Cycling to the Three Gorges of the Yangzi

Posted By : Karl/ 156 0

Our Three Gorges bike trip which is scheduled for this year’s Sept 20 combines a selection of the most prominent historic and cultural sights of China with a great and authentic experience of rural and urban life in the heart of the country.

On top of this, you get to discover great varied landscapes on a challenging 1000 km ride through the Qinling Mountain Range – all the way to the Yangzi’s famous Three Gorges.

 

We have divided the tour into five topical stages to convince you of its unique character:

 

Stage One: Exploring Beijing and its surroundings.

 

Our hotel in Beijing is located right inside the historic old town. From here, we use public transport or simply walk to explore the historic sights of the Chinese capital: We walk through the “Hutongs”, the traditional back alleys of the city, visit the pretty Temple of Heaven and watch the local pensioners who gather in the park for dancing, exercise, music rehearsals or playing Chinese chess.

 

Of course we won’t miss the gigantic Tian’anmen Square and Forbidden City and will go out to have a traditional Beijing Roast Duck in the evening. Before leaving the city on a sleeper train to Xi’an, we go on a day trip to a pretty part of the Great Wall which is still spared from mass tourism.

 

 

Stage Two: Xi’an, the Terracotta Warriors and Mount Hua

 

Xi’an used to be the capital of China during the empire’s golden ages and was once the largest and most multicultural city on Earth, marking the start and end point of the famous silk roads. When we explore the city, we can still feel the multicultural vibe in the Muslim quarters.

 

After climbing the big city wall and having a good view of the old town from above, we have time to discover some of the city’s many food specialties.

 

On the next day we start the cycling part of our trip. On a short stage, we cycle to the Terracotta Warriors just West of Xi’an and see one of the world’s most impressive tombs. After another day of cycling we reach Mount Hua and then take a whole day to climb the holy Daoist mountain with its many picturesque peaks.

 

 

Stage Three: Qinling Mountains and cycling deep into Central China

 

Mount Hua marks the Northern End of the Qinling mountain range. Here we turn South and start our cycle journey over mountain passes, along rivers and terraced fields, venturing deeper and deeper into central China.

 

The cities and old towns we see on our way are simply too remote to be included on other travellers’ itinerary. Be prepared to meet locals who have never shook hands with a foreigner before!

 

On our route through this area we’ll get used to some of Chinese habits, such as the daily group dancing routines on the big city squares – and will have the chance to try many of the great local dishes. Did you know that Shaanxi province is famous for its excellent freshly made noodles? On our cycling stages, those noodles will be the perfect lunch to provide us with energy for the afternoon’s climbs.

 

 

Stage Four: The Yangzi and its Three Gorges

 

After 8 days of cycling we will finally reach the Yangzi at Fengjie. The world’s third longest stream comes from the Himalayan Mountains and flows eastwards to enter the Yellow Sea just a bit north of Shanghai.

 

We meet the river at its most famous spot: The Three Gorges. The magnificence of the gorges has served as inspiration for many ancient Chinese poets and continues to fascinate the people of the Middle Kingdom.

 

From Fengjie to Wushan, we cycle along the Qutang Gorge, the first of the three huge ravines. Then we continue our journey downstream until we reach the famous Three Gorges Dam at the end of Xiling Gorge. We’ll have a chance to take a close look at this gigantic project which has sparked worldwide controversy.

 

 

Stage Five: Shanghai

 

A stroll through Shanghai, China’s gate to the West will be the final venture of our journey.

 

We walk over the World famous Bund and stroll through the city’s shopping district at Nanjing Lu and visit the beautiful Yu Garden. We then cross the Huangpu River and enjoy the view from the top of Pudong’s giant skyscrapers.

 

After our tour through the Chinese hinterland, we now get a full grasp of the “economic miracle” that drives this country since the 1980ies.

 

Cycling up the Doi Suthep // Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai!

Posted By : Karl/ 181 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 22:

Day trip by bicycle to Doi Suthep; celebrating Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai.

