Around the world by bike
(2 795km - 60days)
27 January - Keelung, Taiwan – Xiamen, China - By boat
The Cosco Star was much larger than expected. It appeared more a cargo ship than a ferry, with the result that there were not many people on board. The interior was quite luxurious and there were about 6 bunk beds to a cabin. I was, however, the only person in the cabin. There was not much to do, as the ship rolled wildly and it was best just to lie on your bunk instead of trying to walk about.
We arrived in Xiamen at around 9h30 the following morning and it was an uncomplicated entry into China. I change my last bit of Taiwanese money, drew some more Chinese Yuan at the ATM and was set to see what the area held.
Xiamen came as a bit of a shock, it was extremely large with high-rise buildings as far as the eye could see (and it is hardly a dot on the map!). Xiamen is located on an island with the same name in die province of Fujian and is connected to the mainland via a 5 km long bridge. These was also a ferry to the nearly Gulang Yu island (it could not have been more than a few hundred meters to the island) but there was such a long line for the ferry that I gave it a miss and headed to the nearest hostel. I finally invested in a Smartphone as hard copies of anything including maps and guidebooks are increasingly difficult to find. I spent most of the day trying to set it up and getting familiar with it.
I took a stroll down town and what a busy and modern place it is. There appeared to be a large and modern department store on each and every corner. Line-shops were selling all the latest gadgets and brand names; there sure is money in this country. It was busy and hectic but well organized and as clean as a pin, not even a small piece of paper could be seen anywhere.
Albeit the coffee culture took root in China, they remain a tea-drinking nation. Tea shops and tea-houses abound and the shops are stocked with the most beautiful tea sets, some quite costly. In the south they seem to favor these tiny teapots, barely large enough to hold half a cup of tea.
BaiJaiCun Hostel turned out to be rather nice, with comfortable rooms and dorms and a cozy lounge area. It was right next to Zhongshan Park, an old and well established park where old men played card games under large overhanging trees and “one-child” families strolled or took peddle boats on the canal, it was a rather nice place to hang out.
The next day I set off exploring the city and was happy to find that amidst the concrete jungle, there was still a real China, a place where people carried their wares in baskets dangling from the ends of a bamboo pole, place where shop keepers still sit on the pavement outside their shops sipping tea from delicate china.
In my wonderings I also found a rather interesting market where they were selling (what looked like) bits and pieces from just about each and every endangered species around the world. What was that Rhino horn?? No surely that could not have been it!!
I was firmly entrenched in the land of the chopsticks and tea, both being sold in abundance at the markets and I hoped that my proficiency with the chopsticks would improve. Being a port city the fish market was another rather interesting place, where they sold just about each and every sea creature one could imagine. A favorite was the sandworm jelly. The sandworms are boiled into a jelly mould which is said to be rich in collagen!! Wrinkly or not – I gave it a miss!!
What a frustrating day on the road. I left rather late as I thought it would be a short and easy ride to Zhangzhou. Unfortunately most of the roads I tried had big “No Bicycle” signs and every time I had to turn around and look for another way. With the result that I cycled 90 km which could have been much less if I was not blocked all the time. It was already dark by the time I cycled into the big and busy Zhangzhou and was lucky to find a cheap room right in the centre. I was set on looking for a GPS. By the time I off loaded my bags I realized that I had not eaten all day and set off in search of food. I splashed out on a pizza and a beer curled up in front of the TV and could not wish for more.
30 January - Zhangzhou – Yunxian - 101 km
This day was much better as I was already on the G324 and stayed on it. Everything is a bit larger than life in China; although the G324 is considered a small road it has 3 lanes in both directions and was in excellent condition. Although it is a mountainous area the gradient was even and cycling was good. The weather also played along and it was a T-shirt and shorts day. It was Chinese New Year and I cycled past many firecracker shooting villages, what a noisy affair. The road continued on past vast tea plantations and many tea houses. With about 30 km to go to Yunxian a large mountain came into view, but the Chinese don’t take any prisoners and if there is a mountain in the way they dig a tunnel through it. I was fairly happy about that!
In Yunxian I found a room right in the centre of town, next to the park. I don’t know if that was a good thing or not. It was Chinese New Year’s Eve and as soon as the clock struck midnight the crackers started and continued throughout the night. It was not the “shoot-in-the-sky” type crackers, but rather the “machine-gun” type that one can buy in big rolls, closely resembling the ammunition for a machine gun. You only need to light the first one, which then sets off the whole caboodle, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!!! So it went all night. It is a traditional practice to make as much of a din as possible to chase off the evil spirits.
31 January - Yunxian – Chaozhou - 122 km
The morning mist was still laying low over the city as I left; the streets were eerily quiet and covered in red paper from the nightly firecrackers. I looked out for a place to have breakfast but everything was still firmly shut. This was also the first day of the New Year, the first day of Chinese New Year is a time to honor one's elders and families visit the oldest and most senior members of their extended families, usually their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. The road was therefore quiet and it was not a bad day on the road as the weather was good and the road fairly flat.
It was not really a scenic ride as it was very hazy, typical of the pictures one normally sees of China with the misty mountains in the background. Along the way there were a lot of “rubber-necking” going on and I was afraid that some people could dislocate their necks the way they spun around to look at me. One guy pulled up next to me and told me that he has never seen a foreign women cycling in China, ha ha.
