17/3 2007 Border, Vietnam-China
Lat N 21° 58,05', Long E 106° 42,59'
Today: 62.6 °F ( 17 °C)
17 Mar 2007
65516 km

China has been like a big dark cloud over our heads, since we started our journey. Where we going to make it? Right up to the very last moment we planned for it to happen, but didn’t really dare to believe it. Finally we are here, and only with two days delay. It feels great!

Already at 8 AM we had exited Vietnam. Since we had made a two day over stay of our visas and our car, we knew we could run in to some problems exiting and maybe also an expensive fine. The official fine rate is 10 dollar per day per person.

One of the immigration officers had made us a promise of a two day visa extension to go to Hanoi and back to get an express visa to China. But as we learnt from our earlier experiences in Vietnam, promises like this are not worth a damned thing when it comes to it. But this time we were lucky, the immigration officers didn’t say a word about it.

Our guide Mau Le, met us on the Chinese side to help us through red tape that took us a couple of hours. After that we went strait to Nanning, 200 kilometers inland, to pick up our Chinese number plates and our Chinese drivers licenses.

But, today it was Saturday and the office was already closed for the weekend. This means we have to wait until they open again on Monday. We would rather have had these days off in a more exciting place than Nanning. But, this is the way it is. And we are still pleased it worked out nice and easy with the visas.

18/3 2007 Nanning, China
Lat N 22° 45,51', Long E 108° 18,55'
Today: 53.6 °F ( 12 °C)
18 Mar 2007
65732 km

A day spent in a medium-sized Chinese town with 1,3 million inhabitants. We strolled round town, and when the rain got too heavy we checked out the big shopping centers. In a park they had a spontaneous Sunday dance, where young and old joined in something that looked like a mix of foxtrot and qigong.

We are very happy with our guide Mau Le, who is a 23 year old student from north western China. He is studying at the university to become a Chinese-English interpreter. Previously he guided an Australian couple who traveled by car and a motorcycle gang from Austria, through China. On top of that he has worked as an interpreter for several mountaineering groups visiting the K2 area.

We are used to travel alone and even if we like Mau Le a lot, it is still strange to have someone fix everything for us and telling us where and when to go. But on the other hand it is great to have someone who can tell us about the country and their customs. But sometimes we have to run away for a while, to experience a bit of China on our own. To experience on our own first hand, is what makes traveling wonderful.

We had dinner at a hole in the wall with Mau Le. In the same place there was an office staff party going on. As they got more and more drunk and loud they came over to out table, one after another wanting to have a toast with us. Mau Le had to work hard translating it all, back and forth. We learnt that if we where to do business in China we just had to get dead drunk with our partners at the business lunch. And if someone offers us a cigarette, we just have to smoke it. To say we are non smokers is considered very rude – in business that is. Luckily we are not here in business…

19/3 2007 Nanning, China
Lat N 22° 45,51', Long E 108° 18,55'
Today: 53.6 °F ( 12 °C)
19 Mar 2007
65732 km

A break in the rain, at last. It has been raining for 48 hours. On top of that it is cold. There is nowhere to go to get warm, not even indoors. No one seems to have heard of central heating or heating at all for this matter. The best way to get warm, at least for a while is to take a hot shower.

At seven in the morning the parks in China is crowded with people doing morning their exercise. They dance, play badminton, jog or do tai chi. The old ladies with the swords are doing a kind of qigong.

Already at eight we went to collect our Chinese number plates and our drivers’ licenses . Since we had a long day of driving ahead of us, we wanted to get an early start. But the office turned out to be closed today, due to a conference. This means we have to wait yet another day. The thing is that we have to get all this done in Nanning, which is the capital of our port of entry province.

But, we have always things to do. This is a perfect day to fill up the gas bottle and try to find kerosene for our heater. The kerosene we bought in India doesn’t seem to burn at all, probably due to too poor quality. We think we will be very cold in Mongolia and Sibiria, if we don’t get our Wallas heater to work.

