24th September 2014 Passed the Mongolian side of the border with the usual disorganisation and headed for the Chinese entry point where we eventually met the rest of our convoy, two Swiss couples and a German couple who all, very politely in our presence, speak English. The only problem was no Markus and Belinda, the Dutch couple we had met previously in Olgi. Hours passed before they eventually arrived having survived a major visa problem. So, now we are ready to enter China, NO. The border guards would not let us go through, we did not know why. More hours, and after phone calls to our agent, we were allowed to pass and finally meet our guide, Andy (His Anglicised name). He is an immediately likeable fellow and he got us through the Chinese entry point. Complete with Chinese number plates and driving licences, I didn’t not even have to pass the test.
The Chinese officials were efficient and friendly with no extra charges imposed. However, with all of the delays we had to leave the cars in the militarised zone until the following morning to complete paper work. We were not allowed to stay overnight in the militarised zone so the whole crew had to go to Eringot (a city close by) for the night. Small problem. Two of our cars had dogs. So we all walked down the yellow brick road, some five kilometres, into town, to find a hotel that would not only take us, but two dogs also. This was actually easier than it seems, and with a bit of haggling and demonstration of how good the dogs were, we were able to get a room. Next, dinner. We walked a couple of doors down, had a great meal together, with a lot of laughs and headed back for sleep.
China is immediately impressive and our newfound friends seem to be a good bunch.
Luckily the dogs didn’t bark at 2am.
25th September 2014 Got up early looking for breakfast, walked downtown and found an enthusiastic, street card game, with about twenty playing, discovered a cake shop and back to our car at the border, in a taxi this time.
Hotel = $16/night. Dinner=$5 each. Taxi=$4. This is good.
The rest of the day was a hell of a drive, many K’s. with us as the lead car. The convoy was slow with only an average of 70K’s/h, finally arriving in Datong at about 9pm. Could not find the hotel. No problem, the local police post suggested we all just park twenty meters to the right of them for the night. We grabbed a quick banquet from some one willing to stay up till 1am and back home to bed in the middle of town( population 6 million) RIGHT ON MAIN STREET. This is a huge city and all night we had people stopping by, taking photos and generally checking us out. A couple of busses stopped. We almost expected tour busses before too long.
In the morning it was something like THE BEATLES HAVE COME TO TOWN. People, a crowd, all friendly and curious, surrounded us. We were posing for pictures; one lady gave us some dumplings, people looking from the units up above. There were even fireworks and loud music. I kid you not.
Then off to the Grotto’s and the Hanging Monastery. This was fantastic. It literally hangs in mid air, on the side of a cliff supported by long branches maybe 5cm wide. They vibrated if you hit them (Not too hard, thank you). On the plus side the monastery has been there for many centuries so it probably won’t fall down.
Andy, our guide, has handled things very well and it is a hard task to keep ten people and two dogs happy.
Now all five cars are parked in the Hanging Monastery car park and chilling out (literally) after our last exciting/stressful days.
It turns out that, in a convoy, you need the slowest car at the lead. I can vouch that this is true as on the second day we tried it and the convoy averaged 15Km/h more.
26th September 2015 The convoy headed off bright and early and had only travelled a few K’s when I heard that grinding noise coming from the back wheel telling me the bearing was gone and confirmed by a red-hot hub. No worries, I had a spare and three of the guys were well versed in all things Toyota. Five hours later it was fixed and we set off for our goal, Beijing.
We got to within 100K’s of Beijing at about 10pm and were stopped in our tracks by the most humungous, gridlock, traffic jam consisting only of trucks. This was mayhem, like a war zone so we just pulled over to the side of the road and stopped for the night. All night the trucks just inched along past our little group, making plenty of wild beast like noises, and loud.
27th September 2014 I have lost a day somewhere. Oh well!
28th September 2014 Visited the Great Wall and entered Beijing to find our camping area in a shopping centre car park, we do attract a lot of attention here with people having a good old look in our cars and taking pictures but all in a good natured way. A couple of them have just gotten into the car alongside me here, as I type. It’s surprising how you can communicate by pantomime.
We almost saw the Forbidden City but just got there too late and were forbidden to see it, unfortunately our schedule is so tight, not to mention the wheel bearing delay, that we will not be able to go back to it another day.
We then went to Tian’anmen Square, apparently Mao’s body is on display there but after seeing Lenin it may be an anticlimax/ ghoulish, and then on to the nightlife area for a sumptuous meal.
Beijing is a 1st class city with good public transport and orderly traffic, hard to find a shower though. Again, as with Russia, so many misconceptions and preconceived ideas.
29th September 2014 Tried to get a shower.
3rd October 2014 Already there are cracks appearing in the convoys’ happiness level.
There are quite a few kilometres between the various attractions and we are a slow convoy owing to the fact that one of the cars can only travel at 80 KPH max. We usually arrive at a town or attraction late in the day and our overnight stays are not quite what we are used to either i.e. mud and glass (and other refuse I will not mention) filled parking lots surrounded by inquisitive crowds.
Yes, this is the life of a celebrity.
We have to search for toilets and showers are even more scarce or usually non-existent. I am a little disappointed in our guide as he is not equipped for rural sleepovers (part of the deal) and we consequently have to stay in a town overnight so that he can have a hotel room. He gets a shower.