I made use of the good conditions and pushed on the Chaozhou where I arrived in good time. Finding accommodation was however a totally different cup of tea and took nearly as long as the days ride!! It was holiday season and everything at a reasonable price was fully booked. The real cheap places apparently only took Chinese people and not foreigners????? What was that all about? In the end I settled for a rather expensive hotel as it was getting dark and even at the best of times I’m not the best “room shopper” around.
It was a really luxurious room and I made good use of all that was available to me. After a very nice hot and strong shower I took a walk downtown, found some dumplings and a beer, headed back to my room and settled in front of the TV.
Each culture has its own idea of a bed and what it should constitute, in China the beds are as hard as rocks, and it seems the more fancy the hotel the harder the bed. In fact the beds were so hard that my hip went numb!!! I was contemplating getting my sleeping map out, which would have been way more comfortable than their beds.
1 February - Chaozhou
I went in search of a cheaper room and found an Inn located in an old building down one of the alleys. It suited me just find. I went back to the fancy Chaozhou Hotel to collect my stuff and I had to giggle as the staff of these fancy hotels doesn’t really know what to do with a person on a bicycle. The porter looked quite awkward (although keen) trying to help me load the bicycle.
Since my arrival in China I have not met one single Westerner and it was therefore not strange that it felt that I was more of an attraction than the ancient temples of Chaozhou. That did not put me off and I braved the crowds and set off exploring the alleys and temples of old Chaozhou. I was well rewarded as some of the buildings date back to the Silk Route days. Most remarkable was the Guangi Bridge, originally a 12th-century pontoon bridge, and although the current bridge is from a much later era it was a pretty site. Not quite the bridge over the River Kwai but interesting nevertheless. A large section of the old city wall, and its gates, are still intact and it was an interesting day.
That evening I headed for Paifang Jie (Street of Arches) where there was plenty of street food on offer. There were also plenty of cake for sale and although they were immensely popular, I must admit that I have not as yet developed a taste for these strange cakes. One thing you will not find here is the Western style “fortune cookie” or the Western version of Chinese food for that matter.
I find China a land of contradictions, everything is off the scale massive, yet they drink tea out of kiddies tea-sets, they are conservative yet modern, they are building at a head-spinning pace, yet there is an old world with narrow lanes where locals still use pedicabs (albeit electric-assisted). China is the oldest continuous civilization and it is therefore bound to have some interesting architecture.
Interestingly enough Chinas one-child policy seems to me a bit of a myth. I am saying this as it is not uncommon to see people with more than one child. Although there are campaigns encouraging people to only have one child, most people have more than one child. It appears to me that it is only one child that receives all the free benefits. Parents have to pay for the other children’s education etc that somehow seems fair to me. If and when a person is from a one-child family they can legally have two children, which will both receive all the free benefits, also families from the minority groups can apparently have more than one child, but people who work for the government can only have one child.
2 February - Chaozhou
Chaozhou was a very touristy town, and rightly, so as it has an interesting history dating back to the Maritime Silk Route trade era. Chaozhou is most famous for its opera, a traditional art form dating back more than 500 years and based on local folk dances and ballads. Clowns and females are the most distinctive characters in a Chaozhou opera, and fan-playing and acrobatic skills are more prominent than in other types of performances. I did not see a show but did find the tiny shop that makes gowns, headdresses, etc for the operatic stage.
Gongfu tea, the 'espresso' of Chinese teas, which was first sipped back in the Song Dynasty, is still flourishing and remains an important part of social etiquette in Chaozhou. At the local teahouse, tea service is often accompanied by Chaozhou music which included string instruments, gong and drum all rather soothing.
3 February - Chaozhou – Chaonan - 93 km
Again the weather was excellent, I don’t know if winter is over or if this is just a warm spell, but I’m not complaining. I again followed the G324 which resulted in the road for the most part of the day running through built up areas. It was not scenic but at least it was not mountainous either. Only once did I think of taking a short cut but landed up going around in circles, from now on I will stay on the G324 until such time as I have a GPS.
Once again, I must admit that I found the development in China mind boggling but it seemed to enhance the experience when finding the “Old China”. Although these finds were not around every corner. One had to look carefully but you could still see pedicabs carting people to and from the market at a pittance. I found myself a room at the “7 Days Inn” and was impressed with the quality of the finishes; pity the Wi-Fi was less than acceptable. At least I could upload my “photo of the day” on the 365 project but then it died and I could not reconnect again.
The food in China is reason enough to encourage anyone to come to China, the veggies are fresh, crisp and tasty, dim sum, noodles, dumplings, wanton soup and more. I had hardly offloaded the bike and was off to the nearly stall selling interesting food. I did not ask what it was, and I did not want to know, it was delicious and that was all that counted.
4 February - Chaonan – Lufeng - 111 km
Again it was not a very scenic ride, as the first part of the day was through a built-up area, the country side was not much better and as it was very misty and one could hardly see anything.
I find the Chinese quite friendly and as soon as they can speak English, they will normally stop for a chat. Today a friendly guy on a scooter pulled up next to me and we chatted along, I asked him where I could find a map of Guangdong Province and he said to follow him. We found a map at a bookshop and he proceeded to pay for hit, how kind of him.
I arrived in Lugeng early and as the road passed an inexpensive looking hotel (I later learned it was the Long Tan Hotel) I enquired and decided to stay for the night. Interestingly enough in China every room comes with a sealed comb, toothbrush, toothpaste and shower cap.
