Our venture into the weird world that is China took place over a relatively short period of time and was centred around one major activity: cycling. So this time it’s a top-5 rather than a top-10 as we ventured into not only visiting a new country but having a look into one of recent histories most outrageous stories. Yunnan in the south of China is hot, hilly and with the four grannies and the four gays making up the G8, hilarious. Here’s our top-5 experiences from our pedal pushing fiesta that was China.
So much of this trip, who am I kidding, our lives centres around food so it’s a bit surprising that much of this trip has thus far taken place in countries not known for culinary expertise. This all changed when we came to Asia. Nepal was surprisingly an early start to the gastronomic affair but in Yunnan we always hoped for good food and we were not disappointed. Oddly enough the food was fairly simple for the most part, not out of reach for us to cook at home yet delicious, healthy and fresh; the reason it’s in the top-5 was the outstanding approach to food and eating. Generous helpings made us feel welcomed, huge arrays of dishes made us feel decadent and sharing it all brought us closer together. From cicadas and worms to whole fish, delicious soups and freshly picked vegetables the Chinese eat everything and so did we. Good food is what’s on the plate but in Yunnan it’s also about what’s not on the plate.
Lets be honest, sometimes a true cultural travelling experience comes at a cost, and that cost on this trip was some pretty ‘gloss free’ home-stays and guest houses; fabulously faulted. On our second last night though we were treated to what a home-stay can be in Nannoushan guest house. With a combination of cultural insights, bare bones rooms and clean spacious layout Nannoushan was a winner walking the fine line between experience and comfort. We walked through old growth tea forests and shared song and dance with the local ethnic minority Aini people, all the boom with none of the bust.
Bit of a no brainer here, the trip after all was based on cycling. For eight non-cyclists who all took part in some form of shotgun last minute training to be ready for a trip that should have been a little beyond us all the return leg to Jinghong signalled a range of triumphs none of us could have predicted. Either simply making it, learning to cycle properly or meeting a personal challenge each member of the G8 got more than they bargained for and everything we hoped for. We came to see a new country, have a blast but none of us quite knew how much pushing those pedals would embed itself into our experience beyond a means of transport. I struggle to call us cyclists but gee we loved having a cack at it.
Our very own twilight zone moment, Xiding market remains for us one of the best markets we’ve seen on this trip for eye popping experience; and we’ve seen a heap of markets. Capturing all the gritty, dirty, delicious mayhem that any market can shoot for Xiding market represents one of the most true cultural sights of this trip. There was precisely eight non Chinese faces in the market that morning where usually there are none in an immersive experience not so much like seeing a market as being swallowed by the market. Oh, and the noodles were delicious too.
Where Xiding market was pure immersion, the tea factory near Menghai was pure privilege. Local Chinese tea buffs would rarely get an insight into what we saw and experienced, to think that we were all granted this look in takes a moment to comprehend the extraordinary magnitude of it. If you’re not a tea drinker this might sound a bit of an odd experience to claim the number one spot, but tea enthusiast or not any traveller can appreciate rare opportunities and this was one of them. Into secret cooking room where no photography was allowed all the way through to packing and pressing and wrapping our own tea biscuits we saw the lot. Not for all the tea in China, the saying goes; this piece of Chinese history remains unchanged and unbroken for centuries through a recent history that has lost so much. For us, tea represents great Chinese cultural heritage, and we got a front row seat.