A trip from Tokyo to Hanoi

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In October and November 2000, I am traveling in China. From Macau, I hope to cycle to Guangzhou (Canton), Yangshuo and Guilin.

china.jpg - 32 kB Hong Kong
In the evening of 24 October I arrive in Hong Kong. With a bus I go to Kowloon, which is central Hong Kong. Travel on a bicycle is easier than travel with a (boxed) bicycle. I find it impossible to carry a huge box and two pieces of luggage and a front wheel, so I call a cab to transport me (and the luggage) for 500 meters. The next day I arrange for a new visa for China. I applied for one in the Netherlands already, but it expired on the 7th of October. Hong Kong is a lot of shopping, many people and high buildings. Not a good place for a cyclist. I stock up on some books and CD-ROMS (learn Mandarin). The next day I do some more sightseeing, collect my visa and leave this big city as soon as possible to take a boat to Macau. I can fully live through my suicidal tendencies, as I ride my bicycle in Hong Kong rush hour from the hotel to the pier. Being on my bicycle again, and breaking a lot of traffic rules, it feel great freedom again.

Customs looks weird in Macau, when I roll my bike into the building, but they give me no problems. After showing some disinterest to a hotel offer, the price goes down to an acceptable level. My bike is loaded into a van, and we drive to the hotel, when my bike is safely stored in my own room. Macau is a more relaxed place than Hong Kong and the Portuguese influence is still very dominating. Street signs are in Portuguese and Chinese. Macau has a lot of catholic churches, buddhist temples and relaxing gardens. The place is small enough to explore on foot. That evening I find that Macau has other attractions as well. Most people know the gambling already. The Lisboa Casino has three floors with gambling games and a number of private VIP gambling clubs as well. Not that obvious but still very present are the prostitutes. I decline both attractions, just looking is enough.

my_bicycle.jpg - 20 kB On the 28th of October, I prepare for the worst and hope for the best as I enter China. It turns out easier than expected to cross the border with my bicycle. Customs and Immigration seem to show more interest in my strange and unusual passport. Once in China, I am a major object of interest to the people, who stare at me very frequently. The language barrier is also very high, as almost nobody speaks English. Once again I am saved by my phrasebook and the only person in town who seems to speak English. He shows me to a hotel where I check in. The room is huge and the price is high, but due to a fair everything seems to be full. My dinner consist of Cantonese style cooking: cutting an animal into peaces and preparing it with a sauce. The removal of bones is done while dining at the table using your mouth, teeth and the chopsticks. I think I had chicken and fish but I am not sure.

The next day I cycle to Guangzhou (Canton). The road is busy with a lot of traffic. Anybody thinking that cycling is healthy, forget it. With all the old cars, busses and other unidentified objects on wheels, the exhaust fumes are very bad. Together with the dust, they make me puge at one time, so I continue with a towel over my mouth and nose. When I try to find my way in Guangzhou, a very friendly Chinese person guides me to my Youth Hostel. In Guangzhou I try to arrange for a boat to Wuzhou, only to find that yet another boat service is cancelled (like Taiwan-Macau and Nagasaki-Shanghai). In the Youth Hostel I meet Tanja and Stefan, two long distance cyclists from Switzerland. The get me excited for cycling in China again after all the dust and smoke on the road.

Instead of a boat, I load my bike on a bus and travel to Wuzhou, far away from the big cities. Things in China change fast. The first hotel I try to find from my guidebook has been torn down, the next one is not open to foreigners anymore. I am pretty surprised as a lady guides me to a hotel and she speaks a couple of words Dutch. A lot of Dutch people seem to come here.

bicycle.jpg - 10 kB When cycling from Wuzhou to Taiping, I feel like I am in the old China again, lots of ricefield, farmers guiding their waterbuffalo or harvesting the rice by hand. It is a beautiful scenery to cycle through. When I stop for lunch in a small village, half of the village gathers to see what is happening. I attract a lot of attention, and so does my bike. After lunch I continue and suddenly see two fancy bikes parked near an small cafe. Two Dutch cyclists are having their lunch. They have a small book with a route description and locations for hotels, make by a Dutch travel organization. We talk a little Dutch before continuing. Finding a hotel keeps a challenge in China. The first hotel doesn't take foreigners, but they point me into a direction. I recognize one of the two characters for the word "hotel", the building has a desk, so I enter. As soon as I enter, I seen there is no way to pass the desk, there are bars as well and a currency sign on the wall: I have entered a bank. The next "hotel" I find turns out to be a real hotel. As soon as the staff finds out I am from Holland, they shout "Football", "very good" and "Cruijf". A little outdated, but still very impressive.

The staff guides me to the kitchen of the hotel restaurant, where I can choose some ingredients. Rice, some vegetables and chicken. The chicken still needs to be cut, and the cook shows with his knife a peace of the chicken. One fifth is enough for me. I expect to get fried rice with vegetables and chicken, but in the fried rice, I cannot discover any of the vegetables or the chicken. A few minutes later I get the vegetables, a whole plate of them. I am getting a little nervous about the chicken. When it is served, I get the whole chicken, cut in five peaces and the head of the chicken proudly presented on the same plate. I am totally stuffed when I finish and my wallet is a little more empty than I had expected.