20/3 2007 Nanning, China
Lat N 22° 45,51', Long E 108° 18,55'
Today: 53.6 °F ( 12 °C)
20 Mar 2007
65732 km

Today we gave it another try to get the Chinese number plates and the driver’s licenses. The place turned out to be a real test center for cars and motorcycles, just like our Swedish Motor-Vehicle Inspection Company. Our SAAB was the first foreign car they had registered, and they didn’t know really how to swing it. It was a lot of paperwork and it took us a few hours, but all of them were very nice and helpful .

The temporary number plate was just a piece of paper covered in plastic, with information about the owner and the car. It also specified exactly what provinces we had a valid permit to travel.

Also our drivers licenses was just a piece of paper covered in plastic. We where lucky they didn’t provide the theoretical drivers license test in English, otherwise we had to take that too. We feel really cool now having Chinese drivers license!

Lucky for us, we didn’t have to make a full vehicle test! It would have been just great if they had found something wrong with the car, and made us stay yet another day Nanning to fix it.

At lunch time we where done at the test center. We got in the car and drove 470 kilometers North West. But we didn’t get very far before getting stopped by the police for speeding; we traveled 85 km/hour at an 70 km/hour road. Bert got to show his brand new drivers license. But since we where foreigners he let us go without a fine. After less than an hour we got stopped again. But this time the police wanted to check out our temporary plate.

21/3 2007 Duyun, China
Lat N 26° 16,99', Long E 107° 30,66'
Today: 53.6 °F ( 12 °C)
21 Mar 2007
66224 km

Today we have covered about 500 kilometers agian. The journey has gone through a very scenic landscape. It is early spring here, leafs and flowers are in bloom. In this mountainous landscape , not even a single patch of land is flat. Everywhere we look we see terraces for growing crops.

Where are all 1,3 billion Chinese people that we heard of? In our minds we had seen huge crowds all over the country and lots of crazy traffic. But here in the Southern parts of the country there are hardly any people at all.

We had a small incident with our car today. Nothing serious, we got backed in to when we where standing still. The bumper took most of the impact. But our left turning light glass was smashed to pieces.

The Chinese guy that crashed in to us wanted to pay us, 55 Euro and leave. But for 55 Euro we can not get a new turning light galls sent over here. We decided to call the police instead. After they examined the scene we had to come with them to the police station. We sent our webmaster Peo an SMS asking him to check out the price of a new turning signal glass and the cost for a DHL courier delivery to China.

After that we went to bed. Mau Le at the police station and us outside at the parking lot. The police have been ever so nice and have tried to solve the situation to the best for everyone. Well see how it all turns out tomorrow.

22/3 2007 Dafang, China
Lat N 27° 38,61', Long E 105° 40,02'
Today: 53.6 °F ( 12 °C)
22 Mar 2007
66749 km

In the middle of the night the police knocked on our door. The man from the insurance company had arrived. Bert went in to speak to him. After a while they agreed on a compensation of 200 Euro. A new turning signal glass is 65 Euro and DHL courier post to Asia about 75 Euro.

The polis confiscated the keys and the driver’s license from the Chinese guy. He was lucky to a lift with the insurance guy back to his hometown 100 kilometers away, since had to go there to pick up his bankbook to take out money from the bank to give us. After that he had to take the bus back to this place. At 11.30 AM he showed up with the money.

Bert signed a receipt for the money and also had to leave his fingerprint next to his name. Mau Le controlled that all the 100 yen bills were real, by rubbing the color hard. There are a lot of false 100 yen bills in circulation.

Before we left we asked the policeman to write us a certificate proving that we had already reported the accident to the police and that the insurance procedure was done and we had already ordered new parts from Sweden. We don’t want to get fiend for our broken turning light, again and again in China.

This has been another unexpected adventure for us. It has been interesting to see how things work here. Everyone wants the situation to be solved quick and easy and to everyone’s satisfaction. There is absolutely no doubt about that. There is no corruption and the police have been great!

After driving for a couple of hours we realized we now had a problem with our silencer. Again the welding between the silencer and the exhaust pipe had come lose. We had to go to a workshop to fix it.

