The Route

The Route
It is a very long way.....

Monday, 30 May 2011

31th May - Guangzhou to Sanshui

Off on adventures again.....

Biking into China PROPER......

Not the best way to start biking though China. I was up at 7 to get packed and get on the road.... But it did not quite work out that way.

Yesterday I had bought a sim card and a data pack for using the internet. I had called the service center and they were very efficient and texted me the settings I needed for the internet in English. When these settings did not work yesterday I called them again and they said that as it was a new sim card it would be activated for GPRS over night and so will work in the morning. Unfortunately it did not. As I am in the middle of a city and very few people speak English I knew that it would be really hard to find my way out without google maps and GPS (almost impossible in fact). I spent a good few hours surfing on the internet trying to get the right settings and then phoning back the company a couple of times. I also looked for trains out of the city as I knew I would get lost without GPS. It turned out that the settings that they had sent me yesterday were the wrong settings and once I got the right settings it all worked fine.

When I went to put my bags on the bike I found I had a completely flat back tyre which I needed to change and also my front pannier rack was broken. I think that the damage must have been done when I had the bang in Nepal. The metal has bent and because of the at the screw had worked lose. I managed to do a temporary fix but it will need some duck tape at some point as well (cable ties).

I had been told yesterday that I could post my important letter to the UK at the hotel but as it needed to go to England on special delivery I found out this morning as I was leaving that this was not possible. Fortunately Lin from yesterday came to my rescue again and took me to the Chinese post office to sort it out. 30 minutes of paper work and 30 minutes of walking there and back and I was finally in a position to leave....

Lin really was incredibly sweet. She typed into her phone and showed me the message "I admire you". Bless..... She carried an umbrella (as a lot of women do) to keep off the sun. She said it hurt her arm to told it as I am so tall. I carried it the rest of the way. I felt even more silly than usual in biking clothes, holding an umbrella walking down the street.

We saw this crowd of men playing Chinese Chess on the walk to the Post Office.

I knew that the ride out of the city would not be the most scenic and I did contemplate getting on a train to get out of the city area so that I would have more time seeing the more scenic parts of the country but I decided that I wanted to see the city and the suburbs as well just for the contrast and to learn more about the country. For me traveling is not just about seeing beautiful parts of the world it is about learning about different cultures and seeing new places.

I did not end up actually getting on my bike until 2pm. I was really glad that I did have the GPS as within the first 10 minutes I found out that the road that I was planning on to get out of town does not allow bicycles. I had to change my route endlessly all day as I came across more and more roads that did not allow bikes. It really slowed me down getting out of the city. There is no way that I could have done this without google maps and GPS! The route that I had planned for today was 110km to Zhaoqing. I ended up doing 80km today and only traveling 30km of the original route. I was supposed to be Couch Surfing in Zhaoqing tonight but I had to postpone until tomorrow as it just took so long to get out of the city.

There are so many new buildings being constructed everywhere around this area. It is absolutely booming. I was surprised by the quality of the roads and infrastructure. In many places the quality was much better than the UK and about 1 million times better than India. When I was not having to stop to check my direction and find alternative routes where bikes are allowed I was managing a really good average speed.

Although there are many roads where bicycles are not allowed there are alternative routes which are well sign posted. China is good for bikes as there are so many other cyclists. The other cyclists are often transporting goods.

I love the fact that some cyclists have an attachment for an umbrella to cover them and the back of their bikes. I need to get a photo of this sometime.

The first few hours getting out of the major city were very busy and there was lots of traffic (but no traffic jams). Leaving the city center though the quality of the roads was as good but there was no traffic. These are photos taken between 5.30 and 6 on a Tuesday evening. 3 lane motorways and no one there at all.... There has been so much investment in the infrastructure it is incredible. These roads feed a large business district. They must be expecting significant growth.

I found it very interesting to see how different China is from India. The two countries have boomed in the last 10 years and they are often discussed together in terms of being economic super powers and developing countries. China feels much richer.

China seems like an old mix of the old and the new or poor and rich. There are still people transporting their goods on bikes and carts going slowly down newly built, perfect condition 4 lane motorways. You can by cheap food and accommodation in places opposite grand 5* hotels.

