Roof of the World

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"...The police will have none of it and are getting slightly more assertive. I try the trick about 'being a guest in your country'. Is this how you treat your guests?'. The officer seems more than a little offended and exclaims: 'The Chinese are the King of Peoples!!'. After an hour of arguing, pleading, offending, and apologizing, I give in and is escorted back to the Muztag. The english speaker says 'Your friends are there'. I correct him and explains that they were there but left. Five minutes later I'm glad to find out that I was wrong...' (from September 21 below)

The Tibetan plateau is an amazing place. Most of it is over 4000 meters high, and extremely desolate. This is the place to go if you want a proper wilderness adventure.

Laos and Thailand is different again. Jungles, Temples, and various hill tribe peoples are the attractions here.

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September 20 - No Water - No Cycling

(Qarqan/ Qiemo)
It's already hot when I leave at eight in the morning. The entire population (1) of Yawatonguzlangar is waving to me from the sand dune above the house. After ten kilometers on sand and pebbles I've finished about half of my water supplies. I decide to rest and for some transport to come by and pick me up. After two and a half hours my water is gone, but there is a dust cloud at the horizon where I came from. It turns out to be the twice weekly bus from Minfeng to Qiemo. I get on and get water from some of the passengers. The 200 km ride takes 12 hours. I go to sleep at 1 a.m. in the only hotel that accepts foreigners.

September 21-22 - PSB Problems

(Qarqan/ Qiemo)
I check the register at Muztag Hotel and find out that my friend Corax with girlfriend was here a week ago. They are probably trying to scale the infamous Karamiran Shankou (pass) any day now. I find a family hotel that accepts me and move there. The place is not great, and neither is the town itself. I explore the whole place with my bike in a few hours. When I'm in bed the next night there is a hard knock on the door. The police has found me and are telling me to leave. I have no desire to pack my panniers and to move back to Muztag again. I explain to the plain clothes officer (the only one out of four that speaks any english) that I rather stay here. The service is much better it's slightly cleaner and much cheaper, so what's the big problem? The police will have none of it and are getting slightly more assertive. I try the trick about 'being a guest in your country'. "Is this how you treat your guests?". The officer seems more than a little offended and exclaims: "The Chinese are the King of Peoples!!". After an hour of arguing, pleading, offending, and apologizing, I give in and is escorted back to the Muztag. The english speaker says "Your friends are there". I correct him and explains that they WERE there but left. Five minutes later I'm glad to find out that I was wrong. Corax and Nadine are meeting me in the lobby. They have bad news about the pass, but it's nice to see them. They've been struggling on sand and steep washed out dirt roads while trying to find the route across the Karamiran Shankou. Now they are assured about the road. There is none!

September 23-24 - The Olympic Games

(Qarqan/ Qiemo)
Resting and planning in Qiemo. Oh yes, we're watching the Olympics as well.

September 25 - Stuck in the Sand

Rough bus journey through a sandy part of the Taklamakan desert to Rouqiang. The bus gets stuck several times. All men help out. Logs that are carried on the bus are put under the wheels and we manage to get a few meters further and eventually out to a firmer part of the 'road'. It's dark when we arrive at the hotel. We're watching the Olympics here as well.

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September 26 - More Sand and a Camel Caravan

There are no buses further east from here. The road that is called a national highway is not good enough for buses! And even if it was there would not be enough passengers. We arrange a ride with a man with a four wheel drive pick up. After 20 kilometers of bad, but flat desert road the car breaks down. We decide to get back back on our bikes. After a slow 20 km climb on bad sandy road we reach 1980 m and have a nice view of the mountains to the south and the furnace of the Taklamakan to the north. We meet a small camel caravan and set up camp near the road. Hopefully we can get a ride with a truck tomorrow morning.

