Stuart Beard tells The Gap Year Travel Guide about his cycling trip through China.
I first went travelling after I finished studying. My first trip was a cycle tour in the south of China. I wanted to cycle, I wanted small villages, countryside, beautiful scenery and I wanted to experience a taste of real culture from a country with an ancient history.
We cycled from Lijiang to Dali, via the spectacular Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Sure the hill climbs were tough, but the views were worth it and the people were so friendly.
I loved this experience because travelling by bicycle means you get to stop and smell the roses. Touring by bus you might get to see some interesting things, but I would never have had the chances to stop at random places, eat street food and interact with the people I passed.
Being on the bike I got to see, smell and taste so much more of China and experience the culture like no bus tour could ever do.
Once I finished this cycle trip, I travelled north to the capital, Beijing, and slowly worked my way back down the country. My goal was to finish in Hong Kong and fly back home. Whilst I loved the diversity and vibrancy of the big cities like Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, the best experiences I had were in the rural countryside areas.
I remember the first time I saw the amazing karst mountain scenery of Yangshuo. It really took my breath away. I said to myself I would live here one day and that thought never left my mind. Two months after leaving China, I was again packing. But this time I was relocating – I had a job in China as a tour leader and spent the next two years travelling and being paid to do it.
My base, Yangshuo, has probably the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Now I can enjoy the fantastic landscapes anytime I like, swim in the rivers and I get to eat the amazing Chinese food that is so different, and better, than what we have at home.
The worst experiences I have had in China were the times I couldn’t speak the language, was lost, didn’t know what I was eating and felt so far out of my comfort zone. These were also the best times. The key to China is don’t expect it to be like home and just go with the flow… it always works out in the end.
Head to www.bikeasia.com for more information about Yangshuo cycling or cycle tours in China, Tibet, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Japan.