Into China’s most Chinese city

Zur Abwechslung mieten wir uns ein Tandem um Xi'an zu erkunden

We rented a tandem bike to get around Xi’an

A 55 hour’s bus ride into China’s most Chinese city

Country: China
From Kashgar to Xi’an
Days on the bike: ¼ (plus a day on a tandem)
Kilometers cycled: 8
Average Kilometers per day: 8
Total Kilometers cycled till Xi’an: 7879.66
Total days travelled till Xi’an: 446
Lesson learned: Honk if you drive against the traffic rules to warn other drivers and stay calm if others do so.
Laughed about: The man with the big cheeks that kept yelling at us in Chinese
Most wonderful miracle: Cuddling with giant camels
Food we ate: All Chinese food I could get
Greatest obstacle: Avoiding elbows entering the bus
We stayed in Kashgar for a week and a half always searching for a way to get east. It seemed that all trains east were sold out and the few plane tickets were far too expensive. Cycling was not an alternative because it had taken us easily 1 ½ to 2 months of desert until we would have reached a town where we could renew our visas.

In the end Roberto got the two last bus tickets to Xi’an, a town about 4,000 kilometers east. The bikes would not fit in the bus so we rode them to the train station and sent them by train towards Chengdu. The days until the bus left were short. Roberto got a bad cough of all the yellow-brown air (coal ovens everywhere). Our cycling friends Astrid and Gerd were staying in the neighbor hostel and when Gerd also got ill Astrid and I cooked soup and spent the days chatting about our cycling adventures.

With our friends CJ from the USA and Astrid from Austria in the center of town

With our friends CJ from the USA and Astrid from Austria in the center of town

Kashgar did not really feel as I had imagined China. In fact I felt just like in any other Central Asian country. Kashgar is situated in China’s biggest province Xinjiang, home to many Uyghur people. The Uyghur are Muslims, they wear Russian fur hats, colorful Uzbek caps or Kyrgyz skin hats and eat what we had been eating so much in Central Asia: mutton.


But there were also a couple of differences: the choice of fruit and vegetables is so big! Back in Sary Tash we had the choice between potatoes and yellow carrots. The street signs were not written in Cyrillic anymore but bilingually in Chinese and Arabic characters. There was smoke everywhere and the town was full of scooters, electro bikes and Rickshaws. I was impressed of the leg-powered Rickshaws (also called Tuktuks). The drivers often drove up to three persons behind their bikes. But most drivers had already gotten a motor to do the hard work.

The traffic was crazy. Back home we use to blow the horn to show other drivers their misbehavior. In China it is just the other way round. Those who ride on the sidewalk on the bike lane, on the wrong side of the street or across a red traffic light just honk their way through the other drivers. And those who drive properly do not seem to mind a bit. Squeezed together with some 25 other scooter and elektro bike drivers we followed the bus in our bike lane through town.

We spent the waiting time in the cold Kashgar, visited the animal bazaar, cuddled with yaks and camels and drank as much hot tea as we could get. On Thanksgiving CJ, our friend from the USA was far away from his family. Roberto and I decided to celebrate together. Lee, a Chinese cyclist joined in and so did the night guard of the hostel. The owner sponsored us some tins of beer and master chief Roberto cooked smashed potatoes, a salad and chicken.

The bus ride should take 55 hours, two and a half days. Everybody squeezed towards the bus door in order to get in first. The driver yelled at us to form in a civilized queue. We squeezed together even more and our bubble of people looked more like a drop than like a queue. When the driver opened the door the chaos was perfect. Elbows, bags and shoes were everywhere. I felt like one of the sheep in the Kashgar Animal market. Everybody wanted to get in soon to reserve a good bed. Roberto got us one bed in the aisle and one at the window.

