On Sunday September 1, 2019, ten people divided over three cars left China’s capital Beijing for an 18-days road trip through Southern Gansu and North Sichuan. I was one of them and I will share our adventures with you in this day to day blog.
Such a trip, we have covered almost 7000 km during those 18 days, requires considerable preparation. First, there is the itinerary. The two adjacent regions that I just mentioned are so huge, that you can’t simply go there and then see where you end up. You need to select sites and scenic spots that you want to see. The next task is to identify the best places to stay for the night; cities and towns with suitable hotels. Then you need to literally connect the dots by finding the best roads from one place to another. Roads are generally good in China nowadays, and the navigator function of the Amap app beats Google Maps. Still, it pays to prepare beforehand.
Fortunately, a couple of people in our group were experienced travelling planners (we had travelled with them before). They did the basic planning and even called hotels to ensure that they catered to foreigners. Some hotels don’t like the additional paper work to register foreigners.
Well, this was probably the best prepared trip we made together in China. We actually received a spreadsheet with the cities we would sleep in, the number of kms between each city and even an indication of the height. Height? Yes, one of the salient features of this trip was that a large part of it would be located in places of higher elevation, up to close to 4000 metres. Even when you are not susceptible to height, you will feel it, when you have to sleep in bed higher than 3000 metres above sea level.
In case you didn’t surf to this site from my Chinese culture and food site, I have a special interest in the Chinese food and beverage industries. Whenever and wherever I travel in China, I always keep my radar open for any information about the local food market. Of coarse, I am also human, and need my three meals a day + snacks.
Food is available in abundance in China, but you need to stock up on some of your favourite items, that you may not be able to buy so easily in faraway places. For me, an indispensable item is bread, in particular as an alternative for the Chinese breakfast. Bread is improving rapidly in Beijing, but it will not last for so long. Fortunately, there is Russian bread, known in Beijing as Lieba, a loan word from Russian.
It is a firm type of bread that keeps well for a month, at least according to the bakery. We purchased several loaves to save us while on the road. Then there is coffee. I bought two packs of instant coffee to be sure that I had enough to keep me going. China is a good place for instant beverages, as hot water is freely available at all gas stations. When you say coffee, you almost automatically say biscuits. You can buy them all over China, but I still brought some packs to keep me happy during the first days on the express ways.
We had to pack for a several weather types. It would be hot during the first couple of days. Once we would reach the higher elevations, the nights would get colder, but the sun could be quite toxic during day time. So, we needed short sleeve shirts, light sweaters, raincoats, padded coats, hats. We had to pack for summer and autumn.
I was part of what we would later call Car Nr. 2. This was the car of my sister-in-law. However, she didn’t want to drive such long distances. My wife and myself could theoretically get Chinese drivers licenses, but in practice it is not advised to drive in China for foreigners, certain in such faraway places. We asked a good friend who is working in the hospitality business if he knew a driver who would be willing to drive without a fee, but with all expense paid; a free holiday so to speak. Fortunately, he got us one, and a good one, we later learned.
Stay in touch
China’s mobile phone and internet network is possibly the best in the world. However, it was always possible that we would not be able to call from car to car in some mountainous regions. Through a friend of a friend we were able to get our hands on a set of walky-talkies. This made us (feel as) the best prepared travelling group in China.
Before starting off with such a large group of people on such a long trip, you need to get acquainted beforehand. The entire group got together for lunch on Friday, August 30, a sweltering day, at Cuimanlou.
By the afternoon of August 31, we were more than ready. We returned to our hotel in time, to pack and turn in early.