CHINA

The land of rice, a lot of people and amazing scenery

The Chinese border crossing - the sign doesn't say welcome to China it says Welcome to the China shopping centre! During the Chinese leg of our journey we will cover 5,000km to get to the Laos border.

Chinese number plates with the province symbol at the front

Jimmy (He Liang) and the boys at the Chinese border. Jimmy is our escort through China. It is compulsory to have an escort throughout China if you have your own vehicle - useful since we can't read Chinese and Chinese road signs! Our new number plates are stuck on the front.

The "valley of flowers" is lined with honey sellers that sell honey and pollen based drinks

The mountain range through which we passed along the "valley of flowers"

URUMQI - (OO-RUM-CHI)

Urumqi - the capital of the Xinjiang region (historically East Turkestan)

The gardens in the centre of Urumqi has a pagoda, buddhist temple and the most beautiful ice sculptures. Couples go to the gardens to put a padlock on the chain leading to this statue overlooking the city. It is a declaration of your love for each other and they had dates scribbled on them.

Chinese New Year decorations are starting to adorn every tree in preparation for the Spring Festival. The whole park had beautiful ice sculptures in the shape of animals, buddhas and buildings

The Chinese medicine shop with pots containing fungi, dried caterpillars, dried fish, deer horns, dried flying lizards and parts of every other kind of animal that you would ever require to clear up a bad case of spots, cold or a bad case of flatulence. Not a shop for the animal activist...

Turpan raisins are green and sweet and dried out in the drying houses surrounding Turpan for one month (below). The temperatures in the region can reach over 45oC with ground temperatures upto 83oC.

The grape drying houses

A game of electronic Mah Jong (meaning Bamboo Game) - highly addictive and very competitive.

Noodles being handmade for us in a restaurant set up in the restaurant owner's bedroom along the silk road

The Ancient city of Jinguae

A city constructed 2,500 years ago on an island between two rivers. Approximately 6,000 people lived here in houses carved out of the mudstone. The city is a UNESCO site and it is only just surviving due to the lack of rain (19mm per year) but with the changing climate it may not last long. There are even signs everywhere asking the Chinese to refrain from their favourite pastime of spitting in order to stop the site from vanishing.

The buddhist temple has survived 2,500 years with sand images of Buddha still remaining. The Islamists took the heads off the Buddhas

The silk road used to stretch from Beijing to Europe with many different routes in between leading through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Turkey and China. Jade, silk, herbs and spices, amongst other things, were taken from East to West. It was a very dangerous road in parts and traders could be in great danger taking their goods to their customers.

The Kumtag Desert

Slightly surreal to see a desert covered in snow at -15oC.

Elaborate sand castles are located on the edge of the 10,000km2 desert.

DUNHUANG (DONE - HWANG)

Dunhuang is situated at the edge of the Dunhuang Dunes which tower up hundreds of metres above the town.

It is said that if you climb the sand dunes and then slide down you will feel the dunes vibrate. Adrian and Tom tried it looking more like stranded beetles than sand surfers!

The caves of a thousand buddhas

Located on the outskirts of Dunhuang the caves are carved into a cliff face. Every cave was constructed during a different period under different dynasties. The are nearly 500 caves, each with a different buddha and paintings dating back over 2,500 years. This beautiful pagoda houses the Big Buddha that was carved from the cliff face and reaches the roof. These caves managed to be unscathed during the cultural revolution (period of cleansing of all religious icons and places of worship during the period that Mao Zhadong was in power). A lot of the Buddhas and other relics were stolen and taken to the British Muesem in 1908.

Our first view of the Great Wall, an out post watch tower, on possibly the worst road of our trip so far. The Chinese Government is constructing the "Super" Highway from the west to the east. When constructing roads the construct the best road for 1km but then pile a mountain of soil up to prevent you driving any further. You have to drive down a perilous incline and then back up in order to get back onto the road. Hours and hours of offroading fun to be had or a broken Beast suspension!

The Great Wall (western front)

The Great Wall was built as a defence against the invading Mongols, Gengis Khan's troops, from the north. It was built 900 to 1000 years ago during the Ming Dynasty.

The western section of the Great Wall at Jiayuguan was a document registration point for the entrance into China.

The Chinese calculated exactly how many bricks were required to construct the wall before building it. Legend goes that there was one brick left - it is placed on an unreachable part of a tower.

This red faced chap was a very fierce general killing a lot of invaders

The lads at the Great Wall

The Great Wall stretches for thousands of miles from the west of China to Beijing. It can be supposedly seen from outer space.

They knew we were coming! We couldn't work out where the lads are going to the toilet though...

A lot of care is put into making your food presentable. These beautiful birds are made out of carrot and the flower from potato. It takes 5 years to become a professional Chinese chef

Adrian and the security guard

Date Sellers line the silk road near Zhangye

The road to Lanzhou - 3m wide, 3.5m high, no horse and cart, no backies, no bicycles, no pedestrians, no motorised carts, no hand carts, no tractors, no auto rickshaws, no motorbikes... needless to say the road is fairly empty!

The Beast's new accelerator cable - a pair of pliers and Adrian!

He Liang translating our interview with Lanzhou television

The Beast Crew and Lanzhou TV

The dead are honoured by these beautiful and elaborate flowers which are placed over the graves

Dinner in the company of one of china's leading aret collectors and auctioneers of fine ancient pieces - he showed us some of the pots he had for sale which were 5,000 years old

Tea anyone?

