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

Our bikes were set to arrive at 8 am so we happily snooze until 9. After all, we don’t expect any Vietnamese trains to be on time. When we reach the station at 10, there’s still no sign of any trains and the hustlers are still napping in their rickshaws, hotel and tour brochurs in hand. We head to a nearby vegetarian restaurant and join a couple of robed monks for a late breakfast. You need someone like Tu to find out that there are different menus with different prices – but breakfast tastes good and prepares us for the coming ride.

Thuan An beach, left fairly untouched by typhoon Haiyan
Thuan An beach, left fairly untouched by typhoon Haiyan

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

Since all weather reports for northern Vietnam had report nothing even remotely satisfactory, I resort to cheating my way to Hanoi. That way, I’d skip a piece of dreadful mountain riding in bad weather, I’d go right to see my girlfriend and her family and I’d be able to rest my injured legs a few days. The soft-seat ticket went for a little over 200.000 dong (about 8 EUR) and the additional bike fee 40.000 (just over 1 EUR). Unlike China, where bikes have to be loaded on a separate train or packed in a luggage-size box, Vietnamese trains have special freight wagons large enough for my bicycle, some French tourists’ motorbikes, loads of fruit and foodstuff belonging to other passengers and goods hidden from view by green tarpaulin packaging.

Boarding the train to Hanoi
Boarding the train to Hanoi

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

Today was a little bit like this:

Dense fog at Sapa
Yes but no thanks

And since it’s here to stay for a full week, I rode down to Lao Cai and bought a train ticket to Hanoi instead. I’m on a holiday, not in boot camp. Sightings on the way back: none, with the exception of two cars that smacked into each other as visibility was below 30m.

Sitting tickets to Hanoi (soft seat) are 207.000 Dong. Incredibly cheap for an eight-hour ride. Various ticketing agencies around will try to overcharge you so just walk into the station and ignore those Lonely Planet warnings about dealing with Vietnamese rail personnel. Mine spoke some English and printed my ticket with a smile.

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

Day 11: Transferring to Vietnam

I’d submitted my passport to the Hekou visa office at 9 am, hoping that it’d be ready in a few hours. Unfortunately, I learn that I can pick up my visa by 6.30 pm. It seems the best thing to do is get into the visa office before 4 pm on any weekday. That way you can be across the border by 7 pm the same day. Price is 450 RMB if you’re handsome, and 500 RMB otherwise – according to the giggling girls running the business. Bah. Another day at Hekou, it’s starting to get on my nerves.

I spend the day slowly – Yunnan style – walking around town, ignoring attempts by pompous Chinese trying to make conversation in abominable English. The hours tick away slowly. A visit to the Hekou uprising museum and trying to decode the text kills a few of them. The museum is actually quite interesting if you can read what it says (no English, although the titles are in Pinyin, as if that helps anyone). There are quite a few interesting pictures and maps from middle nineteenth to the early twentieth century, including the building of the railroad by the French and portraits with biographies of the revolutionaries.

carving up China
Carving up China

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

As I arrived just thirty minutes late to get my Vietnam visa done on Friday, I had to wait the entire weekend for official services to resume on the Vietnam side. In a town like Hekou, that’s a bit of a punishment. The town is not really boring, but isn’t interesting enough either to spend three full days in.

Fortunately, two French cyclists (Anaïs and Romain from Toulouse on their trip from France to Thailand) made the boredom bearable. It’s fun to listen to their descriptions of the cultures they’ve encountered and they kindle in me the desire to ride around Turkey and Iran some time. At the same time they remind me of how difficult it is to enjoy China without speaking any Chinese and on how much great food you miss out if you don’t know where to find it.

The riverside juice shop I used to go to has a new owner now and there’s no more Vietnamese ice coffee, which is a bummer, but the Vietnamese coffee on Vietnam street is still great – even though they get the coffee out of a bottle rather than making it fresh. There are also Banh mi stands (like French baguettes with pâté and veggies and eggs), a refreshing novelty in this town.

Hekou railway station
Hekou railway station, once a major stop on the metre gauge line Hai Phong – Kunming

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

Lao He and his cool motorcycle
Lao He and his cool motorcycle

It’s only 9pm and the Chinese are already on my nerves. I’m sitting at a communal tofu grill, shovelling down a quick bowl of mixian. Around me, it’s raining prejudice. I’ve never heard a Chinese person say anything bad about me or other foreigners, mind, even if they’re unaware of the fact that I can understand them. But the prejudice is just outrageous. “Oooh don’t put peppers, they don’t eat peppers,” a woman next to me says to the cook. “Woah, this one can use chopsticks,” says another. A passer-by urges her kids to say “hello” to the foreigner. And then there’s always know-all who feels the need to explain to the whole group that we only eat bread and steak.

I finish my bowl, pay the bill and tell them in my best Yunnan dialect that we eat rice every day – and meat only on holidays. A blatant lie, but that’ll teach him to be a wise guy. It has no effect: “ooooh this one speaks Chinese. Exchange student, right?” I grunt a goodbye and make for the town gate. (more…)

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

People watching over the mountains
People watching over the mountains

I’m having some motivational issues this morning. I woke up at 5 but didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all. It’s partially the delightful bed, the air-con exactly at 20 degrees and the absence of any noise outside. But who am I kidding, the real issue is obviously the hangover. On the other hand, however, it’s thanks to last night’s early drinking that I’m able to wake up early and write the last two posts.

When I finally leave, it’s 11:30. The owner personally bids me farewell and so I deduce that I haven’t been terribly misbehaving myself yesterday night. We discuss quantities of fruit and then routes to get to today’s target, Manhao (three spellings, used seemingly randomly: 蛮耗, 曼耗 and 蔓耗). Without prompt, he informs me that the old road is good enough to ride on, that there are less cars and more views and that it’s therefore preferable to the new road. This man understands me! I wonder if he’s a rider too. (more…)

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

Mengla 猛拉 on the Jinshuihe River 金水河
Mengla 猛拉 on the Jinshuihe River 金水河

 Good morning! Could’ve done with better sleep, but such are banana towns: it’s never really quiet anywhere. Even the air-con talked to me all night. Thanks to that same air-con, though, my clothes are almost entirely dry. I washed them yesterday because they were stained with salt and sweat. A quick peek through the broken hotel window reveals that tonight I’ll be doing the same thing.

Beautiful weather! And the forecast said rain! I pack up and get on the bike, stop for a morning rice noodle and then set all sails for the Vietnamese border. There’s an official border crossing there, but it’s not open to third-country underlings. My reason for going is that there’s a tiny tiny road that runs all along the border, looping around a few mountains before reaching today’s destination of Jinping 金平 (“golden peace”). While planning, I’d peeked at the satellite image and the road gleamed like it’s a concrete road, a cyclist’s dream. Even if it’s dirt, it surely beats riding on the new road. Or does it? (more…)

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 Crazyguyonabike.com, 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

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

I wasn’t going to do articles about the places I rest at. I wanted my blog to be a hard-core bike-riding rollercoaster. But I’m mellow. And I snapped a few pictures I want to share with you. Just because. For those who really want to know what I did today: absolutely not much. Slept until forever o’clock, wrote the previous article on this blog, ate instant noodles, drank some berry liquor, went out, ate tofu, chit-chatted, and followed a drunk man with an empty bird cage around for a bit. I did ponder, too. Read on if you really care.

Psy, the Korean Bird Uncle snacks
Psy is called the Korean Bird Uncle. In the bag are snacks.

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