At this phase we will definitely not be able to leave china on time. At 1st of April we are supposed to leave. But there is now way that is going to happen since we already are far behind schedule.

23/3 2007 Jiaryang, China
Lat N 29° 29,94', Long E 105° 05,33'
Today: 68 °F ( 20 °C)
23 Mar 2007
67023 km

Finally in Chengdu! This destination has been like a mirage for us. We have been expecting to arrive for days, but there are always new obstacles.

We had a wonderful afternoon in Peoples Park. A great deal of the life of the Chinese people is spent in the park . The tea houses are very popular, and the rule is simple; one seat is one cup of tea. But is not a tiny cup of tea, it is really a big thermos of tea you get. At the teahouse they sit for hours sipping their tea , play Mahjong or cards, get their eras cleaned, get a massage , read or relax .

In the parks there are a lot of other things going on too like aerobics with a real orchestra, tai chi, dancing, badminton, kite flying , boat rides and karaoke. On top of that people are making and selling stuff, snacks etcetera.

Catharina became the star of the day when she joined the aerobics class, and the crowd gave her a big hand. The aerobics instructor came up to her with the microphone, speaking Chinese and everyone started to laugh and cheer. Haven’t got a clue of what she said, but obviously it was something fun.

In the evening we went to Jing Li night market. It is a small area built in the old style Chinese way. Everywhere there are cozy pubs, small restaurants, tiny shops, craftsman and an also old fashioned puppet show . There are also something called ”Food Street”, where they serve the world famous, very hot and delicious food and snacks from the Sichuan province. Jing Li night market is touristy but still well worth the effort.

24/3 2007 Chengdu, China
Lat N 30° 39,68', Long E 104° 03,52'
Today: 68 °F ( 20 °C)
24 Mar 2007
67278 km

Today we have met the cutest pandas. We have been at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center. A visit here is a must. Pandas are definitely one of the most important attractions in China.

Pandas are rare and shy animals, very difficult to spot in the wild. They have been here for eight million years already, but now there are only 1 000 pandas left in the world.

This is the world’s largest panda center. Right now there are about 40 pandas living here. In the beginning the pandas where meat lovers, but during the evolution the turned in to vegetarians . Now days they eat huge amounts of bamboo ; 20 kilo per day! This means that they actually spend 10-16 hours a day eating. The remaining hours they spend doing their favorite past time activity – sleeping.

We were surprised by their size. We thought pandas where small, cute bears you could take in your arms. But no, these are full size bears.

At this center there are the normal black and white panda bears, but also a gorgeous red panda that more looks like a raccoon.

They also had cubs, but quite big ones. They where tumbling around, moving like sumo wrestlers with bad coordination, but all so cute.

25/3 2007 Hanzhong, China
Lat N 33° 08,95', Long E 107° 19,02'
Today: 68 °F ( 20 °C)
25 Mar 2007
67732 km

We where prepared for a horrible traffic situation in China. But the nice, wide highways are nearly empty, no traffic worth mentioning. Not even in the cities, the situation is bad, Stockholm is much worse. But we guess that Peking is different.

The petrol is cheap, only half a Euro per liter. China has its own oil wells in North West China. But to feed Chinas exploding private vehicle market, they have to import oil from Kazakhstan too.

Their is al lot of expensive toll roads in China. We pay about 30 Euro Cent per 10 kilometers in China. But since the petrol is cheap the total cost per ten kilometers is still reasonable.

We arrived in Xian at 5 PM. Mau Le went in to the luxurious Hyatt Regency Hotel to ask the way to a place where he could stay and we could park. While us where in the car outside, Harald and Marion came up to us asking about our trip.

All of a sudden Harald says, but why not stay in a hotel for a night? Yeah, of course we can stay in a hotel, but we can absolutely not afford to stay in this posh place. Yeah, Harald said. You don’t worry about the cost, I take care of that, he said. Harald and Marion has been staying at the Hyatt Regency Hotel for three years, and gotten a whole lot of bonus points and they where happy to spend some of it on us.