Dinner with our mechanic, China's leading Mongolian wrestling champion, the head of the drug squad and the region's high Lama.

A little light Mongolian music to enjoy during our meal

Our interview with the Gansu province television. Greg couldn't make it as he had to lie in bed...with hangover!

The Yellow River

Wherever we go we collect a small crowd of people - the crowd had swollen to 50+ by the time we had left

Corns are hung up to dry outside of peoples houses. They can be dried and then ground to form maize flour.

 

Sichuan street food lathered in chilli and chilli powder and chilli sauce

CHENGDU (Cheng - doo)

Chairman Mao in People's Square

Chegdu centre

Panda research centre

Giant Panda - there are only 1000 left in the wild. The Chengdu Panda research centre is helping to save them from extinction by studying their mating, behavourial and distribution across China. They are carrying out genetic artificial insemination as the Pandas aren't that good at doing it themselves!

Red panda

Greg and Alexis watching the Pandas having a little bamboo lunch

LESHAN (Ley - shan)

The Giant Buddha in Leshan - the largest Buddha in the world after the Buddhas in Afghanistan were blown up in the 1980s. It is possible to walk to see the Buddha and stand at his feet (you can picnic on his toe which is 8.5m square) or take the boat like we did and see him in his full splendour.

Emei hot springs

A spot of recuperation for the Chippendales at the Emei Hot Springs

Emei mountain

We stayed overnight at the Elephant's Pool Monastary at the top of Mount Emei in the UNESCO World Heritage protected mountain range and we woke up to the the most stunning scenery looking down onto snow capped and icey mountains with clouds sitting beneath us.

We met David (from Cambridge, UK) and David (from Beijing) at the top of the mountain and they decided to come on our adventure down the hill

The Monastary is a 7.5km walk down from the road which we did in the dark and had to do the following day to get back up. We bought some crampons that tie on to your shoes with string which were very useful for walking percariously down the slippery steps.

The long walk up...

...and the long walk down. Food supplies have to be taken down to the monateries by foot

There are monkeys that line the mountain pestering walkers for food. There are also Giant Panda and Red Pandas on the mountain if you are lucky enough to see them.

Another garage stop to change the rear universal joint which went after driving on the horrendous poteholed Chinese roads

Chinese grapefruit stalls at the side of the road

Some Sichuan food being prepared. The hole in the floor toilet at this celubrious establishment is shared with two pigs.

Road from Zigong to Kunming

Anyone fancy a staring match? It took an hour to drive down the main road of this small village as we drove through during their Saturday market during our 22 hour 880km drive to Kunming...

The boys in China!

KUNMING (Koon - ming)

The City of Eternal Spring

CHINESE NEW YEAR

Adrian worked with the local Save the Children and was in the local newspaper when he and the street kids painted the side of the Beast with traditional Spring Festival decorations. The local television station visited, as well as Central China Television (CCTV) and China Daily. Adriano sent off a copy of the interview to the BBC... so who knows we could be world famous!

The Beast with a beautiful Chinese dragon and other Chinese Spring Festival decorations adorning her sides.

The streets before midnight, fireworks were exploding all around us wih firecrackers being chucked at the floor by little kids whilst food vendors sold pineapple, shashlik and water chestnut.

Entrances to houses are decorated with couplets on either sides of the door - a ritual (my January challenge) that has extended back thousands of years

The Hump bar in the centre of Kunming celebrates the brave Flying Tigers who flew across the Himalayas to supply the Chinese during the war with Japan. Kunming was the end of the Burma road.

Some times you hanker some Western food... McDonalds!! Although deciphering the menu can be a bit difficult sometimes!

A Chinese tea house in the heart of Kunming

Yunnan Nationalities Village

The disneyland village for the Yunnan province that glorifies 13 of the 26 different minorities of people found in the region.

This monk was selling fish to put into the fish pond...?

Showing the locals how to make Masuo tea - yak butter oil and tea with sugar

If you can throw the small bag through the hoop you can claim the love of the woman you love...both Tom and Adriano got a back through ... now all they need is the women!!

Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Reserve

We stopped to chill out in the Xishuangbanna Wild Elephant Reserve in southern Yunnan. The tree houses that it is possible to stay in were all booked so we stayed in the normal rooms, drinking a few beers on the balcony, not expecting to see any wild elephants until a security guard came to our cabin with a torch...

...there was a wild asian elephant standing 5m from the back of our room wanting to come down the hill and the security guard was shining a torch in his eyes to stop him coming down! We were so lucky as there are only 250 Asian Elephants in China, 80% of them in the reserve we were staying in.

A wild boar who pottered around the grounds

The Beast looking out over the tea plantations of Yunnan

The four faced god and the elephant god - a buddhist religious site we passed on the way to Mengla and Laos.

The village where we stopped for lunch

Goodbye China and Jimmy!

CHANGING FACES

Reverting to your teenage years or discovering facial hair is part of travelling!

Chinese scenery

We have travelled through such diverse scenery from mountains to plains to rainforest in China that you don't need to be bored with all the pictures but here are a few snapshots from the northeast down to the southwest

Chinese Toilets

Most Chinese Toilets are drop pit toilets, some with not much of a pit, more of a pile! You will find ceramic squat toilets in most restaurants. In hotels you will find western sit down toilets but apparently a lot of Chinese don't know what to do with these and you will find foot prints on the toilet seat.

Chinese Driving

Chinese driving and the vehicles are world unto themselves. These are some of the photos from our travels on the road.

The auto rickshaws of China