Archive | October, 2011

29th October – Villa KeoSeumsack

30 Oct

The hotel is in a good location and only a short walk to town. There is lots of choice around here but this one has good parking and really friendly staff. There seem to be quite a few French and American guests here. They also hosted a big group of UK bikers coming in from China. We have not checked the website yet, but it is http://www.motoexplorers.co.uk.

 

 

After a breakfast of eggs, baguette (with butter!) and fresh fruit, we sat on the balcony for a couple of hours and updated the website. It was nice to relax after all the rushing around to exit China.

 

 

 

In the afternoon we wandered around town and generally relaxed. There were lots of tool and car part shops, so Graham could look around and think of the garage and barn that he misses so much!

The kids here still love having their picture taken as long as you show them the results. They often roll around laughing at the pictures. I’m sure that a few more years of tourists will make them slightly less enthusiastic … but for now its nice. We often think that the old cameras that produce an instant print would be great for this sort of trip. Not sure you can still get them?

 

 

 

Walking back to the hotel we saw a big centipede on the pavement covered with tiny ants that were trying to eat it! This would not be a nice one to find in your sleeping bag while camping!

 

We will continue south tomorrow. Checking the weather it may still be a bit warm down in Vientaine …. maybe we should not rush from the mountains, it is a really nice temperature here!

 

 

Sun, sun sun !!

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28th October – Out of China into Laos

29 Oct

We arrived at Mohan after a short 50km drive on excellent roads. Mohan is very smart and clean with lots of nice flowers and plants. We stopped outside an hotel to wait for Spring to sort out the exit paperwork. It is a good place to change money but make sure that you know the exchange rates and be prepared to haggle. One of the money changes tried to con us with a poor rate, finally agreed a better rate and then folded the notes so that if we had not separated them to count would have lost 20 % of the value …. be aware!! We told her to go away in no uncertain terms and left her struggling to put the screwed up bundle of notes back into her stack!

 

 

After filling up our tank with water at the hotel and changing the money, we headed on to the border for immigration and customs. All went well and within an hour we were driving out of the Chinese side.

 

 

We drove along a few hundred metres to the Loas side, where you could immediately see that we were in a different country. It felt good.

First step was to thoroughly decontaminate our vehicle (agricultural quarantine) by hosing down the wheels. It appears that any contamination is only on the near side wheels as they only bother with the ones on their side! Once finished they smiled and said ‘pay money” but they were smiling and expected my smile and shake of the head.

Next we went to park next to immigration where we filled in a visa form and then an entry form for the police. They ask for a passport photo and so make sure you have some spares. The cost was $37 each …. not sure if that is right, and afterwards thought that we should have asked for a receipt for reasons you will understand after the next step!

When I told them I had a car, they wanted the carnet to stamp on the back of the first page. They asked for a payment of 20000 kip for this stage (about 140 pence so not a fortune) confused about this step I asked for a receipt. The man then said “OK 10000 then” and handed me a receipt for this amount.

We then went to another booth in a small building and bought 3rd party motor insurance (I think and hope!). This was 110000 kip which is about ( 7.70 pounds). Sounds a bit cheap so I guess the cover is limited!!

 

 

With this step complete we drove off. I was a little concerned about the carnet not being stamped properly but could not remember which countries I needed it for …. bad I know, but we had rushed on the last few days and forgot to check.

A few km later we got to another customs check point and although they waved us through, I backtracked and went in an office to check the carnet issue. They seemed to know what they were doing and stamped and signed the carnet and ripped off the bottom section. We had not used it before and the sample form from the RAC was printed so small we could not see what it said at all. Must be getting old … its your parents that always complain how small the print is, not us ….

Laos

  • 19400 km from home!
  • Money : Currency is the Kip (chicken in dutch!?). 1000 Kip is about 7 pence.
  • Diesel in this area about 9500 Kip
  • First time we’ve been to the ATM and withdrawn one million!

Immediately the scenery changes, there are no vegetables growing on the roadside and the houses are lovely bamboo sided structures on stilts. There was a sudden feeling of being free to take our time …. daily life here should be much cheaper, distances shorter and lovely smiles to send you on your way.

 

 

We bought some fruit …. or are they vegetables?!

 

 

Further along the road there was a group using machinery to separate the maize from the husks. In China we always saw this being done by hand.

 

 

It is a really good road, put in by the Chinese. As it is in good condition it is easy to look around as you drive. There is loads to see and the scenery is fantastic.

