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Some days ago, after two months in China, I rode over a number of stunning mountain ranges to Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. When you read this, I’m on a quick return trip to the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek to get a Tajik visa as I plan to do a loop around Tajikistan on the Pamir highway before returning to Kyrgyzstan.


Little went as expected since my last newsletter in April. I hoped getting my Chinese visa would be a turning point from all my challenges, but already the first day out of Vientiane (southern Laos) I suffered a heatstroke (or caught it last minute) during the long 45C heatwave (over 50C in the sun). I was lying 4-5 hours on the ground sweating profusely with headache, cramps and being dizzy close to fainting – quite serious in the middle of nowhere in the contryside of Laos. I struggled 4-5 days to bike to Luang Prabang (northern Laos) and as the heatwave continued, I decided to take a bus to Kunming (southwest China) also solving the Chinese visa limited time issue. I never took public transport before as it felt like cheating, but the circumstances made me re-consider. Except Myanmar, I never wanted to do Southeast Asia or Southwestern China in the first place as I‘ve travelled both places extensively before. It was an epic decision but once made it set me free, and I took another bus to Xian where I began biking the Old Silk Route to Europe (from its original starting point). Interesting how it took a weak body to convince a strong (read stubborn) mind to change perspective. "Re-starting” from Xi’an I felt invigorated and motivated - a new start if you will...


Out of shape on the 100 kg bike, I took a bus up the first mountain to Guyuan and biked about 1,000k northwest to Jiayuguan, where I got my visa extended. I had conservatively set aside two weeks for the ride, but it went surprisingly well considering my long break. Despite 3 mountains and many horrible roads it only took 8 days, annoyingly leaving 6 extra days (+ 3 waiting for the visa) as I could only apply for extension a few days before expiry of the existing visa. The landscape was very dry except in the valleys where irrigation facilitated farming. I was happy to avoid the big cities, though even smaller Chinese towns are big inhabiting several hundred thousand people. The towns and villages all seemed placed in the middle of nowhere in the otherwise desolate region.


From Jiayuguan everybody I’d read about, biked the more populated northern route to Kashgar close to the Kyrgyz border, so I (of course) decided to take the more remote and desolate southern Gobi Desert route. I never knew what the day would bring, as my map only shows main roads and towns but no landscape, elevation, etc. It was indeed 2,800k of remote and desolate desert riding. About a third of the way was above 2,000m though most of the riding was still through desert with mountains around me. I crossed a number of mountain ranges; one close to 4,000m in a snowstorm so no views for hard the work getting up there. Day temperatures were pleasant 15-28C with 5-10C at night. Always extremely windy 40-60 k/h but luckily from ever changing directions.


The ride at lower altitudes was also mostly desert though to my surprise large stretches were irrigated; around towns for farming and in the desert (reed and scrub) to prevent sand flight. It helped somewhat on the normal windy days (30-40 k/h) but when the wind picked up nothing could stop the sand. Often it was (beautifully) flying cross the road but less pleasant I experienced both riding and camping in sandstorms. The latter entailed getting 5 kg of sand out of the tent besides what had already been removed with bags, air mattress, clothes, sleeping bag, etc. (I can reveal that none of my tent’s 3 seasons’ is sandstorm). However, the worst with the sand was being sand blasted in the face when facing headwinds, and that it gets in everywhere destroying my stove fuel pump, my camera, zippers, etc. It was often overcast and hazy and half the days the visibility was down to 3-500 metres unfortunately preventing views of the mountains to the south. The temperatures were somewhere between 28-35C during the day and 12-17C at night and being the dry season it only rained ½ hour.

Half the roads were good often even with a wide shoulder – the other half was bad and bumpy which caused many broken spokes. The Chinese drivers were selfish and reckless never braking or slowing down for me, so on the narrow roads there were many close calls. The first half, I stayed in hotels, as they were cheap and camping was complicated due to bad spots and many people. The second half (through the Xinjiang Province), it was easier camping than finding a room as the hotel police was strict and unhelpful.


The 2,800k to Kashgar only took 16½ days – an average of 170k biking 9-12 hours per day. With the long days of riding, I had abused my body and lost a lot of weight, so I spent 10 days in Kashgar to recuperate though it was partly offset by 2 days of diarrhea likely caused by excessive eating of local food. With the 100k to the border checkpoint, my trip total crossing into Kyrgyzstan reached 45,000k.
Travelling this part of China did not change my perception of the Chinese system and people and besides India, this is the only country I have ever visited, where I was actually happy to leave. I have written a whole section about my perception of the Chinese system and people.


You can read much more and enjoy countless pictures and videos on my website:


Navigate through my travel description “Asia 2016” at the top of the dark blue menu bar on the left. You're of course most welcome to write in my guestbook and/or send me a personal message as well as referring people you think might be interested to my website - see options at the bottom of this mail.

I wish you and your family all the best - may you be as happy and fortunate in life as I am.


Many greetings from Michael

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