 

Even though yesterday had been our tour’s last official cycling day, we had a special treat prepared for all enthusiasts looking for another sporty challenge:

Doi Suthep, a magnificent buddhist monastery and temple lies at a beautiful spot 700 m above Chiang Mai. The winding mountain road leading from the Chiang Mai Zoo all the way up to the monastery was going to be the last challenge of our tour! While half of the group decided to take it easy on the last day and take the red Tuk-Tuk up the mountain, the other half was eager to test the effect of cycling 1000 km over the past three weeks. The five of us who accepted the challenge all managed to conquer the mountain without difficulty! With a good feeling of achievement we then visited the temple and enjoyed the great view over Chiang Mai before rolling downhill all the way back into the city.

Of course, on the last day of the tour, we were planning to find a nice spot for our farewell-dinner. Who would have thought that we would find just the perfect setting for our last evening? It could not have been better! Not only did our lovely guide Paradise find an atmospheric restaurant just next to Nam Ping river… but we were in a perfect place to oversee one of the greatest spectacle of the Thai year: As it happened to be Loy Krathong festival, we were able to observe thousands of small candle-boats float down the river beside us – and thousands of sky lanterns soar into the air. For the inhabitants of Chiang Mai, Loy Krathong is a an occasion to leave all the sorrows and bad things behind – by attaching them (metaphorically) to the little boats and lanterns and let wind and water carry them away.

This was a beautiful ending for a beautiful tour we have had! During the last three weeks, cycling through China, Laos and Thailand, we had collected an abundance of impressions and memories – and tonight’s sky full of lanterns proved to be a worthy climax.

At this point, it is time for me to say thank you: Thanks to all participants of this tour through the Golden Triangle, you were great! Despite very diverse biographies, all of you got along in a respectful way, you showed respect to the countries we cycled to and to the people we met… and always managed to keep the spirit up! The best gift for a guide is to guide a friendly and interesting group such as you are. And last but not least: Thanks to Erika, Harald and Rolf, who had processed some of their memories into three witty and moving songs which they sang to us at the end of the evening.

 

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Last stage! Cycling into Chiang Mai

Posted By : Karl/ 177 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 21:

Cycling 87km on mostly flat terrain from Chiang Dao to Chiang Mai. Nice weather, but a few too many punctured tires.

 

Time flies! It seems like only a couple of days back when we started our three country trip in Southern Yunnan… but it’s been three full weeks now! Today we finished the last stage of our trip and arrived in Chiang Mai.

Especially the beginning of the stage was overwhelmingly pretty – on small country roads, we rode through picturesque rice paddies and quiet villages, giving everyone time to stop, explore and take pictures.

It got rather hot again towards noon, but we found a nice noodle joint for lunch to fuel up on energy. Again staying on small roads, we cycled into Chiang Mai and reached our hotel comfortably early.

I am happy that while cycling over 1000 km with a rather big group, we have been able to avoid any major incidents on the way! No accidents, no injuries, no missing persons and apart from a few punctured tires and some unadjusted gearshifts no problems with our bikes. Thanks to our three caring support crews who were always there when we needed tham, and to the whole group for cycling cautiously throughout the whole trip!

After our arrival, we relaxed for a while by the hotel pool and then went for a walk to the Chiang Mai night market. Our hotel lies just a bit East outside of the walled old town, making it easy to explore both the old town as well as the area around Nam Ping river. We got an impression of the bustling nightlife of the city – with all its bars and clubs and late night snack points – and after filling our bellies with some delicious street food, we got back to the hotel for a deserved rest.

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A Freezing Morning in Thailand

Posted By : Karl/ 432 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 20:

Cycling 98 km from Thaton to Chiang Dao. Chilly morning, pretty warm afternoon.

Who would expect Northern Thailand in November to be really cold?

We didn’t – but today we had to learn the hard way as we gathered for breakfast on the pretty riverview terrace of our hotel -when the fierce, cold wind blew all our good morning spirits away. As there was no alternative place inside the building to sit and eat, we chose to move our table close to one of the walls of the terrace to hide (as much as possible) from the wind. Experience as well as the weather forecast told us that it would surely get warm again during the day, but as we sat there, shivering and clasping our hot coffee mugs, this was hard to imagine.

