Ok not sure about this post but here goes. My China adventure has taken a strange twist, I was not giving out all information yesterday about why I jumped on a train instead of riding as planned, the main reason was the lovely lady, Annie, below
who I had met briefly in Xin Ye Ancient Village, while she was on her first solo driving holiday, Annie invited me to her hometown. We had hit it off immediately, nearly had dinner together that night but her long drive back home in the dark prevented this.
We did exchange Wechat numbers and as I was deciding what to do on the morning of my change of plans/train trip, Annie confirmed the invitation and said she would give me a tour, so at the drop of a hat, Lishui it was. You need this information to make sense of what happened after I got off the train in the dark in a strange town in a part of China I had not researched and even now barely know where it is. There was no sign of Annie when I left the station, but I was approached by hotel spruckers looking for customers, so I was confident of finding a room for the night.
After a while Annie arrived and said I could follow her to her friends place for dinner. So we headed off in the dark, with Annie leaving her hazard lights on so I would be able to spot her. This worked a treat until I caught the red lights. There was a few nervous minutes while I cycled with Annie no where in sight. A few Wechat messages helped me follow in the right direction.
We arrived at a dark alley, not quite hutong, but close, the alley was very narrow with parked cars to mannover around with deep gutters either side. Annie drove into a deep gutter and out again and did not blink an eye. I then discovered the friend lived on the 6th floor with no lift, so the bike needed to be left with some neighbours who had their roller door open. We climbed six floors with my panniers to find the friends place was more like a social gathering/party of her friends waiting to see me. One friend was quite drunk, but very funny, he has fixations on Hollywood, which he struggles to pronounce and Lady Diana. I then found out he had just directed a movie with Annie being the star. This was all a bit overwhelming in a way, after the catching the train, the train itself, the new city, the getting lost ride going to the friends place, but a bit of wine helped and I found the meal and jokes very entertaining. Annie’s movie is below.
As if this was not enough,
five of us, Annie, Movie director, 2 other friends and I headed out for
Karaoke. By the way Annie had booked a hotel for me but I had no idea where it
was so I was a little trapped, but it all seemed to be part of the adventure so
I thought what the hell. I then discovered Annie had made a CD as a singer and
indeed she has a lovely singing voice. But the meaningful part was she sang
with her emotion and heart, very moving. I tried a few of the English songs,
but found they were all bootleg and seem to have different words too. I was
hoping to sing David Bowie, China girl but could not find it.
So we headed home to find the neighbours had put down their roller door and so my bike was nowhere to be seem. We pick it up this afternoon, hopefully.
has been another adventure which I will post about next. I am having a Chinese
day, I went to Annie’s work this morning, very interesting.
Ok, I am sort of admitting defeat in
one way, the heat, smog, the number of kilometres has ground me down a bit. But
this has just opened up another door in my adventure. I am on a slow, no air
conditioning, packed, local train, I am jumping a couple of cities and will
have a rest day tomorrow.
Every blog I read about taking a train with a bike says its possible, arrive early and expect problems… but first I will start in the morning, Sunday, I am in Lanxi, I want to get to Hangzhou, 200 km away by Tuesday or Wednesday to fit in a quick one night trip to Shanghai with Maggie before I fly home on Friday. Trouble is as mentioned, I am exhausted, so my new plan is to ride to the major town of JinHua, and catch a train 120km to Lishui, have a rest day tomorrow, Monday, and catch a train or bus to Hangzhou on Tuesday, if I can work out how to purchase tickets and if I am allowed to take my bike on board.
After making this decision, I feel much more energised and headed out to explore the old part of Lanxi for breakfast that I had discovered the previous evening. It was even better than I hoped, lots of food stalls, trinkets, fruit and vegetables being sold, all with the usual Chinese vibrancy.
Leaving Lanxi, I saw a car being prepared for a wedding I assume and a not so nice part of town, a bit more squalid and grim, I guess these are the areas that cause the locals to wonder why I want to go to the old parts of town. I think it is important to see and record the old as well as the new and shiny, I get a much fuller record of the towns and villages I visit.
On my way to Jinhua, I saw some interesting building techniques, gaudy buildings and what I assume is a nuclear power plant right next to the road I was cycling on. I even noticed food being grown right next to these towers, I was not sure this was a good idea.
I had found an excellent road direct to Jinhua, it was not too busy and not too small, one problem was I seemed to be riding past road works/road closed signs, it was by far my best route, so I thought I would press on and hope for the best. Sure enough I soon can across extensive road works and the road was closed to cars, but not pedestrians, so I rode where I could and walked part way, no problems at all, the benefits of being on a bicycle.
I continued on to Jinhua and away from the road works I found some local sights, old buildings, loaded trucks and flash town squares/government buildings.