September 27 - A Cold and Bumpy Ride

(Magnai Zhen)
We get a ride with a clunky old chinese truck in the morning, just after a noodle breakfast. The road gets rougher as it climbs through a steep gorge toward a 3800 meter pass. Most of the road is washed away here in the valley and the truck has to negotiate the dry river floor. In a switchback section further on we get stuck in fresh sand dunes for an hour. A caterpillar is slowly clearing the road. It starts to rain and on top of the pass it's snowing. It's pretty cold to stand on top of the truck. I wear almost every single item of clothing at this point. After three passes, ten hours, and loads of rain, snow and beautiful scenery we reach Magnai Zhen. It's in a very remote part of the middle of nowhere. There is a hotel, a shop and a potash plant here, that's about it. We watch the Olympics and eat noodles in the hotel room at night.

September 28 - October 8 - Night Bus to Golmud (18 hours).

It's nice to be back in civilization. We stay for ten days. It's great to sample the local food in the market, surf the internet, watch tv in bed and meet other travelers.

October 9 - The Check Point

(Camp near lake)
While we're cycling out of Golmud toward Tibet we worry about the check point 30 kilometers out of town. In the worst scenario, we may get chased by guard dogs while we're sneaking around the check point at night, then get caught by the PSB, fined and put in the Golmud jail. But that's the worst scenario. When we see the guard building, the fences and the gate we stop to go through a few options and decide to just cycle up there and play stupid. We will either get caught and sent back or get through without any hassle. We're smiling and waving to the guards as we cycle past. They wave back and we're fine. At least for now. We're still not even near the proper Tibetan province border. In fact, we're still not even on the proper Tibetan plateau. We camp near a lake that night.

October 10 - Good Cycling on the Golmud-Lhasa Highway

(Camp near steep ridge)
I feel great and make good speed south on the paved highway. The scenery is stunning especially higher up toward the Kunlun Shankou (pass). We sleep near a nomad camp at 3700 meters altitude.

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October 11 - The Pass

(Camp near Bodongquan)
The weather is fine in the morning but it starts to snow higher up. I rest at an army camp and talk to some of the soldiers. The last part of the climb is steep and the road follows a narrow gorge for five kilometers. I reach the pass by two. The altitude is 4850 meters, but I feel ok. The descent to Bodongquan is fast. It's wonderful to finally be on the Tibetan plateau. In the village - two houses and a tent - I get stopped by uniformed men outside the tent. My heart starts to beat faster. Is this a police check-post I've never heard about? Is this the end of my Tibetan adventure? The people turn out to work for a wildlife organization. They are based here to protect the Tibetan antelope. The invite me to their tent and give me yak meat, yak butter tea and tsampa. They also give me a book about the organization and the animal itself. Stefan catch up with me here and we camp just a few kilometers off the Golmud-Lhasa highway. We're now on our way into the homeland of the yaks, Tibetan antelopes, and Tibetan nomad (we see neither that afternoon).

October 12 - Desolate Tibet

(Camp near nomads tent)
This little dirt road is not marked on most maps. It's very sandy but it seems to be pretty level as far as we can see, which is far. There appears to be nothing out here. No people, no animals, no settlements. As the the road gets worse i take longer and more frequent breaks. I see antelopes in the distance, but no sign of any settlements, yaks or nomads. After cycling and pushing the bike for hours, two trucks appear on the horizon behind me. Forty minutes later they pass me on the only hill on the road. The pilgrims on top of the trucks cheer as if they've just seen a mix between a ghost and Santa Claus. I guess I must have appeared in much the same way to them. In the late afternoon I see the first yaks, and then the first nomads tent. I camp near it with a stunning view of the valley, a lake, and snow clad mountains in the background. It starts to snow at night. We're camping at approximately 4600 meters altitude.

October 13 - Cycling on Fresh Snow

(Camp at a river crossing)
The tent is covered in snow in the morning. The whole valley is covered in two to three inches of snow, including the road. It's great fun to cycle on but difficult. later in the morning a truck passes and I can follow the tracks. There are some more nomads tents around and loads of yaks. They look extremely aggressive and big, but run away when I come within a few meters from them. A couple of Tibetans are resting further up the road in a side valley. They don't run away. They are happy to show me their big knifes and seem to be trying to sell them to me. I continue through the white landscape. In the afternoon I come to a tiny settlement surrounded by a mud wall. Could this be the restaurant I've heard about? The only one for three days or so. I'm told by a monk in the little courtyard that it is. But it's closed for the season. Luckily the still offer some Tibetan hospitality. I get yak meet, tsampa, and yak meat again. After a few ups and downs we camp near a river crossing.

