The backroads of Eastern China were waiting and we were back in Gubeikou after four great days in Beijing.
Beijing had proven to be a real surprise for us as we expected a busy and a city filled with modern houses and it was actually quite a cosy place. We left Mojo and Isaba in Gubeikou as we didn’t feel like cycling into Beijing and due to visa constraints as always we could better use the cycling days later, so we opted for local transport which was nice as well. As we normally ride our bicycles we don’t see how the local transport system works and this gave us a chance, first with a small local bus and then a bigger bus 3 hours and we were in the dead center of Beijing.
Finding our hostel was pretty easy and in a Hutong neighborhood which was nice. Most buildings just at ground level and a few as our hostel with more levels. We used the days in Beijing to enjoy the vast history of this impressive city and capital of China. Really an enjoyable city when thinking of the vast amount of people living in Beijing. As photos tells the story very well we have made two really nice galleries of our visit to Beijing please enjoy these: The streets of Beijing and The Forbidden city – Beijing.
Back in Gubeikou we were satisfied with the days in Beijing, as we mentioned above eastern China was still waiting and we had another 1000km to Dandong. We never went to Dandong… Read on and you will get to know why…
We left our small guest house in Gubeikou and were heading for Chengde, an important city in eastern China as it houses several important Buddhist temples and the summer palace of the former emperors of China. It was a nice ride of a 100km and we got there in the afternoon, had a walk around and quickly realized that we had made a mistake thinking we would see some old China. This was a massive city and expanding as all others Chinese city’s, the temples and palace were main attractions of the city. As very often in China when something becomes a main attraction the price of tickets goes up so we were looking a 100$ for the two of us to visit these sites. We agreed that it was too much and cycled of the next day which was Martin’s birthday, already the second time celebrating his birthday on this journey. Time really does go very fast out here.
We had a great day on the bikes, the weather was not the best a bit grey and a few drops. Martin thought it must be cloud seeding as he had been a nice person the last year 😉 We had quite a hard time finding a spot to camp that night and the following nights as well as the landscape had changed and farming had really taken over big time. All pieces of flat land is used for farming in this region. The interesting part of this farming is that it is 90% done by man powered, no animals or machines. From plowing to planting the seeds all human powered. This is really a contrast to the mega city’s we cycle through where you have modern facilities. We did find a spot that evening although a bit late so cooking was done in the dark and we celebrated Martins birthday with a great noodle soup 🙂 No worries as we had done a pre-celebration in Beijing with a really really nice Beijing duck dinner uhmmmmm.
We were woken up the next morning by a group of farmers on the edge of a hill behind the tent, they never came down to say hi, they just stayed there talking loudly in Chinese and staring at us. Anyway we got up and cooked our breakfast and were on the road by 7.30 an early start. Being on the road nice and early was nice as we saw all the people starting their days as well and gave a nice feeling. People are very friendly mainly with a smile or a curious look they would send us through their villages. We try to say Nihoow but as Chinese don’t greet each other a lot so they really don’t like to greet us… We made it in to a competition to see who could get the most Nihoow but we gave up with a laugh 🙂
We entered the next province Liaoning. In the villages slowly the houses changed shape and we passed a few villages that had very old and traditional houses also we have seen a few villages now where horses and donkeys are used for the work in the field so it’s a big mix. We had made some different routes through google maps and found some very small roads which were a blessing compared to the large busy roads that we had come across. The large roads are easy but by far not as interesting as the small roads, although we never know if the road is going to have an actual way across the mountain.