I made it to Jinhua before lunch time and immediately headed to the railway station to buy my ticket to Lishui. I found a security guard at the station who was willing to watch over my bicycle and bags while I worked out how to buy a train ticket. I easily found the ticket office and managed to say, one person to Lishui sufficiently well that they immediately gave me a ticket. I had not mentioned a bicycle and I was not not sure how to check if I could take a bicycle, so I trusted my luck to work it out later.
I found I had a four hour wait for the train to leave. So I headed off for a wander and found a sign saying old town 4km. Perfect. I browsed a second hand and gem market, chatted to some religious people, I was given a card for me and my friends. I then found an up market Japanese restaurant for lunch. I attracted a crowd while having lunch, one local was an academic studying the tourism industry and was a little astounded she had found an overseas cycle tourist in Jinhua.
I decided to get to the train station one and a half hours early. Not like me, but I was the most nervous about this train trip then anything else so far.
First thing is to push into a swarming queue to get your ticked checked at the entrance. Initially I waited for the queue to proceed as normal but soon found it was not an orderly queue so I resorted to pushing my way as I was not making progress otherwise. The station entrance fitted the bike and one pannier, just. No problems so far, no mention of the bike, I showed the ticket I had purchased for one person…
Next is a bag x-ray check and another queue, the same size as the main entrance but with a right angle. Again no problem and no mention of the bike.
I then asked where to go in
a huge room with multiple seat queues. My queue was pointed out, you are not
actually allowed on the platform yet. I then realised my ticket had all the
important information printed in English. The time it leaves, the destination
and train number, I was now at the head of the queue under a sign with this
When the gates were opened about an hour later, apart from a few stairs (I was helped by friendly passengers), I was able to go straight on to the train, again no problems. The guard pointed out where to park the bike between carriages, I bungee corded the bike to stop it falling over, found a seat and sat down with a huge sigh of relief, in actual fact, it could not have been easier.
Thus began my first (and only so far) local train trip with a bicycle in China. As I mentioned above, it was slow, with no air conditioning, packed and full of locals eating and chatting, I loved it. At one stage I went to my bicycle and found a crowd checking it out, I proudly demonstrated its dynamo hub, told then I had brought it from Australia and did not mention how much it was worth.
I think there a thing
“Chinese time” like islander time. When I boarded the train a
passenger said it would arrive 6 pm something, there have been a number of
stops, it then changed to 7 something and now 8 something. At this I exclaimed
Really, too long, to the amusement of more passengers than I was expecting
When I arrived in Lishui, a town I had not researched at all, did not even really know where it was was, it was dark and my China adventure was about to take a twist.
It was Saturday morning, my friendly local guide, Fang Yu Long, had offered to show me around town after breakfast. My plan was to then set out after lunch to see if I could find another ancient town in the afternoon.
Spending the early morning wandering around the ancient village was magical, the morning colours, village sounds, locals market and no tourists (apart from me) was the highlight of the trip so far. If you can stay overnight, this is highly recommended.
My homestay/hotel did not serve breakfast, so I located a nearby restaurant, negotiated a time when breakfast would be available and then went out for a wander.
Back at the restaurant, I noticed it just seemed to be the family, 3 generations and myself. I felt like I was dropping in for their family breakfast. I was served a hot flat round bread, congee (rice porridge) with vegetables and a hard boiled egg. All very fresh and tasty.
After breakfast I continued my walk around town and admired the many buildings, old and new. The wood work on one particular new house was wonderful.
On my breakfast walk by myself, a friendly local struct up a conversation and insisted I come to this nice house for a photo. I assume it was the best in town.
My local guide Fang met me at our arranged time and took me to visit his friends. This is their kitchen, It looked like they completed all their food preparation on the ground in bowls.
We had tea and later walked through town, getting into all the attractions for free because they are locals, this included me! Fang rarely took time out to visit the town’s tourist attractions and he seemed to be enjoying his time showing me around.
My hotel served lunch and Fang and I shared our meal together and said goodbye. I thanked him for all of his kindness and showing me around. I greatly appreciated his efforts to communicate and friendliness.
I hit the road again and soon met a couple of fellow cyclist tourists, they were keen for a photo and a chat. They were heading 1000 island lake way and beyond. I would head in that direction the following year.
You can see from the photo above, the open road is not very clean or isolated. In fact the grime, heat and fatigue was getting to me, during this my first touring ride in China, and I was considering skipping riding for the next section, starting tomorrow. I just needed to work out where to go and how, train, bus? I had never taken a bicycle onto either in China and although I had read up that is was possible, I needed to work out where and how.