I have not seen a single building in the old style of Chinese architecture since I arrived - only buildings that have been built in the last 30 years or so. Over 70% of the building look like they were built in the last 15 years. There are construction works everywhere.

I decided to stop in Sanshui/Foshan about 6.15. I had checked on google that there were some hotels and hostels in town beforehand. It is only a small town though and so I was not expecting to see really, really posh 5 star hotels everywhere...

Again there were loads of construction sites on the outskirts of the town and the area is booming. I looked online to see how much it was to stay in one of these 5* places - only £70! They were really grand hotels as well....

A lovely girl that I met walking on the street helped me to find a cheap hotel. She spoke fantastic English and helped me to check in and then showed me a small part of the area. This is working out really well. Women and girls are totally different in China from India. They are very happy to talk to you and extremely friendly. In India it was very rare for a woman to even start up a conversation with me (with the exception of upper middle class Indian women - I did not meet many of those in rural India).

My hotel room is lovely and big, with internet access and was £8. This is over budget and I will need to find cheaper places as I continue through China, however, I will be couch surfing again in China and so this should keep the cost down. It was such a lovely room that I was surprised that they only have a swat toilet... I hate them.

Once I had checked in a showered I popped out for a little wonder and bought a rice, veg and chicken take away for £1. I also bought a large pot noodle for breakfast - 35p! :-)

Even though it was not the best day in terms of biking today and distances and I had a morning of faffing, I actually had a really good day. It is really exciting to see a completely different country and right now I am finding the communication issues funny rather than frustrating. People have gone out of their way to help me - particularly girls.

For more photos click here.

30th May - Guangzhou

I woke up early and nattered with Helen for a while before she headed off to explore the city and move to a Youth hostel in the center. The internet connection was good in the room and so I decided to spend sometime catching up on my blog (I am forever behind - having too much fun) and also reading about the next part of my trip. I have a good feeling about the Chinese and I have decided to start Couch Surfing again (I stopped while in India).

I should not have really stayed one more night in this hotel as it is expensive when not sharing with someone else. However, it is a long way to cheaper accommodation and in this instance I did not want to spend the couple of hours of moving just for a difference of £5. I will be gone back on major budget as I travel through rural China.

Whenever I arrive in a new country it always takes about 1 day of faffing before I feel like I can actually get going. Although I had done loads of organising stuff in HK I had not managed to get some things sorted. I decided I was not comfortable (after last nights 2 hours to travel 5 minutes down the road) to try and navigate through the city without a Chinese sim card with an internet connection and a map of China. I also needed to post home a Visa application and my second Passport on express delivery and go to an ATM. I thought that I should also have an explore of the city as well :-)

I headed out in the afternoon and popped to reception to ask directions. The girls at reception try very hard but speak no English and so it was a long experience as she typed into her translator on her computer and we tried to understand each other. It was brilliant timing though as along came another girl, Lin, that works at the hotel and is currently learning English. She wanted to practice and said she would take me to the different shops.

Lin is one of the sweetest, loveliest people I have met. She spent about 2 hours with me wondering round trying to help me to get all of the things that I needed and translating for me. No one in the shops we went too spoke a word of English and it would have been very difficult to get the right Sim card etc which allows a connection to the internet without her help. A sim card with £4 of call credit was £5.

Whenever we were crossing the road she would hold on to my arm and say "be careful". She walked me in linked arms everywhere. I felt huge as I am about 1 foot taller than here. It was a really lovely welcome to China. She really wanted to help.

We did not manage to find a road atlas of China which also had the place names in English in any of the local book shops but we did manage to get a small map of the state that I am currently in. It will be OK for the next couple of days before I need a new one.

Wondering round the area was fun. I tried some new street food that I had not tried before. They are like pancakes with stuff in. They chop it up and weigh it out. It was 1 CYN for a bag full - 10p. I think that I will be getting quiet a lot of this in the future.

The bikes that they have here are interesting. About 30% of them have a little motor attached, 50% are fixed wheel old style bikes like the ones they have in India and the rest are normal western style gear bikes.