We were on our way to Jinzhou a city near the coast and on our route the cycling was easy as we got there early in the afternoon. A really big city but easy to ride into as most cities in China have wide roads with a dedicated shoulder for cyclist and scooters. We stopped at a bicycle shop, a Giant shop actually, and were welcomed with many Chinese words we did not understand but at least we had fun. We cycled into the center of the city and here we met the troubles we have heard from others travelers: non of the cheap hotels would take us in so we used 3 hours to search for a place only to return to one of the first hotel we had asked which was a bit expensive but the best offer. At 156 yuan way above our normal 70-100 when we look for a place. We checked in and checked our emails and by surprise Martin had several messages on different platforms from his brother saying please call asap our Mother is ill. It turns out that Martin’s mother is ill with cancer and unsure of how it has spread yet. This was a shock to us so we stayed a day thinking of what to do now and the possibilities. We changed our route to Dalian for two reasons: we had planned to try and get a cheap tour of North Korea which did not work out and we thought the boat connection to South Korea would be better. We were wrong on the last point you will read later on what happened.
Anyway we now knew that Martin would have to fly to Denmark at some point we just didn’t know when and from where so we decided to get to South Korea as fast a possible still cycling and keeping in touch with Martin’s brother on the situation. South Korea is easier because of visa when Martin returns.
Cycling out of Jinzhou was fine we cycled through a big oil field and it seemed like some people where living with oil pumps in their gardens! The Chinese can handle a lot of noise so why not a big pump in the garden. A small city was appearing and it was getting time to find a places to sleep we decided to ask a friendly looking guy clearly not chinese but clearly local as he was preparing shashlik on the bbq. Martin asked him where we could sleep and straight away he pointed next door, there we got a nice little Xinjiang style room. The family were from Xinjiang although we never got to know the story how they got to this place. It was time for dinner and we wanted more than the shashlik so we wandered off in town and found a spot as always very difficult to communicate and to order. Doing our best with our phrase book and body language we thought we had succeeded but we were in for a surprise. We thought we had ordered chicken with vegetables instead we got a plate of some kinds of shell fish and vegetables and a whole chicken, with head and feet, boiled with some nice spices, see photo of this dish 🙂
We reached Dalian after some less interesting days and with the news of Martin’s mom in the back of our heads it was a bit difficult to relax and enjoy although that is also a part of traveling and life.
The sea, we really reached the sea after 13months on the continent of Asia we had crossed it and could smell the air of the sea, that was a real high for us!
The last time we had been at sea level was in Istanbul. We cycled down to Dalian seeing many oil rigs and pumps. Definitely industrial China. Cycling into Dalian we were very overwhelmed by the roads. Dalian has huge roads and is a huge city! All through China we have seen many concrete constructions with roads going over and under, in Dalian this came to a climax which made navigating hard but we finally found a way into the city.
We made it to Dalian stayed only one night as all hotels and hostels were booked. It was now end of April and the Chinese have a public holiday connected to the 1st. of may. This meant 300yuan for a night so we went down to the ferry port which was easy to find only to see paper placed on the doors with something written in Chinese. We found a customs officer and asked for the boat to South Korea. The answer was “boat broken new in 20 days”……. No really and then he said go to Dandong… Then he said other names of ferry ports and we new that there was a ferry connecting them so off to the domestic ferry port asking around and two guys helped us out with our questions and we got a ticket to Yantai a 7 hour overnight boat ride and then a 16 hour overnight from Yantai to Incheon in South Korea.
The ferries went well, a bit stressful as we needed to carry the bicycles on to the bus going to the ferry then up the stairs of the ferry as the are just passenger ferries. It was a lot of logistical arranging. On the first ferry we slept in the corridor after having multiple conversations with the Chinese where we came from and where we were heading. On the second ferry we slept in our own cabin. We arrived in South Korea well a bit tired. At the border control our bikes were too dirty to pass through quarantine. So they guided us to the men’s toilets where Martin had to clean the bikes and the bags where Susanne was just waiting outside. Our bags were thoroughly checked through scanners and finally we got thumbs up and were good to enter South Korea!
First we stayed in a small motel thinking of possibilities and practicalities. We met up in Incheon with Brad from Korea by Bike. And then we moved to Seoul where we have been invited in by Tim a legend in the cycling community of Seoul. Big thanks Tim! Martin is leaving South Korea for a few weeks while Susanne stays here.
Thanks for the support guys and girls soon we are back on the amazing South Korean roads and free camping were possible.