October 14 - Fording four Before Lunch

(Camp near bridge)
The snow has melted except on higher altitudes and in the shade. I have to ford four rivers before lunch. One of the rivers is deep but not to wide. It's possible to jump across, but not with the bike and the panniers off course. I throw the first pannier across. It goes to far and lands in the mud a few meters from the shore. The next pannier lands right on the shore but rolls back into the river. I have to chase it down the river, and manage to catch it just before a small rapid. I get the hang of it with the last two bags. In the late afternoon I reach the first little village along the road. There is a school and a small shop. I stock up with snacks and noodles for another five days. It snows again at night.

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October 15 - Three More Passes

There are three passes today, and a couple of river crossings where I have to get my boots off. There is a twelve kilometer downhill where I average around 35 km/h without pedaling (on rough dirt road)!

October 16 - More Passes

We stop at the deserted town of Bakakukusaier. It's a spooky place where houses that look no more than fifty years old are already collapsed ruins. We only meet a woman and her yak here. There are two higher passes today.

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October 17 - Qumarleb - They Call This a Town?!

(Camp after high pass north-east of Qumarleb)
The day starts with a climb up to a high pass. The weather is great and the views are superb. Looking down the other side of the pass I see the only town in this region, Qumarleb. It looks rather small. When i get down to the valley floor I get stopped at a little tent. It's actually a police station and I start to worry about prison, fines and being deported again. I get invited to eat some yak meat with the local officers (they are Tibetans). After about half an hour Stefan arrives. We eat lunch together in Qumarleb later on. We're surrounded by the locals even as we sit down inside a small restaurant. They just won't leave us alone. We're too much of a novelty for them (and them for us I guess). Stefan goes south and I go North after the lunch break. I climb on more high pass before I call it a day.

October 18 - Bagan

(Camp before the Six Switchbacks Pass, near Bagan - Tibetan village)
I cycle down a beautiful valley during most of the day. After a short break the road crosses the river and starts to climb up another valley. I stop at a Buddhist temple in the tiny village of Bagan. A young woman speaks a few words of english and she explains that the next pass is called The Six Switchbacks Pass. I camp near a small rapid two kilometers up the valley.

October 19 - Crowds at the Shop

(Camp before 'no name' pass)
The track up to Six Switchbacks Pass have indeed six sharp bends. It's a long and steep climb. From the pass I notice that this is a very mountainous region indeed. Calling this a plateau doesn't feel right. The valleys are deeper and the peeks higher than before. In the afternoon I reach a small village with a couple of shops. There are hundreds of people on the road cheering at me as I ride through. I stop to do some shopping and are soon surrounded by a crowd. Men, women and children just can't believe what they see. A tall foreigner on a strange bicycle! I feel relieved to leave them all behind, as I cycle out into the wilderness again to find a place to set up camp for the night. I put my tent not far from a nomads tent and the next pass. A man from the big black tent comes over at night to meet me. He seems to worry about me. His body language tells me it's going to be very cold tonight. He wants to invite me to his family's tent, but I decide to go straight to bed instead.

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October 20-22 - TV in Yushu

I start early. The climb up the pass is easy and I reach it around ten o'clock. From here I see a wide and flat valley that stretches north and east for at least twenty miles. The road takes me slowly down toward the river and the Xining-Tibet highway (highway 214). I stop at the intersection. There are two houses here. I go up one of the to ask for directions. A Tibetan family lives here, and most of them, and their dogs, are outside. They invite me for tsampa, tea and meat.