During breakfast in Taiping, an older man invites me to join their group at breakfast. I get offered a drink, but as soon as I taste it, I feel the alcohol burning. This is not good, 7:30 in the morning with 80KM of cycling to go. The next toast, I only wet my lips. From Taiping I cycle north. Just a I think "this is the total China experience", beautiful landscape, schoolchildren running along with me, I meet another Dutch couple cycling. They must have thought the same, as we only briefly exchange to practical hotel information.
In Mengshan, I manage to step into a hairdressers shop, when looking for a hotel. At dinner I meet some young Chinese people who speak a little English. They too are great soccer fans and have almost up to date information on Ajax and Davids (the guy with the glasses). I join in with one of their card games, and this is great fun, even though other communication is difficult.

Welcome to "Tourist Land". When cycling from Mengshan to Yangshou, the landscape slowly changes from hill to beautiful limestone karst peaks with bizarre forms. In one hours I see more foreigners walking around here, then I have seen on my whole trip through Japan, Taiwan and China so far. I stay in Yangshou for two days, catching up on email, writing postcards and cycling through small villages around Yangshou. The drawback of "Tourist Land" is "Rip-off", where you are charged more and have to bargain for everything. As I park my bike with an old man, he charges me 1 Yuan (USD 0.12) for guarding my bicycle. When I return and pay he has a great grin on his face, when I find out it would only have costed 0.2 Yuan. There's no point in bargaining or getting mad here. dirt_road.jpg - 17 kB On the 7th of November, I cycle from Yangshou to Guilin. First I cycle to Xingping, where I get on a boat with other tourist. The Li River has some of the most beautiful limestone karst peaks and this is good for a lot of pictures. Most people go back on the same boat, but a couple of people want to get off at Yangti, to continue to Guilin. My hotel assured me it was no problem, but our little group is dumped almost in the middle of nowhere. First I have to drag my bicycle over a field of rocks, then carry it over a small hill and along footpaths, before reaching a ferry that can bring us to Yangti, on the other side of the river. In cases like this it is good to remember TIC - This Is China.

In Guilin I take another day off. Looking at some limestone karst mountains in the middle of town and some shopping. The largest department store still shows some lack of efficiency and a very good way to keep people with some kind of job. When I buy something, I get a receipt and a copy of the receipt by one lady. With both papers I have to go to a cashier and pay. She takes the receipts, marks the copy and gives me a new receipt. Then I go back to the first lady, hand over the marked copy of the first receipt and then I finally have my item.

Guilin to Nanning
Guilin is the most northern point that I reach in China. With a wind coming from the North, it is pretty cold. In the morning I have to wear my raincoat to keep warm, and gloves would have been nice as well. My map doesn't have the detail I need to easily find my way out of a city. The first kilometers I cycle along a highway. With a very smooth road and little traffic, I make a lot of kilometers. Suddenly I end up at the airport of Guilin. This is the end of the highway and I have to continue on a hard to find backroad. I spend the night in a very small town, with very basic (but cheap) accomodation. I am the hero of some schoolchildren and they ask me to sign their English books with my name. As a bonus I give the "Holland" in Chinese, the only Chinese I can write. The main road to Liuzhou is under construction. People are working on the road over a stretch of 40KM, instead of finishing one part and continuing on the next. This makes me understand why some people prefer a mountainbike for trips like this.
chongzou.jpg - 9 kB The last few days I have had the same noodles for breakfast and lunch every day. I never though that I would long for a good bowl of rice someday. In a bigger town I stop at a restaurant and order something by pointing at some interesting looking characters on their menu, and at a bowl of rice. Cycling with a full stomach might not be the best thing to do, but I feel very satisfied.
Finding a hotel in small cities is easier than finding one in large cities. Small cities only have one or two hotels. Bigger cities have many hotels. A lot of them are off limits to foreigners, who are expected to stay at the more expensive hotels. This is one of the reasons why I do not stay in Nanning, the capital of the Guangxi province, but continue a little further. My attention is drawn by some kind of touristic looking place. I check in at the hotel and two staff members give me a tour. First to a park, where over a hundred special kind of trees were growing. Next to two buildings, that are opened up especially for me. The first one is a large indoor paintball hall, with a caste, jungle and all the sounds that come with it. The next building contains scenes from various chinese stories. I have no clue what the stories are about, but getting a private tour is pretty cool.

Nanning - Pingxiang
After cycling 100KM, I still have 40 to go to the next larger village. This will be too much for one day, so I ask for a hotel in a very small town. Here I get a very basic room for 1 dollar. The shared bathroom contains a shower, which is a watertap at 1.8m height. In Chongzou I visit a beautiful and bizarre stone forest, as well as a famous leaning pagoda. On my way back I stop in front of a school for five minutes. The teachers cannot hold their children in the class as this opportunity to see a foreigner is too exciting for them. The first part of the road from Chongzou to Pingxiang is gravel or sometimes very small rock. It is very hard to get through and when a car passes there is a lot of dust. In Pingxiang I treat myself to a nice hotel (with bath!), so get rid of all the dust and to celebrate my last night in China. From here it is only 18 KM to the border with Vietnam.

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