2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day six – Traditional Chinese massage

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.

Foot cupping, it felt very uncomfortable

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.

2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day six – Qiandao (1000 island) Lake cruise and rest day

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.

There were a lot of wealthy preening Chinese on the cruise
Free tea and goodie bag contents, I ate whatever did not seem to contain wheat and save the rest to give away as presents.

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
  • Peace lock
  • Chinese lock museum
  • Happy lock square
  • Lock Garden

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.

Chinese Zodiac (Luck Animal) Eight-Diagram Altar, as you can see I was born in the year of the Ox
Chinese lock museum
Lock Garden

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.

Our cruise boat waiting at the last island. To the right is the bridge that swayed a bit and we could enjoy this bridge for an extra fee.

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.

Heading to the main tourist area, a hill top with a view over the lakes and pristine forests
Not that high a hill, hardly seems worth getting the cable car ride now
Lovely forest views next to the lake

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.

A local fish I assume as I saw these in town often.
One of the smaller and I assume much much cheaper cruise boats, unfortunately I had no idea where to catch these from

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.

It may look dark and dangerous, but I have never felt unsafe in China, nor ever had any problems.
Walking the streets of the main tourist town Chun’an

2014 Hangzhou bicycle tour day five – Jiande to Qiandao (1000 island) Lake – 50+ km

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.

This is me buying grapes for the days ride

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.

A stall selling rat poison

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.

The weather had cooled a bit finally, but not for long
It is surprising how much development is happening in these small country town

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 found a Chinese hotel by asking directions in Mandarin, it worked!
My much appreciated dinner at a nearby restaurant

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).