I pushed on looking for another ancient town but found no sign, so instead I headed for a large town Lanxi as shown on my map. XinYe to Lanxi was only 28km for the afternoon, but I was more than happy with this. I estimate I had ridden over 300 km now on the trip and I don’t think I was as fit as I hoped I would be, especially with unexpected heat, grit and pollution. I had thought it would be less out of Hangzhou.
As I approached a bridge, I could see an old part of Lanxi on my right.
On my left was mostly modern buildings, high rise apartments, etc. Once over the bridge, I obviously turned right.
I rode around looking for a hotel, initially unsuccessfully, so I then started asking for directions to a sleeping place/hotel, and eventually found a cheap local hotel in the middle of town. I has a shower and ventured out to the local streets and park. In the park a local airline hostess who spoke some English, asked me what I was doing there, I don’t many foreign come to Lanxi, she was even amazed I had chosen the old part of town to stay, she considered it very run down and a bit unsafe. I loved the trees, bustle and even the crazy traffic/roadwork.
I explored more and found where I would be heading for breakfast the next morning, the old part of town with lots of closed up food stalls and market shops.
After a lovely fish for dinner, I discovered the old towers next to the river were actually gatehouses leaving to pedestrian bridges over the river. The river was all illuminated and I discovered a beautiful park over the river. Many locals were exercising and strolling/enjoying the evening. An unexpected lovely evening with a new adventure awaiting the next day.
2014 Hangzhou Bicycle Tour Day Eight – Xin Ye Ancient Village To Lanxi
Qiandao Hu (1000 island lake) was my only must make destination on this trip. The next stage of my roughly planned trip is to retrace my ride to Jiande, then head east for a day or so, then sweep back north to Hangzhou.
I don’t know much about this route apart from a brochure I have picked up with some names of Ancient towns in the area and I read about the Zhuji area, located about 80km south of Hangzhou in a blog in the month before leaving for this trip. Zhuji was about 200 km away if I looped east before heading north. I was not sure if I would be able to cycle all the way but I thought it was worth heading that way to see what happened.
I headed out early and knowing the way to Jiande made the 50 km ride seem quicker and easier. I passed by many beautiful farms and villages.
I have never seen so much building development as what I saw in China. Even these small two bit river valley towns have massive developments. This flashy partly build development is only one of many in this town.
I reached Jiande in time for an early lunch but for some reason found it difficult to find a restaurant, so I decided to use my supplies. I usually buy or ask for a couple of hard boiled eggs each morning, I buy some fruit, grapes or bananas and I was also carrying some tins of tuna I had bought from Australia. (Note: I never bring tins of tuna anymore, instead I bring dark chocolate, this is also good as a present for locals).
While sitting in a lovely park in the middle of Jiande, quietly eating my snacks, a few locals were being inquisitive, one lady was chatting away on her phone and looking in my direction a lot.
Suddenly a young Chinese lady walked up to me and asked me in English if I was OK, what was wrong, since me being in the park by myself must somehow be a problem, was I lost? Her mother was the person looking in my direction a lot and had called her to tell her about me sitting in the park. She also spoke French, I think I had found the only Mandarin, English, French speaking person in Jiande.
I assured her I was OK, and managed to assure her I was able to look after myself, even if I was about to head off into the unknown.
Out of town was a monastery on a hill and an ancient town somewhere further along. I had marked where I thought they were on my mapping application maps.me and hoped I would be ok to find my way.
Not far out of Jiande, I found the entrance to Daciyan Temple. The temple is high up the hill, there was a cable car and a hike I assume. I was in a dilemma, I did not feel confident leaving my bicycle and pannier bags and also as I was not sure of where I was going to sleep that night, and so I was not keen to spend time visiting the temple unfortunately.
I stopped briefly thinking it looked very pretty and worth a visit one day without the bicycle.
After a snack and a rest, I continued east. I was searching for an Ancient town Xin ye, about 20 km further along. The town looked nice in a brochure, but I had no other information and just an approximate location. The town was about 5 km off the main road, so if I was not able to find accommodation, it would be a 10 km diversion , plus whatever km to keep looking for a new town.
Finding the intersection I thought would lead me to Xin ye, I turned left and happened to be riding next to a young man who seemed to be riding in the same direction.
Fang Yu Long was heading home to Xin Ye and spoke no English. So I tried to use my limited Mandarin, as I started trying to chat, two wonderful things happened, he asked me the most simple question in Mandarin, “qu na”, go where? Even I understood that one, a good start, secondarily Fang Yu Long’s enthusiasm to help, show me around and persist communicating was amazing.
I was able to tell him I was just going to “Kan kan” Look Look and I was looking for a place to sleep. Fang took me directly to the best hotel, well it was more of a home stay with a couple of lovely extra bedrooms with full ensuite and a restaurant, right in the middle of town and only costing $20 AU. I was so happy. We had a lovely ride into town and even buzzed a large group photo while on our bicycles.
