Diary - China

Wednesday 8th May 2002 - DAY 98

Starting point: Tatopani, Nepal
Ending point: Nyalam, Tibet
Distanced travelled: 28 miles

We woke up to clear, blue skies and a definite chilly feel and felt we should make an early start at the border as our itinerary showed that we had some distance to cover in China today. The Kodari border was a 5-minute drive from Tatopani, and apart from being accidentally stamped back into the country, leaving Nepal was a straightforward process. We met a group of people coming the other way and asked them how their trip had been, they replied 'If you want the truth - we had a terrible time'. This echoed stories of just about everyone else we'd talked to about travelling through China, so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that we crossed the 'Friendship Bridge' and left behind the holiday we'd had in Nepal. The Chinese immigration and customs was an 8km drive up the hill to Zhangmu - the clocks had gone forward by 2 1/4 hours so it was around midday when we arrived. Having waited for some time with no sign of our guide, a surprisingly friendly and helpful customs officer let us use his phone to call Beijing and find out what was going on. After a few unsuccessful attempts to get through, we were beginning to think that perhaps we had paid an awful lot of money to an invisible company, but we did finally manage to speak to our contact who assured us that we should wait and she would try and contact the guide. 20 minutes later a 4WD arrived with our guide (Tempa - early 20's, young, trendy + looking as if he'd just woken up - which he had), a driver (wearing a suit and white driving gloves) and a traffic policeman. All 3 of them would apparently be escorting us as far as Lhasa. Before Tempa could sort out any paperwork, the immigration office shut for lunch. So we rejoined at 3pm (where we found him in duty free). Once we had been assigned Chinese driving licenses, fixed Chinese number plates to the car and paid various road and disinfectant taxes it was getting on for 4pm and we were keen to get going. After some discussion (the policeman wanted to stay the night in Zhangmu and set off early in the morning which would mean cramming 2 days' driving into one), we drove on ahead of the others. The road continued as a dirt track up through the dramatic and beautiful forest-covered mountains. The road was a single lane and crumbling away in parts and there were some seriously scary drops on one side. The other car caught us up after about an hour and we travelled in convoy to the little village of Nayalam (3500m) where we agreed to stay the night. We wandered around the village - everyone was very friendly/curious to see some 'aliens' and we were glad to have found such a small place where there was no Chinese influence and Tibetan culture still flourished. It was a fairly chilly night.

Thursday 9th May 2002 - DAY 99

Starting point: Nyalam, Tibet
Ending point: Xigaze, Tibet
Distanced travelled: 290 miles (11 hours)

Nic has taken a break from writing the diary today after her brain took a walk at the high altitudes. So it's my turn. Hopefully it will make slightly more sense than Nic's oxygen deprived babblings! We depart in the dark to cram in the miles, but soon the sun is lighting up the snow capped mountain tops around us. The desolate beauty of the place is hightened in the early morning light. This now is the real adventure as we slowly but surely ascend to the Roof of the World. The roads are dirt, but surprisingly good condition, if a little corrugated. Also, we are surprised at how straight they are - none of the endless winding up steep sided valleys that we are used to, just gentle steady climbing through broad valleys. There is virtually no vegetation here as the mountains form a barrier that the clouds can't get past, and one really gets the impression that the very earth itself is alive as this young terrain is folded and carved. We have just climbed through our first pass (5100m), and are marvelling at being the only cars in this majestic landscape when we see another landrover driving towards us. This was the most exciting meeting to date - Tanya and Jason, collectively known as GlobalOverland, heading from Australia to England. So we swapped a few stories and words of advice, before our all to brief encounter, in this most auspicious of places, was over. However, it was not the end of the days excitement. By mid morning we are passing the northern side of Everest - a stone's throw away (we're tempted to take a detour). And not long after that we cross our highest pass - 5220m. Having climbed 3000 meters in little more than 24 hours, our heads are pounding but we are coping well. And we are extremely impressed with how well the vehicle is running at these altitudes - apart from a little black smoke before the turbo kicks in, she is as strong as ever, and happily absorbing the pummelling of the dirt roads. When I do the inspection at the end of the day in Xigaze I only find one loose reflector and a missing bolt from the trackrod guard (this is where top quality preparation and continuous preventative maintenance really pays off). It has been a long and very dusty day, and we are glad to arrive at our destination (not least because it is at the relatively low altitude of 3900m), where we have noodles with some friendly Europeans.

