Where the going stays tough.....
Where the going stays tough.....
The section between Baoshan and Wanding is again different from the sections before. This because it cuts through the frontline at the Nujiang River (Salween) and goes through a much lower area resulting in generally higher temperatures.
This section can be cycled in 3, 4 or 5 days. The four day partition is described below. In five days more time could be spend in towns on the way like Longling and Zhefangzhen and exploring the mysterious X218 section.
Baoshan is a good place for a day rest between the sections and that gives time to visit the Baoshan museum. The museum has the main archives of materials connected to the Burma Road and is a source for photographic material for other museum.
Apart from a section dedicated to WW-II focusing on the Burma Road and battles in western Yunnan, there are sections on the ethnic groups living in south/west Yunnan and a section on the prehistoric cultures living in the area.
The museum shop sells various books on the topics displayed in the museum but they are only available in Chinese. The regional library is connected to the museum and has historic documents related to the road.
Just outside Baoshan one passes what looks like a necropolis. It are however stonemason workshops making grave stones. After a cut down on grave stones and burials in general during the communist time the culture of building extensive graves is back. The new rich of the region go way out in the construction of elaborate graves.
Some 15 kilometres south of Baoshan the road turns west and climb out the Baoshan valley. A further 7 kilometres further the Burma Road deviates from the G320, crosses the G56 motorway and turns south. The road goes up and down but stays around the 2000 meter altitude until the last mountains are crossed.
Officially foot binding was stopped when China became a republic but in rural Yunnan this practise continued.
The 85 year old lady on the left above was born in 1927 and her feet were bound when she was a young child. In her early teens she might have worked on the Burma Road breaking stone for gravel. Now deaf and blind so we could not ask her.
The old man above sells wild mushrooms to compliment his tiny pension.
Born in 1937 and then too young to remember but he might have been bound to his mothers back while she worked on the Burma Road.
Old age facilities in rural area are hardly existing and pensions are at poverty level.
Ones passed the G56 motorway the Burma Road becomes a quiet road through a rural area.
The last 22 kilometres of this stretch are like a free fall, the road drops 1400 metres to the Nujiang valley floor over a rather rough coble stone road. The views from here this stretch are magnificent.
The lower one gets the hotter it gets. The road passes through coffee plantations and patches with tropical fruits. The road is lined with Yucca plants.
Through the bushes one can get the first views of the old and new Huitong Bridges spanning the Nujiang River (Salween) down below in the gorge.
This stretch can be described as the ultimate Burma Road experience.
First historically. It leads from the Huitong Bridge, the only large Burma Road bridge still in existence and part of the frontline, to the battlefield at Songshan.
Secondly as a physically / sportive challenge. It is the longest and steepest climb over the worst cobblestones at one of the hottest spots.
And thirdly one can add to the adventure the worst accommodation of the entire trip on both ends of this stretch.
The Huitong Bridge was the place where the Burma Road crossed the Nujiang River （Salween) and thus of vital importance. In the narrow gorge there was the bridge and a ferry crossing.
The eastern bridgehead was blown in 1942 in order to stop the advancing Japanese army. The river stayed the front line till the Chinese army crossed the river in 1944 to open the Burma Road again.
The 'Flying Tigers' attacked military convoys in occupied western Yunnan from their bases in Baoshan and Yunnanyi. They tried to bomb vital parts of the Burma Road as well to stop or hinder the Japanese army. Especially the road on the west bank of the Nujiang was bombed frequently.
Exploring the Huitong bridge on both sides of the river will take an hour. (The bridge cannot be crossed any longer).
The main battle to retake western Yunnan and open the Burma Road again took place at the heavily fortified Songshan Mountain where Japanese units had been dug in.
A visit to the old battlefield at the mountain will take two to three hours. Visiting the Songshan battlefield museum takes another hour.
If one goes east or west either way it is a climb over rough cobblestones to get out of the valley.
