This section from Lüchun to Mengla is the fifth instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Wheat noodles above, (red) rice noodles below
Wheat noodles above, (red) rice noodles below

When I wake up it’s still dark outside. No idea why, I had been watching movies until 2 am and I really ought to be tired. It may have something to do with the cup of Nescafe I’ve been downing as an antidote to my banana OD. Or maybe it’s just the excitement of riding one of the finest rides around. Because Lüchun to Pinghe 平河 (“flat or peaceful river”) is an absolutely marvellous stretch. The ride is easy without being a pushover, and the sights on the way are something to see!

When the sky finally brightens and little blue patches start to elbow around for space, I’m filled with even more excitement. Still, my hygiene and packing up routines get tangled up in each other and it’s 9 by the time I’m out the door. I make a little detour to my favourite goat-meat shop, wolf down an double serving of wheat noodles and then make for the town’s eastern exit.

Bicycle portrait
Bicycle portrait

The 6 km out of town are more or less familiar now, as is the border police office where I need to register. I turn right towards Pinghe, a beautiful Hani, Miao and Yao minority town in the middle of the mountains, and only two kilometres away from the Vietnamese border. Unfortunately, there’s no official crossing, so I’ll have to keep going to Hekou 河口 (“river mouth”) before I can enter.

It’s been two years since I last found myself on this road, but every bend and turn is deeply engraved in my mind. Traffic seems to have increased, though, but it’s still a marvellously quiet road, with excellent views of the Hani rice terraces on either side. Pinghe lies about 200 m lower than Lüchun, but the mountain road is very good at maintaining suspension. It lets you climb to roughly the elevation of Kunming, then drops a bit before taking you up again. You will then hover around and marvel at the natural splendour before it lets you descend into Pinghe.

Mountain view

At Pinghe, I decide to eat at the Mixian place I’d eaten a few years back. I creep the owners out with knowledge about their home town – I had to peek into my own blog – and then go for a sniff around the Sino-Vietnamese market in town. I hope to find some Vietnamese specialities. Unfortunately, it’s a boring show. The only things on display are silly toys and army surplus clothes, along with the classics: soy sauce, vinegar and other foodstuff.

A vendor explains that the Vietnamese don’t sell here. Rather, they come to buy Chinese stuff to take home. If I want to buy Vietnamese things, I ought to go to another place around 16 km from here. “They sell fruit this big!” Her gesticulating make her look a little like a fisherman.

The Sino-Vietnamese market
The Sino-Vietnamese market, where Chinese sell and Vietnamese buy

2 pm. The day is still young. I decide to go on to the next ‘major’ place on my road, Zhemi 者米. It’s only 30 km away and mostly downhill. I promise myself that, if I get there before 4 pm, I’ll even push on to Mengla 猛拉, another 56 km past Zhemi.

The downhill from Pinghe is phenomenal. It’s fast, traffic is next to non-existent and I quickly drop into a river valley with tropical temperatures. Where I was taking breaks in the sun before, I’m now stretching in the shade. I transfer some more banana ballast from my bags to my belly, and continue in an absolutely good mood.

abandoned rice paddy
Abandoned rice paddy

I always like riding through banana plantations. People here all look like they’ve just left the surf club: dark skin, flip-flops, unbuttoned shirts, zigzagging on their motorcycles and whooping at each other and anything that moves. Just like in that other banana republic, Laomeng, each person is entitled to multiple hairdos. The areas are undoubtedly poor, but the verve of the locals really rubs off on me. After a few minutes I’m whooping and roaring just like them, giggling like an insane maniac when I manage to overtake them on their motorcycles. To keep my sanity, I’ve also adopted the measure of pre-emptive honking.

I reach Zhemi at 3:40 pm so I just swoop through it. Somewhere at the end of the town, a middle-aged man in a makeshift wooden wheelchair waves at me. He, too, looks utterly happy. Past Zhemi I get into more serious banana work. Massive trucks with licence plates from far-away provinces such as Liaoning, Hebei, Hubei and Xinjiang are loading up cardboard boxes full of bananas. The boxes bear names of Latin-American countries. Banana waste left to rot by the roadside gives off a pungent alcohol smell. Elsewhere, women and men are dunking bananas in a bath with chemical substances, presumably to kill any bacteria. Crazyguyonabike Peter Jacobsen described the entire process with pictures on his trip last year, so head over there if you want to know more.

A growl of wild trucks hunting for gravel
A growl of wild trucks hunting for gravel

The last fifty kilometres quickly get more difficult. There are a few climbs left and it’s quickly getting darker and cooler. Luckily, I’m at an altitude of 300 m now, and it probably never really gets cold here. I’m playing a game with two huge Xinjiang trucks. They overtake me when I climb, only to be overtaken again when I’m on a downhill. We honk at each other for about half an hour before another village bottleneck forces my honking friends to stay behind.

A lot of dead snakes on the road. I wonder if they get run over or if someone kills them and then puts them on display, to show off bravery or to ward off more snakes. I hope none will slither out of the bushes and gnaw my shank. Another danger comes in the form of falling nuts. I don’t know what kind of nuts, but it’s definitely the right time of the year for them. On some stretches they fall every second and they’re as big as eggs. Every time I hear the branches rustling above my head, I stop and cover my head, not knowing where the nut is going to land. A large specimen splats open on the road, right in front of my bicycle. I quickly push on.

Banana truck
Old lady goes bananas

Just before it gets dark outside, I roll into Mengla and I rub a million small flies out of my eyes. The damn things love hovering over the hot tarmac as the surroundings get colder, and they inevitably end up on your forehead and arms, and in your eyes, nose and mouth (mental note to buy sun glasses).

I check in at the Jinmeng hotel 金勐宾馆. The light in my room isn’t working so they switch me to the fifth floor. The shower here doesn’t have hot water so I do one of the most horrible things you can do after a long day of biking: take a cold shower with your clothes on. Only by the time I’ve finished, the first drops of hot water start seeping through. Too late!


P.S. I know perfectly well that growl is not a proper collective noun for hungry trucks.

purple mountains
Just before sundown and just before Mengla

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