A pass at 5220m

A chance meeting with some other overlanders

Friday 10th May 2002 - DAY 100

Starting point: Xigaze, Tibet
Ending point: Lhasa, Tibet
Distanced travelled: 181 miles

The scenery is still magnificent as we continue our journey to Lhasa, and the roads are paved over much of the way making going a bit faster. We now follow a broad river along a valley riven with landslides. On the approach to Lhasa itself the road broadens and becomes really good. The city itself is completely fronted with modern commercial low-rise buildings - very un-Tibetan. But the hotel we arrive at, Banak Shol, is a much more traditional building centred around a courtyard where the happy Tibetan women working there laugh and play. We say goodbye to Tempa, agreeing that we don't need a guide to show us around, and look forward to 2 free days to ourselves. But no sooner have I got under the vehicle to check the wheels than our new guide pops up (Jill, otherwise known as Zhang Bei Xing) with a whole itinerary planned for Lhasa! We managed to persuade her that we don't really need to visit 5 monasteries in one day and that she should feel free to do her own thing, but agreed to meet her for the Potala Palace as she gets in for free if she's acting as a 'guide'.

Potala Palace

Sunday 12th May 2002 - DAY 102 (Nic back now, though presence of brain still dubious).

Spent a couple of days in Lhasa and visited a few sites - Potala Palace, Jokhang temple. Very interesting and beautiful places - althogh Potala is no more than a museum (with an impressive amount of buddhas) these days. It was strange to see the monks demanding money (some quite aggressively), while others were wearing walkmans, items of designer clothing and clutching wads of cash. I appreciate that they're not supported by the government, but it did seem to go against buddhist ethics. We've met some really nice people here (hi Tony, Karoline, Akma if you're out there!) + and sampled some good and bad food (finding it hard to stomach salty/spicy food for breakfast). Jill is great, but a serious tourist: she has already bought loads of souvenirs and taken 2 rolls of film (and got told off several times in Potala for trying to take photos of holy shrines). She also has enough clothes to last 4 weeks as she wasn't sure if she'd get the chance to do any washing, so we've had to re-arrange the car to make some space. So far we have learnt from her:

Monday 13th May 2002 - DAY 103

Yaks and Tibetan landscape

Starting point: Lhasa, Tibet
Ending point: Naqu, Tibet
Distanced travelled: 216 miles

Drove to the small town of Naqu, which is an uninspiring place surrounded by wild dogs and really feels like the end of the earth. But the journey here was good: the roads were tarmacked (with the obligatory potholes that appear as soon as you get up to any sort of decent speed) and the scenery has again been beautiful. We are now travelling up in a flat plateau (5000m) of barren, dramatic landscapes with pristine white mountain peaks in the distance and yaks and long-haired goats grazing peacefully in the wide open spaces. As soon as you stop by the roadside, curious semi-nomadic Tibetans appear out of nowhere. You really get a feeling of being so high up and near to the sky and clouds. So it was disappointing to arrive at our destination where we had our first taste of the Chinese hospitality that has gained quite a reputation amongst travellers: out of the 7 hotels in town, only one would accept foreigners and for double the price. We are paying 120 yuan for a room in a hotel that looks smart from the outside but very dingy inside, and only 30 for Jill. Even the 'Western Hotel' with all it's signs in English was appparently 'too scared' to let us stay in case they were fined or 'punished'. This wasn't altogether unexpected for us, but Jill seemed very put out and tried her best to bargain on our behalf, to no avail. To make matters worse it was actually colder inside the hotel than out and we were forced to listen to appalling bad karaoke until the early hours.

