Cycle-touring in Yunnan and Sichuan, China
Things we'd have liked to know before we went!
The Lonely Planet mandarin phrasebook is indispensable! Point at the symbols when you’ve failed to pronounce them correctly. You don’t have to learn many symbols (fish, pork, meat, aubergine, tofu, soup, egg) to be able to ‘read’ typed menus in the cities.
Flasks of boiling water are available everywhere (for making tea). We hardly used the iodine.
None of the remote hotels are PSB approved (allowed to take foreigners) but very few turned us away. One hotel owner took us to the police station (we didn’t know what was happening) where the policeman filled in a form to let us stay. Apparently camping is fine if you can find somewhere off the road. We only camped once though, when the hotel was too expensive.
Hong Kong is a great place to get visas that are valid for 3 months if you’re English (although it wasn’t obvious they were 3- rather than 1-month visas until we tried to renew ours!) – Phoenix travel arranged ours; they were ready the next morning.
It was monsoon (end of June to August) but we only had a couple of wet days. It usually rained at 5pm or overnight. Otherwise it was warm and sunny everywhere (hot and humid below 1500m).
English speaking locals (Chinese tourists mainly, outside tourist destinations like Lijiang no one speaks any English) try to be helpful (like everyone else) but translated that there wasn’t another bus that day (shortly before one turned up), that we had to pay to have our bikes on the train (we were woken in the night to be told that) and that we weren’t allowed to take bikes on the plane.
Nelles maps from Stamfords in London were the best we could find at 1:1 500 000 and in English (Pinyin). Similar quality maps in Chinese are available there, but we could only find topo maps of more populated areas. To communicate place names you need to know the symbol.
Doxycycline for malaria prevention isn't strictly necessary for the bits of Yunnan we went to, but as it is also a powerful antibiotic we think it allowed us to eat all sots of dodgy reheated reserved food without getting ill (I wasn't ill at all). There were very few mossies about until we got to Emei Shan. They've probably been banned elsewhere.
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