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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The secret to cycling in China and deriving enjoyment from doing so has taken the best part of seven weeks to sink in. That is of course down to my own stubbornness in not wanting to use public transport and believing I have to cycle everywhere. China is too big for that and the terrain does not reward your efforts across the huge distances involved. I now wish I had taken the bus or train and enjoyed the cycling more nearer the main destinations, instead of being at the point of exhaustion when cycling through the real highlights, of which the roads around the rice terraces certainly were.

More climbing, but what beautiful scenery.

Once I’d left Kunming and got out from the surrounding construction sites, trucks and dust, the riding was simply sublime. The road surfaces generally were good quality and as I got further away from the main towns the traffic improved (relatively – still way too much for my liking) with the better air quality definitely helping my breathing. I was still climbing more than was comfortable for my sore legs and having to camp on some of the longer climbs, but now I had ample rewards for the hard work.

It was warming up in the mountains.

The weather was a big improvement on what had gone before, with no sign of snow and daytime temperatures warm enough to ride in short sleeves, although I still needed to cover up on the cooling descents. Yuanyang itself is actually split into two, the new town of Nansha lies in the valley while the old town of Xinjie (and real start of the terraces) lies 30 kilometres up the mountain.

The sun had it’s hat on!

As I approached the main area for the rice terraces (around Xinjie) I was stopped at an official checkpoint and asked to pay the ‘viewing fee’ of 100 Yuan (about $20). I genuinely didn’t have enough money on me and explained I would pay at the guest house as it states on the website they will add this charge to your bill, but that was not acceptable and the guard pointed me towards the ATM alongside the ticket office. Of course it was not in service and my plea that I had just spent four hours climbing the hillside to get here was ignored as he turned me away. Fortunately one of the bosses came over and had the sense to call the guest house to check they would indeed take payment for the ticket. I was finally let through.

The rice terraces around Qingkou

There are designated areas and viewing platforms for the more popular terraces of Bada, Mengpin (also called Laohuzui) Quangfuzhuang and Duoyishu, but there are also ample places to photograph the terraces from (only one of the photographs here was taken from a viewing platform) with Duoyishu being the most popular as this is where the main guest houses are located.

Roadside view, near Bada

It was getting late in the afternoon by the time I reached Duoyishu and began the search for the Sunny guest house, with no luck in doing so. I did however find the Yuanyang International Youth Hostel fairly easily (it’s a four storey building) only to be informed they were fully booked up. Directions were given to Sunny’s which was further down in the village down a series of steps – not bike friendly at all. After negotiating them all I still could not reach my destination (with the bike) due to new paths being laid and gave up as it was getting dark, eventually camping on a hillside overlooking the town.

Long shadows as I make my way to Duoyishu.

Wild camping is much easier in the rural areas of China and I have had no difficulty finding places to camp once away from the bigger towns. Finding privacy is another matter entirely, with the locals keen to investigate my makeshift camp site and watch me cook my evening meal. After having one of my water bottles stolen, my bags are now taken off the bike and placed inside the tent, with the bike placed under the awning and locked.

Rice Terraces near Duoyishu.

Next morning I returned to the youth hostel (as instructed) to see if they had any vacancies and was asked to wait and see if a lady returned to check out. As it was an opportunity to use their WIFI and check my emails I sat around for an hour before being told their was only the more expensive (90 Yuan = $15) rooms available, which although I was keen to take, was beyond my meagre budget (I’m being very frugal out of necessity). I decided to spend the rest of the day exploring then make my way back to Yuanyang (Nansha), where a cheap room could be had for 30 Yuan. Here are some more pictures from my visit to the terraces:

The rice terraces of Yuanyang

The rice terraces of Yuanyang

The rice terraces of Yuanyang

Although I had not managed to get the sunrise shots I was hoping for (two out of every three days the mists obscure the valley) I was pleased with the results and enjoyed the ride back down the mountain. A reminder (if needed) to take care was given when I passed yet another accident where a mini bus had hit a moped rider and it looked like another fatality. A sad note to end my trip to the terraces.

Managing to find the cheap room ($5) in Yuanyang I was grateful for the hot shower, local street food and clean bedding. With the slow (but workable) internet I would do my blog update the next morning before checking out and making my way to Honghe via the small town of Gejiu. I’ve no idea what lies ahead on this road as I make my way towards the border with Vietnam, but that’s what makes the trip ‘interesting.’ A quick update on my health: I’ve picked up yet another stomach bug which might explain my aching muscles and overall weakness, but I’m taking things easy if somewhat slow. Thankfully I have time to do so as I don’t enter Vietnam until the 4th February.

Finally a message for my good friend Clive (and others). As I know you are returning to Kyrgyzstan please update yourself on the latest situation there, Stefan (our snow leopard conservation friend) has posted the following on Facebook:  “Very bad incident in Kyrgyzstan in the border zone with China: 11 (Uyghur speratist?) bandits took Kyrgyz hunting guide as hostage while the American hunting tourist escaped. The next events are not clear but it seems that the Kyrgyz was killed and later border guards killed all the intruders.”

OK that’s it for now, next update when I can get a signal – maybe in Vietnam!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 8:27 am

Oh Derek, I wish I could give you some financial support but I am, like yiu, watching my very carefully managed budget. If I can, I will. (that reminded me of Thomas the Tank Engine – ah, the joys of having children and the even greater joy of their having left home!!).

    Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Andrew, having your best wishes is good enough for me. As I get nearer to travelling to Canada then it’s time to worry, but I’m sure things will work out.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Interesting entry and great shots as always. Viewing fee for the rice terraces?? Sounds opportunistic.
I share that stubbornness in refusing to use public transport and like to go under my own steam. It feels ‘greener’. Vietnam next? I plan to cycle there next year. Your advice and views will be very welcome. Hope your stomach bug does not cause any further problems.

    Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:39 am

    The ‘viewing fees’ are now handled by an official company, it’s a very slick set-up and everyone entering the area (there is only one road in and out) are charged – the only exception I noticed was the tour buses were exempted. I assume the ‘guests’ have already paid the tour company for the tickets. As for Vietnam, I’m looking frward to it, I’ll keep you updated!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Your eyes have seen some wonderful things. Well wishes.

    Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:35 am

    Thank you Tim

Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Derek, I used to be a purist and insist on riding every inch of the way. But then I realized I wasn’t setting any world records and my travel time is limited. So why not enjoy a higher percentage of the travel time? Now I do think you need to struggle throught the hard parts to better appreciate the good parts, a downhill without having climbed up the other side just isn’t as enjoyable to me. But riding in miserable weather through a boring landscape for extended periods of time seems like a waste of a good biketrip to me. Tailwinds!

    Friday, January 31, 2014 at 4:34 am

    I love climbing when there is a point to it, but cycling up a 48 km climb (with no significant views) and finding you can’t (safely) enjoy the descent was just another reason for me to find I wasn’t enjoying the cycling as I normally would. Having said that I’m extremely tired, there has just been too much climbing and I feel very sore. I need a rest from China’s climbs and I will take this when I hit the beaches in Vietnam!

matt Newton
Friday, January 31, 2014 at 2:57 pm

So good to read about your trip. I hope to follow in your path from UK in the coming months. Great tips on the visas BTW.

    Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Good to have you following Matt. If I can help with anything, please just ask.


Ian . A
Friday, January 31, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Hip Derek,
Almost feel as if I am there with you look after yourself

Ian . A

    Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Hi Ian,

    Good to hear from you. Send me an email with all your news please!


      Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      Which e-mail?

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