It was the 5th day of the Lunar Festival or Chinese New Year and officially the end of winter and the first day of spring, and it is therefore tradition to eat spring rolls on this day. There were also a few taboos, no sweeping the floor and no use of scissors on this day. People were shooting more firecrackers to scare away poverty, but if you ask me, it was enough to scare away anything. I wonder how poverty and wealth knows which one is for them. I heard on the news that 108 Million people travelled by train during the first week of the holidays and I was happy to be in a very un-touristy area.
5 February - Lufeng – Huidong - 135 km
Although it was drizzling it was not very cold and the cold front also brought a tailwind so I pushed on and made the best of the good conditions. Nothing much came of the rain and by midday I took the rain jacket off as it was far too hot. I cycled passed large fields of strawberries where families could pick their own strawberries. I did not pick any but did stop for a photo or two. I found the traffic rather irritating as some vehicles drove on the wrong side of the road and other just turn without looking or warning. The random hooting also served no purpose and totally defeated the object.
It was the 6th day of the New Year, a day that people send away the ghost of poverty. I passed lots of places where people discarded old cloths and rubbish. An also passed roadside shrines where people lit candles to lighten the road for the ghost of poverty!!
Just as I entered Huidong I spotted a hotel but the receptionist totally ignored me. The Chinese seems to do that. When they don’t like a situation, they ignore it hoping it will go away. It worked, as I did go away and to the next-door hotel! There at least they understood what I wanted. When going to a hotel reception desk it is fairly obvious what a person wants, so there is a limited amount of questions and answers to figure out, theoretically it should be easy. LOL Besides that, I have the phrase “I want a single room, how much is it per person per night” written down so all they have to do is read it!!!! The poor things get so flabbergasted when they see a westerner that it seems they can’t even read their own language. At least with the food one can always point to what you want.
6 February - Huidong – Zengcheng - 120 km
It was the 7th day of the Chinese New Year and according to legend; Nüwa is the goddess who created the world. On the seventh day after the creation of the world, Nüwa created human beings from yellow clay. On this day, with the divine power entrusted to her, Nüwa made the clay figurines come to life. I knew God was to be women!!
I don’t know what everybody was doing, but the road was dead quiet. I did not complain and cycled along quite happily. As soon as someone can speak English the soon will ask the question…”are you travelling alone?” I subsequently read the following: "WHY ARE YOU TRAVELING BY YOURSELF?”
This helps explain why the Chinese tend to view the solo traveller with a combination of curiosity, pity, and even envy. For the average Chinese person, travelling alone to a foreign country is perhaps the most unsettling and terrifying experience that they can imagine.
They feel vulnerable without their support group—it’s just a bunch of Others who they can’t necessarily trust (and who don’t speak Chinese)! Since I exclusively travel by myself, I’ve heard it all. While they don’t usually say that they feel sorry for me, I can see it in their eyes. They can’t wrap their heads around why someone would want to take a vacation to a foreign country by himself.
China maybe developing at a head spinning rate, but at least there is always plenty of water around. Water in front, mountains behind (they say) is one of the most positive feng shui layouts, and an ideal situation that Feng Shui masters have always sought; I must admit it does make for a rather peaceful setting.
7 – 10 February - Zengcheng – Guangzhou - 80km
As I left I cycled past the city park, a large and impressive park. Although there are new and large developments taking place everywhere, there are also plenty of parks, large and spacious pavements and separate bicycle/motorbike lanes, which make for easy cycling.
I continued on over the hills and passed some rural villages until I reached Guangzhou. Guangzhou known historically as Canton (from the Canton trade Fair) is the capital and largest city in Guangdong province. Located on the Pearl River it has a pretty setting and is the 3rd largest city in China with a population of 12.78 million.
Wow it took forever to cycle to the hostel I had in mind. I found the Inner Ring Road and stuck to it like glue, hoping that in doing so I would eventually come out close to the hostel. Once I reached the intersection where I had to turn away from the Ring Road to cross the river, I found no bridge but a ferry that carted locals with bicycles across for a Yuan. I followed suite and found the ferry dock on the other side right at the hostel door, how lucky was that!!! The hostel had a pretty setting right on the Pearl River which is the third longest river in China with a length of more than 2,000 kilometers.
Just as I off loaded my panniers it started raining and I was happy to curl up under a fluffy duvet. I noticed that they had washing machines so I plan on doing some housework the following morning.
I went from shorts and T-shirt to being all bundled-up. A cold front came in and it was bitterly cold, the wind was howling, it rained and it was just the most dreadful weather. I was happy to be in the hostel and watch the weather through the windows.
I took the plunge and ordered myself a Garmin for the bike, which meant that I had to stay in Guangdong for the next few days until it arrived. How long it was going to be I had no idea, but as the weather was miserable I did not mind waiting for it.
I eventually ventured out into the city I was kind of getting the hang of China, such a delightfully contradictory country! Old yet modern, conservative yet up to the minute, frantically busy yet peaceful. I took my time and dawdled around the vast city which was downright placid and beautiful in the absence of the masses, who all seemed to have gone home to their families for the holidays.
This normally atheist nation seems very open to the “opium of the masses”. Religious stats seems to be a bit of a slippery fish, but it appears that app 30% of the adult population follows Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, Muslim or other beliefs and the remaining 70% consider themselves atheist. It must be a rather active 30% as there appears to be a temple around every corner. But then China has always been the cradle of religious philosophies like Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism the three philosophical teachings which historically have had a significant role in shaping Chinese culture.
