Visas arrived in with no problems and it's time to leave Nanning. Manage a night out and once again enter the stylish clubs in our bum attire and have all our drinks paid for us by fashionable locals who want a westerner to sit at their table.
We leave Nanning for Vietnam and have an uneventful few days of cycling, camping, binguans and fried noodles that we've gotten used to on the road in China. Eventually we arrive at the border and prepare for the crossing. It was laughable, the x-ray scanners were switched off in China and we suggested to the Vietnamese that it was too much hassle for us to unpack our bikes so they just waived us through and we were in Vietnam!
I Try to get my head around the insane Vietnamese Dong currency and realise I'm a billionaire - finally! I take out 5,000,000 about $240 US dollars. The scenery still looks a bit like China with it's ugly concrete sprawl towns, but the writing is in roman characters so feels slightly less alien.
Our first night and we're welcomed into a rural family farm, who keep chickens and make firebricks, and camp in their yard. They offer us tasty local food and are extremely hospital.
We continue on and eventually we reach the sea and cycle along the mangrove and karst coast. We meet a German couple on bicycles and go with them to the port to catch a ferry to an Island they're going to. I finally spy beach and the weather clears. It's beautiful, reminds me of the islands around Kho Phi Phi in Thailand but far less touristy.
We catch a ferry to 'Island' I never really know where were going. After China we're all looking forward to some beach action and a chance to unwind after all the cycling. We arrive in Qan Lan, stay a night in the small town and head off the next day to find a beach. We chance upon the most amazing guesthouse on the northern tip of the Island. Named 'Robinson' with only a dirt track leading to the family house, 3 km of beach on either side and absolutely no one around. We have a room, hammocks, no electricity and nothing else to do except chill. The local village has supplies; beer and food so we settle in and cook our own meals, read books, lay in the sun and swim in the warm ocean on our own private beach. A few other guests arrive and we make some new friends and pretty soon a week goes by and I realise I need to get to Hanoi and start heading back to China on my way to Taiwan. A sobering though as it's maybe 3000km away and I have two weeks to get there. On my bike.
The final night with the Swiss rolls (unless we meet in Hanoi) and the girls surprise me with a huge beach fire, a bottle of local fruit wine and a some gifts. The sad part of travelling and making new friends is that you have to say goodbye and not know if or when you will see each other again.
I head off early in the morning to catch my ferry, running late as usual and getting chased by dogs but finally make it and board. The morning sunrise is spectacular and I feel a sense of new adventure ahead. I cycle the 200 or so kilometres in 2 days and arrive in Hanoi. Nine million people live here and they must all own a moped, driving in every possible direction. It's total chaos, by far the most daunting cycling experience yet.
I make it to a hostel in the old quarter of the city and find myself in backpacker heaven, or hell depending on how you look at it. The atmosphere is one of a great big party. It's a bit like the opening scene from 'The Beach'. I much prefer my way of travelling, but it's also a nice change.
Of course I immediately get involved and end up agreeing to go on a boat trip in Halong Bay, where I had just come from, with four crazy girls (yes that's you Lotte, Sil, Agata and Laura). It is beautiful but packed with people and a perfect example of how to ruin somewhere with tourism. We stay on a large boat, get fed, go kayaking and swimming then get very, very drunk.
Back to Hanoi the next day and I meet up with an American guy, Corey, who I met on Quan Lan and get taken out to drink Bia Hoi, fresh local beer that costs about 15p a pint. The old quarter of Hanoi is a confusing maze of old building and shops and has a brilliant vibe about it though crossing the road comes with a very high risk of getting run over.
By chance I find two girls on bikes as I walk to the train station to investigate tickets back to China, it's the Swiss Rolls! They come back with me and check in the hostel and I play guide but ultimately end up getting lost most of the time.
I spend a few more days in Hanoi just looking around and enjoying the amazing Vietnamese food, planning my route to Taiwan and having a second chance of sad goodbyes.
I get ticket to Guanzhou, which is half way between Hanoi and Fouzhou where I will catch the ferry to Taiwan. The buses are comfortable, the border crossing back into China surprisingly easy and I even get my bike on without trauma or bribery.
I'm now back in China and have 1000km to cycle and 15 days to do it, and on my own this time….