5th October 2014 We saw the Terracotta Army today, it was magnificent with each piece being individual and life sized.
This is National Celebration week and with free tollways the whole country is on the move with huge crowds everywhere, but they are well organised and we don’t have to wait long to see any of the attractions although most of the time we are the attraction as many of them have never seen a European before. They are constantly looking into the car and if there is not enough light for them to see they will shine a torch in. We are constantly being asked to pose with them for photos and they are so good-natured you cannot refuse.
I knew that China had a huge population (1.3 billion) and driving through it you see the huge industrial areas, excellent motorways (very expensive tolls), huge bridges and so many vehicles. The country is wrapped in a constant fog and I don’t know if its natural or smog (Andy says fog). Considering all of this the place is very clean and orderly.
8th October 2014 The cracks are turning into rift valleys with people having temper tantrums and displaying some fairly selfish behaviour. True we are not exactly getting what we thought but some of the crew are definitely over reacting.
Last night we had quite an incident. We were directed to stay overnight at a dirt car park, which could have quite easily been mistaken for a dump. We made the best of it and started to prepare a campfire for our first night of real camping. The guy at the entrance said no fire but later a cleaner of the car park motioned to us that we could have a fire, he even started the makings of it with cardboard and tinder. The guitars came out, a small fire lit, a good time being had by all and, we were the only inhabitants of the car park/tip, not bothering anyone, no one else around for miles. A policeman arrived and told us no fire so we immediately put it out as by now we knew they really meant it. Other petty officials arrived and things escalated but not from our side of things. Two squad cars and a police mini bus arrived and we were evicted to a giant bus parking station some 5K’s away.
The next day the Pandas were great as was the Biggest Buddha in China and The World.
Our guide keeps telling us that the constant fog is natural but it never gets burnt off by the sun and lasts all night. It also makes the Sun a bushfire yellow when you can see it. I believe it to be pollution.
11th October 2014 We find ourselves by the shore of Lake Lugu which is at an altitude about that of about 2700 meters and oddly enough little pollution, for a rest and repair day. This place does not have the same intensity of spectators and I have just had my first hot shower in China. The next few days will see some of us headed almost to Tibet and Shangri-La whilst the others will wait for us at Tiger Leaping Gorge before we all continue on to Laos.
The weather here is perfect with cool nights.
14th October 2014 Two cars, ours and Belinda and Markus with Andy our guide have opted to travel the loop towards Tibet.
The scenery is Himalayan in scale (I’ll let the pictures do the talking) and we reached 4300 meters dropping down to 1800 now at our camp ground/building site. That’s a difference of 2.5 kilometres vertically. It feels like Tibet.
We are camped at a small town overlooking the Mekong River which ends up in Vietnam, within view of what looks to be a casino and to our right a karaoke venue which pumps the music out over the valley and just below in a concrete car park maybe a hundred dancers almost line dancing. These guys know how to party and this is only Tuesday night.
The police called in to get our particulars and no problems. They were very friendly.
We have been so busy on the China leg of the journey mostly because of the difficulty of moving our convoy from A to B. This has meant long days ending with adlib searches for camping places and basics such as toilets. I can’t say that the tour company has done the right thing by us. However Andy our guide is a great guy who has copped the flack very well.
Tiger Leaping Gorge.
18th October 2014 Camped at the bus terminal in Dali and had a great day exploring the old city. We started out by getting what we thought was a day tourist bus ticket to travel around the town but it turned out to be a full blown tour with thirty or so Chinese with all commentary in Mandarin. We tagged along for a while but we didn’t understand any of it so we just kind of slinked off and did our own tour which was really good as we found the real Chinese market area with things like burning pigs heads and other unidentifiable foods. Judy got a haircut = AUD$6.
The Chinese are the French epicures of Asia, the food is excellent and you can often mix and match the ingredients that you want. Having done this the food arrives before too long and is delicious. I think many ingredients and sauces is key but they also know how to blend it all into ambrosia. I wonder what Thailand and Vietnam will have to offer?
23rd October 2014 Two days ago we visited the Elephant Vale Elephant Park. It was a very touristic place and we did see the Elephant Show, the highlights of which for me, was the soccer game (good strikers) and the harmonica playing (just like Bob Dylan). These are elephants we’re talking about here.
We then retired to the uninhabited second car park for the night. At about 7.30pm the guards came and told us we could not stay. O’oh our second eviction. The reason why was because of the roaming bands of wild elephants. Of course we were well into cooking meals and a couple of beers. We very reluctantly and slowly packed up and moved to a village a couple of kilometres down the road. Apparently the wild elephants do not roam there.
The highlight of this night was unexpected. For several days Belinda and Markus had heard mewing from the engine bay and tonight the culprit was discovered, a small white pussy. It was in an inaccessible place and would not come out so the battery was removed and further surgery was considered. One of us thought a good idea would be to leave some meat out to coax it out. This did the trick. Hours of fun for all!
Our last night in China was at Mohan and a hotel room for the night, I haven’t showered for four or five days.
Others in our convoy went to the ATM to get cash for the border crossing and would you believe that the machines in this town only operate with six number pin codes, so, no money. In all of our travels this is the only place that has such ATM’s. This meant that they could not pay for a room at our hotel, so, showers all round in our room.