China | Hong Kong - Lijiang - Dali - Kunming | 4th to 23rd August 2015 | 12223km
We’re conscious that we’re referring to going on ‘holiday’ when essentially on one big jolly, but it was our families summer holiday, which they’d chosen to come and spend with us, in China. As soon as we decided that we were going to try and ride all the way home we'd hatched a plan to meet up with family en route instead, giving us a target to aim for since leaving Singapore. We couldn't believe we'd cut it so fine getting to Kunming - 12 hours after ditching our bikes and 6 hours after Luke finished his last whiskey whilst 'testing out' his newly loaned extra warm sleeping bag, we were in a taxi on the way to the airport, windows firmly down.
Once we'd made it to Luke's friend Hugo's cozy Hong Kong apartment we promptly spent a full day in bed, as all the guide books recommend, feeling the effects of the past two weeks riding. Next day we only waited 5 minutes at the airport shuttle platform before seeing four familiar faces and, once the barriers had been negotiated, lots of hugging ensued. It helped massively to have Hugo to guide us around the organised chaos of Hong Kong’s different districts, islands, Big Buddhas, beaches, boats rides, temples, markets and skyscrapers. A good introduction to Asia for the family as it had all the madness and intrigue of the far East, but balanced out by some hangovers from the British occupation. Topped off with the incredible view of it all from The Peak.
Flew out to Lijiang, back in the Yunnan province, fresh air and a jump to high altitude. The area is famed for it’s traditional ‘old towns’, charming for their cobbled streets, waterways and ornate wooden buildings, are now essentially mini theme parks. Once the first tour bus rolls in, they become increasingly less enchanting viewed with thousands of others being marshalled around in golf buggies, waging battle with selfies sticks and filling up the karaoke bars. They are absolutely worth seeing but, we felt, are struggling to maintain much authenticity. To deepen the experience everyone got ill, the main suspect being the previous evenings local specialty hot pot - a cook/boil your own affair, with a selection of locally sourced seasonal mushrooms. After the Hong Kong high life it was fun to show the family the ‘real China' we’d experienced, both good and bad; the interpretive road rules experienced from inside a taxi, the squat toilets (‘barbaric' in Jude’s own words!) and hocking/spitting/staring. The wonderfully cheap street food, the Himalayan scenery, inquisitive locals and the interpretive road rules experienced from your own stars and stripes electric scooter.
It was a treat to experience Chinese taxi's from the inside having watched them from the saddle. For the ride to Tiger Leaping Gorge, so named after a tiger leapt across the Yangtze at it's narrowest point, we were being driven by a chap with an impressive collection of beads around his neck and matching beaded seat covers. Beads took us through his extensive repertoire of over taking manoeuvres, half wheeling every vehicle ahead so as not to miss an opportunity. All time gained was negated with stops for fags, stops at his mates fruit stall and stops to ask directions. Once into the gorge the road got narrower, windier and the rain heavier, until there was just enough vision to confirm the lack of barriers between us and a steep drop to the river. With everyone holding their breath, the Chinese power ballads became only just audible over the pounding rain as Beads weaved around chunks of rock recently detached from higher up on our left. Beads motioned putting his hand to his heart, smiled and pulsed it rapidly - you and me both mate! When a phone started ringing from somewhere in the glove box, all passengers were willing Beads not to answer. He did, and to make himself heard over the din, put the tablet sized device in front of his face, shouting into the mic. Conversation unsuccessful he resorted to a concentrated texting session right through 'til drop off! Gill loved the ride and stayed completely calm the whole time.
Making our way back to Kunming, via a fairly miserable lake swim, we had one final ‘must see’ attraction to brave, the world heritage site of the Stone Forest. The enormous limestone karsts did go a long way to justify the high entry fee which is common with all the big attractions in China. iPads and unnecessarily large cameras were the weapons of choice for blocking everyones view and taking pictures of ridiculous things, including the group of flustered looking westerners. Kunming itself had a couple of cracking western restaurants that the group unashamedly enjoyed on consecutive nights before everyone began going their separate ways. Having ‘survived’ the trip, it was the consensus that it wouldn't be described as a conventional holiday, but was definitely an experience. We had a blast and are extremely grateful to those who spent their summer holidays not on a beach in the Med, but in China with us!
Side note: We’ve been following the Iran nuclear deal, which we can’t say we would have had we been back home, but the progress being made means our chances of getting a visa to travel through Iran later in the tour are improving. Whilst on ‘holiday’ we read that Tehran and London both reopened there respective embassies. Kazakhstan have also extended a trail period of 14 day visa free entry for several nations including the UK, as an attempt to boost tourism. We plan to head to Kazakhstan from Northern China as it’s the best route to Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan (which we can now spell) to apply for all the necessary visas through to Turkey, which are a notorious head ache. Funny the things you keep track of...