Chris and Gabs provide their October update on their World Cycling Tour in aid of Prevent Breast Cancer. In October, they’ve reached China!
Author: Gabs – October 2019
Cycling for… 507 days
Through… 23 countries
Currently… in Taiwan
Raising so far… £7,655.45
CLICK HERE to see a recent Chris & Gabs’ videos
Our thoughts and feelings on China
We are now in our 23rd country of China, and we have experienced many different cultures and seen lots of families living very different lives. From Shepherds’ high up in the hills sleeping in their tents, to families with homes made from cargo containers, to nomads in their yurt’s and then modern-day apartments. We have been through the remotest of lands, where shops and restaurants don’t exist, and everything is bought from the local stalls in the streets, to the modern shopping malls in the big cities.
We have seen and tasted some weird and wonderful traditional foods from street vendors, market stalls and food given to us from the local people. The chicken feet and intestines we were offered we had to politely decline, however. From Churches, Temples and Mosques, we have travelled through countries with very different beliefs and religions. I, Gabriella, have cycled through countries I would never thought I would ever go. There has been places I was very apprehensive and nervous to enter, especially having to wild camp, but we can honestly say over the last 16 months on the road and all the border crossings, military and police checks we have never entered a country where we have not experienced a warm welcome. We have never felt uncomfortable anywhere or threatened by anything (only the wild dogs). We look forward to our next stage, as the weather now will be continued sunshine for many months, so this makes camping much easier and much more pleasant.
Where to next…
First, we have to go to Hong Kong as we need to get our visas for Vietnam from the Embassy there, as the online visa will only give us 30 days and we need a 90 day visa. From Nanning in China we will be cycling to Youyiguan and crossing the Friendship Border into Dong Dang in Vietnam. We will then make our way to Hanoi and cycle along the coast to Da Nang, then Ving Tau and then inland to Ho Chi Minh City heading for Cambodia. It is approximately 1,250 miles from Hanoi to Krong Bavet in Cambodia.
The most bizarre experience whilst cycling in China has been…
Kashgar in the West of China had so much security, and it was so heavily policed with lots of military presence. All the shops, hotels, schools, restaurants, shopping centres, hospitals, petrol stations and the underground had security check points and scanners, so everyone entering had to show their ID card and be scanned. When the children came out of school, the walkway was closed off and the school gates had many police guards patrolling. We could not use our phones, WiFi was very poor and very limited and many apps on our phones had been blocked. Communication was very difficult here, especially as we could not use our translator on our phones, so we had to use pictures and hand gestures to communicate. There was no English language in these parts of China.
We were in Xi’an for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China – a week long of celebrations known as the Golden Week, celebrating when The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. We were lucky enough to see a spectacular show at the gates of the ancient city wall with hundreds of dancers and performers telling the story of the Silk Road, it was a very moving experience. The Silk Road started in Xi’an, so what a wonderful way to celebrate the end of our epic journey along the Silk Road which we completed in Xi’an.
Special highlights in China
Xi’an – You cannot go to China without visiting the Terracotta Army. We had seen it so many times on television and it was unbelievable to see it for real. There are so many warriors still in the ground that you can see that are still to be excavated.
Beijing – This we thought would be disappointing, but the Great Wall of China was incredible to see. The way it was built up and over each hill and mountain was amazing, and you had to walk parts of it on your hands and knees. It is so steep, and getting down the other side was the same, more or less sliding down on your bum. We walked all the twelve towers along the wall in that area. It was wonderful to see in the distance the length and shape of the wall you had just walked. It looked like a giant roller coaster. We loved it.
Shanghai – The stunning skyline at night, down at the waterfront known as The Bund. It was spectacularly lit up,including every building, skyscraper and all the boats that sailed past. The architecture along The Bund is from the colonial history of the 1800’s. We also experienced the fastest elevator in the world at the Shanghai Tower, which has a fantastic bird’s – eye view of the entire city of Shanghai. It is also the second tallest tower in the world!
Zhujiajiao Water Village – We were transported back in time here. This 1700-year-old water village was like a mini Venice with its many old houses lined up along canals, with bridges crisscrossing them. The residents here have maintained their traditional heritage and it really is a beautiful village.
