onsdag 27 november 2013

Tropical Island

After leaving Guangzhou I had my sight set on Hainan Island. I hadn’t been cycling along sand beaches since leaving Turkey which seems like a very long time ago. So I was really looking forward to go there even if some people had told me it was a bit too much touristic there. One night on my way towards Hainan I stopped in a small town that unlike many other towns had many old buildings that had not been torn down to build new apartments, and had a really cool main street that was very narrow and packed with people. After I had had dinner I walked into an empty bar to use their wi-fi since I didn’t have it at the little hotel I was staying in. It was a really cool and modern bar and the bartender got very surprised to see a foreigner walk in. And after a while her brother showed up who spoke some English. We had a fun night, the people there were really cool and all my drinks were on the house!
The next day I continued west with a nice tailwind pushing me on. And when I arrived in Zhanjiang and tried to ride my bike over the bridge a guard grabbed a hold of my bike and told me it wasn’t allowed to ride on the bridge. Since small scooters where allowed I thought the same applied to the bike, but apparently not and I had to turn around and ride to the ferry that went over to Zhangjiang. There I stayed with a teacher at the university, a really cool man named Denis from Canada. I stayed for two days and hung out with him and his girlfriend Mya and had many interesting conversations about our views of China. And since he had been living here for 7 years he saw things a little different than I.
After Zhangjiang it was time to head for the island. I had to ride 140 km to the ferry and the small road I choose was not very good and even worse was the “shortcut ” I decided to take. But I made it to the ferry at about 5 pm, and during the day I meet two other Chinese cyclists also going to Hainan. We rode together and had company on the two hour bout ride to Haikou.
But once we got over to the other side we split up since we had different plans for your time on the Island. They were cycling around the island starting with the west side. And I planned to stay in in the first city Haikou a few days and then make my way down the east side. In Haikou I stayed in an apartment occupied by a really nice bunch of people. There was a Russian couple with a baby on the way at any moment, three Polish and once Chinese girl. I stayed for three nights and also met up with another couch surfer on the last day and had a really nice day with some sightseeing around town. The architecture in the old part of town is really interesting and not at all traditionally Chinese. We also had some really tasty local food like oysters, crab and a lot more.
The next day I got back on the bike heading south. It was mostly transport the first day on a gray rainy day. The day after I ended up at a couch surfer’s parents house. She worked in another city but arrange for me to stay there. It was a little difficult because they didn’t speak any English. But it was fine for me and I tagged along with the father to go fishing. I got a couple but not as many or as big as her dad; the master fisherman.
The wind continued to be in my favor as I rode along towards Sanya. There I had made plans to meet up with a friend that I had meet a couple of weeks before and we had a great weekend where I got spoiled, staying at a really nice resort in Yalong Bay and the last night at a cool guesthouse in downtown Sanya. There’s a lot of hot springs around this area and even on mainland around Zhangjiang I saw many signs for it. So on Sathurday we had a very relaxing day at a hot spring resort and I have never been so relaxed in a long time. Except for when we went into the fish therapy pool. A bath filled with small fishes that eat on your feet. And for someone as tingly under my feet as I am it was difficult having a straight face.
After a little mini holiday I got back on the road. And instead of riding around the island I had instead decided to go up through mountains back towards Haikou. People I talked to suggested it and said it would be more interesting than riding the west side where the road is quite far from the sea most of the time. But it was hard work riding up the hills in the tropical weather, even though it is “winter” and not as humid as it is during the summer. But it was still very sweaty getting up the hills under the burning sun. But the big upside to being in this sort of place is the fruit. Everywhere along the road you can stop and buy fresh delicious tropical fruits like bananas, mango and jackfruit.
The first two days after leaving Sanya was very hilly and the second day I got up early and left Wuzhishan in the morning before it was too hot. And the biggest climb was right after leaving Wuzhishan and the road went up to about 900 meters. And the rest of the day continued with the road going up and down and of course the downhill’s are over so fast and the uphill’s seems to go on forever. And when going fast down a hill I got a reminder what can happen if you’re not careful and go too fast. I came up to a long line of cars and saw there had been an horrible accident with a car and a bus. And what I thought about after was that it is strange that I haven’t seen nothing like this before since many people here drive like crazy and you always have to be on the lookout for crazy drivers, motorcycles coming right at you on the wrong side and people walking out in the street without looking. So I’m lucky that nothing have happened to me.. . “Knock on wood”. These people were not as lucky.
Today I rode from a small town named Tunchang back to Haikou. The mountains were done so it felt nice to ride on flatter roads after two days with a lot of uphills. But I prefer uphill to what I had to deal with today. Almost the entire way there where road work and where there was no road work the road was extremely bad with many holes muddy gravel roads and trucks blasting by covering me with dust.
So now I’m back in Haikou staying with Sara who was the couch surfer I met up with the last day during my first visit in Haikou. And soon I’ll get back to the mainland and make my way west towards Vietnam. China has been awesome but I’m looking forward to go to a new country, hear a new language and meet new people.