Sure enough – once we had swung ourselves on our bikes and cycled a few kilometres, we forgot about the morning chill and started to peel off layer after layer of clothing. The first 50 km of today’s stage, we cycled through urbanized areas on a comparably big road – but we made the most of it, stopping at a primary school to watch the morning roll and talk to the teachers and exploring a little rice packaging factory and a few temples on the way.

After our customary noodle soup for lunch, the road started to get quieter and we entered the green, hilly and pretty karst area North of Chiang Dao. As far as I am concerned, I can never get enough of karst! I just love the way the bizarre rocks look like waves in green sea of subtropical trees.

We climbed the last mountain pass of this tour in the afternoon. One more day to go now until we reach our final destination Chiang Mai!

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White temple, yellow noodles

Posted By : Karl/ 143 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 19:

A four hour boat ride on the Kok river and 20 km of cycling to Thaton.

 

This morning we went to see the White Temple of Chiang Rai. This temple was built about ten years ago by the wealthy Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who designed it in an extravagant, modern and unusual way. Despite the modern outlook, this temple is populated by buddhist monks and is in regular use just like any other wat in the country. We were surprised by the apparent flexibility of the buddhist practitioners in this country – it is hard to imagine a church in Europe being built in such an extravagant and even slightly provocative way and still being operated like any other chruch.

After our visit to the white temple, we rode our bikes to the pier of the Kok river to start yet another boat ride. Even though this was the first boat ride on our journey, it didn’t feel like a repetition at all – this time the river was a narrow one with strong currents and the captain had to use all his skill to maneuver us through the tight and rocky spots. On mid-way, we stopped at a village of the Karen hill-tribe and each had a bowl of the delicious egg noodles with a peanut coconut sauce and chicken (Khao Soi), which is a specialty of Northern Thailand.

 

After another two hours of boat ride we were reunited with our bicycles and cycled the remaining 20 km to Thaton, always staying close to the Kok river. Our hotel lies beautifully directly at a bend of the Kok and we ended the day with a nice dinner on the terrace overlooking the river.

 

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Goodbye, Mother Khong!

Posted By : Karl/ 140 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 18:

Cycling 114 km from Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai.

 

The Mekong is the source of all growth and life of the whole region we travel through on this tour. The locals call it “Mae Khong”, which literally means “mother khong”, and reflects the great importance of the river to the Lao and Thai people.

On our journey, we had shared many nice moments with the mighty river: We had started our tour at the Mekong in China, had crossed it multiple times (by  ferry, small boat over a bridge), we had enjoyed a romantic dinner at its banks, rode two days upstream in a boat on it and even went for a swim inside – but today it was finally time to say goodbye to our old friend.

We cycled for another 40 km along the Mekong shore, took one last group picture there and then turned South to leave the big stream behind. Passing close to the “centre” of the Golden Triangle, (where the Border of Laos, Burma and Thailand meet), we could witness that the area is still smuggler’s territory: The Thai police arrested a couple of people from burma who tried to get their goods into the country by riding their motorbikes on small paths through the fields.

There was a rather strong wind which luckily came from behind and helped us reach Chiang Rai a bit sooner than planned. In the evening we went to the nightmarket in the city centre, tried some of the barbecue specialties and then went to a massage parlour to have our backs and legs knead, twisted, and stretched in the typical Thai style. We are more than ready now to tackle the last three stages to Chiang Mai!

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Two relaxed days on the boat

Posted By : Karl/ 161 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Days 16 and 17:

A two-day and 750 km boat ride upstream the Mekong. Crossing the border from Laos to Thailand at Huay Xai.

 

From Luang Prabang we started on a two-day trip up the Mekong. The Mekong on high water as it is now, admittedly is not the most spectacular sight: There are not many freight ships, few fishermen (due to the new dams preventing the fish from swimming up- and downstream) and the landscape does not change dramatically on the way.

 

For relaxation, however, our boat trip is perfect! The boat we have chartered for our group is big enough for everyone to find a cosy spot to make themselves comfortable. The captain’s amiable wife prepared coffee and fruit for us and even cooked a number of great dishes for lunch – can it get much more luxurious? We can finally start reading the novels and travel guidebooks that had been buried somewhere deep in our bags. We eat, chat, and simply sit back and let the scenery pass by.

