Friday, February 18, 2011

Days 8 thru 12 - Chongzuo, China to Hanoi, Vietnam

Our stay in Chongzuo china was blessed with beautiful weather, great food, and nice people. The rest much needed and definitely a help. We didn't end up seeing any white-headed Langur Monkeys, and instead opted to see them in the wild at the Nature Reserve at out next destination. On February 10th, we headed south for Vietnam. (Route maps with distance and elevation will come soon we hope - the internet here is just as wonky as in China).

At first we cycled to the beautiful river-side village of Panlong to see the ancient cliff murals of Huashan. When we got there, we found that the only way to get to the cliff where the murals are was to take a boat. The prices for this boat and the entrance fee to the park was very high for what we thought we'd get out of it - and having spent so much in northern china on less-than-spectacular "must-see" sites, we decided to forget about it. We also found out the nature reserve supposedly holding the White-headed Langur Monkeys was off limits and not easily accessible. But we had cycled out of our way to be in the area and we had found a beautiful guesthouse/campground/restaurant built next to a temple on the banks of the river, so we decided to stay and explore. it was our first camping experience of the trip was was really nice except for the cold and wet weather.
The route map

The stunning sun-rays that we chased all day on our ride to Panlong

a bust of Lei Feng - one of the many quirky things in their garden

The temple and its surroundings

The sunset in the village

There we found a really interesting, 45-year-old, solo-traveller named Paul who is from the Czech Republic. He is a vegetarian and had been staying in this village for a week with no other travellers. Paul and the hostess, Wei, had gotten pretty good and communication to each other in  their own languages and made-up sign language - Paul would speak in Czeck and gesture wildly while Wei would respond in Chinese. However, there were a few things we helped clear up.
Fromt he left to right: Wei, Paul, Emily, and Dan

For example, Wei had been trying to feed Paul meat for the last week and he had resorted to bananas for nutrition - we were finally able to help Paul explain to Wei that he only eats vegetables.

We also helped him explain that his name is Paul and not Jack which she had been calling him for a week until we arrived. When Paul first introduced himself as being Czech (and not American as Wei assumed) she thought he was saying that his name was Jack because Czech is pronouced "chee-yeh kuh" in Chinese which sounds a lot like "Jee-yeh Kuh" - the Chinese pronunciation of Jack.

Finally we also helped clear up Paul paranoia that the local Police Chief was after him. A few nights earlier the Police Chief had come over to the guesthouse for a few beers and a chat. Paul finally joined the conversation when he heard the words "ping-pong". Paul had studied ping pong under his commanding officer when he served in the Czechosolvakian army during the communist regime of the 1980's. He challenged the Police Chief to a game of ping pong, making the bold claim he was better than the Police Chief. The Police Chief started yelling and then got up and started doing kung fu. Thinking he had angered the 5 foot 9 inch Police Chief, Paul, a 6 foot 5 inch, bulky ex-military man gather his things and slept by the river for a night incase he had to make a quick getaway. After getting the story from Wei, we explained to Paul that the drunken Police Chief was yelling because arguing with Wei about whether or not she had balls and paddles with which to play ping pong, and then finding out that she had none, resorted to kung fu to show off his general skills of awesomeness. There was never any threat of attack.

Anyway, we decided to stay for a day and get to know Paul and the area better. We wanted to see the cliff-murals but didnt want to pay the hefty fee. The cliff is located right at the bank of the river, about 10 miles up stream from where we were, on out side of the river with nor road to reach it. However, we did find out about a small road on the other side of the river that we could cycle leading us to a spot where we could see the murals pretty clearly. we did so and found ourselves only 50 meters further from the cliff than a tourist boat. our only payment was in the hard physical work of the hard hill climbs and the frightening river crossings done standing on a shaky, narrow bamboo raft.
To give you an idea of the size of the cliff itself.

Our view from the free viewing platform across the river.
You can see that they are building a big tourist attraction here.

Look closely, you can see the painting of dancing people, dogs and even sun-like images. These were done by local fishermen over 2000 years ago.

One of the climbs along the way

Later in the day, Paul and I staged an international badminton competition. In his backpack for 3 weeks of travel, all he had was an extra pair of pants, a basketball, 1 badminton birdie and 4 badminton racquets. As it turns out in addition to being a masterly trained ping pong player, he used to be a professional basketball player and is now an amateur badminton player. Needless to say, the Czech Republic crushed USA.

