Guangxi Province and the pinnacles of Guilin
Elsewhere on this site I argue that country boundaries become less important as you ride and boundaries between physical regions (deserts, forests, mountains) loom far larger in your mind as a cyclist. But of course there are exceptions, and China was the greatest of them. No border crossing meant more to me than entering China: my final country, one I had thought so much about over the course of my two years riding. I had read alot about travelling and cycling in China, and much of what I read was no encouraging: closed areas, price gouging, surly locals. But these concerns vanished within hours of my crossing the border at Mong Cai/Dongxing.
Typical paddy and forest scenery in Guangxi Province
The China consulate in Hanoi had insisted that I needed a document from Chinese travel agencies authorizing me to bring a bicycle into China. To get this permission would have been a royal hassle taking several days, and I already had spent enough time in Hanoi. So I barreled on without one. On arrival at Mong Cai, no one asked ME for any document. (Readers of my story (when it is complete..I am doing it in bits and pieces while I construct the site) know that I have had some real doozers at the borders, and they are never boring to cross! I also had been told that I needed to specify my exit point from Vietnam in advance, and I had originally planned to exit at the main exit point, Rte. 1 at Pingxiang. But a British fellow in Hanoi, who was fluent in Vietnamese and had the most adorable Vietnamese girlfriend informed me my visa stamp authorized me to exit at any point. I was very happy with this, as I it meant I could take the delightful roads along the Vietnamese coast up into Guangxi and continue avoiding the larger cities.) I suspected that the folks at the embassy didn't know what they were doing...everywhere in China the left hand doesn't know the right hand even exists. I still recommend that cyclists have the necessary paperwork done in advance..its no fun to retrace your steps. I was a nasty fella and created a fake document, stamped with a few Chinese characters and supposedly faxed from a tourist agency in Nanning--perhaps not the best thing to do, since border officials would not look kindly upon such a thing. Fortunately i didn't need it.
The guidebooks had China all wrong, especially for Cyclists. i certainly had no problem finding places for wild camping: the road northeastward from Dongxing crosses rice paddies but also forested hills, and I wild camped my first two days in China! I figured i may as well settle the issue of 'what happens when the PSB shows up' as soon as I could. Well..the PSB didn't show up, even if occasionally (as in India) Chinese farmers and field workers passed by and said hello. The terraced hills, often with shrubs of tea or small stands of pines, provided great places to rest or camp after dark.
Poetry and Bicycle Repair in southern China. Who could ask for more?
By the time I reached Nanning I knew I was blessed. There, not very far from the information center, was the Beatle Bike Shop! My bottom bracket had become loose and worn, so while I went to lunch with an English speaking Chinese fellow, they fixed it goof and tight. The guy gave me a book fo poetry--unfortunately in Chinese, so i'll never really appreciate it-- and a place to stay the night. I was very grateful for that, not because I had to save money. It gave me a chance to see how the Chinese lived in all those apartment buildings which have grown up in many Chinese cities in recent decades. This fellow shared a room with a few other folks--not unusual for a poet, right?? We went shopping at some nearby markets and had a freshly prepared fish meal. For some reason the Chinese insist on cutting their fish and their chicken so that there is a damn bone in every piece! But the vegetables and sauces were crisp and a symphony of flavors and spices.
By the time your ride your bicycle up to Yangshuo and Guilin from southeast asia, you should be no stranger to karst topography and dramatic limestone formations. But the climax of the beauty rightfully belongs to a small pocket of pinnacles, if I can be alliterative, that surround the Li river in north central Guangxi. Most cyclists will enjoy Yangshuo, the town, much more than Guilin, the city. All through the area are small villages accessible by bicycle (rent one if ya don't tour), boat, or hiking. Tours of the Li river on raft or even inner tube bring throngs of young and forever young to this region every year. I enjoyed Yangshuo for a day and then got chased northward by the rapidly approaching rainy season. I passed thru Guilin without seeing as much as 200 feet in front of me (i went thru an intersection completely oblivious to the traffic lights and side traffic, so heavy was the rain and fog!). But as these photos show, I got to Yangshuo soon enough to catch the vertical walls, even if the blue sky you so often see on postcards was absent.