Some curious Tibetans

Tuesday 14th May 2002 - DAY 104

Starting point: Naqu, Tibet
Ending point: Tuotuohe, Qinghai
Distanced travelled: 270 miles

Our blown turbo hose

The scenery was much the same as yesterday, except we drove through our highest pass yet at 5273m and there was more snow around on the ground. Just as we were approaching the pass our turbo hose blew - thankfully we had managed to pick up a new (well, secondhand) one in Lhasa, 2 days earlier. Tuotuohe (4700m) turned out to be a tiny place in the middle of nowhere, consisting mainly of red-roofed military buildings. Jill had been advised by the agency that we would be able to stay with the army, but upon finding out that she was with foreigners (the word for foreigner - 'Gwailu' - actually means 'white devil'), we were told to go to a hotel. The only hotel in town was a strange place: walls made of cardboard, ceilings made of interlaced strips of beef noodle packaging, a bucket of manure outside the rooms to fuel a fire and some dodgy looking electric blankets. Still, it was cheap and we weren't charged double prices.

Wednesday 15th May 2002 - DAY 105

Starting point: Naqu, Qinghai
Ending point: Golmud, Qinghai
Distanced travelled: 274 miles

The road today was particularly bumpy, well 'undulating' I guess would be a better word - we went up and down across the desert and grassland like a boat crossing a sea (with a bit of imagination). Unfortunately all the bumps have caused one of the rear dampers to start leaking, which is not good news as it will eventually need to be replaced - should get us to Oz though, fingers crossed. Golmud wasn't as bleak as we'd been expecting from the description in our guidebook. It's a lot warmer down here, and the drop in altitude is a relief for our heads. We were pleased to find a cheap hotel with hot water and find something to eat other than bland rice, noodles and dumplings.

Thursday 16th May 2002 - DAY 106

Starting point: Golmud, Qinghai
Ending point: Dunhaung, Gansu
Distanced travelled: 348 miles

Jill in the desert

We set off early as this is the longest drive on our itinerary for China. However, as we were passing through proper sandy desert and some impressive sand dunes, naturally we had to pull off and have a little play. We almost got stuck at one point going up a dune (which would have made us look pretty stupid!). The condition of the road wasn't bad for most of the way, although our spare turbo hose developed a hole which had to be taped up, and forced us to drive a little more slowly for the remaining 100 miles. By mid-afternoon the wind had picked up and was blowing half the desert across the road in front of us, slowing us down even further. We were pretty tired by the time we reached Dunhuang.

Friday 17th May 2002 - DAY 107

Having bought and fixed yet another new turbo hose in Dunhuang, we were on our way to see the famous Buddhist cave paintings (and the 2nd largest Buddha in the world (since the Taliban blew those two up in Afghanistan)). But the hose is naff, and blows straight out. Having patched it, we promptly pick up a puncture from a large nail on the road. And as if thats not enough, on replacing the wheel, one of the screws that fixes the spare to the bonnet decided to snap, so we've had to tie the punctured tyre to the roof. The only possible explanation for all this bad luck is Robin's comments of Thursday 9th May. Still, the cave paintings and buddhas are really quite spectacular, even if you do have to go as part of a Chinese tour group (we spent most of the time at the back trying to distract the group by pointing our torch to a different place to the tour guide). The battle with the turbo hoses continues late into the night.

Saturday 18th May 2002 - DAY 108

Starting point: Dunhaung, Gansu
Ending point: Jiayuguan, Gansu
Distanced travelled: 74 miles

The Great Wall

Drove to see the west end of the Great Wall at the southern edge of the Gobi desert. The camels in this part of the world are of the two humped variety. Our guide couldn't believe that it was in fact the same Great Wall as the one in Beijing as this part hadn't been repaired and was beginning to crumble in parts. A nearby fort had been reconstructed but it was just a little tacky with all it's souvenir shops and fairy lights which at night make it look like Santa's Grotto. A 2km stretch of the wall had been re-built by students back in the 80's to try and attract tourists, and to be fair they did quite a good job, so we were able to walk along it and see its potential. But it still seems surprising that this should be the only man-made structure visible from the moon. Jiayuguan looked like one big factory so we decided to go back and camp by the old part of the wall as it was fairly deserted. Jill had never camped before, and had no concept of a sleeping bag so was quite excited. Unfortunately as it got dark, the excitement turned into fear and she decided to sleep locked in the car.