I set off on foot and knew that although it was a big and modern city, somewhere there had to be an old part as Guangzhou has a rich history dating back to the old Silk Route days. Soon I found myself in narrow, winding streets where there were still small, dark and dusty workshops where coppersmiths were bent over their work oblivious of me.
I was operating in low gear as there was no rush as I suspected that the Garmin was going to take a good few days to arrive. I strolled past antique shops with the most exquisite ceramic vases, beautiful furniture and jade carvings……..beautiful!!! Along tree lined canals and past old colonial buildings, constructed by the British and French in the 19th century after being granted permission to set up warehouses here.
11 - 12 February - Guangzhou
Again I took to the streets and it was a day of finding small but interesting things, down a narrow lane I found the humble house of the “Father of Chinese Railways” which was quite interesting. Down another lane was the Union for actors playing martial and acrobatic roles in Cantonese opera. Interestingly the house next-door is the ancestral house of Brue Lee, not surprising, his father was a Cantonese opera actor.
At one of the temples I also saw (albeit politically incorrect) the most exquisite ivory carvings. Whether or not one likes it you cannot help but stand in awe of the incredible detail. Sadly, my photography did not to it any justice. Just for the record; ivory trading in China is not open to everyone. In January more than 6 tones of illegal ivory were destroyed by government. Ivory trading is legal providing that it comes from a government-registered dealer, and each carving must carry its own certificate of provenance. Until now ivory trade it the US was kind of strange as: “It could not be exported or imported to the U.S., BUT... it was LEGAL TO OWN, SELL, BUY, or SHIP within the boundaries of the U.S.”
Then it was off to something more familiar; the Cathedral of the Sacred Hart, built by the French after the second Opium War. The cathedral is built entirely of granite with two massive towers 48m high. On my way back I stopped at the supermarket and must admit that I find shopping quite a challenge! Taking pictures in a store, whilst already standing out like a sore thumb, is not the easiest thing LOL. Although I must admit that sometimes, I feel that in a different culture I’m only different once! Everything I do (accepted or not) gets written off as being a foreigner.
I have a tendency to get a bit hyper at times LOL. I get sooooo excited in a new country and China is no exception, I wish I could share more, but am just not that good with words.
The temperature plummeted to a mere 7 º C…Brrr and I decided to stay put until such time as the weather improved. Can you believe that? Quite unbelievable how the weather can change, I was frozen solid!!! I was wondering what happened to my resolution “to never leave the tropics ever again”!! The strangest thing is that they don’t seem to have heating in any of their rooms. It was like a fridge in that room!! Fortunately I have a sleeping bag. I took that out and crawled in, put the duvet over me and still I could feel the cold!! Bloody hell …must get out of here soon.
13 February - Gaungzhou
Nothing came of my order so I cancelled the Garmin and took a taxi to a large centre where they only sell electronic equipment. I was bound to find something there. I had no trouble in locating a stand where they sold Garmins. They did not have the one I was looking for and in the end I bought a more expensive one with loads of features I will never use. The store owner was kind enough to load the China map in English for me. I fiddled with the Garmin the rest of the day and honestly, I had my doubts about this expensive toy!!
14 February - Gaungzhou - Jun'anzhen - 82 km
I was like a child with a new toy and could not wait to fit it on the bike and start riding. I set the course for a bicycle and off I went. (I did, however, from time to time check the map to see if I was still on the right track, LOL I did not quite trust the Garmin as yet.) I worked like a charm and it peeped every time I had to change direction. I will, however, pay closer attention to the route from now on as it did take me way off the route I thought I could take. But then again it is quite possible that the other roads did not allow a bicycle, who knows. I landed up in a place by the name of Junanzhen, found a hotel and spent the rest of the evening downloading the information on the Garmin, quite a magical little thing.
15 February - Jun’anzhen – Chikan, Kaiping - 101km
I clipped in the Garmin and set off through the countryside, and what an interesting countryside it turned out to be. I cycled pass ancient looking villages and along canals until I reached the Kaiping district. The countryside around Kaiping is most remarkable as there are quite a number of small but old villages housing fortified multi-storey towers which were constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. The towers (known as diaolou) served two purposes: housing and protecting against bandits. These towers are not exactly ancient -the oldest are barely over 100 years old, but they are quite remarkable. The towers are scattered all around the countryside and I plan to visits some of them tomorrow. Built of stone, brick or concrete, these buildings represent a complex and flamboyant fusion between Chinese and Western architectural styles. Today, approximately 1,833 Diaolou remain standing in Kaiping, 20 of the most symbolic ones are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
16 February - Around Kaiping - 40km
It was still bitterly cold so I dressed in all my warm clothing and set off into the countryside, first to the pretty village of Zili where most of the towers are. The story goes something like this: In the mid 19th century things were not going to well in the region. Slavery was outlawed in most Western Countries and that created a need for cheap labor. Many people in the region were recruited. Good pay and working conditions were promised. In reality, however, workers made to work as coolies under terrible conditions. Of the millions of Chinese workers who left many died a few, however, became wealthy and returned. They brought with them wealth and exotic ideas. They built these towers to protect their families from bandits, flooding and Japanese troops.
17 February - Chikan – Yangjiang - 95km
It was a terribly foggy morning as I left Chikan, and not much to see along the way. The going was easy and with the breeze behind me there was no reason to stop. I saw a few more towers but besides that there was nothing happening along the road. I stuck the iPod in my ears and to the tune of good old “Brucey” I stepped on the pedals and cycled the 100 km to Yangjiang where I arrived in good time.