 

 

They look like pot bellied pigs as the older ones we saw have bellies that almost touch the ground … really low slung!

Next was a man weaving a split cane basket.

 

At one point we stopped for a drink thinking that a beer sign meant that beer was for sale with other drinks. In fact it was only beer. We had one large bottle and four more for the fridge. This cost 20000 kip or 140 pence for the five!!

Outside the bar there were bananas growing.

 

 

We carried on to a town called Muang Xay as we wanted to sort out a 3G card for the phone and to see if we could get WordPress here in Laos. We did not want to distract Ben from his uni work for too long with the web posting! We found a really nice hotel (the only one with wifi) for about 14 pounds including two breakfasts. It is called the Villa KeoSeumsack and is a lovely building with really friendly staff and owners. They do not allow camping in the carpark which was our first request.

Once we had settled in we went to a nice little Laos restaurant around the corner and met Ashley, who is working in the town as a consultant. She lives in Cambodia at the moment … maybe our paths will cross again?

27th October – On to Mengla (near Mohan)

29 Oct

The day started slowly as the first two hours were on a busy national road and we only covered 90 km. It is getting really warm in the car but we are reluctant to use AC as it would be difficult  to sleep at night if we are not acclimatised to the heat and humidity. We passed through the Tropic of Cancer and so officially in the tropics now!

As we drove along the freeway we saw lots of tea bushes, with locals busy picking the leaves.

 

We passed a city called Pu’er which is part of the old tea route through which the tea was transported to Tibet by porters who carried 70 or 80 kgs through impossible mountain tracks. This is part of the supply route for the Silk road.

We came across lots of empty diesel stations and queues of lorries in this region. You can imagine how quickly China would grind to a halt without massive supplies of oil. It is a huge and hungry machine, which is a little bit frightening.

We continued on and stopped at Mengla only 50kms from the border. It was quite a relief. We went out that evening with Spring for our last meal and although it was with some guilt that Graham ordered chicken and chips. He did however make up for it by eating it like a local. Marjool was very good and had fried rice!

 

 

That night we had a huge thunder storm and heavy rain. We hoped that the roads in Laos were OK and thought of the poor people in Thailand who would receive the rain in a few days. Just what they don’t need!

 

 

 

26th October – Drive drive drive!

29 Oct

We took a slightly wrong turning and missed a link road early on in the day which meant that we took a decision to stick to freeways and head towards Nanning before swinging west towards Kunming. It seems a long way around but we thought it may be faster. The scenery along the freeway is great now, much more tropical and there is more open flatter land. Bananas, mangos, sugar cane are growing along with the normal rice and maize.

We  stopped frequently to have a drink and at lunch time cooked a pasta dish as the food at the services is buffet style and on the quiet roads can sit a long time ….

 

 

The day went in a blur of freeways, toll booths and pleasant scenery. Driving on these roads is relatively easy as there is never much traffic. The lorries have a habit of driving in the overtaking lane and they are often loaded so wide as to obscure their mirrors, so overtaking requires caution. The lorries all have water cooled brakes and so there are frequent stations for them to refill the water tanks. You know when a truck is in front on the mountain roads by the fresh trail of water. We saw another couple of accidents along the way, one lorry had rolled on an emergency escape lane (they all looked well used!) and so not sure how good these brakes are. Someone told us that the trucks do not use engine breaking … not sure why?

 

On one of the short sections of national roads we saw a man that will not leave his dog behind, however much he is carrying!

 

 

We finally stopped after covering a whopping 820 km, by far the biggest days driving so far. It is a shame to rush through this area of China, but the way things are set up here does not lend itself to our style of travel. Bigger groups cheaper, but agreeing how far to go each day and where to stop could be a bit of a nightmare unless you all get on really well. Lovely though Spring is to travel with, the camper is small and not suited to more than two travelling. She was really good and rode in the back on most of the freeway sections of the trip.

We still have a 500km day tomorrow and we are not sure which freeways are finished so again need to make a reasonably early start.

 

25th October – Yangshuo to Laibin (near)

29 Oct

After stocking up at the supermarket we headed out of Langshuo with the intention of working our way west towards Laos. We had intended to go slowly, but the fact that if we did not get to the border on the Friday meant that we would have to pay an extra three days of transit. It was already Tuesday and so this left us a massive 1750 km to do in two and a half days! We decided to give it a go.