Sunday 19th May 2002 - DAY 109

Starting point: Jiayuguan, Gansu
Ending point: Wuwei, Gansu
Distanced travelled: 270 miles

On ordering a pitifully tasteless breakfast of rice soup (watery rice) and dumplings, the waitress decides that we've not ordered enough and brings out twice as much - wouldn't be too bad if they didn't insist we pay for it. This really gets Jill's back up, and she tells them in no uncertain terms to get stuffed! Good roads today, and we get to drive alongside the Great Wall for some distance - seeing it like this, unrestored and stretching on for mile after dusty mile really starts to bring home the enormity of the thing. We also enjoy the luxury of our first motorway since Iran. However, it's unfinished, which effectively means travelling on unpaved roads again. We are no longer in the desert, and the region is getting busier. The only hotel in town that will take us is a very plush looking place, but reasonably inexpensive. Making the most of the privacy that the hotel car park affords us, Robin does some vehicle maintenance. With his head in the engine bay, an excited American approaches - he turns out to be a photographer, Micheal Yamashita, who works for National Geographic and had worked on the Marco Polo article. He's very impressed to find us out doing this sort of thing "just for the hell of it" which is encouraging. Maybe we can get an article in NG? (Don't think our photos are up to it though.)

Monday 20th May 2002 - DAY 110

Starting point: Wuwei, Gansu
Ending point: Lanzhou, Gansu
Distanced travelled: 328 miles

Our posh hotel gives us a fantastic buffet breakfast this morning. However, the noise made by a dozen smart businessmen all slurping their noodles is quite amusing. It's a wet day today, but as we slowly climb over the hills the rain suddenly turns to snow. Not quite serious enough to necesitate the unused chains though. Toll gates are becoming a regular feature of our Chinese journey, and they are getting more expensive. They do provide good quality roads, however, as yesterday, these roads are rarely finished and we are often plunged into a confusing mess of dirt tracks. Nevertheless, we reach our destination in good time.

Tuesday 21st May 2002 - DAY 111

Starting point: Lanzhou, Gansu
Ending point: Pingliang, Gansu
Distanced travelled: 193 miles

When we check out this morning, there is an enourmous commotion when the maids find that the battery cover on the TV remote is missing. It always was, but try explaining that with no interpreter (Jill's 8 floors down in the lobby). They finally release us, and that is about as eventful as the day gets. The journey is still a mixture of good and rubbish, half-built roads - it's all down to the Olympics; they should all be finished in 6 years time, but we don't have that long! By some fortune we catch an England/Korea football match on TV in our hotel that evening - actually a rather disappointing 1/1 draw with hardly any of the A-squad playing (World Cup warm-up we presume) but it's better than anything else Chinese TV has to offer.

Wednesday 22nd May 2002 - DAY 112

Starting point: Pingliang, Gansu
Ending point: Xian, Shaanxi
Distanced travelled: 221 miles

A wet day starts with a rather disgusting bean curd breakfast eaten under a tarpauline by the side of the road. Once again the journey was uneventful, although we did pass through an enourmous herd of mules being trotted down the road. Really, that's as exciting as the day gets! Xian is a pleasent city, with impressive city walls encircling most of the old city. These walls make navigation a doddle - "head straight until you reach the wall, then follow it to the train station"; if only it were always this easy. Having found a hotel with the minimum of fuss, Jill decides she's not happy with the staff, and moves round the corner. We're quite happy though, and set about sorting some laundry and e-mails. In the end, to liven things up a bit, we watch our Life of Brian DVD.