18 February - Yangjiang – Dianbai - 105km
Again it was very misty so I clipped in my flashing light, donned my bright yellow rain jacket and continued in a westerly direction towards the island of Hainan where I hoped it would be warmer. Along the way it started raining and although it was not cold I decided to call it a day and pulled up to a roadside hotel.
19 - 21 February - Dianbai – Zhanjiang - 113 km
Early morning I was at it again. It was easy cycling albeit still misty and with a light rain at times. There was truly nothing of interest along the way, so I played with all my electronic toys of which I seem to have an endless supply. None, however, did me any good, the fancy Garmin is still to find me a place/route that is meaningful to me. The Google map on my phone seems to do better job at finding things.
It was another 120 km day and on reaching Zhanjiang I came upon a large bridge crossing the river, which I was not allowed to cross by bicycle. My trusty Garmin pointed me to the ferry port where I crossed together with all the other bicycles and motorbikes. After crossing the river I found a cheap-(ish) hotel and subsequently found that it was in fact, not a river but an inlet of the South China Sea.
I desperately needed to do some laundry and stayed another day to see if I could find a Laundromat, I did not, but just as I started doing my own laundry the hotel staff came and collected my laundry. I hoped that I would somehow get it back before the following day??? Oh….. the lack of communication is a huge problem at times. I also needed to buy a few things …what a hassle!! It took the entire day to find the few items I needed. I had no internet at the hotel which was also a bit of a hassle; I was getting so use to having internet wherever I stayed.
As my hotel was right opposite the market, I popped across the road for a bite to eat. It was, however, one of those nights that I did not eat what I bought as I convinced myself that it was dog LOL
I finally got my laundry back and was ready to leave. I read on the internet that the ferry to Hainan leaves from Zhanjiang. I could, however, not find enough information about the ferry and set off looking for the port. I found the port but not the ferry so maybe it does not exist. I followed a rather small road further south in the direction of Hainan, but as it was already late I did not think I will reach it before dark so settled for a room in Leizhou.
23 February - Leizhou – Haikou, Hainan Island - 105km
I have not really seen any westerners since my arrival in China, where they are I have no idea. It is therefore not unusual that I get some strange looks as I am so clearly and completely different to the Chinese in just about every way. My every move is scrutinized.
People on scooters cause accidents as they swing around to have a look, people in cars slowdown while holding up their toddlers so they can have a glimpse at this strange woman. Stopping in a village to get a drink is always something of a circus. Some are curious and others are scared, some come closer and others keep their distance, some point and others giggle. A little boy today summed it up nicely, he looked up in surprise and all he could utter was “WOW”!! This little sister was completely dumbstruck her eyes went big and her mouth fell open while quickly retreating a few steps.
I have not spoken to anyone in weeks and feared that I was losing my voice! So with the iPod blaring in my ears I sang along at the top of my lungs. I sped off over the hills while bellowing the lyrics of “Cocaine” and “I Shot the Sheriff”. I got a few more strange looks but I just threw in a “Nihao” and a wave and continued on belting out the lyrics of songs from way back when, and to think, all that while I was completely sober!! LOL
24 – 28 February - Haikou, Hainan
I paid for two nights at the Banana Hostel and first thing in the morning set off to look for the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in order to do my visa extension. I can’t believe I have been here nearly a entire month. I have sadly, to date, failed to capture Chine in all its glory but will keep on trying. I do like that their tea is always packed neatly, either in beautiful tins or colorful wrappings. I found the place quite easily but found the counter closed and was told to come back after 14h30, I also needed to get a note/letter of sorts from the hostel so I returned – got the necessary items and cycled back to the PSB. There was a fair amount of “form-filling-in”, I was photographed and fingerprinted and in the end I was told to collect the visa on Friday!!! (Keep in mind that today is Monday.) Fortunately there is plenty to do on the island which is famous for cycling.
More worrying is that there is something wrong with my bike and I need to have it sorted before continuing on. I plan to go in search of a bikes shop in the morning and hopefully will find a good one, if of course they can speak English it will be an added bonus.
I stayed in Haikou and did very little. I went to the supermarket but not the bike shop as planned. I wandered around the old part of the city with its multitude of antique shops – very interesting indeed.
I decided to wait for the visa instead of cycling around the island and coming back to pick it up. That gave me plenty of time in the city and plenty of time to play with the macro lens.
Finally Friday arrived and I took a walk down town to pickup my visa. Coming back I was wandering around, just following my nose down crooked alleys and curving streets. The smell of fresh dumplings and roadside barbecues hung in the air while old men played board games in the park with cigarettes dangling from their lips.
1 March - Haikou – Wenchang - 109km
The Banana Hostel felt like home by this time so I packed up and cycled to Wenchang. It was a rather unimpressive ride and even the so called beach area was horrible, far too many high risers and too much dust from even more developments being constructed. It was a rather windy day and the first time in a long while that I had to cycle into the wind.
2 March - Wenchang - Bo’ao - 66 km
It was a short and pleasant day on the road. I followed a rural road through small villages and passed farmlands where the crops were ready for the picking. The local fish farms were going ten-to-a-dozen and I passed many interesting small shrines, where locals burned incense to their local folk deities.
The island is very popular for multi-day cycling and I met a good few local cyclists cycling around the island. In Bo’ao I found a cheapish room, got myself some dumplings and a beer, and was ready to settle in for the night.