People do use bikes as a means of transporting goods here, like they do in India but not so much in the western world.

As yesterday, I was surprised by how wealthy the city is. There are loads of high rises everywhere, good condition cars, good transportation links and roads. I did not realise that Guangzhou is such a major Chinese city. It is like HK but not quiet as shinny and clean as the business districts of HK. It could be compared to any major European city though. Very different to Indian major cities which still do not have the infrastructure.

My hotel is funny as it is a mid range place that tries to be more up market. They have girls outside in ball gowns just sitting there to welcome guests.

For dinner I went to the restaurant next door to the hotel where Helen and I ate last night. I ordered the Duck which I was told was spicy. It was about half a duck with all bones and skin cleavered up into smaller chunks and hard to find any meat on it. I think they must have just marinade it for about 7 years in chillies with an extra helping of chillies as it was so hot that I was crying and went through 10 tissues!

It was £5 for a big plate of duck and rice with tea. Having seen the prices in the street I now know that this is a reasonably expensive restaurant. It was jam packed though.

A productive day and a good explore of part of the city. :-)

Sunday, 29 May 2011

29th May - First Day in China

I'm here! :-)

I needed a lie in after very little sleep for the last few days and so slept until 10. I then frantically tried to get a VPN working on my computer so that I will be able to use Blogger and Facebook in China. My brain did not work yesterday and so I could not do it then. It was 12 by the time I checked out and had managed to do the internet stuff. Helen headed off to catch the train to China and I caught the shuttle bus from down town to the hotel where I I had stayed with Jacob which was storing my bike and other things.

It took me a couple of hours to put my bike back together again. Toooo much technical stuff today (computers and bikes!) for a little girly head. I had to put the pedals and handle bars back on, put together my new pump and pump up the wheels, fit a new saddle, fit a new mount for my phone with GPS on my handle bars, tune the breaks and gears and repack all of my things so that they are organised for biking again.

I hate taking my bike on a plane. It really does require so much faffing at either end. Each time I have to take everything all apart and also organise everything to reduce the checked on weight. Why is the world not more designed for bike touring?

My bike still needs some more tuning but I can do that when I get on the road again. As I have new cleats I have to faff to get these in the right place so that it does not hurt my knees. I have to play with my new saddle to get it more comfortable and adjust the gears as they are not well tuned right now. The bike has been banged around so much on this last flight.

By the time I had done all of this I realised that I had just missed the train at 2.50 so I decided to head for a run to Mong Kok to take a silly photo of a hotel called "Virginia" which advertises rooms by the hour. I thought that it was funny to see this on a major street in HK. I had seen it a few days ago but I did not have my camera handy.

I was running for about 2 hours as on the way to Mong Kong I also went in to every single book shop to try and find a Chinese Road Atlas in English as well as Chinese (and failed for the 10th time - so far I have spent about 5 hours going to different book shops in HK trying to do this) and I also popped into many camera shops to try and find a replacement clip to fit my Go-Pro Camera to either my helmet or handle bars (again I failed). Oh well.

It was 17.00 by the time I got back to my old hotel in Hong Hum and then biked with everything to the station to get a ticket to China.

I caught the train at 19.50. I now know the secrets about the best way to get a train to China with a bike:
  • They do sell drinks and basic food on board and they give you a free bottle of water (so you don't need to buy water at the crazy prices at the station as I did).
  • You don't need to put all your bags on as luggage with the bike as there is plenty of space to store it on the train. It just means that you have to be willing to cart them round through customs etc on the Chinese side.
  • The cost of the train was 190 HKD.
  • I then had to pay another 75HKD for my bike and 75HKD for my luggage. They did it based on weight.
  • Do not change money before checking in your bike. I made the mistake of changing all of my HKD to CYN before checking my bike on as I did not realise that I would need to pay. They accepted CYN as well as HKD but charged the same number of dollars i.e. it is much cheaper to pay in HKD due to the exchange rate.
  • You have to check in about 30 minutes before the train leaves in order to have enough time to check on the bike etc and then base through HK customs.
  • Race off the train as quickly as possible or else you get to the end of the queue going through customs and it takes forever!
  • There is no point putting all of your bags on your bike straight away at the place where your bike is delivered as you just have to take everything off again round the corner when your items are scanned at customs.
  • There is wireless on board for £2 for the whole journey.