Fang Yu Long left me to shower and explore after exchanging WeChat details and a promise to get together for dinner. After a shower and change I explored the town on foot and discovered an ancient town mostly untouched by modern developments even though it had appeared in a TV show and as I found is still used for filming. My wife thought I had come to a town where people reenacted old styles of farming and dressed up in old clothes, but I assure you it was just people going about their normal lives, a wonderful experience. Many of the old and family clan buildings had guides and I think entry fees, but I was welcomed without being asked for a fee.
During my walk through town I met one tourist, a young chinese lady who spoke excellent English. She was being given a guided tour by a couple of local children for free and offered to translate for me.
I noticed the brochure of the town Xin Ye I had picked up days before included pictures of the children, our guides. When I showed the children their pictures they became excited and wanted the brochure and soon after rushed off excitedly to show their family.
Annie and I had a friendly conversation before she left for her hometown, she was heading home after her first independent holiday. We exchanged WeChat details and Annie said I should visit one day, she would love to show me around her hometown.
Fang and I met up for dinner, afterwards he gave me a guided night tour of the town, including a nearby hill where we could look over the town. The next day was Saturday and we agreed to meet up after breakfast for a morning of sightseeing the towns attractions, something locals do not always do.
See the bottom of this page for a gallery of photos from my flickr account of this day, it is a beautiful town and I highly recommend visiting.
After three days of cycling and my expensive morning lake cruise, I had the afternoon to fill. I thought I would get a traditional Chinese massage or Tuīná
I have never had Traditional Chinese Massage before and was interested and worried how it would go. I found a reputable looking establishment. My firstly challenge was trying to work out the price, as none of the staff could speak english except one desk people who could could say, foot, leg, neck, back and minutes in English and then pointed at a list that showed 100 yuan for 100 minutes. A good deal I thought especially as I was at the spa on the second floor of a plush hotel, Holiday Inn.
First step was to put my feet into a wooden barrel with water that was way too hot, a little cold water later I was soon getting my first taste of painful muscle pinches. I should point out my masseuse was a slender young lady who seemed to have mechanical claws for hands, it was amazing how strong she was.
I was then asked to stand up and move from the relaxation chair to a stool so the shoulder massage could start. The problem was the wooden barrel was old or not designed for my massive westerner body weight and I felt a small crack. The barrel was lined with plastic so I hopped it would remain watertight, but it didn’t.
After about a minute, my masseuse noticed a large pool of water spreading across the room including where my bag was. This was handy as it gave me an excuse to grab my bag and remove my camera for later taking a few pictures. Mopping and sweeping water into a bucket was fruitless, so I was moved to another room.
I would break down the actual massage into three areas, painful bordering on unbearable, uncomfortable, especially some of the positions I was pushed into, and nice. Basically in equal proportions.
At one stage I was in a sort of head lock, except it was my shoulder and arms, and I was pushed and twisted. At another I had my arms pulled back with a knee in my back working down my spine with quite a bit of pressure.
I have very sensitive feet, for example I can’t stand the nibble fish massage/loose skin cleaning in Malaysia, so I was a bit unsure about the foot massage part. I only had a few involuntary foot jerks and only had to asked her to stop hurting my foot once. It is handy to know pain (tong) in Mandarin. I think I enjoyed the toe massage the best, it is amazing how small/targeted the massage was. The massage included foot cupping, this was in the uncomfortable area.
During the foot massage I was asked if I want the cream, 10 yuan, or oil, 40 yuan. I didn’t like having this unexpected extra price.
On leaving I discovered the price was actually 240 yuan, about $50 AU, there were two columns and 100 yuan was in the other column. I think I paid extra because I combined, neck, shoulder, back, leg and foot massage. Overall, an interesting experience that I think I will do again, not often, and maybe just leg and/or foot next time.
It had turned into an expensive day in comparison to the rest of my trip. I finished off my afternoon by going to an expensive western coffee/tea shop and ordered a green tea to have while I relaxed, rested and read. Coffee shops are often over priced and targeted at rich locals or westerners . I would have to wait a number of years before I found much more enjoyable local variations in Chengdu and Sichuan country towns.
After my free Chinese style breakfast in my hotel, I headed out to see if I could find a cruise on the lake. One of the lake high lights is to view the many islands from the top of a hill or island, as shown on the ticket I purchased below. I am travelling pretty blind on this trip and apart from this, I don’t know much about the area. I know the lake is actually a dam for hydro power, this makes all of the islands actually old hill tops and anything on them recently built, I assume.
