Previews from the book "Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels."
135 full-color pages of photos, stories, anecdotes, illustrations, journal pages maps and more!In addition to the four major sections on Yunnan, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand I have included some back story on both my first (and unsuccessful) attempt to motorcycle through China as well as how the planning for the trip came together.I have chosen the very best of the more than 4,000 photos from the trip as well as the most humorous, moving and fascinating of the several hundred anecdotes for Southeast Asia on 2 Wheels.
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
Worst roads yet - Menghai to DaLuo. Mud traps everywhere and ruts up to a meter in depth. Advice: stay out of "DaLuo." It took me 2 hours of police interrogation to get out of there!
* Police were exceedingly kind and treated me very well.
* They realized I didn't have a license or proper ownership, and they didn't care.
* They offered to let me stay in the town because it was getting dark (but I got the hell out of there.)
* They returned bike keys to me and wished me luck
The silver lining here is that it was the 'worst case scenario' or riding in China - the police knowing you don't have a license - and despite that they let me go. They seemed satisfied with the IDL. They were much more concerned with what I had 'seen' and what I had taken pictures of. Also, they were worried I had entered illegally from Myanmar. Yeah right, like I'd even be able to get into Myanmar!
I'll write more on the story later because it's rather funny now. The ride home in the dark wasn't as funny...
Friday, 26 September 2008
I will write more later - suffice it to say now that I am at the southernmost province in Yunan. Only miles from the border of Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. All signs are bilingual here - with Myanmar writing!
Thursday, 25 September 2008
FOR BIKE NERDS:
The Zhongshen 150 has drum breaks front and back (yeah, I know..). Continuous downhill driving and constant tight turns had taken their toll on some already worn breaks. I took the bike to a local bike shop here and had the boys do their magic. In less than 30 minutes they:
1. pulled both front and back wheels
2. removed gunk from front break line
3. removed shoes from rear drum
4. replaced with NEW break shoes
5. reassembled front and rear drums
6. reinstalled front and rear wheels
7. adusted all cables etc.
Total cost to me: about $4 USD. Wow.
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
I woke up early yesterday morning, hoping to avoid the police. Then, not 5 blocks from the hostel, a street cop flagged me down. "Damn.. game over.." I thought to myself. I tried my usual hit-them-with-fast-English-to-scare-them routine, but he spoke a little English. Here was the conversation.
OFFICER: "Your is registration bike."
ME: Damn. He's good..
"Here you go officer."
OFFICER: "This is expire. You will get a new one."
OFFICER: "Have a nice day."
And that was it. The dreaded run-in with the law was over in about 30 seconds and I was back on my way. Phew.
On the way out I was caught in the middle of a caravan of PLA soldiers in big green military trucks. They got such a laugh out of seeing me riding between them.
The road was in good condition most of the way - sealed asphalt with a smooth surface. However, the route consists of a hairpin turn about every 100 feet and thusly can only be traveled at about 20 miles and hour. The going is slow. I pushed it too far again last night and was on the road past sundown. The going got really slow then.
I saw more stars than I have ever seen in my life. 1000s.
Finally, a group of "police" manning a post by the side of the road (more like four 20-somethings in T-shirts and shorts smoking and playing cards) asked me to sit with them and smoke a cigarette. They directed me to a 'hotel' just 5 km down the road. I found said hotel to be more like a 'garage' for humans. Concrete, filthy - like a state-park cabin. Never been so glad to have a bed.
Only made it about 50km today to the town of __Jiang. I found a nice hotel here, and decided it was time to take a half-day and clean up. Tomorrow I will press on for the Xishuanbanna region.
Already the terrain is transformed - more SE asia than China - palms, exotic peoples, sod houses. So much diversity in one province.
Sunday, 21 September 2008
Got out of Dali old town yesterday morning around 10:00AM. This leg was particularly long because of a lack of accomodation between the two points. (many hotels are not allowed to house foreigners) Roads were easy breezy about 80% of the way. Wide, paved, asphalt - smooth with not a lot of hairpin turns. Dropped some altitude and breathing was easier.
Road turned to hell about 60 km outside of Kunming. Patches of dirt and rock with enormous ruts (up to 18" in some places!), mud, lumbering dump trucks panting out their black plumes of soot. Then, I lost the race against the sun and it was 'night driving.' Night driving is one of my "don'ts" in motorcycling. I would describe the night traffic in Kunming as a 'free-for-all' or 'road circus.' Finally I got to my favorite hostel, the hump. Treated myself to a huge single room, with a bathroom etc - $20 USD. Big spender.
No more long rides like that. Next is either elephant reserve or Yuanyang rice terraces.
Rocinante (my bike) handled the worst like it was nothing.
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Despite only being about 200 miles apart, it takes a good seven hours to reach the city of Shangrila from Dali. Harrowing hairpin turns around blind mountain corners and a steady climb from 6,500 to 9,800 feet make the journey rough going. Once I arrived here I quickly set about renting a motorcycle - a street-legal "dirt bike" and shot out west. A cluster of ethnic Tibetan villages fills a grassland plane between the mountains. In the summer and fall a shallow lake appears.
Yaks, pigs, horses, cows, donkeys and sheep constantly wander across the roads. The Tibetan farmers build large wooden racks to dry their harvested rice crops on. The racks fill the flood plane like organic solar panels. As I coursed through rough, muddy and sometimes non-existant gravel paths I was met with smiling farmers and snickering women. A small child called out to me "hello?"
