First a few words about Mongolia. We ended up spending a month in this vast and lovely country, which was very challenging physically but well worth it. All the beauty of both the landscape and the people that we have come across would be enough for a whole lifetime. The food was disgusting but we were not starving… lived on peanuts quite a few days though… 😉 Anyway after weeks living of peanuts we came to a town called Tsetserleg where we had some delicious food then in Mongolia’s capital city, Ulaanbaatar which also had very nice restaurants so we managed to put on some weight again. After Ulaanbaatar we headed for the Gobi desert in the direction of the Chinese border. The road became worse the closer we got to the border but not as bad as we had experienced earlier in Mongolia. We had a couple of nights camping in the Gobi desert, which was magical with stunning sunsets and with the tranquillity that I worship so very much. I must admit that it was not only a positive experience but also a scary moment. One night I woke up to some non describable noises. I peeked through the tent’s opening and saw a lot of floating lights coming towards the tent and it looked really peculiar and for a few seconds I thought they were aliens coming to get me, ok, I know, I got carried away again but when you’re out there in the middle of nowhere it is rather easy to imagine things. However I soon realised that the lights did not come from aliens instead they were from a whole bunch of lorries driving on the bumpy road far away so nothing exciting really and I am still on the planet earth and Anders eventually managed to stop laughing….
If I got the question whether I would like to go back to Mongolia again? the answer would definitely be yes, but it would be on a much smaller motorbike.
5413km (3363 miles) through China
We have now crossed China, which is another enormous country we travelled through. We travelled from the north to the south and we have seen so many different landscapes of this country. Everything from the desert in the north, through the mountain with passes up to 3400m with beautiful sceneries to the rainforest in the south. We have mainly done it on small winding roads as it is not allowed to ride motorcycles on motorways and highways in China. The roads have in generally been good, with exception of several road works after the earthquakes and mudslides. After some days on the road without shower we looked like this 😉
Unfortunately we had to travel with a guide and in a group and the reason for that is that no one is allowed to travel through China on their own motorbikes that are not registered in the country. We travelled with a group because that brought down the expenses by sharing the cost of a guide. We met up with the group, that we had come in contact with through Horizons Unlimited, on the Mongolian side of the border and then crossed the border together. It was a group of nine people, which came from different countries. There were five motorbikes, one of them with a sidecar and a car. I was the only woman riding a bike, while the other three women in the group were either pillion riders or in the car. At the Chinese border we met up with the guide who helped out with the paperwork. Crossing the border from Mongolia to China wasn’t that bad except that we had to wait overnight to get custom clearance of the motorbikes in Erenhot.
After that we did two wild camping in Inner Mongolia (in China) before we came to Beijing. When riding into Beijing it started to rain and I mean a very heavy rain. After only a short while we were riding in 20 centimetres deep water, were soaking wet and the guide couldn’t find a hotel… However, at this moment we were so excited of riding a motorcycle into Beijing so Anders and me were singing ‘ I’m singing in the rain’ together over the intercom.
I am not much of a fan of big cities but Beijing was actually one city that both Anders and me liked. We only spent two days in Beijing which is far too little time for that city but hey, this is a good reason for going back to visit again. However, we had a stop to visit the Great Wall on the way there, which I’ve always wanted to see. Unfortunately we only had two hours for that so we didn’t have a chance to walk on the wall very far. At this point, after only a few days travelling in a group, I already started realise that this is going to be one of these stressful guided tours I’ve heard of but never experienced myself. We also visited the Summer Palace, which was a nice place, but absolutely crowded with tourists, which is something I just can’t stand. Not sure why I find it so hard to be in such places but I always feel stupid walking around with my camera with thousands of others. Luckily the guide didn’t force us to wear the same hats, which I could see a lot of other groups had to do and he didn’t use one of these megaphones when telling us something. When thinking about it, he never told us anything anyway so I guess he didn’t need one…. The day after we had a lovely day, just the two of us, walking around in Beijing. I managed to get the screen on my iPhone replaced, which broke when I dropped the phone in Russia a couple of months earlier. First I went into the Apple store but they said they couldn’t fix it and no one else in China would be able to do it as they have a different size of the screen in China…. That turned out to be a big fat lie as when I crossed the road and went into the Samsung shop they replaced it within ten minutes, naughty Apple store that only wanted to sell me a new mobile phone.
We walked around in the food market and took some pictures on, yes let say, some really disgusting food. There were spiders, worms, snakes, massive balls, scorpions, etc., etc. However, in one way I am rather impressed that the Chinese people eat everything and ashamed of that we in the west world only eat the nice pieces and throw away the rest. Overall both Anders and I kept to the vegetarian food, which was delicious.
Travel through China with a complete useless guide
After about three weeks of travelling through China in a group with the guide, Anders and me managed to get away and travel just the two of us and it has made the journey through China worthwhile. We only regret that we didn’t do this much earlier. So why didn’t we find travelling in the group that good? First of all the guide we had was completely useless. He was called Franky but that was not his real name. He was quite rude, couldn’t read a navigator, had the worst breath ever and gave us time after time incorrect information. The guide also dropped a few rasist comments such as when we were camping next to a road and a woman from an ethnic minority group came toward us. She said something to us but the guide told us ‘Do not talk to her she is dirty. We, Chinese people do not talk to these people as they are dirty.’ I think this was the point when I thought, fuck him, I’m not listening to this guy any more. Also travelling in a group can be difficult especially when we have different interests. Some people are only interested in tourist places whereas Anders and me prefer to avoid these as much as possible. People have different interests and I guess there are no such things as right and wrong. When we were just the two of us we had time to make stop and interact and photograph people.