The friendly hotel manager, who was the only person who spoke some English I had meet in the last three days, was nowhere to be found. I had been unable to find any tourist information in English the previous day, so it was up to what I could communicate to the hotel front desk staff, to help find out where to catch a boat for a lake cruise. There did not seem to be any central harbour to head for.
After a few minutes of using very bad Mandarin, I did manage to communicate I wanted to go for a cruise, and I was told public bus number four and pointing seemingly to the bus stop just across the road. Initially it seemed like I would not be able to get even this minimal information, so I was pleased.
I headed over the road and found out the bus fare, only 1 kuai, and then realised this stop did not include bus route 4, this route went on the main road a block away. After walking to the main road I was then struck by the realisation I had no idea which way I should go, I did not know which side of the road to catch the bus. So I made a guess and hoped for the best.
Initially, all was good the bus came and I paid my 1 kuai, the bus then starting travelling along the edge of the lake but quickly veered inland and went all over the place, through road works and places unknown. After 15 minutes or so the lake appeared again and low and behold there seemed to be a number of cruise boats in view, so I hopped off the bus and investigated.
What I found were a number of boats that were not day cruise boats, maybe restaurant boats. I did find one cruise boat, fabulously expensive I thought, about $100 australian dollars, it did seem to be going everywhere I wanted and leaving in 10 minutes, what to do… well not having much choice and since it was unlikely I would find another cruise boat, I reluctantly paid what I had hoped would cover 2 or 3 days on the trip for one cruise!
The price did include a goodie bag of snacks, free tea and fruit. The price also let me mix with Chinese people who I don’t normally see when riding my bicycle through country towns, there were a lot of wealthy preening Chinese on the cruise, another experience in itself. No one tried to start a conversation with me unlike most other times when travelling in public.
First stop on the cruise was a small island that seemed to be themed around locks and love. The island map gave the following highlights:
Love Key Sculpture
Chinese Zodiac (Luck Animal) Eight-Diagram Altar
Chinese lock museum
Happy lock square
This seemed innocent enough but quickly developed into a never ending stream of money draining tourist traps. As we stepped off the boat we were lead to an archway and each person or couple was motioned to pose for an official photographer. At the other end of the island we were then offered a printed photo and keyring… I did buy this, but none of the other things 🙂 Actually I enjoyed the island, it was pretty and interesting.
The price of the cruise included a guided tour of the island, but as it was in Mandarin I followed nearby and had a peaceful walk. We did have large tour passes hanging around our necks, I think this was a flag to increase the prices of everything.
After we had left the boat it took off, I was not sure of where we were headed, I followed the tour group making sure I was not stranded. We reached the end of the long narrow island and then found a series of floating bridges linked to three other islands nearby.
The first floating bridge contained a fish pen. We could buy fish food to feed these fish, who appeared to be very very hungry, it seemed cruel. I refused to buy fish food as I did not want to support this practise.
The next island was very small, peaceful and pretty.
The next floating bridge contained side gardens and no money draining scheme.
The last island was also peaceful and after a short walk I spotted our cruise boat waiting patiently for us. There was one more island I could have walked to if I had agreed to pay extra for. The extra cost seemed to be purely for the privilege of walking over a suspended bridge that swayed a bit. I declined to pay for this privilege. I had also declined to pay to rub a lucky charm statue.
The cruise boat then headed to the main attraction, a hill with a view over the lake, not sure if this was an island, there is an expanse of forest away from the lake side view. I had a choice of walking up this hill or getting a cable car. I chose the cable car to preserve my energy for more riding starting tomorrow. Despite this preservation I was going to make a fateful decision soon on this trip due to fatigue.
This decision and my lack of fitness seems quaint now when I compare this ride to my ride in 2018, but as always, you should start somewhere, whatever level of fitness you have, and ride as long or short as you want, because you are going to enjoy the experience riding, walking, taking a train or bus. There is not fixed rule on how you must travel.
This stop was much busier, many more tourists, with many smaller, and I am sure much cheaper, cruise boats docking alongside our magnificent boat. It was so busy I had to fit for uncrowded camera shots and I even met two western tourists, the first I had seen in four days. They were actually learning Mandarin in Hangzhou, so not true fly in tourists, I think I am very much off the normal tourist map.
On the hill top I found a tea house, but the price was way too expensive. I was offered water at double the going rate, I declined to pay this and managed to buy it at the normal price.
The hill overlooking the lake is the busiest and so has money making ventures including a grass slide back down the hill for a price. I chose to walk the scenic forest path back. There is also food vendors, I bought a snack as I was expected back on board to return for the half day cruise.
After returning from the cruise, I found somewhere for lunch and had more of the fish as they were so tasty.
After lunch I back tracked the way I came on the bus and decided to well and truly blow the budget and try a traditional Chinese massage ( I will write about this in a separate post). Painful but seemingly Ok afterwards, I am feeling very good.
