Link to interactive route map for China here.
In hindsight, Xining was a fine city to wait in for a visa extension. We enjoyed some western creature comforts, made plans for Christmas and casually toured some of the local sights. 7 days became 10 but finally we received new visas with 30 extra days. That sounds like a lot of days, but when one considers the thought of cycling to Laos from where we had waited, 2700km is a long way to pedal. Especially given the gradients of a Tibetan region and the heat of southern Yunnan.
China Part 3 video
First, some photos from the section between Urumqi and Xining:
Strolling around the Jiaohe ruins near Turpan
Arriving at the oasis of our hostel after a hot day of riding through the Turpan depression
Mural in Turpan wine valley
Fully loaded and ready to roll out of Turpan with our big bag of snacks on the back
Singing sand dunes in Dunhuang. Loads of tourists but there is actually plenty of space for everyone. Really enjoyed it.
Fort in Jiayuguan
Westernmost point of the Great Wall. Just outside Jiayuguan
Rainbow mountains in Zhangye
The first few days heading southeast from Xining were pretty smooth going. Some long foggy climbs and some busy truck filled roads, but this was China and progress waits for no man. We enjoyed the thrills and spills of high altitude passes and the more sedate monestaries and people. Yaks were everywhere and we felt a long way from Tashkent now. One day as we entered a high valley the skies turned black and a freezing deluge followed. From what had been high teens celsuis to a few degrees and truly bitter. Shaking uncontrollably with locked joints we huddled under a roof for a while wrapped in all the materials we could find in order to thaw out. It was pretty dangerous looking back really, flying down a mountain in thunder and lightning, but all the while we were making progress and the stifling Uzbek desert seemed a world away. A day or two southeast of Xiahe near Langmusi we passed an airport and, in jest, I suggested flying far enough south to avoid the problems of relying on public transport at the back end of our 30 days, which would be slap bang in the middle of golden week. I'd read about this national holiday before but had not thought that it would affect us with our own means of transport. However, it fast became clear that cycling out of China in time before our single visa extension permitted was very unlikely. So pre-empting full buses, trains and planes, during the largest annual human migration on the planet, we took a short hop via Chengdu to Lijiang in Yunnan province.
Old and new in Xining
Nice park at the top of a hill in Xining
Finally trying out our tripod and getting a pic of us together for once!
Not exactly expert with the camera timer yet
Labrang monastery at dusk
The coldest descent from a pass ever. Soaked through, hailstones and freezing wind. We took shelter under some scaffolding and put on all the layers we could grab. Matthew even used the bike cover to try and stop his teeth chattering. Not pleasant.
Approaching the top of another pass on the Tibetan plateau
Yunnan was a different world. It felt more lush and colourful compared to the stark beauty of the plateau. We saw western tourists for the first time in months and we were pleasantly surprised by some of the old towns and our thrilling hike of Tiger Leaping Gorge. After a few days of being regular tourists we got back on the road, zooming down some provincial highways which suddenly became an expressway. This was not on our maps nor was it on satellite views, which in any other country would have been a bit eerie, but here in China it was just another one of those things which didn't make sense. We were happy enough though to have had a gentler gradient up into a mountain range and therefore made good progress to the lakeside town of Dali. We had a great night out and even managed a night club with some far-too-experimental Dub-Trap stuff which I couldn't fathom, but we had fun nonetheless. The next day was a write-off so we enjoyed fry-up breakfasts, pizzas and good coffee. We eventually continued on south through fairly nondescript scenery for a few days and then towards Pu'er. Another city that wasn't on the map or had another name. My bike's bottom bracket gave up on me and a worrysome 36 hours of visits to mechanics began. It ended well though and a few days later we found ourselves forced to enter Jinghong city due to enforcement of no bikes on highways. That was a lovely city. Very, very hot but there was life there. Next day, we followed the Mekong (or Lancang as it's called in China) and edged closer and closer to Laos with a few days to spare on our visas. Phew- what a stressful country China is to bike tour in for so many reasons. One being that Matthew was constantly suffering with mysophonia (it is a real thing). We always knew that China was necessary if we were to ride the world. Well all I can say is thank goodness it's done, and I sure do hope I never have to visit again. We knew China would throw up one last surprise for us and it did . The day we arrived in Laos we started feeling unwell and it is only now, some two weeks later that we are starting to feel normal again. A virus had wiped us out.
Lots of bicycle-themed decoration in Lijiang
Fried rice inside a pineapple at the food market in Lijiang- looked great but was only ok and was overpriced
This couple asked us to be in their wedding pics
Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge on a rest day from the bikes
Starting to get more humid on the route from Lijiang to Dali
Best pineapples ever!!!
Sightseeing in Dali after a great night out
Getting more tropical as we approach the Loas border
Link to interactive route map for China here.