October 23 - Crossing the Yangtze

Cycling to Xiwu is a piece of cake. Quite boring really. The road follows one river down to the Yangtze. Then another river valley up to Xiwu, a small village at an intersection. One (smaller) road goes off to Serxu in the east. The other one is the Xining-Tibet Highway. It continues north to Xining.

The original idea was that I should cycle east, but I'm not so sure any more. I'm a bit fed up with cycling at the moment. I check out the transport situation at the intersection. There are a couple of minivan taxis waiting for business, but their prices are outrageous. There is also a couple of buses to Xining every morning (24 hours), and one to Serxu also in the morning (10 hours). I looks like I have to cycle or stay the night. I get invited for some food and tea in one of the shops, and later to someone's house for dinner. I sleep in the truck stop hotel.

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October 24-25 - The Journey to Xining Province

(Night bus to Xining)
I spend two hours waiting for the first bus toward Xining. It arrives full, and I have to wait for the second, and last one. It's also full when it arrives, but I am offered the stairs at the door. The driver gives me a tiny stool. The floor space here is only one foot wide. It's difficult and awkward to sit here. After 12 hours it's getting very cold. It's snowing most of the night, and it's nice to arrive at Xining and warmer climate in the morning. This was easily my worst bus journey ever (but not the longest).

October 26 - Civilization!

I really enjoy all the wonderful things I've been missing; restaurants, fast food, snacks, ice cream, music, movies, internet, beer, etc.

October 27 - December 22 - Tourist in China

(Beijing - Laos border)
I spend this time more like the average backpacker or tourist. I travel by train to Beijing, Chengdu, and Kunming. In Beijing I see the sights, including the Great Wall. In Chengdu I see the Giant Pandas, and work as an English teacher. In Kunming I just relax and do a lot of Internet. I meet up with Steve and Jess, who are just getting into traveling by bike. They buy a nice bike each and are ready to go south with me. Unfortunately, Steve's bike gets stolen one day after buying it. Jess and I still want to cycle to the Lao border, but the authorities do not give me the needed visa extension. I travel there by bus instead. We stay two nights in Jinghong before we make it to Mengla near the Lao border.

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December 22 - Lovely Laos

We get up and catch a bus to the border. We eat lunch before we cross into Laos. Now the cycling starts again. We cycle mostly downhill to Nateui. There is an intersection and a small village here. We find the only restaurant, and luckily they have a few room as well as food.

December 23 - Jungle Cycling

(Muang Xai)
Eighty plus kilometers on a bad and mountainous road. There are sections with asphalt, but most of it is just dirt. There are a couple of passes on the route.

December 24 - Christmas Eve

(Ban Song Cha)
There are two long climbs today. We reach the small hill tribe village of Ban Song Cha in the evening. There is no restaurant or shop here but we get invited to stay with a family. They give us sticky rice and pork for dinner.

December 25 - Christmas Party on New Years Day

(Ban Namnga)
The morning is cold and misty. We get invited to the simple kitchen for breakfast before we start cycling. It's all downhill to Pak mong (25 kilometers). The mist is clearing as we get further down in the valley. In the little town we celebrate with a beer and some good lao food. We see the first tourists in Laos here. The road is much better from here on. In the afternoon we get invited to a party along highway 13. It's New Years Eve according to some hill tribe calendar. Jess is juggling in front of the cheering crowds, and we get invited to drink lao lao (home made rice wine) with the old men. We later make it to the village of Ban Namnga, where the local school teacher invite us to his house.

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December 26-28 - The Mighty Mekong

(Luang Prabang)
There are only a couple of longer climbs on this stretch. The road is good. We reach Louang Prabang after 95 easy kilometers. This is definitely the main center in northern Laos. The town is beautifully situated on the mighty Mekong river. UNESCO has put the place on it's World Heritage list. We stay a couple of days.

December 29 - Late Start

(No name village?)
We start late and there is one short and one long climb before it's time to stop. We eat in a small road side restaurant and a local family gives us accommodation after a simple dinner in the only shop/restaurant.

