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Corona Diaries: Traveling China as the World Remains in Lockdown post image

Corona Diaries: Traveling China as the World Remains in Lockdown

On the road with MRP in the mountains of Yunnan as the rest of the planet wallows in quarantine.

3 days staring at Meili Snow Mountain Vista

We drive a mountain road that neither Baidu or Google can place.

I don’t know why.

Is it the barely-navigable road, eaten by the river far below?

Soon, at 3,360 meters high, we stop to see where the fuck we are.

White peaks. Mountainsides carpeted by green pine, other trees fashioned with pink flowers.

Surreal. But overwhelming everything blasts an icy gale of light, swirling snow.

Yet 2 hours ago, I was ready to ditch my t-shirt to escape the heat.

Traveling in southwest China, every mountain and canyon seems to usher in a new strange land, like a journey across hidden kingdoms.

Tong Le - Lisu Minority Village (drone)Tong Le – Lisu Minority Village.

Yesterday, 15km from a remote Tibetan village on a high plateau, after crawling torturous mountain twists all day, a barrier blocked our van.

We stopped. Wound down the window, ready for questions.

I reached for my passport and quarantine papers, again.

Yeah, just another day on the road across Coronavirus China.

Yunnan's unique snub- nosed white monkeys at national parkOur effort to reach Nehru Village is thwarted. But not by randomly-enacted Covid-19 restrictions.
Rather, it was a provincial decree banning outsiders because of forest fires (across Yunnan caused by farmers burning fields). Bummer.

So while America, Europe and most of the world stays locked down, at least we’re able to travel in China, relatively free. (Here, if you like, you can read my earlier account of being quarantine for a month while van camping in coronavirus China.)

Now maybe you’re wondering – after reading alarmingly-xenophobic headlines recently: “What’s it like for foreigners in China, now?

In my experience, still fine.

But …

My time here is not typical of most foreigners.

You see, my Chinese wife and I have been living a van-life this past year. Traveling 20,000 km across China in a tiny delivery van – living mostly in isolation we stay near rivers and lakes or amid grasslands and forests. Living off-grid and away from the rules is our lifestyle.

So much so that even the PSB – Public Security Bureau often has no idea where I am (as we found out the other day).

Hiking to Yubeng Tibetan Village (drone)

Hiking to Yubeng Tibetan Village.

Yet, occasionally, we take a break from our tiny, mobile home and check into a guesthouse. And this is where hassles can start for a foreigner.

Firstly, there’s a government policy that many hotels – particularly cheap places – cannot take foreigners without a license. So once my wife has phoned in and asked ‘Can you take foreigners?’ and eliminated those options, it’s onto the corona-paranoid hoteliers.

Some just say no. Others cite a new regulation about foreigners and that they can’t be arsed with the extra paperwork. Fair enough. (Postscript: Today my wife rang the local government in Dali and this rule, apparently, doesn’t apply to foreigners who have been in quarantine and been in China before the outbreak).

In Shangri-La, no guesthouse wanted to know about me without getting government approval.
On the other hand, applying to stay in a remote Yubeng village, a guesthouse owner was good enough to facilitate our stay. The paperwork for officials was done via Wechat, including photos of my documents.

In Lijiang, we got lucky after only 4 attempts.

However, with all the hotel BS and uncertainty of rules, life for us is much easier on the road, just living in our van.

Overnight here having BBQ + wine amid canyonOvernight here having BBQ + wine amid canyon.

Is China normalizing now with Covid-19 under control?

Well, kind of. Shops are open. Roads are busy but not the usual city chaos. Schools and universities remain closed. As do borders to foreigners. Ubiquitous temperature checks and mobile scan-ins are everywhere. And, of course, most people still wear masks.

Xenophobia is not the new normal in China.

Yes, there’s the panic of a middle-aged woman to fasten her mask at my approach. Or told that we can’t park our van in public parking. These are isolated incidents.

… We sit with street musicians, at night, drinking beer amid the orange-lit old town, cheering with their singing and whooping; everyone ecstatic by the manic riffs of rebellion. This evening, China embraces the foreigner – and I’m fuckin’ elated to be here.