3 March - Bo’ao - 50 km
I left and after 25 kilometres looked for my GoPro camera but could not find it. I was convinced that I left it in the room. I turned around and cycled back to the hotel. Once there, of course, there was no sign of it. I took a room again, as by then it was already after midday. In the room I found the camera in one of my bags!
I spent the rest of the day exploring the town. Down at the beach was a really nice temple with beautiful, rich colours, textures and light. The deities were, however, enough to put the fear of God into anyone.
On my way back I also came across a little coffee shop housed in an old, traditional stone house. Out back was a rather nice, leafy garden with wooden tables under large umbrellas. Inside the shop it was chock-a-block full of antiques and arty bits and books. Last, but not least, the coffee was served in real China!!
4 March - Bo’ao – Xinglong - 95 km
Along the way I met more cyclists and they all seemed to be going to Xinglong. I followed suite, and as there was said to be a hot spring it sounded good to me. I did not feel too well, must have been something I ate, but I pushed on to Xinglong. As I cycled into town I saw the same cyclists from earlier in the day - they had already found a cheap room and showed me where to go.
Xinglong was not at all what I had expected and it was rather over-developed and touristy. I did not even go in search of the hot spring, as I could just imagine what that would be like. I also had a bit of a knee problem (I don’t know where that came from) so I spent the evening in my room.
5 - 7 March - Xinglong – Sanya - 118 km
I was a wee bit concerned about my knee and I could see on the map that there were some hills to come. There was not much I could do but rub it in and set off over the hills. Strange thing was that the knee was 100% while cycling….weird.
It was a nice cycle as the road passed some rural villages and farmlands before hitting the big and busy Sanya. I rolled into Sanya, with its 20-kilometre long stretches of beach after 118 kilometres. I headed straight for Dadong Hai, where I knew there was a hostel. Backpacker Hostel turned out to be rather nice and just what I had in mind. Tucked away behind the high-rises and slap-bang in the middle of the action - it was a real haven.
The following day I did close to zero. I wandered down to the beach and around the corner for street food, and that was about it. The area was extremely built-up and I was surprised to find the dominant languages, both spoken and written, to be Chinese and Russian. With sunshine all year around, temperatures hover around 25' C, even in January, and it goes up to 30'C in the summer time. The area produces pearls in abundance and they are sold everywhere. Giant clams are considered endangered but the shells are also sold in all the shops.
I stayed another day, as it was a really cool place and there were some nice and very interesting people to talk to. I was still concerned about my knee, so I bought a knee-support-thingy, rubbed the knee in, and slipped on the rather tight knee guard, which was most likely made for very thin Chinese legs, and not my stompers!!
8 March - Sanya – Huangliu - 103 km
I loaded the bike, took a few pics with the hostel staff, and then set off through the town. After 35 kilometres I reached a Buddhist temple/site and thought it a good idea to explore. In my mind it was quite a disaster. It was extremely touristy with thousands of people, a hefty entrance fee and a rather fake and artificial setup. I joined the madness, snapped a few pics, and then got out of there as fast as I could. I have to mention that at the centre of this spectacle stands a 108-metre tall Buddha statue on a man-made island…..it is even larger than the Statue of Liberty!
The rest of the day was more “normal” – I passed small villages and continued until I spotted a nice looking hotel with a few roadside food-stalls and called it a day.
9 March - Huangliu – Changjiang - 128 km
It was good to be in the countryside again as I cycled past small traditional villages where farmers still ploughed the field in the old manner. The day turned out to be a bit further than expected, but it was a nice day and I did not mind. On reaching Changjiang, I found myself a rather nice room in the main road.
I must admit that these new and large cities are not as daunting as they appear from a distance. Seeing that they are well-planned, things are where one expects them to be. The roads are wide and the traffic flows freely, with a separate cycle- and motorbike lane, cycling is not that difficult at all.
10 March - Changjiang – Jialai - 116 km
I took my time in packing up and I’m not sure what time it was that I finally got underway. Again, it was a pleasant ride and I met even more cyclists along the way. I also met a journalist who took some shots, asked a few questions, and was on his way again.
The scenery was lush and green - there must have been a huge tree planting project on the go, as there were trees everywhere. The authorities also thought it a good idea to beautify the road, and lush and colourful plants along the road made it a pleasant day. I did not think that I was going to find accommodation along the road, but soon a village appeared and I found a room for 50 Yuan.
First thing, I popped across the road for a take-away meal. There was no way I was eating in the restaurant under the intense scrutiny of the locals. While waiting for my noodles they did not take their eyes off me for a second!!! It is quite uncomfortable to be stared at like that!!! They did not even blink!!! They looked at my feet, they looked at my hair, they looked at my eyes, and most of all….. they looked at my uncovered arms, which was clearly exposed to the sun! That they did not seem to understand as they pointed and showed me to cover up!
I was in high spirits as I set off down the road; it was perfect weather for cycling – overcast but not cold. I passed many small and scenic villages. Along the way I stopped for lunch but ended up carrying it with me all the way to Haikou. Once in Haikou, I went straight to the Haikou Banana Hostel where I stayed before. There were a nice group of people, so things were a bit livelier than before.
12 March - Haikou
Just outside Haikou is a volcano park, and I went to see what it was all about. As expected there was not much of interest. According to geologists, the last eruption occurred about 13,000 years ago. One can walk up to the old crater rim which overlooks the country side. In the distance one can see some of the other craters; I understand that there are about 36 of these conical craters in the area.