December 30 - The Basement

(Phou Khoun)
There are a couple of really tough climbs today. We reach one of the highest towns in Laos at sunset - Phou Khoun. The only guest house is full. After half an hour of negotiating and looking around, we get to sleep on the floor on the basement.

December 31 - New Years Party

(Vang Vieng)
It's new years eve and, we really want to reach the backpackers paradise Vang Vieng before it gets dark. It's only one pass today and we check in to a guest house in Vang Vieng at five p.m. We meet up with Karen, Tim, and Nadine and have a great new years party.

January 1-4 2001 - The Backpackers Paradise

(Vang Vieng)
It's wonderful to relax in this place for a few days. We juggle, make day trips and play pool, among other things.


January 5-28 - Holiday!

(Nong Khai, Thailand - Vang Vieng, Laos)
It's time for a long holiday. I enjoy Vang Vieng until my visa runs out, then Thailand and beautiful beaches for a month. When the Thai visa runs out I return to Vang Vieng.

January 29 - February 25 - Mostly by Bus This Time

(Vang Vieng - Muang Sing)
Peter and I travel to Muang Sing via Luang Prabang and Muang Xai. We travel by bus this time.

February 26 - Hill Tribes and Horse Caravans

(Muang Sing)
This place is great. There are many hill tribe villages just next to the little town. The market here is fantastic. Just behind it we meet some chinese minorities with horses. They come in caravans from Yunnan province in China with merchandise. As a day trip we cycle to an Akha village and the Chinese border

February 27 - Beautiful Cycling in the Jungle

(Luang Namtha)
Dete (who we met in Muang Xai) and Peter catch the bus back to Luang Namtha. I cycle through a beautiful area on a pretty good road (for Laos). I meet up with the lads at a small guest house in the late afternoon.

February 28 - Seven Hours on a Pick-up Truck

(Huey Xai)
The dusty track to Huey Xai on the Mekong is rough and very uncomfortable on the pick-up truck we're on. It would be nice to cycle this stretch next time (but not in the wet season, when it's probably just mud). We do some tax-free shopping before we go by boat across the river to Thailand.

February 29 - March 11 - Back in Thailand

(Chiang Rai - Pai, Thailand)
It's a change to be back in Thailand again. This country is so much more developed. I enjoy the city life in Chiang Rai for a few days before we start traveling again. Peter, Dete and I go to Fang, Thaton and Pai. We get stuck in Pai. It's a beautiful little town in a wide valley up in the mountains. There are plenty of things to see around the valley, including different hill tribes. Peter and I rent a motorbike one day to explore the surroundings. The last nights is party night. I go to bed at 7 a.m.

March 12 - A Steep Climb with a Hangover

(Mae Sae)
I'm quite a bit hung over when I wake up this morning. My room mate is snoring so I decide to get up and leave as planned. My German friend Dete is also leaving. We get to the bus station after a breakfast at our favorite restaurant. The bus is full. Dete gets the last ticket, but has to stand up. The driver doesn't wan 't to take my bike even if he had a ticket for me. I decide to cycle. It turns out to be one of the toughest climbs ever. The first 10 kilometers are mostly flat, but then it gets steep. I'm completely exhausted after 25 kilometers of climbing. After a simple noodle soup the climbing continues. After 45 kilometers I reach Mae Sae. The only village with a guest house along this route.

March 13 - April 6 - On the Way Home

(Chiang Mai - Trosa, Sweden)
I invite the policeman for a cup of coffee in the morning. It's raining cats and dogs but I start cycling anyway. The rain comes and goes during the day. It slows me down a lot in the switchbacks, and is just annoying on the flat later on. The traffic gets heavy closer to Chiang Mai. I cycle along a four lane highway the last 15 kilometers or so.

I stay for weeks in this lovely city. The size suites me fine, and I meet a lot of nice people. I hang out a lot at Rasta Cafe, Lin's Place and Chaos City. The weather goes from rainy to hot and sunny, almost too hot. On the fourth of April I catch a bus to Bangkok and then a plane back to Sweden the next day. It's a real culture shock to be back home.

© Tallabomba 1998-2005