Harald and Marion decided to joins us for dinner. We decided to have pizza at the bar in the hotel. We had a truly great time. It was really interesting to hear Harald and Marions thoughts about China, after working and living here for the past three years, and also to get Mau Les opinion on the same matters.

As the evening went on Bert realized that Harald actually had a Chang Yang motorbike in the garage. Bert just had to take it for a test drive.

26/3 2007 Xian, China
Lat N 34° 15,68', Long E 108° 57,63'
Today: 68 °F ( 20 °C)
26 Mar 2007
68062 km

Talk about a full day! We nearly had an overdose of culture. We started out at the Drum Tower, built during the Ming Dynasty. Three times a night they hit the huge drum. The first time at 8 PM as a signal to close the city gates, second time around midnight as a general safety warning and the third time at 5 AM to tell the gate keepers to open the city gates again. When we were there they had a drum show too.

Next to the Drum Tower is the Muslim Quarters. Some nice blocks perfect for a stroll. Bert bought himself a Chinese tea cup with a lid and a built in tea-strainer at the bazaar.

After that we checked out the City Walls, a 14 kilometer long wall surrounding the town, built during the Ming Dynasty. There are four grand gates, watch towers in the corners and in between them some defense towers. It is possible to walk or go by bicycle all around the wall.

After all this we headed strait for the Terracotta Warriors. It is for sure an impressive sight, if you ignore the hideous buildings that roof the area.

The Terracotta Warriors stand guard of the tomb of Emperor Qui Shi Huang. He defeated all his enemies and unified China; he also standardized the currency and the written language and initiated the building of the Great Chinese Wall. Not bad for one man.

Qui Shi Huang ruled China until his death of old age. To be sure to stay in power also after his death, he created the Terracotta Warriors to guard his future tomb.

In natural size, the warriors stand there by the thousands, all with individually shaped faces, hair styles and postures . All are turned east wards, arranged like an army with horses and all. The speculations are that the artists have used each other, friends and family as models for the terracotta figures. It is an enormous amount of work they have put in each and every one of the warriors.

Anyway, when all of the warriors and horses where done, they built a thick roof of logs of wood on top of it they put bast-mats. Then they covered it all with 2-3 meters of soil and closed the gate for good.

For 2 000 years the Terracotta Warriors have been hidden and forgotten. When some farmers where digging a well in 1974, the Terracotta Warriors was rediscovered.

27/3 2007 Hua Shan, China
Lat N 34° 31,79', Long E 110° 05,73'
Today: 68 °F ( 20 °C)
27 Mar 2007
68206 km

Hua Shan is a very scenic mountain area, 120 kilometers from Xian. South Peak, 2 160 meters is the highest of them all. But East Peak and West Peak are only a few meters less. Hua Shan mountain area is the most important and holy area for the Taoists in China.

Even though we took the cable car halfway up the mountain, we still had another six hour climb to conquer. The stairs seemed endless and only intervened by even more vertical passages. But it was well worth it. The view was fantastic!

We met a gang of old men in their 60 ties carrying heavy loads of food, souvenirs and beverage up the mountain. They started five in morning from the valley, when we met them in the afternoon they had still one third of the climb to do. All they got from their greedy boss for all this hard work was less than two Euro. That is terrible!

We had an enormous luck with the weather today. For the first time since we entered China we had sunshine and blue sky. Everyday Bert complaints about that his photos are dull and grey. It is probably the pollution that causes the heavy mist. They use a lot of coal here, and we have seen a lot of coal power plants on our way through the country.

When we where at the top we left a lock with out names engraved in Chinese language and throw away the key. A lot of newly weds do this to be shore to stay together. But you can also wish for other things like happiness, prosperity and health for your family.

The Chinese know how to take out scandalous prices for their tourist attractions. The cable car halfway up the mountain and the entrance fee for the mountain area was 27 Euro per person! But there are not only us foreigners they are trying to skin. The Chinese tourists have to pay just as much.

28/3 2007 Pingyao, Kina
Lat N 34° 31,79', Long E 110° 05,73'
Today: 68 °F ( 20 °C)
28 Mar 2007
68206 km

Pingyao is a small, charming, well preserved town in Ming Dynasty architecture. Pingyao used to be an important town for trade and here they also started the first bank in China. After its heyday it fell in to poverty, and they had no money to modernize the town. This is the reason why it is still look exactly like in old times.