Thursday 23rd May 2002 - DAY 113

Terracotta Army

A day of rest, and we need it. The only item on our agenda today is to visit the Terracotta Army. After almost ending up in a mausoleum by mistake, we find the site, and run the gauntlet of souvenir sellers on the way to the gates. The remains are pretty impressive, particularly when you witness the collosal archeological jigsaw puzzle presented to the restoration teams, and what they can (eventually) achieve. There are a few Westerners about, one of whom looks strangely familiar to Robin. It turns out to be Henry Hodgeson, an old school friend - small world. The temptation to buy a warrior of our own is great, and on being offered one for 2 Yuan (15p) by one of the hawkers on the way out, we swiftly (but knowingly) snap up the offer - 2 yuan immediately jumps to $20 once she has our attention! We toy with the idea of buying a full-sized warrior. Jill looks concerned and suggests we might not have room in the car.

Friday 24th May 2002 - DAY 114

Starting point: Xian, Shaanxi
Ending point: Hanzhong, Shaanxi
Distanced travelled: 228 miles

Green hills of Shaanxi

Our itinerary differs from Jills for these next to days, but she assures us that hers is the official, government approved route and we must stick to it. However, there is still some debate as to which roads we should take - we finally opt to take the more direct route, which is considerably shorter than Jill's suggested path. We should have remembered from experience though, that short cuts don't always save you time, especially if mountains (beautiful as they are) are involved. So it's a long and difficult day and the roads are poor and being repaired + they let the traffic go in both directions down a single lane. 200 miles take 10 hours and our brakes are starting to go by the end of it. The pounding of the dirt roads is finally starting to make its mark on our trusty truck - the near side rear shock is leaking, the front suspension develops a really nasty groan today, and there is an uncomfortable clunk somewhere in the transmission. And, to top things off, we pick up another puncture in our hotel carpark this evening. China is definitely taking its toll.

Saturday 25th May 2002 - DAY 115

Starting point: Hanzhong, Shaanxi
Ending point: Lanchong, Sichuan
Distanced travelled: 230 miles

The morning starts with a visit to the tyre shop to repair our two flats. Our arrival causes some degree of excitement, and we dine on some pot noodles while the repairs are being made. It's mid-morning by the time we get going again, and the roads turn out to be slow and variable again. Whilst the scenery in Sichuan is beautiful (covered with jade green, pyramid shaped mountains), the going is slow. Being spring, the fields are full of crops, wheat is being harvested and threshed everywhere (often by lying it on the road for the cars to run over) and the terraced paddy fields are being ploughed and rice is being planted. So there are at least things to occupy the mind as we crawl along. We have an alarming moment when a loud screach develops in the front axle, but it turns out to be no more that a loose bit of tarry grit trapped between the brake disk and disk guard. Things grind to a complete halt soon afterwards when the roads workers decide to surface both lanes of the road at the same time, and when we finally arrive in Lanchong the sun is almost set. It is difficult to find a reasonably priced hotel, but we finally (very tired) find our cheapest yet - it is a private hotel so their prices are not dictated by the government (they're also not supposed to take foreigners).

People working in the paddy fields

Sunday 26th May 2002 - DAY 116

Starting point: Lanchong, Sichuan
Ending point: Chongqing
Distanced travelled: 223 miles

Last night was disturbed by loud arguments ringing through the hotel at about 1am. The roads are generally much better today, but we pay the price for it as we pass through at least 12 toll gates. These really add up, but we do at least make fairly good progress, despite the fact that the signposting in every town or city we pass through is virtually non-existent. Chongqing is a high-rise city that models itself on Hong Kong and is much bigger than any we have encountered in China so far. We are soon to discover just how weird the orient can get. Our guide suddenly starts chuckling in her seat, and explains that she's just read a sign stating "No dirty cars allowed in Chonqing" (our car is truly filthy). We debate whether this means unclean or polluting, but judging by the constant car cleaning enterprises along the road come to the conclusion (rightly) that it's the former. You'll actually get fined for taking a dirty car into the city. What a place - it is huge, and carefully hidden immediately behind the enormous skyscrapers and glitsy commercial frontages, even in the very city centre, are grim slums. And the government hotel price fixing (mentioned yesterday) is rampant in this place. We have to fork out more than an entire day's budget just to get a room. We wish we were in the neighbouring city of Chengdu; apparently much cheaper and nicer. And it's raining.