Far more exciting was the nearby Rongtang Village; a historic, lava-rock village built entirely from volcanic rock. The village was constructed nearly 900 years ago. Rongtang is largely abandoned, but a few elders still live in this unique historic village. In addition, there were also some old lava tunnels. A 90-year old lady (all bent over) offered to show me the tunnels. With a homemade torch in hand (bamboo, cloth and paraffin) we set off exploring!! I understand that many of these caves are interconnected and that they were used as hiding places from the Japanese during the war.
13 - 14 March - Haikou
The days came and went and I just hung around the hostel, not doing very much. A crowd from the Hash House Harriers (mostly Australians) were in town for their annual get-together - they were a rather jovial bunch!!
I can’t believe I lost another lens cover!!! Not much I could do but take a walk down-town to find another one. It was a rather nice walk through the old quarters and through the local park. I must give it to the Chinese - their parks are fantastic; large, lush and always with plenty of water. It was a peaceful place to stroll and watch people do their daily Tai-chi. It was drizzling slightly and the pavements were lined with hawkers, selling colourful umbrellas, and steaming pots of corn-on-the-cob, and rice in banana leaves.
15 March - Haikou, Hainan – Beihai, Guangxi - By ferry
Instead of taking the ferry back exactly the way I came, I took it to Beihai, slightly west of where I came from. It saved me backtracking the 150 kilometres to the next big town. Just as I left the hostel to cycle to the port, I ran into a German couple on bikes. We chatted for a while before I realised they had a small child in the trailer they were pulling!!! Their 4-year old daughter was quite happy sitting in the trailer listening to our stories!! What a remarkable family!!
On the ferry I was a bit of a celebrity - LOL!! Apparently, the article of a few days ago was in the paper and everyone knew I was from South Africa, and mainly that I had sold all my possessions!! My newfound fame got me a nice cabin on my own….LOL!!
It was an overnight ferry and we left at around 7 p.m.
16 - 17 March - Beihai, Guangxi - 6km
We arrived in Beihai, dead on time. On leaving I found that I have lost my bike lock key!! Give me strength, where could it have gone in such a small cabin??? There was nothing to do but cut the lock off. I cycled the short distance to 21 Degree hostel, which was right in the old part and a real nice place to stay. I also met two German girls on bikes who were waiting for the ferry to Hainan. They have been travelling for one and a half years. They started off hitchhiking but somewhere along the line bought bikes and continued their travels by bike. Clever girls, if you ask me!!
Beihai had a wonderful old part and a busy river and fishing harbour, making for some interesting sights. As I wandered through the old quarters I heard music, and upon investigation found some guys rehearsing. They waved me in and I thoroughly enjoyed their music while taking a good few pics.
The following morning I woke to heavy fog and a howling wind and decided to stay put for another day. The market was, as always, a fascinating and colourful place. The veggies were fresh and plentiful and, as can be expected, no Chinese market could be complete without its woks. It’s only the seafood that is a bit out of the ordinary, as they seemingly eat rather strange sea creatures. Then on the other hand it could be bait. The oysters are not eaten raw (like some barbarians do - LOL) but cooked on the coals with a sprinkling of spices.
The Chinese food is just delicious, always super fresh and the vegetables crisp and tasty. You can pick your seafood from the tank and they will cook it for you in whatever manner you prefer.
18 March - Beihai – Qinzhou - 106 km
After leaving, the fog slowly rose, revealing small and quaint fishing villages along the side of the road. On my one side was the ocean and on the other an inlet or river with scenic and busy harbours. The road eventually left the coast and slowly headed inland through dense forestry plantations and past sawmills and other wood related works.
Along the way I stopped next to a lady on her tricycle, I said “Nihau” and she said “Hello” and we both laughed as that was the sum total of our foreign language vocabulary. She continued with the conversation in Chinese and I answered in English that yes, I was going to Nanning and that I was from South Africa. The light changed and we waved each other good bye like old friends.
In Qinhou it was easy to find a room, and as I was there early I spent a relaxing afternoon sorting out my zillions of photos.
19 - 20 March - Qinzhou – Nanning - 127 km
What a day it turned out to be. Shortly after leaving Qinzhou the road started deteriorating as I headed inland over the mountains to Nanning. Soon I found myself on a muddy, potholed road, to such an extent that, in places, I had to push the bike through thick mud as I had no idea if there were potholes or how deep they were.
Covered in mud I slowly battled along, fearing that I would not reach Nanning that day. As if that was not enough, I got stung by a bee, right on the jaw!! What was up with him?? I was of no threat to him at all. Halfway I found a restaurant with an outside tap, I sprayed the bike down but soon it was all clogged up again.
Only about 30 kilometres before Nanning the road improved, and I cruised into Nanning at around 18h00, covered in mud and dead tired, just to find that the hostel I was looking for had closed down!! Give me strength!!! I had not eaten all day and was in no mood to look for another one so just took a room in the first hotel I saw!
The following morning I set off to the nearby Green Forest Hostel where a room was actually more expensive than the hotel (I could have taken a dorm room, which would have been way cheaper but I had an evil plan:-O). At least there were people to talk to and I could do my laundry and wash my muddy panniers (in the shower). It turned out to be spring day and a good day to be doing a good spring cleaning. The main reason for going to the hostel was, however, the fact that they arranged Vietnamese visas at no added cost.
I handed my passport in and all I had to do was wait for it to be returned.
21 March - Nanning
I had plenty of time to stroll around and in the process popped into an outdoor store, and was intrigued to find that instead of the normal light-weight knife, spoon and fork set one gets for camping or hiking, here they have chop-sticks and a spoon……now why was I surprised about that??