The most challenging part has been…
At one of many remote areas in Kyrgyzstan we headed to Irkeshtam to cross the border into China. Cycling over the mountains we have never seen so many trucks all parked up behind each other which you could see for miles over the mountain tops – this was a queue for the border. When we finally got to this border crossing it was actually closed for the day and would not open till 8am the following day so we just camped up next to the trucks right at the front of the border gates along with the roaming cows, donkeys and dogs. There were a couple of containers which two ladies were selling a few items, so we had bread, cheese, tomatoes and crisps for our evening meal.
Up bright and early we packed our things and went to the gate waiting for the border to open. What we didn’t know was that this was one of many China’s border check points before you were able to really enter China alone. The first check point was nice and easy. We left Kyrgyzstan and checked into China at their first control point. We actually thought that was it as we then cycled about 12 miles and came to a large customs building. Here we had to take our bicycles inside and then go and sit in a waiting room till we were called out. When we were called, we had to put every bag from our bicycles through the scanner. Then one by one each bag was emptied, and bags inside bags had to be emptied, and cameras and phones were looked at, including all your photographs and videos. We were here for two hours unpacking and packing bags, but it didn’t finish there. We then had to take all our bags into another waiting room and from here we were all told we had to be put on a bus and taken to the next border control as it was forbidden for anyone to go the next eighty miles. Motorcycles had to previously arrange a Chinese guide to take them. In fact, motorcycles or cars cannot go anywhere in China without a Chinese guide so you don’t see any foreign tourers in China as it costs thousands of pounds for a guide. Backpackers, cyclists and anyone else had to get on the bus. It was all a little confusing as you were just sat in this room waiting to be called and get your passport back. Finally, we were reunited with our bicycles and escorted to a vehicle along with six more people. Our bicycles were strapped to the top of the minibus and our bags took up most of the bus. It was very annoying having to do this, but this is China and their rules – they do not want foreigners roaming around in this area.
The final Border Control Crossing into China
When we arrived at the next border, we were left at the side of the road near customs, so we reloaded the bicycles once more and once again told to take them inside. We all sat waiting in a seating area, and by now it was about 4.30pm and we started this border crossing at 8am. One by one we were questioned for about 45 minutes and again they looked through our phones and cameras. Chris was a bit longer as they looked at all his photos and came across the photos from Georgia when the protests were happening. They wanted to know what it was, where and why he was there. After lots of explaining the officers still had no idea where or what Georgia was, even when we showed them on the map. After about an hour they finally understood it was a country near Turkey and we were then free to go, but not until we unloaded our bags and put them through another scanner and reopened them again. This time my onions, tomatoes and cheese were confiscated. I was so disappointed; this was my meal for the evening. It was late by the time Chris was allowed to leave (his surname “O’Hare” confused their computer system!!!!). This was the longest drawn out border crossing experience so far as it took all day. Then when we were leaving the parking area we were once again asked to show passports and questioned again on where we were going. We finally got out of the customs and cycled out in a hurry to find somewhere to camp before dark, but that wasn’t till after more police checks!
Every few miles there are police check points, not just for foreigners but also for the locals. There are ID check points when you enter and exit each town or province. It took 15 to 20 minutes at each police stop, which were every 4 or 5 miles – you get nowhere fast in the west of China. For our first night in China we slept under a bridge away from any police seeing us. The only person that saw us was a farmer gathering his sheep in the early morning. Our first week in China was not the greatest and we were deciding what the best option was for us to get out of China quickly as it did not get any better when we got to Kashgar. On our way to Kashgar we actually had a police escort for about six miles as he had previously stopped us at a check point and told us we could not go the way it showed us on our map, so we cycled off the way he said, but he just followed us all the way to the next check point into Kashgar. This check point was huge and very busy with cars and trucks – another border control. Again, we had to go through scanners, get our passports checked and logged and the same questions again. We were not enjoying our time in China.
Once we had a goods night’s sleep and spent a couple of days in Kashgar, we realised that there were so many places to see in China and we had the visa to do this. The people in Kashgar were really friendly and many would come up to us to have a photograph or practice their English. So, we decided to continue to Xi’an. When we arrived there, it was such a massive difference from where we had come from – a whole different China. There were no security checks at public places and the city was much easier to move around, but still with many cameras everywhere. We arrived in Xi’an at the right time as it was the opening ceremony of China’s 70th anniversary of the start of the People’s Republic of China. It was a seven-day holiday for the Chinese, so it was very busy. We had not seen so many people in one place at one time, and we were pleased that we had continued further into China.
Thank you everyone for your ongoing support and donations for Prevent Breast Cancer.
Read last month’s newsletter here.