Monday 27th May 2002 - DAY 117

Starting point: Chongqing
Ending point: Zunyi, Guizhou
Distanced travelled: 201 miles

Our day starts with a toll to travel through the tunnel leading out of the city. Shortly after this we are charged another 55 yuan for a 20 minute stretch of motorway (because it contains 2 tunnels and a bridge). In total today we fork out a third of our daily budget just for tolls. What really grates is that any road you don't have to pay for is so bad that you really feel that the government should be paying you to drive along it, or at least pay for the damage it does to your car. By the end of the day a worrying grating sound has developed. To make matters worse, it's still raining hard today so we're not even rewarded with any decent views. When we arrive in Zunyi we find a pleasingly cheap hotel and are have just checked in when a policeman appears and tells us we're not allowed to stay there. The only hotel in town that officially accepts foreigners is the expensive one around the corner. We grin and bear it and head out for some food (Jill isn't feeling too well so stays in the hotel). On entering the restaurant and being presented with a menu in Chinese we decide to use our initiative and draw a picture of a chicken on a piece of paper and point at what someone else is eating. Our waitress nods enthusiastically - we figure she'll bring us some local chicken dish. Everyone else's food looks really tasty, but ours takes a suspiciously long time and what finally appears is a huge bowl of white rice and a whole boiled chicken, complete with head, sitting in a disturbing looking oily broth. Even if we had wanted to eat it, how do you go about eating a whole chicken with chopsticks - especially when it's still looking at you? We tried to communicate that this wasn't what we'd wanted so they took away the chicken and brought it back all chopped up which looked even worse. When we still didn't eat it so they took away our boiled rice and brought it back egg-fried and looking hopeful. In the end we went and got our Lonely Planet book out the car and pointed to something edible. We had to pay for the boiled chicken but at least we got a decent feed in the end and the beer was cold. We felt very humble and had to accept the sad fact that Jill, Lonely Planet - we need you!

Tuesday 28th May 2002 - DAY 118

Starting point: Zunyi, Guizhou
Ending point: Anshun, Guizhou
Distanced travelled: 168 miles

Slightly less raining today, but still grey as we set off for Anshun. Motorway all the way so again, fairly expensive for the tolls. All in all, a pretty unremarkable journey. We got a bit lost in Guiyang at one point as the junction we needed was at the wrong end of a busy one-way street. Some helpful policeman offered to point us in the right direction and after following a very dubious looking dirt track we did eventually find our way back to the highway. It was quite early when we arrived and we managed to a private hotel that would take foreigners. Spent the afternoon updating the web site and doing some car maintenance, with a large audience as always (do people really have nothing better to do?). Unfortunately our only remaining locking nut key has snapped so if get any more flat tyres before we can get a new one sent out things could be tricky. We were slightly disturbed to see a dog (complete with tail) roasting on a street barbecue.

Wednesday 29th May 2002 - DAY 119

Starting point: Anshun, Guizhou
Ending point: Xingyi, Guizhou
Distanced travelled: 163 miles

Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfalls

Finally the clouds parted and the sun shone through. Our first port of call was the 'Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfall' - the highest in China and surrounded by dense, green vegetation. A few hours later we arrived at another beauty spot: the 'Mailing Gorge' which, although we didn't have time to take a boat along the river, was quite spectacular. So today was a good day - the driving was easy (good roads, few tolls) and the scenery impressive. As we approached Xingyi we chanced across a plush looking 'holiday complex' and decided to try our luck. It turned out to be a Butlins affair complete with green, slimy swimming pool, man-made fishing lake, various play areas and the obligatory 'kara-OK' bar. But the rooms were cheap and we enjoyed riding the mini-log flume along with some very serious looking Chinese soldiers.