A cool thing about the hostels is also that they are mostly well-located, close to just about anything. The Green Forest was no exception and most of all it was close to the night market – my favourite eating place. The only negative thing was that they were located on the 3rd floor and I had to schlep my bike and panniers up two sets of stairs. Here, as in some other countries, they refer to the ground floor as 1st floor, then 2nd floor and then 3rd floor, whereas at home we normally say ground floor, 1st floor, and then 2nd floor.
I was eager for the night market to open so I could get my wonton soup. I understand that the literal English translation of the word “wonton” is swallowing a cloud; quite an apt description when looking at them floating in the soup, and they are delicious!!
22 March - Nanning
I think China is an amazing country. I look at the country and stand in awe of its achievements. They have managed to raise over 400 million people out of poverty in just 20 years -14 years ahead of their 2015 target date! People are quick to point out the negative when it comes to China but their success in the battle against poverty is undeniable!!
Back to my story of the day – I had many opportunities to capture modern Nanning but just behind MacDonald’s, the Pizza Hut and KFC, I spotted a tiny alley. I weakened and set off down the dark and narrow lane. It was a most fascinating area, where people still pushed their building materials in 3-wheeled carts, where laundry hung on lines strung across the lane, and where traditional single-storey dwellings, adorned with red lanterns, lined the cobblestoned streets. Interesting looking doorways lead to unknown destinations. Under sagging tiled roofs, crooked windows and doors made far more interesting pictures than the modern structures. Great was my excitement when I rounded a corner and found the local silversmith hard at work, melting and pounding tiny silver pellets into fine jewellery.
I also received my passport with the Vietnamese visa, leaving only three more places for visas, meaning that I will seriously have to start looking for a SA Embassy where I can renew my passport.
As the day wore on I was not so sure any more that going to Vietnam was such a good idea. I have already cycled Vietnam and the only reason I wanted to go there was to pass some time (waiting for the weather to improve) before heading in the direction of Shanghai. The more I looked at my options, the more apparent it became that it was going to be a rather costly diversion.
23 March - By bus
By the time I woke I was still not 100% sure which direction I was going to take. I packed up and cycled to the train station to enquire about a train back to Xiamen where I had stayed. It turned out that there was no train (or at least not one on which I could take my bike) going in that direction. I am convinced that there was but that it involved a change of trains and could have been too much for the Chinese to explain in their limited English.
This was all too much trouble, so I decided to head out of town in the direction of Vietnam. In the process I passed the bus station. I stopped and enquired, and by 14h30 I was on a sleeper bus back to Xiamen!!! How is that for a change of plans? Actuality, it was not really a change of plans, as the idea from the start was to head west to Nanning before returning to Xiamen and then on to Shanghai.
The bus was rather comfy with (small) individual beds (I barely fitted in) but at least one could be horizontal of sorts. Exactly how long it was going to take I had no idea, so I settled in for the (anticipated) long haul. It was said to be the express bus and express it was. It hardly stopped anywhere - fortunately there was an on-board toilet. It only stopped once at around 20h00 for a bite to eat, and soon we were on our way again.
24 March - Tong’an, Fujian - 20km
At around 7h00 the next morning I was unceremoniously dropped at the side of the highway. I somehow felt a bit abandoned being dropped like that - LOL.
I was far too tired to cycle onto the next town and therefore only cycled about 20 kilometres along the road before finding a hotel. I put all my devices on charge, had a shower, found something to eat, and had a quick nap.
25 - 26 March - Tong’an – Quanzhou - 90 km
It was easy riding to Quanzhou, and what a large city it turned out to be. I cycled and I cycled until I eventually reached what is known as the old part.
My second month’s visa expired on 28 March and I thought it a good idea to extend it in Quanzhou before continuing. I set off to the nearby Police Station just to be told that the person dealing with the visa is not in the office that day, and I had to return the following day.
The old part turned out to be fairly interesting with a number of beautiful temples. Again, I found the parks rather pleasant and so well-planned; they were also rather large, people were running, walking, boating and there was even piped music!! In the less than 3 kilometres I walked to the old mosque, I walked through 3 parks - not bad, I would say.
The following morning I went back to the police station – this time I was told to go to another location as they did not do visas at this one. They were kind enough to give me a lift and then pointed me in the direction of the visa office.
Sadly enough, once all was in place I was told that they could not extend an already extended visa. Now what was that all about? I subsequently read that Quanzhou is notoriously problematic when trying to extend a visa.
I could have tried at another town but did not want to waste another day. My best option (or so I thought) was to retreat to Hong Kong and apply for a new Chinese visa once there. I set off to the bus station, bought a ticket for Hong Kong and arranged that I could take the bicycle as well (which set me back an extra 100 Yuan). The bus left, however, only the following day at 21h00 and I understood that it would reach the border after 10 hours.
With all the formalities done and dusted I went exploring and found an old mosque. The Qingjing Mosque is an old mosque built in 1009. I believe that this Arab-style mosque is the oldest of its kind in China.
27 March - Quanzhou
It was a slow day and I did not have very much to do but drink coffee and visit some of the old temples in the city. By 12h00 I had to vacate my room and cycled to the bus station where I left the bicycle and then went wandering around the city to pass the time.
Eventually it was time to board the bus; fortunately it was a “sleeping” bus, with little bunk beds, so one could lie down quite comfortably.