After a wander in town and dinner, I went back to my hotel for an early night and start the next day.
Praise be, the supermarket has not killed off the bustling /chaotic bad roads/people going the wrong way WET MARKETS in China (of course) . Yesterday I was worried after visiting a very quiet and sad supermarket, my first in China.
This morning as I only had a short ride planned , 50km, I took the opportunity to cycle around the pretty town of Jiande, much nicer today without the rain.
First up I found a great street food vendor at a nearby bus stop that allowed me to have breakfast sitting at a communal table, mainly filled with children heading off to school. Many children had a parent hovering behind them not eating for some reason.
Breakfast, cheap and very tasty
During my exploration of the town and search for food I came across, well I just followed where most people were heading, a bustling wet market, full of the normal mad traffic, terrible roads/parking, people walking everywhere on the side of the road and bike paths, fruit galore, all different body parts of dead animals, wine and one particular stall that had a line of large dead rats and one dead squirrel.
I showed the picture of the dead rats (and squirrel) to some chinese friends and they assured my the packets being sold are rat poison, and the dead rats are not for sale. I guess the dead squirrel is to show how strong the poison is.
Before leaving town, I toured Jiande sights, riverside, and admired the great cycling infrastructure. Often full of scooters and other electric vehicles as is usual in China.
It was time to leave town and work out how to go through the mountain range to get to Qiandao (1000 island) Lake. The next photo shows this range
I retraced my cycling a few kilometers out of town to where the main freeway enters long tunnels through the mountain range, obviously I was not going to try riding the freeway. There was a local road winding its way along a stream, so no climbing and it was going in the general direct I wanted to go, so worth checking out I thought.
This country road was great, flat, quiet, with lots of farming and small towns along the way, initially I was very happy.
About 10 km along this beautiful country road, feeling very pleased with my choice, I checked my online map, maps.me and realised I was off map, i.e. no roads marked and heading in the wrong direction…..oh….what to do. I might consider the freeway, I had seen a spot where I could sneak on, but it was not really a consideration.
Luckily Maggie had given me a paper map, I dug this out for the first time in the hope it might show the road I was on. It showed the road, a very minor road, the smallest type of road printed, in a beautify big 20km U shape, it would loop me back exactly where I wanted to go, I just had to keep going for another 10km and all would be good. Thank you Maggie so much!!!!!!
I continued on, admired the old building and the new, again I was amazed how much construction was going on in the middle of nowhere.
Before getting to the start of the lake/s I had to ride up the one and only big climb of the trip (but I did come back this way, so climbed twice), while I rested at the top I noticed a little old lady seemed to have spare bottles of water, it was a sort of home shop, she was happy to sell a bottle to me.
After reaching the lake, there was a least one small tunnel to ride through, nothing like the freeway. Soon I was riding through a lengthy industrial before the scenic part of the lake was reached. I stopped at a roadside food stall for lunch and then had a leisurely ride into town looking for somewhere to stay.
I had googled before reaching the main tourist town of Chun’an and could only find an expensive Holiday Inn. I found this hotel and yes it was expensive, so I thought I would try out my Mandarin, zai na li shuijiao, at where sleeping place. People thought a bit and pointed down a side road. After asking a few more locals, it worked, I found a lovely hotel for Chinese tourists, so a cheaper but still expensive.
I checked into the Chinese hotel, expensive for my tastes/budget, $50 a night but this does include breakfast. I am on the 10th floor. The manager is a lovely lady who speaks a little English, about as good as my Mandarin, the first person who does in three days. I have not seen any non Chinese person let alone a westerner for three days, I do get a lot of looks, I can see how some people get unsettled eventually.
Tomorrow will be a bicycle
free day, the manager talked about a lake cruise, I will see what happens.
While I have been typing
this I have been listening to loud western music coming from 7 floors below. I
thought it was a disco when I arrived back from dinner but found it was the gym
having a music exercise session. I can currently hear Enya, so I think it is
finally winding down.
I was up, showered and off very early thinking I would find breakfast somewhere on the road as there did not seem to be anything open for breakfast as I left. I was treated to a beautiful peaceful morning along the river running next to Longmen ancient town.
I headed back to the Qiantang river and headed south west to continue on my way to Qiandao (1000 island) Lake , about 118 km away, I was not sure if I would make it that far in one day, especially my first day navigating by myself.
After about 10 km I came across a long strip of road side food stalls serving workmen, road builders and a few locals. It may not look busy from the photo, but there were lots of people have breakfast and I was able to buy a hearty breakfast. Notice the heavy industry work going on in the background.
Today’s ride was very interesting, it was surprising how much building, road making and general development goes on outside of the major cities. I was expecting to find the air getting cleaner the longer I rode , but with all of the development I found the opposite.