There is no doubt that China is expensive to travel through as a single car group. It is not the normal things like diesel that racks up the cost, but the guide costs as charged by the companies that organise the permits and guides. It is possible to do this much much cheaper if you book directly with other smaller companies or the experienced guides themselves. It does take about 3 months to go through all the processes though so you need to plan ahead. Please contact us directly if you are thinking of a trip as we have met up with great contacts who can give you a great trip at a reasonable price …. don’t book until you have talked to us!!

The first part of the day was national roads, more interesting but slower and they require more concentration! There are lots of things to look at but as we need to cover the distance there is little time to stop. One man showed me around his bee hives, but discussion was limited!

 

 

Along the road the farmland is changing to flatter areas, but really precisely organised.

We drove until late at night as once we were on the freeway I was OK to drive in the dark. Not something I would do on the national or provincial roads. Even then we saw the odd person walking along in the centre of the fast lane, dark clothes and back to the oncoming traffic, so you have to beware!

We stopped at about 9.00 pm behind some buildings in yet another rapidly growing new city.  These pictures were taken in the morning, but it shows the spot. It was just next to a kindergarten, where they take security of the kids seriously as they are often stolen for childless couples and …. who knows what?

 

 

Tomorrow would need to be a big day as we need to cover lots of km’s. We had done 456 km today with a start at 2.00 pm so good going.

24th October – Yangshuo

29 Oct

Yangshuo is a very busy tourist spot. It is the centre for rock climbing, boat trips and cycling on the Li and Dragon river (small and pretty river).

If you would like to spoil yourself in Yangshuo town centre try staying at The Bamboo House Resort. We did not stay but had a great breakfast there. The owner, a lady called Rosie gave us a tour. The bedrooms were fantastic (and some had their own jacuzzi in the room). The rates are good outside the Chinese peak holiday periods. Her website is http://www.bamboohoue.weebly.com and her email is bamboohouse23@hotmail.com.

 

Most of the rivers look pretty dead in China. You rarely see any life in them and seeing fishermen is quite rare. Not sure if this is due to the pollution or the fact that they are almost all dammed. These rivers seem to be better.

We spent the morning on the website, preparing e-mails to send to Ben for the updates. It is so much better when we can use 3G to connect the computer to the phone. It is then little and often rather than catching up for a week!

In the afternoon we drove to the Yangsuo Mountain Resort to meet up with Ronald who suggested that we take a walk along the river and on into the karst landscape.

There are queues of rafts running down the river, so don’t expect to be on your own. The charge is 150 Yuan per person, about 30 pounds per raft for a couple of hours.

Along the walking path we saw a sort of giant pear shaped grapefruit and some cotton growing.

On the way back through the village we had a chance to look at one of the trucks up close that we had passed everywhere in China. Very basic but reliable, they are used all over China.

Its been good to settle somewhere for a couple of days as we have driven a lot in China, stopping in each place for only one night. Tomorrow we will carry on again, but will not check out of the guest house until midday.

23rd October – Longsheng to Yangshuo

28 Oct

We tried to get up for sunrise on the rice terraces but our efforts were a bit halfhearted as we were expecting a cloudy and misty day. Admission to the viewing point/village was 80 Yuan each, but as it also included an overnight stop with great views …. not too bad. We got up at six, but by the time we got the camper cleared up and were ready for the hike it was already 6.30am and already fairly light. You can be lucky with the weather here, but lots are not …. including us. It is still a nice walk in the mountains and the scenery very pleasant.

 

 

 

 

The village is interesting in its own way, but is mainly craft shops, hotels and cafes offering both western and Chinese food. It is priced based on a captive market and so things a little more expensive than normal. Outside the tourist season people still farm and you see interesting crops along the way.

 

 

 

Because everything has to be carried up to the village without cars we saw mules being used to carry everything from bricks (in special hods) to huge heavy loads of vegetables and groceries. This poor creature could barely stagger up the hill. Only continuous whipping got him to keep moving. Overall in the areas that we have been to we have seen very little use of horses. Lots of water buffalo though.

 

 

As we were leaving the carpark we met a Dutch man called Ronald who worked in a resort hotel in Yangshou. We decided to see if they had rooms as we needed to catch up with the website and do some washing. After a long delay on the road to Guillin (another accident) we made it to the freeway (G65) that takes us most of the way to Yangshuo.

 

 

We visited the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat (where Ronald worked) which was in a great location, but no rooms. We settled for a small hotel in town and booked in for two nights. The view out of the room was good and it was only a short walk to West Street where it all happens in Yangshuo!