2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day four – Longmen Ancient town to Jiande – 90 km

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.

I locked my bicycle to a pole in good view of my lunch stop
I think I ordered a fish and a pork dish with rice. 24 kuai, a little expensive but very handy and filling

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.

Note the added security measure, a long steel cable running through the front wheel, seat and u bolt.

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.

Jiande hotel, the view from my 3rd floor room
Jiande hotel, right next to a kindergarten, I kept the blinds down at all other times

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.

My first western large supermarket in China

It was very quite and sad compared to the fabulous wet markets I had been to in the past.

I had trouble asking for water, when I finally found it the locals said “swayart” a local dialect?

2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day three – Hangzhou to Longmen Ancient town

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.

Modern hotel on the edge of Longmen ancient town. A sight for tired legs as I had no idea what accomendation would be available.
I was allowed to store my bicycle in my room, I was very happy.

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.

Many ancient towns have groups of school children out on painting and drawing trips

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.

2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day two

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.

2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day one

As I mentioned in my preparation post, if your bicycle box is over 32 kg, it is illegal to check it in in Australia, luckily I had packing tape and scissors on hand to re-seal the box after a quick transfer of a few things to my carry on.

I managed to check in just one kilo over my 30 kg limit, with an extra cost of course. I poked the tape and scissors into the bike box through the hand holds. The nice check in person gave me the tip.

As I was flying Air asia , I needed to stop over in KL and surprise surprise I met the wonderful Maggie in the lounge waiting for takeoff to Hangzhou. Actually I received a few strange messages from Maggie prior to booking. My wife and I had hosted Maggie and two friends in May 2014 and the arrangement was Maggie (and her parents) would host me in October 2014 when I was flying to Hangzhou.

Maggie messaged me and said was I planning to fly Air asia from Melbourne, I said yes, on this date, I said yes, and was my connecting flight leaving at this time…. strange I thought, until I realised Maggie was booking a flight from Sydney and was checking we would be on the same flight to Hangzhou, so I would not be arriving to be hosted by her parents without her! I immediately offered to book a hostel, and tried to persuade her to not fly back just to be my host. She said it was fine , she was due to fly back home to visit anyway, all was good.

We were met at the airport by one of Maggie’s friends with a large sedan. It was a bit tricky working out how to fit the large bike box in, the only way was across the back seat taking up all of the leg room. Maggie had to lay across the back seats and peaked over the box all the way home.

Maggie’s parents lived in a pedestrian mall, there was no vehicle access, the bike box had to be carried for a couple hundred metres and then up fours flights of stairs.

I was given Maggie’s room, and Maggie slept in a spare room/alcove, although Maggie and her parents stayed up late into the night catching up as Maggie had been away for months. I felt a bit awkward but Maggie and her parents were super friendly and tried to put me at my ease. I am glad I home stayed with Maggie and her parents but I chose to book into hostels for every trip now and don’t look for home stays.

Preparation for my first trip 2014

Even though I was convinced I could cycle around China unsupported after my wonderful Beijing experience the previous year, I felt I needed a local connection to help get me started, I now do not need this local support, but in 2014 before my first solo ride, I did.

First I chose Hangzhou as a destination, I had always wanted to see West Lake and I though it would be good to start with only the fourth largest city in China, over 20 million people, but with many ancient buildings, water towns and also being the southern terminus of the Grand Canal.

I searched the website/app warmshowers, a community of bicycle tourists and those who support them, to see if I could locate a local in Hangzhou who might give me tips or even accommodation. I contacted a few locals and quickly received a reply from the lovely Maggie who would be happy to let me stay with her (and her parents) at the beginning and end of my bicycle tour. She also mentioned she was backpacking in Tasmania with two friends and could they all stay with me in a weeks time…. (my wife and) I of course said yes. This was a great decision and I benefited greatly from this over the next few years.

Maggie and her friends stayed for a week, resting up and planning a drive around Australia once they bought a second hand car. My wife and I passed on the highlights from our own road trips, we cooked each other our favorite dishes and I took them all out for bicycle rides. It was a lovely experience and we had built up lots of brownie points or guanxi for my later trips to China.

Once I had a destination, I then selected October (Autumn in China) after the week long national holiday, it is relatively quite and still warm in Eastern China. 

I booked a return flight that included 30kg sports luggage and carry on. Sports luggage can include a bicycle in a box. My touring bike, a Surly LHT, is well under 30kg, so this allows me to pack most of my clothes and equipment in with the bike in the box. Just make sure you weigh the loaded box before getting to the airport, as I discovered airlines in Australia strictly follow the law, it is illegal for the box to weigh over 32 kg, and anything over 30kg costs extra. So my tip is to carry tape and scissors to the airport in case there is a need to make last minute repack to lighten and then re tape the box. Poke the tape and scissors into the bike box through the hand holes in the box as you will not be able to carry them on as hand luggage. After weighing at check-in you may be directed to the oversize luggage loading area (this is what happens at Melbourne airport). 

Two weeks before your flight, pick up a bicycle box from your local bicycle shop for free and get some foam split tubes for protection when packing. I was not confident putting my bike into the box the first time, so I paid my local bicycle shop to pack for me and I watched closely and took mental notes, as I wanted to be confident I would be able to reassemble in China by myself.

It is important to protect your bicycle and the box from damage, so add extra cardboard to cover the wheel axles, forks, seat post and handle bar tube ends, plus form around the frame. Also add a support between the forks to stop them being crushed.

Packing and transporting my bicycle to China
Packing and transporting my bicycle to China
Packing and transporting my bicycle to China
Packing and transporting my bicycle to China

Preparation Summary

  • Book return flights with 30kg Sports luggage (keep away from National holidays/peak tourist times)
  • Find accommodation e.g. home stay or hostel, willing to store bicycle box during ride
  • Book accommodation for first two nights and last 2 nights (4 in total) for setup/preparation/packup
  • Apply for China visa 3 months before trip (I normally book a 2nd hostel for my entire time in China to include with the visa application, then cancel once the visa has been issued)
  • Work out a rough route/itinerary, I look for ancient towns, mountains I can climb around 50 to 60 kms apart, but I don’t have any fixed dates or bookings while riding.

On the day of the flight

  • Finish packing the bike box with panniers, clothes etc. (DO NOT GO OVER 30kg)
  • Get to airport in a Station Wagon or Maxi taxi
  • Check in with your airline to get the box weighed and then will be directed to oversize luggage (in Melbourne).