When travelling by ourselves we actually had time to interact with the local people, stop and feel, smell and take in a bit of China. The night before we were supposed to leave the city Lijiang to go to Shangri-La I had an upset stomach (not too bad really ;). We talked to the guide and he said that we could stay an extra day in the city Lijiang and then ride down the about 200 km to the town Dali and join up with the group again. In the morning when the group left I must admit that I was perfectly fine but used a white lie and said that I was still poorly and couldn’t go with the group. So Anders and me stayed and we had a very nice relaxing day in Lijiang.
The day after we rode down to the city Dali. It was a nice ride and we stopped wherever we liked and for as long as we wanted. We had a very nice lunch at a tiny restaurant in a village and with just the two of us we got a completely different contact with the local people and the food was a lot cheaper when the guide didn’t was involved.
Dali was another touristy city but a lot more relaxed. We stayed at a The Jade Emu guesthouse owned by an Australian guy, which was a very cool place (highly recommended). At this place there were a mix of Chinese and international guests, some live there permanently and some were just there, like us, for a few days. The food there was to die for and we met such a nice bunch of people. It was quite funny actually as we met one guy living there who was from Macclesfield where we have lived for eight years, one from Liverpool, and one from Manchester where we have spent a lot of time. There was also a Swedish young man, Ludvig, who we were very impressed with. He lived in Dali with his Chinese wife and their little son. He spoke Chinese fluently and told us a lot about China and its culture. We learned more from him in a short time than we learnt from the guide over the last three weeks.
After being in Dali Anders and me actually managed to escape the group once again by just riding ahead and taking other routes so next time we saw the group was at the border. So to sum up, we had some really good time.
There were a few problems with the bikes during the trip.
Anders bike broke down Friday the 13th and he had to replace the fuel pump in Xi’an and the day after he got a puncture but he sorted that out in a blink of an eye thanks to good training at the Touratech event in Säfsen, Sweden. The motorcycle with the sidecar had an electrical problem with the generator, which took some time to sort out. Another day the same bike got problem with the light and then later on some trouble with the carburettor. One motorbike had problem with the shock absorber and also oil leaking from the fork, which forced the guy to ride very slow and carefully when the road was bumpy. He was a pretty good rider so he caught up with us as soon as the road got better so he didn’t make any delays. Two days before leaving China this bike had some electrical problem and just died so they had to tow it over the border. I just heard it is sorted now here in Laos, which was very good news. One guy, got his helmet stolen and a few days later the same guy lost his jacket with passport, lots of money, mobile phone, credit card etc., which was a real disaster for him as he needed to travel to Beijing to sort it out.
These incidents together with the car that drove very slow especially when on bendy roads (the average speed wasn’t more than than 30 km/h) made us have to extend the time in China with four days. And you can imagine the frustration of riding this slow on nice mountain roads…. And this comes from me that, at the time, was not a very fast rider on winding roads….
Mixed feelings when leaving China
Anders and me left China with mixed feelings after spending over a month riding from north to south. One part of me fell in love with China and its very friendly people and one part of me hated the way they treat their animals. We have seen lorries so full of pigs that half of them were probably dead before they arrived to places where they were going to be slaughtered. I have seen pigs with eyes so full of fear that it made my eyes water and I have promised myself to never eat pork again… Another thing that I found really disturbing was the way people were spitting everywhere and I don’t mean a normal spit, no the one when it sounds like a person with an advanced lung cancer trying to get rid of all snot and phlegm and spit it in my direction, I was terrified that it would hit my feet.
However, China is definitely one of the most interesting countries I have been to and the time spent there has made me very eager to get back and learn more about the culture. Something that surprised me was that China didn’t feel that crowded that I had expected with its about 1.34 billion people. Not even in Beijing it felt crowded. It actually feels much more crowded in Manchester than it did in Beijing.
It was also stupid cheap in China. Though we were camping quite a few times we also stayed in very cheap hotels and guesthouses. The cheapest was when Anders and me were travelling by ourselves and stayed in the town Lincang. The cost for the hotel room was only £6 (60kr). This made us wonder if the guide hadn’t made himself a little bit of money on the side when booking our hotel room earlier… In this town we went out for a nice meal in the evening and the cost of that was less than £3 (less than 30kr) and that was for three different dishes, two plates of rice and two large bottles of beer and that was for both of us.
To sum up, China has a completely different culture than I am used to, which I found very interesting but also frustrating as I have not had the time to understand it entirely… actually I have not had the time to understand it at all. Not only is the Chinese language very difficult to understand, both speaking and written but also the body language is completely different. In most countries I have been to before I have found it easy to use body language to connect with people but in China it has been nearly impossible. Also to be aware of is that what we from Europe think is ‘normal’ might not be ‘normal’ for Chinese people and vice a versa. And all this makes it so bloody interesting to travel in other countries and cultures.
Below are some random photos from China
I start with this photo as this is my absolute favourite. This boy who had a huge amount of energy and loved to entertain us by jumping around with a big smile. I managed to get this shot which I actually love.
The Great Wall