John Talking about his journey of the first six days:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/223090011

…and the link below takes you to a video of a trip around the market at Hechi followed by a little of the trip to Guilin:

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/226216670

Day Eight: Guilin to Yangshuo

At last the boys could do some serious miles on their bikes today. We hit the road around nine thirty after John and Mark had had breakfast in the Macdonalds across the main square from the hotel and managed to negotiate a way out of this vast and beautiful city towards Yangshuo. Having reached the countryside Sang and Alex had designed a route to take the boys off the main roads and through the countryside and its villages without the large trucks and buses to make life difficult. This was perfect cycling. Almost flat, with bountiful market gardens on either side with rice, vegetables and fruit growing in healthy and large numbers. Along the way the small villages were being added to by new university campuses as Guilin expands. These complexes are possibly no more than a few years old and their infrastructure hasn’t been updated to the on-line maps. This led to issues with navigation as the satnav in the car would say that a road exists to a certain village only to find when we got there that the junction no longer remains. This is no great problem for a car as we can simply drive a mile or two down the road and find a new way in, but it adds to the workload of the cyclists who get a little upset riding up and down a new road waiting for the car to decide the next direction to take!

Lunch was had at about 1230 and as you can see from the image John has started an interest in being bi-lingual!

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The afternoon cycling was much the same as the morning, going in and out of hamlets and villages and through rolling countryside surrounded by karst mountains. In the middle of a quiet side street in a small town called Jixiang we could hear music coming from one of the shops and here was a barber having a quiet few minutes playing his two stringed Erhu instrument with a snake skin sound box beside his 100 year old barbers chair. We listened to his perfect performance with wonder and awe. This is what we wanted to see of old China. Perfect.

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We arrived in Yangshuo at 7pm and found a hotel overlooking the river as the sun was starting to set. What a perfect day.

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You can see the video of the day’s conversations and an erhu being played here!

https://vimeopro.com/nonesuchemedia/gonecycling/video/228536948