The next day, I rented the bike for three days and headed north toward Deqin, the last developed town before the Tibetan border. Along the way I met, by total coincidence, a motorcycling friend from the internet: Loh, Kaiwen (Singapore). We happily shared the road together and took on the endless mountain passes. Two-thirds the way there (70 miles out), the road seemed to disappear just over a smooth hump. We stopped the bikes at the top to take in the awe-inspiring scene: A sloping grassy plain that dropped off into a deep gorge surrounding an enormous, glacier capped alp. So beautiful it was nearly frightening.
Just outside of Deqin a sign read ELEVATION: 4,290 Meters (14,070 Feet). We could feel it - every breath was a struggle and the bikes also seemed tired. Loh and I discussed the various perils we had encountered riding in China on the rooftop of our hostel. Tibetan trumpets called out eerie low hums and high-pitched wails through the chilly full-moon night.
Loh continued his ride north alone and I set off to hike the nearby glacier. I thought I should see one while they still exist. After arriving at the park, I parked the rental bike and began the 2-hour hike up the mountain to the glacier's foot. I considered turning back no less than 1,000 times. Short of breath, exhausted, every step seemed impossible - just not enough oxygen. But I pressed on and somehow made it to the glacier. A hot day suddenly turned chilly in the presence of all that ice. Hard, cold, brutal, jagged ice. Stunning.
I returned to Shangrila to sort out the motorcycle question. I decided not to buy the rental bike. It was in short, a piece of junk. I fruitlessly searched high and low for a similar dirt bike but to no avail. No sooner had I left the bus station to buy a ticket for Kunming when I saw it. Perfect condition, low miles, proper license plates. I approached the owner and made an offer. A few phone calls later and I have about 10 Tibetan friends and a motorcycle. I have christened this one "Rocinante" - the name of Don Quixote's horse. Thanks Brian for the idea!
Enjoy the photos. Next it's Dali, then Kunming then the drive south toward Laos.
Oh, while driving back to Shangrila, a bull tried to ram me. Did he think I was going to steal his harem?
He's Baaaack. This time I mean business!
I purchased a trail bike today - in superior condition for a very low price. This is the right machine for the job. High suspension, big wheels, knobby tires - finally a machine that can handle the worst of China's roads.
I completed a 400+ km roundtrip ride from Shangrila (which I am using as a base) and Deqin, which is the last town of any size before the Tibetan border. The bike handled the hairpin mountain curves and cobble-stoned, heavily rutted paths with ease. Now, I'm ready to do this right.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
Toying with the idea of buying another bike on my return to Kunming and making the drive to Laos. The coming trip north should offer the most stunning photos yet.
Enjoyed smoking the local tobacco today. Angelhair thin strands - tastes awful.
Oh, and I cut off all of my hair today. My head looks like sand-paper. Also, they shaved off my beard. I will try not to cry.
Sunday, 7 September 2008
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Feeling rested after my 11-hour bus ride from Changsha the night before, I set off to see what Guiyang has to offer. My couchsurfing.com host, Melissa, and I soon stumble onto a grizzly avenue hosting some of true free-market capitalism's more macabre offerings.
Exiting the busy clothes and shopping market we find ourselves on a quiet canal-side street. A row of greasy and blackened stalls pigeon-holed into the wall opposite the canal are filled with used tools, vices, cables and the like. The shop tenders themselves are easily lost amongst the stacks of dusty and worn equipment. A woman cooks some Chinese fare on an open fire. Two chickens walk about untethered. Then, across the street, against the canal railing, two men are sitting on small folding chairs under a parasol. Melissa and I hear a constant hum - high pitched like an electric razor. From a motorcycle battery on the ground, two wires lead up to a naked dirty and naked hand holding the buzzing tattoo gun. The patient looks off into the distance as the gun hammers the ink into his flesh. Along the canal we can count at least 10 of these 'street parlors.'
As I watch the artist dip the same needle into different colors of ink from a filthy tray on the street I can't help but wonder if either of them know the risks. In a small case next to the chairs are some different bottles of ink and some graphite stenciling paper. No sign of other needles, gauze, iodine or anything else representing safe practice. We watch with a sense of horror and intrigue. I was more shocked by the fact that none of this seemed even slightly dangerous to anyone but us. The most expensive tattoo available cost $10 USD.
Passing several of these HIV sharing parties, I find l'Creme du Squalor! In a scene from a health department horror flick, we meet our first 'street dentist.' No medical equipment, no gloves - just a man, a small wooden case and some crude metal instruments which would seem more at home in the tool shops across the street than in a dental hygenist's hands.
Holding a man in a headlock, the 'doctor' dipped his tools into some small unmarked viles in his case. He smiled sadistically at us as his 'patient' spat out a noxious compound that smelled vaguely like amonia. In his case: a preserved human mandible, a small box of human teeth, several glass viles of different powders and clear fluids and metal cookie tin. The back-alley doc slowly opened the tin to reveal to us what might be the most terrifying thing I've ever seen: a dark, rusty, 4" section of a common hacksaw blade. I still don't know what use a dentist would have for this implement.
The good doctor turns to me with an expression that seems to invite me for a 'tooth cleaning.' Thanks but no thanks.