Although the train arrived about 8 it literally took me 1 and a half hours to find my hotel 5 minutes down the road. I had agreed with Helen to meet up and share a room in Guongzhou. She had gone online and booked a place. I normally do not do this when traveling on my own as most of the time I have no idea where I will be that evening and also whether the hotel/lodge/hostel will be bike friendly etc. However, I thought it would be nice to go out to dinner in a new country with a friend.

As it was 20:30 by the time I got though customs it was dark and it took a while to even find the way out of the station. All of the lifts were hidden from view and all that I could find was escalators which I could not get my bike down. Having eventually found the lifts I then had to back up again - and this time only stairs were available. I do not have the strength to carry my bike fully laden with all of my bags up stairs on my own and so I had to wait for some people to help me.

Once I got on to the street I tired to get a taxi but none of them would take my bike. I asked about 20 people for directions using the hotel address Helen had written in English on a scrpa piece of paper. One man gave me directions which I followed but then got lost again and so tried to find some other people that spoke English to get further directions. I walked in totally the wrong direction for ages untill I saw a 5* Ramada hotel on the other side of the road and decided to pop in there for some help. It took 10 minutes to get there as I had to carry on walking in the wrong direction for a while before I could cross the busy motorway.
The staff at the Ramada were very helpful and converted the address into Chinese for me and gave me a map of the area so that I could ask along the way and I set off back the way I had come from. After some help from a passing Chinese man on a bike and then another man on foot I eventually arrived about 9.30/10 (by which point Helen was getting rather worried).

At least during my 2 hour wonder I got a good look at the city. My first sight as I left the station and glanced upon China proper was McDonalds and a load of sky-skrapers. Not what I was expecting. It is very much more like HK than I was expecting and really wealthy with really good quality roads. If it were not for all the Chinese people I could have been in a European city anywhere. I found out later that this city is one of the most wealthy in China and not representative of the rest of the country. Although it was late at night and dark I did not feel particularly unsafe (as I would have done in an Indian big city) and people really tried to help me. The guy on the bike in particular spent about 15 minutes going out of his way to make sure I got to the hotel safely.

Neither Helen nor I had eaten anything for lunch or dinner and so we went out straight away to get something to eat. We ordered loads from the photos in the menu. Most of the dishes were great expect the chicken which just seemed to contain chopped up bones and skin. One of the waiters spoke some English and asked to have his photo taken with him. This is a rather blurry copy.

It was actually very exciting to be in a new country again. I loved the tea that you automatically get with the meal. It is dried flowers which they then pour water on and it tastes sweet and lovely. You have to drink from the cup with the lid slightly off to let out the liquid but not the flowers.

28th May - Last Day in Hong Kong

Two days ago my plan was to leave HK today but I still have some things to do before I can leave civilisation. There was no way I would have stayed out so late if I was actually going to leave today though.

Up at 10 having only had 3 hours sleep. Our room had been booked by someone else and so we had to move. I showered, packed and then checked out. Helen was extremely hungover and felt sick. Bless. We rather slowly carted all of our stuff to a guest house down the road. It was the rooms we had seen yesterday. The rooms are much better quality and slightly more expensive. It turned out that the guy was fuller than he thought and so we had to wait around for about 1 hour looking at different rooms etc by the time we got one.

The room that we got did have windows but there was scaffolding outside and so it was dark inside the room as the green material blocked out the light.

I left Helen to head off to Ocean Park while I went to find some coffee and finish off some things I need to do before I leave HK. I am not sure how easy it will be to get internet access once in China and so I needed to finish off some blog entries, bank stuff, organise VPN and catching up with friends and family. I was rather tired after the night out and I did not manage to do anything very quickly.