I saw the best and the worst of China today, amazing old towns, free green tea and oranges as gifts in a small town restaurant while I sheltered from the rain, home grown Peking opera practise. The local retirees sat around while the Peking opera company rehearsed, and repeated their music and very high pitched singing. This stage was right next to a mini children’s amusement park with lots of noisy rides. It was also very hot under the blue tarps, all a bit overwhelming. I had pulled over and turned into this small country town because I had spotted a local market setup. I just kept walking along this market until I found this very interesting place to rest and have my morning tea.
All morning I saw endless new roads and breathtaking ambition for new multi high rise and flashy developments based on the boarding. I saw cement factories with dirty water gushing out the side fences into an open drain. Unofficial tips with huge mounds of silt flowing into local streams. Highway sidings with endless new grass and trees suddenly stopping at a crumbling house or a pile of rubbish. I saw many many new roads, not all of them connected very well. I found a lot of beautiful bike paths and one section of brand new road was not open yet, so I had a super clear flat new road to myself.
I had two worries during the day, the first was would my bicycle be safe while I went to the toilet, but I found this was not a problem because I was isolated enough/far enough into the countryside to take a wee next to the road and not be noticed by anyone. I later discovered that some locals don’t bother getting out of view or being out of town when taking a wee.
My second worry was would I be able to find a safe place for my bicycle while I had lunch. Today I was able to find a very public place to lock my bicycle near the restaurant window where I order lunch. Lunch was bit of a chinese fast food type place, I asked for fish and was given a super spicy dish, I think the locals thought it was a great joke. I enjoyed the fish and did not have any after effects, so all was good. I see a few of these pseudo western restaurants in my travels in China but normally avoid them. This one was very convenient on my first solo riding day in China.
It started raining in the afternoon, so I looked for accomendation in the large town of Jiande instead of pushing onto the lake. It is the last town on the river before turning west to the lake. It is actually past the turn off to the lake, I sussed out the route for the next day, but was a little confused because there just seemed to be a freeway heading into a long long tunnel, straight through a mountain in the direction I wanted to go and the only other road was a very small windy local road following a stream but seemed to to heading away from where I wanted to go. Anyway that was tomorrow’s problem.
I was wondering how I would be able to get directions to find a hotel, but as luck would have it, I spotted a large comfortable hotel as soon as I reached the business district of Jiande. I was not permitted to take my bicycle up to my room in the lift but I was able to bring it into the foyer and lock it (despite it being a mess from all of the road dirt and grit from the rain) . Also every hotel seems to have someone working or sleeping in the foyer overnight for added security.
Checking in was an experience because I found it hard to understand what was being said to me in Mandarin, I just hope it was not a dialect, it took a while to explain there was a 50 Yuan deposit for the key and I forgot I had to show my passport. It will be interesting to compare how I am going at the end of the trip.
After a shower I headed out to buy supplies and dinner. I was very interested to discover and shop in my first large western supermarket in China. It was very quite and sad compared to the fabulous wet markets I had been to in the past. I just hope this was not the end of wet markets in China.
Heading out Monday morning on a beautiful clear day, I was accompanied by Maggie’s father Gan Shunfu, he is a keen cyclist also. I was not sure how far he would ride with me, I sensed that he and Maggie were both a little worried that I would be able to navigate and be safe on this journey. Gan was a great help navigating through the suburbs of Hangzhou, it was confusing until we reached the Qiantang river, then it was simply a matter of following the river until I turned off to Longmen, that was the plan anyway.
I quickly discovered a cultural difference between Gan and I, he carried minimal baggage, no maps or phone GPS. I discovered he had never been to Longmen and was not sure of the way, so every few km he would grab the nearest pedestrian and quiz them on the correct way to go. If he felt the answer was not enough he would immediately turn to the nearest person and quiz them, this repeated until he was confident he knew the way. I on the other hand, if I ask someone for directions, I let them leave before asking a 2nd person so as not to hurt their feelings.
I had my phone with GPS and downloaded maps, but I let Gan lead the way as he had better local knowledge until out of town, at an intersection with nobody to ask directions, he headed off in the opposite direction, I waited a few minutes for him to find someone to ask, turn around, and return to where I was waiting. I showed him the map and pointed in the correct direction. I think he then realised that I would be able to navigate without him.
We stopped for morning tea, admired the local temples and the very wide river. I was not sure how far Gan would ride with me, he had no English and my Mandarin was and still is very poor, plus I didn’t have Baidu or Google translate working on my phone in 2014. Eventually I realised Gan wanted to ride the whole way to Longmen with me, as he had never visited the town and also to make sure I found somewhere to sleep.