This driver loved to yell us out of bed in the middle of the night. But his face looked so funny when he was angry that we just could not watch him without bursting out in laughter

This driver loved to yell us out of bed in the middle of the night. But his face looked so funny when he was angry that we just could not watch him without bursting out in laughter

The beds were 1.75 meters long and narrow. Roberto slept in the aisle with two sides to fall out while I got the window bed with a big post in the middle that did not allow me to lay straight properly.
We spent the following days sleeping and being shout at. The three drivers made turns and the one with the big cheeks loved to yell at his passengers. Every time he yelled at us his cheeks wobbled and some food fell out of his mouth. At 2 am he yelled us all out of our dreams and out of his bus and we gathered in a small restaurant to have “dinner”. Just before sunrise we stopped again for a “toilet-break”. Everybody had to get out of the bus (probably so that nobody could steal). In the middle of the desert there was no toilet and all passengers walked a few meters away in order to do their business in the desert. Like moving bushes they sat each some 20 meters away from each other in the desert showing their blank butts to all the others.

Our co-passengers and the yelling driver

Our co-passengers and the yelling driver

Whenever we were not yelled at we watched Chinese and a few English movies. I watched the desert most of the time. After 40 hours I spotted some trees – we have made our way through the desert! It took another 15 hours until we reached Xi’an, known as the “most Chinese city in China”.


The town was beautiful and even had two super modern subway lines, but we badly missed our bikes. Instead we rented a tandem to visit a Buddhist temple, a Taoist temple and a Chinese mosque. The terracotta Army and the town’s biggest pagoda were our highlights. And finally we got some real Chinese food. I had been waiting for this moment for so long: cheap Chinese food every day!
After a week of being ordinary tourists we caught a 16 hours train to Chengdu, where our bikes had already been waiting for us. 16 hours – that sounds like a really short ride now.

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  1. Lee says:

    Are you kidding me? Do you need to learn how to cycle properly on the tandem bike?Hahaha!!!

    • Tasting Travels Team says:

      Hehe Lee we have never tried that before! We have to start at the same moment and make sure when to speed up and when to break and to manage the handlebar of that 2 meters bike is not too easy either 🙂
      Have you ridden a tandem bike before? Hugs!

  2. bigfan says:

    I enjoy when your transition from country to country is smooth and gradual in terms of culture, cuisine, people like this one. For me this is a perfect post without drastic and sudden change over the border. that sudden changes always beat me off the track :D. so, let central Asia gradually transform into Eastern one.

    P.S. and yes, this monster thing: ‘Total Kilometers cycled till Xi’an: 7879.66’ always makes me to WOW from excitement. Just WOW!

    • Tasting Travels Team says:

      So do we. That is one of the great things traveling overland: The road signs and maybe the alphabeth change with the border itself. Everything else comes little by little.

    • Tasting Travels Team says:

      Actually Roberto and I have just been wondering that those nombers seem to be pretty small compared to what other cyclists pedal on their way to China. But from Serbia to Fethiye, Turkey and from the Turkish Black Sea coast to Tehran we can only rely on what google maps told us that the Kilometers were, same counts for quite a big part of Germany, since we managed to kill two spedometers on the way (one came back o life for a few weeks).
      And the kilometers cycled for day trips, shopping, visits and anything without baggage are excluded as well. But we hope to reach the magic 10.000 Kilometers soon 🙂

  3. Juan Carlos Romo says:

    Hi Roberto and Annika:
    Today I stopped at one of my work offices where they just hang a big world map and you both came to my mind then I decided to visit your web site and enjoyed reading some of your recent posts, what an experience!!
    Best wishes for this 2013

    • Tasting Travels Team says:

      Hola Juan Carlos,
      I can perfectly understand that. I love to travel with my finger over the map and imagine the places behind the names. But I even love more to travel them in reality 🙂
      I am happy to hear that you liked what you read. A hug and a great 2013!

  4. madina says:

    Hi, hope u enjoy the time in Yibin. I have been to Xi’an for many times. It is a quite nice city. And I also been to ur next destination Yunan province many times. If you need any information just contact me 🙂

    Hope to meet both of you again.

    With smile 🙂

    • Tasting Travels Team says:

      Hey Madina,
      thank you a lot for your comment! We have a very good time here in Yibin. I am very curious about Yunnan, I have heared only very beautiful things about there.
      Thank you sooo much for all your help dear Madina! We also hope to meet you again soon!

  5. Pingback: Back on the bikes into a white ChristmasTasting Travels

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