I sat in the Irish Pub just outside the hostel and drank many cups of coffee and I decided to treat myself to the first proper roast dinner since I left the UK - with Yorkshire Puddings and everything :-)

I find it so strange wondering round HK that one an little street leading from a major shopping street there can be a posh shop selling coffee and ice-cream and directly opposite a stall selling dodge magazines and vibrators!??

I met Helen when she had returned from Ocean Park and we wondered round town trying to find a cinema with seats available to see the film The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D. Eventually we purchased tickets for one of the places but it did not start until 9.30ish. It would mean another late night but both of us really fancied going. Neither had been to the cinema in months.

We bought sweeties and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves watching the ridiculousness that is the Pirates of the Caribbean. Suspending disbelief for a few hours and living in the land of adventures is awesome fun.

It was such a traditional English Sunday: roast dinner, faffing on the internet and then a movie after a late night on Saturday on d' town.

27th May - Hong Kong

Up at 9ish and spent a while on the internet planning the next leg of my journey. I have still to book train tickets for the trans-siberian (I have already got trans-mongolian). I also faffed with some photos. It always takes forever...

It took 4 hours to get across town and pick up my passport with my Russian visa, get some paper work printed out for my Mongolian Visa and to try (and fail) to find a Road Atlas for China in English and Chinese. It was rather frustrating as I have already seen this area of HK. Tweetie Pie enjoyed himself though.

I did explore another area on the way back to find an outdoor clothing shop. It took a while looking in different ones but eventually I found some camping gas and another waterproof bag (my panniers are no longer waterproof). Yippee it means I am now independent again and I can cook my own food and boil hot water for drinks etc. I could not find either of these things in India and I did not want to buy them in Nepal as I would not be able to carry them on the flight to HK.

I also bought some spray to re-waterproof my Gortex stuff. My waterproofs have taken a bit of a battering over the last 8 months. The trip to get the outdoor stuff was very productive and it meant that I visited yet another area of HK. Admittedly it was just about 4 new malls but it was still interesting. It is amazing that the economy here supports soooo much shopping!

I met Helen when I got back to the Hostel and asked her if she fancied coming swimming. We walked to the big pool just off Nathan Road in Kowloon. It was closed until 6 and it was only 5.30 so I went off for a run (I was planning on going running after the swim anyway). The park is actually really lovely to run round. There is a bird sanctuary and hundreds of flamingos in a lake - right in the middle of HK. HK city really has been planned out very well and there is lots of open space and green areas to get away from the business. The city is SO clean and well organised. There are traffic rules and everything! Such a contrast to India.

We had a great swim in the outside pool. It was very busy though and difficult to do lengths. We watched the sun go down and the lights come on in the pool. I love being in a hot country where it is warm enough to swim outside. Having a huge pool in the middle of the downtown area is also quite cool.

We went out for a meal of chicken and potato wedges at the Irish Pub just next to the Hostel. I do not usually go to Irish pubs just to meet expats but it was actually quite fun. The first glass of wine was too nice and so we ordered a bottle. It was good to have a girly chat. I have not done that in a long time (Jacob does not quite count).

We dropped our bags off at the hostel and we were going to go for a quick night cap at a wine bar before going to bed but we ended up chatting with some guys on the street as we were crossing the road and they said that they were going to a bar with live music. We decided to tag along. They took us to this awesome secluded street where there were loads of wine bars and it was very busy. We would never have found this place just exploring on our own.

The bar that we went too had 2 amazing live bands which were still playing when we left there at 4am. The drinks were very expensive but it was a great atmosphere. I had not been out dancing like that since I left the UK. This photo is of my shocked surprise at the water costing £4.50!

We chatted with loads of Chinese people and also some Europeans as well. HK is such a interesting mix. I hated feeling so tall and big though in comparison to the Asian girls.

When we were heading out of the club we got chatting with an English guy who is over here coaching rugby and went off with him for a late night pizza and found an all night bar on the way that was very happy to serve us another bottle of wine. We walked back to the Hostel in the daylight. The streets were still very busy even at that time. HK really is a 24/7 city.

A fun evening. I was very glad that I went on to the water at about 12 though and only had one more glass of wine at about 4. My head was very thankful the next day. Back at 6am!