Finally, on February 12th, we decided to head for Vietnam. MY sister Ariel will be travelling with us for 3 weeks from February 22nd to March 15th so we wanted to get to Hanoi early to find a hotel, plan our activities, and find a place to fix and store our bicycles.

Getting to Vietnam was very hilly and the weather turned very cold and rainy along the way. But by 6pm on February 12th we found a hotel in the small town of Langson.

Finding it hard to travel in a country where neither I nor Emily can speak the language, we wanted to get to the big city as fast as possible. On February 13th, we cycled more than 100km. along the way we discovered the joys of Vietnamese coffee, the tastiness of Vietnamese fried rice, and even the entertainment of an amateur football (soccer) game in a village by the side of the highway.

The route map

Crossing the border at the old french outpost of YouYiGuan

A quintessential lunch of fried rice (in our tupperware) with Vietnamese coffee and sweetened condensed milk.
The metal things on top of the coffee are actually individual filters filled with coffee grounds and hot water.

An amateur football match in one of the villages.

By February 14th, we made it to Hanoi. Since then, we have just explored a small part of the city, after promising my sister that we'll save all the sightseeing till she gets here. it has also been pretty coold and overcast so our pictures if we had any would bee pretty boring. But from what we have seen it is really beautiful here and we can't wait to see more. I can tell you, however, that motorcycles and scooters rule the streets here. Sidewalks are occupied by parked scooters and outdoor restaurants and cafes so walking around in itself is a way.

The epic 100+ km day!

The last ride into Hanoi

Scooters galore

an awesome fruit stand

We will have more for you in the coming weeks, but dont expect any more cycling until March 15th.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Days 4&5, February 6th and 7th, 2011 - Detian to Chongzuo, China

Written by Dan

On the morning of the 6th we visited the Detian Waterfall which sits exactly on the border between China and Vietnam. It is the second largest transnational waterfall in the world (next to Niagara falls). However it only falls 40 m and has the least amount of water in winter. Still, it was very impressive and great spot for a rest. Starting that afternoon and the next day we cycled back to civilization towards the city of Chongzuo for some laundry and a tune-up on the bikes. In chongzuo we saw a leaning pagoda and ate some KMC (fake KFC). We also saw a breakdance battle which was actually amazing.

Day 3, February 5th, 2011 - Changming to Detian, China

Written by Dan
Somehow, after only 2 hours of sleep due to the night of terror with rats, we cycled 80km to our first scenic spot – the Detian Waterfall. It was a gorgeous day and we were blessed with even better scenery. By the end of the day we were right across the river from Vietnam but there was no border crossing here. The village at the gates of the waterfall had great little hotels and restaurants. We stuffed our faces and drank ourselves silly with a nice family from who happened to be from Hangzhou, just next door to Moganshan. The father, coincidentally, runs his own outdoor adventure business there.

Day 2, February 4th, 2011 - Zhongdong to Changming, China

Written by Dan

Originally we planned to take a steep shortcut over the mountain between Zhongdong and Changming but we were told the road was too hairy and we would have to carry our heavy bikes over many sections, so we opted to stay on the paved road and go around the mountain. We were rewarded for the detour with beautiful scenery. At night we found no hotel so were were welcomed by a lovely family in their VERY old home. We ate directly out of a boiling pot of water a fresh fish, pork, and vegetables. At night we slept in the house with only the grandmother while the men, her sons, slept at friends houses. Emily stayed up all night in terror watching the many rats crawl all over our stuff, the food, the walls, and the headboard on the bed above our heads.

Day 1, February 3rd, 2011 - Nanning to Zhongdong, China

We winded our way through the back-alleys of Nanning as we made our way to the quarry town of Zhongdong. It only took us 2 hours to get out in the beautiful hills of the surrounding countryside. We were originally going to take a shortcut past an ancient town but we found out that the boat used to cross the river to where the road continues was closed for the Chinese New Year so we took an alternative route which added 30km to the route. When we got to the town we found only one hotel and none of the restaurants were serving, we finally begged our hotel to cook us some noodles. Still hungry we passed out at 9pm.

Sweet New Years Fireworks

Our camera doesnt really capture fireworks very well
The morning after fireworks, ready to head out
Our first encounter with karst scenery
Emily cycling along
An ancient aqueduct
Our friend who saved us with water and oranges