Welcome to the July 2006 edition of Revolution, Bike Asia's quarterly email newsletter. At this time of year, with our summer season in Mongolia well under way, we start looking ahead to the autumn, when the climate will be perfect for cycle touring in China. As well as a last minute special offer on our Japan tour, this newsletter has a focus on China, so read on for insights and stories from the land of the bicycle...
It is very obvious, even after only a short time in Japan, that taking a hot bath with a bunch of total strangers is one of the most essential things do to! Thousands of onsen (natural thermal hot springs) are dotted throughout the length of the entire country. Onsen water comes from deep underground, often containing many different minerals and almost every onsen in Japan is made up of a slightly different mix of healing minerals - the perfect way to relax after a long ride.
Our new Islands, Mountains and Monasteries tour of southern Japan takes in the fascinating cultural centres of Kyoto and Nara, Koya San Mountain Buddhist retreat, laid-back Hiroshima, and some amazing cycling through the valleys and mountains of Shikoku Island, finally island-hopping across a series of immense modern bridges - surely a cycling adventure with something for everyone!
Bookings for this tour must close on 3rd August, so for last-minute bookings we are offering a 10% discount to Revolution readers - $285 off the normal price. Simply quote discount code JNBJS92 in the booking form.
The bicycle has always been a major mode of transport in the Middle Kingdom, and even in modern China, where recent economic growth has seen an ever increasing number of cars on the roads, the bike is still king throughout most of the country.
Following the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Communist Party declared Tianjin's Flying Pigeon to be the first bike manufacturer in the new China. For many years there was only one model of Flying Pigeon. It was black, single-speed, and had a reinforced crossbar for carrying a pig. At its peak in the early 1980s, four million Flying Pigeons were sold, and there was a waiting list of over a year. Deng Xiaoping, China's influential leader of that era, promised
"a Flying Pigeon in every household"
These days the market economy in China means that there are more than 300 bike manufacturers producing a whole range of touring bikes, road bikes, folding bikes, and mountain bikes. Flying Pigeons are still sold today, and come in a number of different designs (and colours!)
Travelling by bike in China nowadays, we come across a huge variety of other bicycles on the road, varying from very new to very old, ridden by a variety of people, from the very young to the very old, all getting about in the same way they always have, on two wheels.
China was never on my "list" - a dear friend with a much more adventurous soul than mine was first in line when my cycling club decided to explore Yunnan Province in China on bikes. Sadly, he succumbed to leukaemia before the adventure was realised. Life's lessons are sometimes blunt, it's not always about your comfort zone - I had to go on this trip for my friend.
The challenges a bike ride in Yunnan threw at me were many, and some have left lasting impressions on me. I can't remember why I grizzled about grinding up the mountains - the scenery was stunning, the air crisp and clear and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was watching over us for days. For a road rider, the tracks and byways and cobblestone descents were a hoot! ( I have added a mountain bike to the stable - a Chinese HASA of course! ) The rest of the tarmac was excellent - sometimes worth kissing after a cobblestone climb!
I remain gravitationally challenged, and the new "hardest thing I've ever done" is climbing out of the Yangtze gorge. My reward - the vista of Tiger Leaping Gorge, and boasting that I did it. This is a breathtaking place to cycle and then to stay in a village clinging to the sheer mountain face was surreal.
The challenges were more than physical. As we cycled out of one valley into the next, we experienced rural China up close. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the hardship, the ingenuity, all up close and personal.
Cycling has to be the best way to travel through a country and short of staying in their homes, I don't think we could have felt closer to the people of the region. The food also tied us to the people. Regional food, freshly prepared in roadside cafes or well researched restaurants, was a highlight. We ate like gourmands but never seemed to clear the table. We even expanded the drinks menu - Mango and rice wine slushies were a hit in Er Yuan. Actually, the phrase "well researched" defines this tour - maybe add "stunningly guided" by a young woman with excellent people skills and you can see that even though some of this trip took me outside my comfort zone, I always felt safe. And some of my cycling buddies are my new best friends!
Chris Mackay, Tiger Leaping Gorgeous passenger, April 2006
As a short break from home, or part of a longer trip, have a look at this fantastic new itinerary based around Yangshuo in China's Guangxi Province, where Bike Asia is based. We have put together an awesome 5 day getaway which will have you cycling rural bike trails, meeting the people, cooking and eating superb local food, and relaxing in the almost surreal beauty of this incredible region. To celebrate this area and this all-new itinerary we're giving it away at just $250 pp twin share or $375 single until the end of the year. For more details go to our Yangshuo information page.
This 10 day cycling and hiking tour of the Malaysian state of Sabah, the north end of the island of Borneo, is a feast of lush rainforests, rivers and coasts, with enough wildlife to excite anyone. Highlights include a visit to Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, and a hike to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, at 4100m, the highest peak in South East Asia, where we watch the sun rise. This adventure is selling fast, but there are still a few places available!
On our 13 day Cambodia cycling tour we take in some of the most spectacular temples in history and pass through the villages of smiling Khmer people. The majesty of the Angkor temples is lost on no-one and you'll realise why after spending 3 days in and around this ancient site. From there the fun really begins as we cycle to the beautiful Cambodian coastline, visiting the charming capital Phnom Penh as well as smaller regional towns and witnessing all that Cambodia has to offer.
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