Thursday 30th May 2002 - DAY 120

Starting point: Xingyi, Guizhou
Ending point: Kunming, Yunnan
Distanced travelled: 216 miles

Eaten alive by mosquitoes last night. Fairly uneventful journey to Kunming - took about 6 hours. After our last experience in a big city (Chongqing), Jill had asked her agency to book us some cheap accommodation in advance. We were quite impressed to find that we would be paying 60 yuan for a very smart 268 yuan room, breakfast included. Managed to find something in English on the TV - strangely enough it was a documentary about the Matthew and they showed it sailing right past our house in Bristol on its way to Newfoundland.


Friday 31st May 2002 - DAY 121

Took a trip to the Camellia Hotel where the Laos embassy is based to get our visas. The sign said it would take 3 working days or 24 hours for an 'express fee'. Being a Friday this would have made things quite awkward for us (we hadn't considered this when we decided to arrive in China on 8th May - had we been a day later, I'm not sure how it would have worked), but the nice man behind the desk said we could come back at 2pm. We asked him if it would be okay to take our car into Laos (it's not on the Carnet). He looked thoughtful for a moment then nodded in a 'why not?' kind of way.

Saturday 1st June 2002 - DAY 122 (Nic's birthday - yip yip)

Starting point: Kunming, Yunnan
Ending point: Mojiang, Yunnan
Distanced travelled: 198 miles

It was a beautiful, sunny day as we left Kunming (thanks Jill for the bunch of flowers, thanks Robin for the bunch of lychees) and headed south on a deserted 3-lane motorway with no tolls which, yet again, left us wondering about Chinese logic. Our passage into the tropics was officially marked by a red line representing the Tropic of Cancer and a plaque. The scenery started to take on a much more South East Asian feel as we drove through hills covered with rainforest and banana trees and passed through the colourful villages inhabited by various ethnic minorities. We stopped briefly to buy some mangoes from one of the numerous street stalls by the side of the road. On arriving at a hotel we again risked ordering a meal without Jill. A girl who spoke limited English offered to help us out and took us into the kitchen so we could point and choose our food - what could go wrong? I don't know what she told the chef but what appeared an hour later was a bowl of chicken heads and feet with no visible meat - no doubt a speciality. Yet again everyone else's food looked delicious and we were left staring awkwardly at our meal. We left the food largely untouched and went and bought several packets of crisps and a very large bottle of Chinese bubbly instead. Conclusion: China is a weird place.

Sunday 2nd June 2002 - DAY 123

Starting point: Mojiang, Yunnan
Ending point: Jinhong, Yunnan
Distanced travelled: 229 miles

Typical Yunnan scenery

Another hot and humid day as we continued south towards Jinhong.. The roads had deteriorated again and we spent much of our time stuck behind long queues of smoky diesel lorries. We were stopped at a checkpoint as we entered the restricted area of Xishuabanna. It was a relief to finally cross the Mekong river into Jinhong, although we were a little disappointed to find that much of the 'backpacker' area had been wiped out due to the development of a new bridge and motorway. We did manage to find one street remaining where we could stay in a bamboo hut on stilts and spend the evening in a cafe where everyone was drinking snake wine.

Monday 3rd June 2002 - DAY 124

Starting point: Jinhong, Yunnan
Ending point: Mengla, Yunnan
Distanced travelled: 132 miles

As we ambled along the bendy dirt track that leads down to Mengla, the sounds and smells of the jungle grew stronger and we almost ran over a giant (3 ft), green lizard in the road. Jill had to find the customs office to sort out our documentation for leaving China so we agreed to meet her at a specified hotel. Unfortunately every hotel in town claimed to be the one we were looking for so we had to resort to calling her mobile to find her again. Managed to get our spare tyre repaired and find yet another spare hose for the turbo. We're both feeling quite tired by the end of 4 weeks hard travelling and very much looking forward to getting into Laos.

Tuesday 4th June 2002 - DAY 125

- See Laos diary