We had to fix our right rear tire. For several days we have had to fill it to prevent it from going completely flat. Today we finally had time to deal with it. No wonder it was leaking. We found a metal peg and a big nail stuck in the tire.

Today we also tried to glue our shattered tuning light glass together. Some protection it is better than nothing. Now we at least have something that works until we can get hold of a new one.

Catharina wanted to try Traditional Chinese Medicine – here in China it is for real. We visited a local public bath and took a shower, and then it was time for reflexology feet massage.

The old man seemed to know his business. He old Catharina she had a problem with the digestion and her eyes, since those spots where extra painful . Reflexology massage is no soft relaxation massage; on the contrary it hurts most of the time. But we bet it does you real good.

Catharina also wanted to try cupping . Don’t really know what it is good for, but it is fun to try when she had the opportunity. It was a burning, tearing, aching sensation in the skin for the tem minutes the cups where stuck at the back. Afterwards Catharina had big red marks from the cups all over her back. For there two treatments she paid only 4 Euro. It is cheap in China as long as you avoid the tourist traps.

29/3 2007 Express Highway for Beijing, China
Lat N 37° 54,98', Long E 113° 54,83'
Today: 55.4 °F ( 13 °C)
29 Mar 2007
68875 km

Late last night we hit the road. We wanted to cover some mileage to cut today’s long journey to Beijing a little shorter. After Before we knew it we where stuck in the worst traffic jam we had seen on our two year trip, it took us 11 hours to cover 20 kilometers! There where no exits, the traffic was completely jammed, we had to slumber for a while, drive a few meters and then slumber again for a few minutes – all night. All this just because of road works that took up one of the lanes.

But since we didn’t sleep at all last night we got to Beijing earlier than expected. Parked our car at the OS arena to be, and went strait to Tioman square to take a look around. At once we recognized the big painting of Chairman Mao that is watching over the largest square in the world. The picture of China we have seen on the news since we where kids.

We also visited The Forbidden City, which was built during the Ming dynasty. It has been the home and workplace for the emperors for many years. The Forbidden City is a surprisingly big place. We managed to get lost in all the alleys and court yards and didn’t find the way out when we where leaving.

The preparations for the Olympic Games are at full speed. The Mao Mausoleum were closed due restoration. A great part of the Forbidden City was closed to get a face lift and the Olympic arena where we parked was also closed for restoration. Everywhere in Beijing this restorations are going on.

30/3 2007 Beijing, China
Lat N 39° 56,08', Long E 116° 26,29'
Today: 46.4 °F ( 8 °C)
30 Mar 2007
69237 km

Today we visited the summer palace – the summer residence of the Emperors. It was built during the Ming Dynasty and includes a big park, a lake and beautiful houses.

This would have been a great afternoon if the weather had been nice. But biting cold, rainy and misty weather didn’t do it any good at all. All we wanted was to get in from the rain and freezing cold weather, and we did it all in just one and a half hour.

Since we are in Beijing we of course wanted to have Beijing Duck. We got a small menu of dishes made out of the ducks meat, bones and skin. It was fun to try it. We were not impressed, we thought it was greasy and tasteless and we won’t have it again. Not a very good day for us today.

31/3 2007 Beijing, China
Lat N 39° 56,08', Long E 116° 26,29'
Today: 64.4 °F ( 18 °C)
31 Mar 2007
69250 km

Today we did some shopping instead of visiting tourist attractions. Bert was happy to find a bunch of cheap reflex screens and a camera tent for taking shade less pictures. Catharina got all worked up when she found her all time favorite Fjällräven down jacket for only 33 Euro. In Sweden it cost like 400 Euro, and it doesn’t get more real than this! While she where at it some other things came along too, a linen dress, red leather puma sneakers, some very soft leather gloves. Catharina haggled like crazy , and today it really worked wonders.

We also found a hole in the wall shop selling gorgeous kites . The shopkeeper made them himself.