The elevation chart of the original Burma Road shows that crossing the Nujiang valley includes the steepest and longest climb of all the Burma Road. The height difference between the Nujiang River and the top of the Songshan Mountain is 1346 meters / 4417 feet. The pass in the Gaoligong Mountains behind Songshan is even a few hundred metres higher.
At the Songshan Battlefield some people try to make a living guiding visitors around or selling them flowers and snacks.
The stretch between Huitong Bridge and Songshan is short but very steep. It depends on ones physical condition how much time this climb will take. If the climb is slow than there is an option to stay in Songshan. The accommodation is however very limited and the other option is to continue the climb further after which it is all the way down to the town of Longling where more accommodation is available.
The travel scedule depends as well on how much time you like to spend at Songshan.
Lao Wu the watch repair man fixed my watch for a few kuai.
Apart from watches he fixes bikes and motorbikes and all kind of consumer electronics.
From Songshan the Burma Road keeps on climbing the Gaoligong Mountain range for another few hundred metres up. From the top it is nearly all the way down to Longling (龙陵). The last 18 kilometres is over the G320 again which is rather busy because the G56 has not been extended here yet.
For more on Longling see our Longling page.
The town of Longling was the centre of the Japanese occupation of western Yunnan In the centre of town one can still find a Japanese bunker controlling the Burma Road. A small exposition is located in the building behind the town square that has the memorial wall as well.
One thing not to miss in Longling is the museum dedicated to the Japanese "Comfort Woman" system. The museum is housed in an old wooden villa that was a Japanese army brothel and 'training centre' for the woman brought into western Yunnan to serve the Japanese army.
In the museum one can see a shocking documentary on the fate of one of the Korean woman who, highly pregnant, survived the killing spree that aimed to hide this war-crime when the Japanese army was driven out of Longling.
All towns in western Yunnan experienced a building boom lately and Longling is no exception. Traffic follows the ring road and the Burma Road became quiet again.
Just outside Longling the Burma Road and the G320 split again but it is hard to find the original road. The Burma Road has been abandoned here for a long time and only recently got used again as service road for the construction of the fuel pipeline and the extension of the G56 motorway. The lower altitudes here result in higher temperatures and the vegetation becomes a bit jungle like.
December 31, 1941.
We were up at 6:30 to start around eight o'clock. We found more dust-filled roads winding around the Yunnan hills. There is snow on the mountains in the distance.
The hill people of the province are working on the road, looking like gnomes, short, stunted and clad in blue rags. Many of them have large goiters on their necks, caused by the lack of iodine in their diet. All are ill fed and poverty stricken in a way that makes our poor look like millionaires.
The above text is from the book: 'With Chennault in China' from Robert M Smith, Radio operator with the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers).
He travelled up the Burma Road by car leaving Toungoo, in Burma, on the 20th of December and arrived on 2nd of January in Kunming.
When we first cycled this stretch of the Burma Road in 2012 work was in progress on both the oil and gas pipeline and the extension of the motorway to Ruili.
Both projects have been completed.
The last stretch starts with a long ride out of town past the Mangshi Airport. The Burma Road turns into the G320 again and is busy on this stretch, the motorway now under construction once finished should change this.
The landscape changes, it gets more tropical and the many Buddhist watts are just like they are in Burma or Thailand.
A last climb is needed across the mountains that separate the Longjiang River valley from the Wanjiang River valley.
Work starts early for rubber tappers. With their head lamps they start working when it is still dark to bring in their harvest.
Not everybody in a police uniform is a policeman. And not everybody with a Jeep cap is driving a Jeep. And policeman usually don't smile at you and want their picture taken.
The trip ends at the border in Wanding. The original border crossing with the Bailey bridge constructed by American forces in 1945 still stands as a monument.
The border post, now using a new concrete bridge, is still in use but lost significance with the opening of the border at Ruilli 26 Kilometres further down the river.
This concludes the cycle trip along the original Burma Road (Or is the start if one cycles from Wanding to Kunming).
Location: 25°07' N. 99°10' E.
Altitude: 1655 meters / 5430 feet.
Location: 24°05' N. 98°04' E.
Altitude: 1100 meters / 3600 feet.
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