There’s nothing like a nature trail to put everything in perspective. I’m walking under serene pine trees on what I think is a Buddhist kora — a circuit around a sacred site — on a mountain by Caoxi Temple (草席), a short walk from my hotel. I indulged myself by staying at Jinfang Forest Spa Resort in Anning (安宁) — a short drive west of Kunming — to conclude my motorbike trip that started nearly three weeks ago in Kunming. In that span, I covered over 1,500km of good (and terrible) road, mingled with friendly foreigners and locals, ate and slept on the cheap, and experienced sensory overload. Thus I needed peace so I splurged on my last night at Jinfang (it’s the low season so I negotiated for a 650元 king-size mountain view room with private hot spring pool).
After the Water Splashing Festival, I rode G213, which is the old highway that runs parallel to the Kunming-Mohan Expressway, north out of Jinghong (景洪). Pu’er tea trees and banana plants dominate, and to a lesser extent, a patchwork of colorful orchards, blooming flowers, and other cash crops (watermelon, dragon fruit, sugarcane, maize, coffee, etc. ) appear. Be aware that G213 is currently under varying stages of improvements so dump trucks, potholes, and dust are the norm. The nearly 100km-stretch from Ning’er to Mojiang almost drove me to madness, and makes it difficult to appreciate the views.
I decided to take a detour on S218. My sanity and bike thanked me. The section from Mojiang to where the two-lane sealed road meets S306 at the Lishe River was one of the best overall routes (great road condition, light traffic, and splendid scenry). S218 meanders up and down mountains, passing rice terraces before it drops into a river valley full of bananas. On a Tuesday afternoon, all I usually saw on the scenic byway were motorbikes, motor plows, farmers, cattle, water buffaloes, and chickens trying to get out of my way.
Of course, everything wasn’t dandy — vast tracts of mountainsides were striped of forest to make way for more crops. And I had to make haste to beat a coming thunderstorm. I was thinking,
“No, no, please wait, please wait!”
The rain didn’t wait, and I ended up getting doused, but not nearly as wet as I did at the festival. I sought shelter at a crossroads truck stop where S218 meets S306. The storm knocked out the electricity, so I had a not-so-romantic, candlelit dinner with five local men. It was comical as one man repeatedly tried to speak to me in his local language. Upon failing to communicate, he invariably resorted to “hello” when he wanted me to drink bijiu (白酒) or eat.
Dry and refreshed (albeit surprising so, considering the state of the bare-bones, 30元-room at the truck stop), I took S306 back to G213 and spent the next night at Eshan. To find the Chinese hotels I stayed at in Pu’er (普洱), Ning’er (宁洱), Mojiang (墨江), and Eshan (峨山), look for neon lights or ask bystanders to point the way to a hotel (jiu dian 酒店). The rooms averaged 100元, and twin bed rooms were cheaper for some reason. The four-laned S213 then quickly took me higher and higher until I was on the high plateau that Kunming and Anning rest on.
(SIDENOTE: Despite driving an unregistered bike with no Chinese license, I didn’t have any problems with the authorities. I passed through a few security checkpoints (and bypassed one), but I was only stopped once for passport verification. However, if you decide to ride a bike in Yunnan, drive safely with a good helmet, use common sense, smile, and enjoy the ride.)