In the evening we went to a Chinese acrobatics show. We where lucky to get front row seats. This is definitely our best spent money since we arrived in China three weeks ago. The acrobats where surprisingly young, all where about 10 to maximum 20 years old and they put on a fantastic show for us. We where sitting there; fat, old and lazy – watching these young, strong, fit and skilled acrobats doing the most amazing things with their bodies .

1/4 2007 Beijing, China
Lat N 39° 56,08', Long E 116° 26,29'
Today: 64.4 °F ( 18 °C)
01 Apr 2007
69250 km

Every morning we see the staff at hotels and restaurants in line-up for briefing . In some places they even finish the session with a short workout .

Catharina has bought a calligraphy set to try writing in Chinese at home. It is an art that will take some time to learn; if she ever makes it. But we went to get our names and some other things written by a professional calligrapher. It is so very quick and easy when they do it.

Today we also left Beijing to go 100 kilometers northwards to Badaling. The plan was to visit the Great Wall tomorrow. When we arrived it was already dark. But all of a sudden they lit up the wall. Bert got real excited and rushed out with his camera to get some nice evening shots. Wow, that was an unexpected bonus!

2/4 2007 Badaling, China
Lat N 40° 21,28', Long E 115° 59,46'
Today: 32 °F ( 0 °C)
02 Apr 2007
69350 km

Talk about a grand structure ! The Great Chinese Wall is even more impressive and longer than we imagined. Endlessly it winds its way across the hills. The wall is everywhere to be seen, and it seems kind of surreal that it is actually one and the same wall.

This morning we were up early enough to almost alone at the wall. Not even the vendors where there yet. We wanted to beat the tourist invasion from Beijing that was expected to arrive at 9AM. It was great to have a moment of our own at the wall – even though the biting cold wind tired to get us to leave.

2 000 years ago the Emperor Oin Shi Huang initiated the building of the The Great Chinese Wall, after unifying China. The plan was to protect China from intruders. At the time the wall was only made of earth and clay.

During the Ming dynasty they decided to reinforce the 5000 kilometers long wall with stone. It was an enormous task that took them 100 years to finish.

During this 2000 years, the wall have never have been used as the defense barrier as it was supposed to be. Instead it has been like a highway transporting people and goods through the mountainous terrain.

Since we were kids we have been told that the Great Chinese Wall was visible from the moon. But that is not the case, Chinas first astronaut apparently went up there to check for himself in 2003.

3/4 2007 Sonid youqi, China
Lat N 42° 45,13', Long E 112° 38,98'
Today: 32 °F ( 0 °C)
03 Apr 2007
70015 km

We took a long hot shower at the public bath. When we enter Mongolia it might take two-three days before the next time.

After that we went to the store to get some supplies. The locals advised us to buy a lot, at least that we could make it in the Gobi desert for 3-4 days. This time of year is a high risk of getting caught in a snow or sand storm.

To travel through the Gobi desert in a SAAB 900, with 8,5 centimeters clearance and worn out tiers doesn’t make it easier. On top of that our Wallas heater is broken, and it can get freezing at night. What are we doing? But really, who will remember a chicken?

We left our guide Mau Le at the border, after he helped us out of China. He has been traveling with us or three weeks, and it was with mixed feelings we left him. Yes, it is nice to be on our own again. But Mao Le has been really great, easy going, thoughtful and he has done everything to make our stay in China as good as it possibly can be.

This morning he asked to wash our car even though it was below zero. We told him we didn’t even think it needed to be washed. But he insisted. If you are a overlander and can put up with this kind of over the top pampering – he is your guy!

If you think the prices CITS (The official travel agency for foreigners in China) is outrageous, we recommend you to contact Kong Reisen to arrange the necessary documentation to bring your car in. A word of warning, make sure they understand what you are saying. Their English isn’t as good as it first seems, we realized after some mishaps.

To get out of China took us some hours. To get in to Mongolia was an extremely quick and hassle free process, a stamp in our passports and off we went. They weren’t interested at all in our car or documentation, very unusual.