onsdag 13 november 2013

From huge cities to the country side

When coming back into China I stayed a couple of days with Stacey, the same host I had in Shenzhen before I left for Hong Kong. And it was really nice coming back to a familiar place, something I don’t get much of. Unfortunately I was coming down with a cold and wasn’t feeling too well. So resting up at Stacey’s place was exactly what I needed. But I wasn’t very sick and still had fun there and she took time out of her busy schedule to spend time with me. She introduced me to some great food and I ate and ate, with was really good because I still had some weight to put on after my stomach problems the week before. I left Stacey and Shenzhen on Thursday and cycled just 60 km to Dongguan. It was nice to have a slow start after not cycling that much for a while and also because of my cold.
Reached 20.000 km on my way to Dongguan!

I knew cycling in this area wouldn’t be much fun because it’s so densely populated, and it even if I’m cycling from one city to another it almost feels like I’m not leaving the city because there’s housing all along the road. And even if I tried to find smaller road there still a lot of traffic and the air quality is really bad. But luckily it was a short ride to Dongguan where I met up with my host Tian Ye and had some lunch. He didn’t speak much English so we had some misunderstandings, but it was still a nice day and we went to the Keyuan Garden that was a place with old buildings, a nice garden and a museum. There we also met a very interesting old man who had studied in Sweden among other places and we stayed there for a while and talked.
The next stop was the huge city of Guangzhou and yet again I had to deal with the heavy traffic into the city. I stayed with Isabel who was Canadian/Taiwanese girl teaching at a collage. She had a nice big apartment a little north of the center with was kind of nice because it was calmer then the busy center and also with an awesome view from the balcony. And I was not the only couchsurfer at her place, there was also Pawel, who was staying for a longer time and later in the day another Chinese girl named Amanda arrived. It was great meeting other surfers and in the evening we had a really nice oyster dinner at one of the favorite spots close to the flat. The next day I met up with another couchsurfer while Isabel and Amanda went to the zoo. Sundae and I where both very indecisive so we just wondered around town, tried to get into the museum but for that I would have needed my passport. But we still had a nice time and decided to meet up later that night.
I got on the metro and met up with Isabel and Amanda outside the zoo, both a little tired after a whole day of walking around. Amanda and I went to see the Chang Long International Circus, something I had never heard of but was told it would be up to the standard of Cirque du soleil. And it was a really awesome show. It had everything from amazing stunts to a bear riding a motorcycle.
Us three met up with Sundae and her friends at a cool student bar with cheap bear. It was a nice ending to a fun day. The next and last day for me in Guangzhou was a little slower pace and I met up with yet another couchsurfer named Wendy. We had a tasty dinner and the funny thing was that she worked for the same company as Amanda did. But in different cities, so they didn’t know each other.
On Monday it was time for me to get back on the bike and try to make it out of the enormous city. It was not fun at all and the traffic was crazy. But eventually I made it the 100 km to Zhaoqing where I was staying at university campus with a teacher. But he wasn’t mainly an English teacher but a Polish teacher. I never thought anyone taught Polish in China, so that was a bit of a surprise. Tomasz was a really nice guy and we had many talks about really everything. But he was a little busy with work, but then it’s a great way to be in contact with more than one couchsurfer in a city. So the second day in Zhaoqing I met up with Renee later in the evening for a little walk around town and dinner. Unfortunately it was raining a lot this day so when walking around the big lake I couldn’t really see that much with was a pity since everyone said very nice things about the lake.