We stopped for lunch in a country roadside restaurant, were able to park our bicycles near our table and enjoyed a well earned hearty chinese meal and cold drinks. The ride was a bit warmer and dustier than I was expecting. It was a bit of a truck stop filled with mostly male customers, I tend to avoid these sort of restaurants on my rides now, I look for restaurants with mixed male, female and families as customers. Also they must be busy as it is hard to judge the hygiene standards, I just look for lots of customers.
We arrived at Longmen soon after lunch and were initially unable to find a hotel but after a slow walk through the narrow town lanes, on the far side of the ancient town we found a modern hotel. It was a little more than I was hoping to pay, around $28 dollars, but I had a lovely ensuite, it was OK to store my bike in my room, on the ground floor, with free green tea and wifi. Added bonus is a western toilet after not seeing one all day getting here.
Gan took one of my favorite pictures on the trip, the photo at the top of this post, in the middle of the Longmen ancient town crossing a stream. I reciprocated, notice Gan’s minimal luggage
Gan left soon after helping me check in to the hotel, I showered and had a lazy afternoon wandering the Ancient town, drinking the hotels free green tea and using their free wifi. I suspected Gan would be exhausted when he gets home. Maggie later confirmed he went straight to bed when he arrived home, a 120 km plus ride on a warm day. I very much appreciated his support , and guidance on this my first touring ride day in China, it was a great introduction, but I also felt ready and able to venture on solo and see how I coped.
I returned to my hotel for dinner, there did not seem to be any menu, let along an English menu, so I was escorted into the kitchen to view the available food, I pointed at the octopus, a couple of greens and asked for rice. I thought I was ordering one stir fry dish, but they kept bring more dishes, each vegetable I chose was cooked separately with the octopus. I don’t think I will be losing any weight this trip so far.
I went for an evening walk and heard the sounds of a village from many years past, there was an old wooden box with a turning drum that was chafing wheat or similar. The narrow car less streets became spooky in the dark but as I had wandered the village in the light, it felt safe and easy to navigate. I retired early, eager to continue my adventure, not sure of where I would stay the next night.
My first day in China is my getting prepared day, I have the following checklist:
Assemble the bicycle as early as possible so there is time to get help if there is any mechanical problem
Buy a local SIM, or make sure a previously bought one is topped up
Buy some snacks, fruit and water to carry on the ride when I start out the next day.
Explore the neighbourhood and get my bearings of the city
Buy any last minute bicycle things that I have forgotten, broken or had confiscated by airport security (as happened on a later trip)
Speak as much mandarin as possible when buying things
Make sure my mapping phone application is working, I use maps.me, I download the full sets of maps for the provinces I will be riding through using wifi before arriving and can then navigate even without data, just with GPS. As a back up I used baidu maps, it now has some english apparently.
Drop a pin each day using maps.me application at my lodgings so I will able to navigate back if I get lost.
For my first touring ride to China, I felt I had a very successful first day, I had the bike assembled before breakfast. I now normally carry the bicycle box outside and find a flat clean place to assemble my bike, but as I was on the fourth floor I decided to assemble in my (Maggie’s) room. I used the box as a floor cover to make sure I did not mark or scuff the floor.
Everyone was still asleep when I ventured out for breakfast and I successfully asked a local where I could buy breakfast in Mandarin, only 9 kuai for a very tasty rice burger.
Before lunch, I have a working SIM, I went for a walk and found a local market and bought eggs, spinach and potatoes. Maggie’s father incorporated my purchases with rice noddles and I had a beautiful soup, for lunch. I try to get hold of two hard boil eggs for every riding day as ride snacks. As well as bananas and/or grapes. I actually brought cans of tuna with me on this trip but hardly used them and do not do so any more.
After lunch Maggie’s father took me on a 15 km ride around West Lake and we stopped at the Chinese Tea Museum for a cup of Green tea fresh from the many tea plants we could gaze upon with mountains as a backdrop. During our tea drinking a very noisy poker game with real money was played at the next table.
One of the benefits of staying with Maggie is she is a keen cyclist and gave me a big tip on where to ride, 165 km away from Hangzhou is Qiandao (1000 island) Lake, it is a fairly straight (easy to navigate), flat ride next to a major river, perfect for learning how to navigate and survive riding through the Chinese countryside. I had searched for any interesting towns along the way and found Longmen Ancient Town 60 km from Hangzhou (my first nights ride destination) . There also seemed to be some interesting scenery (that I never made it to) if I looped south, east and then north back to Hangzhou, but in reality I was venturing into unknown territory.
Tomorrow I head due south west to 1000 island lake (3 days away), first stop Longmen, a 1000 year old town, I hope the accommodation is not quite that old. Maggie’s father, Gan Shunfa, cooked a lovely dinner. I am very spoilt and lucky.