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, 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…)

iPhone back cover with swastika

Hitler’s a bit of a hero in China. No-one seems to fully understand what he’s done, or maybe his cruelties just pale before what other despots have done in, say, China. So it’s common to see references to Nazism in the streets of Kunming, and indeed elsewhere in China.


China, despite often put down as lacking innovation, actually boasts a lot of small but refreshing concepts. If you ever come up with a great idea, there’s a good chance that it has already been done in China. Take for instance dual SIM phones. A great idea that should really be standard: for people that travel a lot, live near borders or in small countries, or for those looking for the best calling rates. Back in the West, you’ll only find them on very specific models which are expensive and not just because you’re getting a cool smartphone. In China, almost every locally-produced phone comes with a secondary SIM slot.

Other great ideas include pens with magnets for whiteboards, cars that speak (why would you have a beeping noise if you can tell everyone that you’re reversing), or battery chargers with a built-in LED. They make a lot of sense because there’s a good chance that when you aren’t near a power outlet, there is also no light.

Innovative idea: brake pads that light up as you brake
Tiny lights switch on when you apply enough pressure.

Unfortunately, many of these concepts are poorly implemented. My newest discovery are brake pads with built-in brake lights. Failing to find normal brake pads, Lieuwe from bought this fancy pair in Baoshan, Yunnan. When enough pressure is applied, its tiny LEDs flash on, vying for visibility with a million other light sources on the busy streets of China. Or at least as long as the battery lasts.

Having brake lights on a bicycle, especially in a country where no one uses a bike light, is a good idea, but the implementation is sad. Maybe here’s a good idea for better engineers: a brake pad that converts the braking force to power a much brighter LED.