 

After an overnight stay in a hotel in Pak Beng, we started the continuation of the boat trip early this morning, in order to have enough time to cross the border to Thailand in the afternoon. We got to Huai Xay early enough and managed to cross the friendship bridge without any incidents and received a warm welcome by Mrs Paradise and Mr Dao, our Thai support crew.

 

We are now looking forward to swinging on our bikes again tomorrow and start exploring the third country of this tour – Thailand.

 

Up for a swim in the Mekong?

Posted By : Karl/ 153 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 15:

Cycling to the Kuangsi Waterfall and going for a swim in the Mekong

 

Today, on day two of our stop in Luang Prabang, we went on a day trip to the Kuangsi-Waterfall. The falls can be found about 20 km downstream of the Mekong and the road leading there is excellent to cycle on: Only the last two kilometres up to the entrance of the falls is quite steep. The water of the Kuangsi-Fall contains a large amount of limestone which shaped the rocks at the spot where the water dashes down, making it an extraordinary sight! Furthermore the limestone shaped a number of basins just below the fall, inviting us to hop into the light blue water in for a little swim. Refreshed and happy, we made our way back to the city.

 

After getting back to Luang Prabang, Rolf invited the group to join him for a sunset swim in the Mekong. We chartered a small boat, drove 10 minutes upstream and stopped at a nice sand beach. The water of the Mekong was of a pleasant temperature (even a bit warmer than the water at the Kuangsi Fall) and we enjoyed the scenery with a cool beer. Thanks Rolf for the great idea! On my next tour through the golden triangle I might include this “boat trip to the beach” into the itinerary 🙂

 

In the evening it was time to say goodbye to Sigrid, Reinelde, Philipp and Karlheinz, four participants who have booked the short version of our tour and who will fly back home in two days while the rest of the group continues cycling through Thailand. Along with our always cheerful and competent guide Tho, who will not accompany us on the boat trip to the Thai border, we will surely miss them during our last week of the trip!

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The Beat of Buddhism in Luang Prabang

Posted By : Karl/ 155 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 14:

Exploring Lao’s city of kings

 

Luang Prabang is a city with a special atmosphere. As the ancient capital of the Kindong of Lan Xang, the city had a political significance for many centuries. The political and economic center of Laos is now Vientiane – but Luang Prabang clearly remains the religious capital of the country.

Walking through the streets of Luang Prabang one can clearly feel the beat of buddhism: The religion is still perceptible in so many ways: The density of beautiful Wats (the temples of Theravada Buddhism) is striking, it almost seems like one in ten houses is a temple. Monks in their orange robes are present everywhere: We hear the beat of their drums when we wake up, see them walk through the streets during alms giving and hear the meditative singing during prayer time in the evening.

We take one day to explore some of the most important sights and temples: The King’s Palace, the Mount Phousi with its beautiful view, Wat Visounarang, and of course, the most significant and prettiest of all temples here: Wat Xieng Thong. In the evening we crossed the Mekong by boat visited a very humble temple and walked through the surprisingly simple village on the opposite site of the river.

 

Cycling to Luang Prabang

Posted By : Karl/ 120 0

23-Day Cycle Tour through China, Laos and Thailand, Day 13:

87 km of cycling from Nam Thouam to Luang Prabang – along Nam Ou and the Mekong.

 

After relatively flat stage we reached the destination of the Lao part of our trip: Beautiful Luang Prabang.

On our way there we cycled along the river Ou, who had been our company for the last two days. We had lunch at a beautiful spot just beside the river, overlooking the karst scenery, then cycled for another 20 km along the Mekong and arrived in Luang Prabang in the early afternoon. After spending over one week in the undeveloped Lao hinterland, Luang Prbang almost was an overdose of civilisation to us: Nice coffee shops, romantic riverview restaurants, beautiful streets with neatly groomed palm trees and an overall sophisticated atmosphere, very much unlike the rural spirit of the last week.

Our hotel Sala Prabang is an old French colonial building which lies just above the banks of the mekong. On a terrace overlooking the mighty river, we met for dinner just as the sun was about to set. We are very much looking forward to exploring this ancient city of kings during the two days ahead of us!

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