Filed under: Asia, China, Epidemics

About the Author:

For 30+ years, Michael Robert Powell (MRP) has been nomadic across the planet, exploring 120+ countries while pioneering a minimalist, travel lifestyle. Experiences include: Arrested in Saddam’s Iraq – accused of being spy by the army, caught amid a murderous cyclone in Bangladesh, hitching the Sahara across Algeria and Niger, and much more. Check out: www.thecandytrail.com. has written 3 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

12 comments… add one

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  • Trevor Warman April 28, 2020, 5:53 am

    Hi MRP Greetings from Kenya. Glad to see your post is up. Meili Snow Mountain. Now that’s a view and a half.

    Loved Yubeng.

    Funny, how you were living in a fucking car park and we were all still living it up, now you are out there again and the rest of the world is going no-where. Been here 45 days now. And its far from over. KENYATTA extend the partial lock down by 21 more days. 🥺🥺

    Take care out there!!!!

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  • Trevor Warman April 28, 2020, 7:19 am

    Hi MRP greetings from Kenya

    Glad to see your post up! Meili snow mountain and Yubeng. What a place.

    Strange that you were living in a car park yet we were wandering freely. Now you are free and we are in massive lock down. Kenyatta extend 3 more week.

    Take care there and keep us alive with more stories.

    Best regards Trevor

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    • MRP April 28, 2020, 7:48 am

      Hi Trevor.

      Wow, 3 more weeks. I suppose Africa (& Latin America) are at the tail end of this nonsense and it could go in any direction.

      Yeah, we actually camped on the basketball court within a large hotel that was designated as the quarantine for folks from outside Yunnan. (Another place was strictly for those coming from Wuhan and Hubei). A military hospital unit was stationed there, and sprayed and tested, daily.

      However, we were free to mingle ( had a wild party; story not online), and could basically wander around Dali, freely. Until, the end of CNY / Spring Festival, when lockdown was solid for 4 days. Then provincial travel reopened, and we hit the road.

      Stay sane (& safe)

      Regards – Michael 😀

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      • Wade Shepard April 28, 2020, 8:19 am

        What’s really interesting to me is how the US and Europe seem to have locked down WAY more invasively than China (outside of Wuhan and a couple other cities). I interviewed people in the country at the height of the pandemic there and they were still going to Starbucks and bars. Funny to think of how the USA is acting more authoritatively in many respects than China.

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    • Wade Shepard April 28, 2020, 8:15 am

      You’re traveling for all of us now, man!

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      • Trevor Warman April 28, 2020, 8:27 am

        Seems any message with F in it arnt sending

        Ok again. The 2 swiss i knew , stuck in Mauritania, they flew out to Paris, 3 weeks ago. I emailed him to do an interview. But they r home now.

        Only know the english cyclist still in Grand Bassam Ivory Coast who is still holding out.

        I wanna see it through, but at least 3 more weeks eeekkk

        @wade I’ve for Part 3 but need a photo.

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        • Wade Shepard April 28, 2020, 10:08 am

          Excellent, man! Don’t worry too much about the photos — it’s your story that matters. Also, MRP’s photos raised the bar a little too high for all of us haha.

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          • Trevor Warman April 28, 2020, 10:46 am

            @wade MRP is a genius. No one can top his adventures, his mishaps, his photos or his ability to tell a freaking awesome story. If it wasnt for MRP i wouldnt have been further than Morocco.

            @ MRP i owe you for your inspiration

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            • MRP April 29, 2020, 1:27 am

              @ Trevor & Wade.

              Sh*t, am blushing a bit – but thanks for the encouragement (I haven’t had much across these past 30+ years of travel; mostly self-motivation. And I certainty, don’t do this for the money, as travel has never paid me anything via blogging, etc.

              Anyway, if you love something enough, you just do it, I suppose. And, that’s what we all do in our own ways … Each has something worthy to offer.

              Hope everyone can return to the road soon.

              Regards – Michael ( aka MRP@ TCT )

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              • Wade Shepard April 29, 2020, 10:15 am

                Definitely, man. A blog, if done right, should be a collection of thoughts and experiences — exactly what TCT is. Looking forward to reading more soon. And if you ever want to do a part 2 to this story that would be very much welcomed.

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                • MRP May 3, 2020, 9:34 pm

                  Thanks Wade. But I doubt there’s a part#2; don’t think are readers are interested in us camping below dramatic snow peaks, doing nothing but chillin’. (Unless off course, some drama erupts, well, then …)

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                  • Wade Shepard May 4, 2020, 8:31 am

                    Sounds good, man. Enjoy those dramatic peaks!

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