In cycling terms, China was almost a total write-off. We arrived in Qingdao (aka Tsingtao), and took a train to Beijing. We decided early on we wanted to focus our cycling in Yunnan and Sichuan, taking the mountains to the Tibetan plateau between Lijiang and Chengdu, so we took a slow sleeper train to Kunming (44h!) and onwards to Dali, where we'd start cycling North. Which we did.
The road was a bit sketchy, and for the first time ever I felt scared of riding. We had an incident with a truck forcing us off the road that left me shaking a bit. It wasn't fun. We knew things would get better further up the road, and we needed a couple of days on the road to get used to it after a couple of weeks in cities, ferries, and trains. But then on the third day on the road my girlfriend's back went to shit, and we couldn't ride for another 15 or 20 days. I won't bore you with details (herniated disc plus sciatic), if anyone ever fell ill on a trip you'll know how frustrating and plan-wrecking it can get, not to mention the pain she was in.
So we moved around in buses or minivans, trying to be in a good place to tackle the road when she was feeling better, but we didn't know how long that'd take and eventually we had to understand we wouldn't be riding in China this time. We sent the bike to a kind warmshowers host in Kunming, and took the train to Guilin so we could see something else. It was ok but we were not having a ton of fun, in honesty. We didn't particularly like being in China, we suspect it's not related to the injury or frustration because we were already feeling a bit unsettled anyway.
The good thing is that we'll have the chance to change our perception when we come back. Our route goes through the Stans, and the way to get there from South East Asia is back into China, when we can hopefully go to the plateau in Sichuan. We're incredibly lucky to have a second shot at it, and I'd really like to like China (and the Chinese) next time.
Anyway, we decided we needed a change and crossed into Vietnam. We were not even sure we were coming this way, our focus was in Laos and Thailand, but I couldn't resist the lure of the name Hanoi. I'm a total sucker for names (Vladivostok, Istanbul, Montevideo, Sarajevo, Nairobi, Samarkand, Odessa, Cartagena, Kashgar, oh, the list goes on – yes, I have a list). Saigon and Hanoi are full of romance for me, so we came to check it out. That's where I am now, and I like it a lot.
We resume cycling next week, to the countryside of Vietnam and into Laos.