It wasn’t raining when I left Zhaoqing the next day, but it was gray skies and I was ready for rain later on. But even if it rained later that day and the road had a lot of ups and down with some very steep uphill’s it still felt great to be out of the area aroung Guangzhou and Shenzen where the traffic is really bad, and instead be cycling among the hills with green surroundings, fresh air and almost no traffic. 

måndag 4 november 2013

A week in Hong Kong

After one night in Shenzhen I had to get to the border and leave mainland China and into Hong Kong. I had read about Lo Wu being the best border to cross with bicycle since it was possible to bring it on the train going to Kowloon. But after passing through customs I was stopped because they didn't allow bicycles on the train. They wanted me to take the front wheel off but I explained that it wouldn’t make the bike any smaller because of the front rack and all the bags, it would just be impossible to move around. Eventually they let me get on the train and ride it to the first stop in a town called Sheung Shui. I had known that this might happened and had looked up what road to take to get to Hong Kong Island. Unfortunately it had to ride quite far because most of the roads was highways that didn't allow bicycles.
It immediately felt different from being in mainland China, most notable at first was riding on the left side. I also noticed how the traffic showed more respect for me as a cyclist and waited to pass until there was enough space. Unlike in China where the trucks just sounds the horn and drive past you. But something that is much better in the mainland is the roads. The roads in Hong Kong has no though for bicycles and riding into the center was really difficult. Especially the last bit in Kowloon and in the center of Hong Kong Island. My host lived on the middle of central Soho so to get there I had to get on the charming Star Ferry across the Victoria Harbour.
And arriving in the middle of multicultural Soho was a chock for me after spending two months in China where it feels like you’re the only foreigner and everyone stares at you. Here there where foreigners everywhere and it felt far away from anything Chinese. Of course people look at me when I ride in with my bike, probably because riding around in Hong Kong is a crazy thing to do and something I wouldn't recommend anyone to try. If I knew how difficult it would be I would have left my bike in Shenzhen and take the train or a bus into Hong Kong. 

I stayed two nights with my hosts on Hong Kong Island and explored the central part of town with all its huge skyscrapers, interesting architecture and the hip Soho. Mark and I also walked up the extremely steep roads passing by some of the most expensive apartments in the world and then through some dark park area to arrive at the Victoria Peak with a stunning view of Hong Kong.
My host’s Mark and King was busy hard working people like many here in Hong Kong, but we still had some time to hand out and share travel stories. Also talk a lot about cycling since they were planning on a big bike trip in the near future. Since they had other guests visiting them I moved to another host I had made plans with on the other side of town in Kowloon Bay. And yet again I had to get on my bike and try to make my way through the busy streets of Hong Kong. But it wasn't a very long ride and I was able to find my way using my GPS more than ever before.
Kowloon Bay was very different from Soho with very few foreigners and less stressful compared to the central parts of town. But it was close to the metro witch is the easiest way to get around town. My host Cindy and I had a great dinner out and I felt very welcome here as well. I also met up with another couchsurfer named Steven one afternoon and had a great night with good food and a walk along the harbor with an awesome view over the bay to Hong Kong Island.
On Saturday Cindy and I did some sightseeing first at Wong Tai Sin Temple which looked like many other temples I had seen before in China just with more tourists. But it had a nice relaxed garden in the back.
After that we headed a little further out from the busy city to what used to be a fishing village and still had its old charm. The buildings felt like being in an old village and there were a lot of water tanks filled with all types of seafood along the narrow streets. It was nice to get away from the crowded city for a while and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere by the sea.
Later that day I met up with a friend from back home who is an exchange student this semester here in Hong Kong. It was really nice to see a familiar face and to speak Swedish again. We walked around the super crowded central Kowloon and the ladies market for a while and then relaxed at a café and later at a typical small Hong Kong restaurant. I will probably be a while until I run into another Swede again. But once I reach Thailand there will be a lot of them. But speaking with someone from my home town was a nice change after just being able to do that on Skype before.
I left Hong Kong today and decided to take a bus over the border instead of going through everything I did on my way into town. And the bus left right next to where I lived so it was really easy and the bus driver didn't complain about the bike and all the bags.
So now I’m back in mainland China and it feels good to be back. I really enjoyed Hong Kong, but one week felt like enough. And immediately after crossing the border people started staring at me again, something that doesn't happen as much in Hong Kong. And it also feels great that I don’t have the time pressure I had for my first half of China. I now have 2 months and the distance to where I plan to leave China for Laos is not that far away. So I don’t need to push on as I have done the last couple of weeks.