Cycling Ding'an and Chengmai - Day 3 of 3
June 10th, 2019 (83.75km)
It's funny how you can spend all day biking on roads smooth and paved, only for your map APP to send you down old, pothole ridden backroads as soon as the sun sets. The night before, I got caught outside after dark. My only fortune being I was only accompanied by fireflies (a common sight in rural Hainan), as opposed to cars, while I squinted my eyes and looked out for those potholes under moonlight.
Well after dark, my phone also sent me on a goose chase for a hotel that no longer, or perhaps never did, exist. I eventually backtracked to Yongfa, a small town with a small hotel I had stayed at before.
I had finished my route through Ding'an County, and I originally wanted to spend another weekend biking through Chengmai County, but after two days, I thought I could condense both trips into a single three day trip. In the end, I biked 213.66km in three days, which I feel is a pretty decent run.
Just before my first stop in Chengmai, my bike started to give me trouble. The Chain got stuck on the frame. I used both hands and pulled with all my might, but it wouldn't budge. I put my foot on the chain and stepped down, finally releasing the chain. I'll admit I, with hands now caked in grease, felt quite handy after having fixed my bike on my own.
My first stop in Chengmai was The Song Dynasty Sister Pagodas (pictured above). They are called thus because there is too of them standing side-by-side like twins, and were built some thousand years ago during the Song Dynasty.
The elegance of Song poetry and art brings to mind imagines of Hangzhou or Suzhou, and not necessarily the more rustic, and less pretentious Hainan, but here these towers stood in defiance of popular expectations.
This has got to be my favorite spot in Chengmai County. The towers surrounded by palm trees looked more like an image from Southeast Asia than the China I've come to know. It's surprising that so few people in Hainan know of this place. I hope it can remain hidden between country roads, so that future travellers, ones with patience enough to know Hainan has more to offer than beach resorts, might find this quiet place. I found myself alone between the pagodas, with the exception of local elders sleeping beneath a large tree and some free range chickens.
Covered in sweat and bike grease under a 40C sun, I was beyond excited to see a pool behind the towers. Little fish swam over the rocks at the bottom and locals at the other end of the pool indicated it was probably alright to jump in. I don't know how they kept it so cool under a sun so hot, but it felt incredible and I stayed in longer than I should have.
From here, it was time to head back towards Haikou, but first, I wanted to take up a local in a town called Laocheng on an invitation to drink tea and coffee. As I biked north towards the coast, we agreed to meet at the beach on the Yingbin Peninsula.
On the peninsula is the lovely Yongqing Temple (永庆寺) which is worth a visit too. After that, I went to the beach for a swim with my new friend.
He was kind enough to have me over to his home for a meal and even offered to let me stay the night, but I wanted to get back to Haikou for Tuesday classes and I was already on the northern coast, were a lit road could lead me back to Hainan University.
I biked a good 40 kilometres on the coast that night. The ocean breeze and lack of sun made it a lot more tolerable than my ride earlier the same day, even if I was starting to get tired.
I'm always amazed at how many things can happen if you travel around rural China for only a few days, but the strangest thing from this trip had yet to happen...
About 10km from the university, I almost ran over a bird with my bike. I didn't see it until it was right in front of me. It looked up at me with two huge eyes and flew out of the way right in time.
Wow! Was that an owl? I thought.
I was already in a very urban area, and I don't think Hainan even has owls.
In that moment, I was very sure it was an owl. Could it have escaped from a zoo? Looking back on it, I can't help but doubt myself, but it really did look like an owl.
I guess I'll never know.
Know any good cycling routes around Hainan? Ever do a full circle around the island? Let us know about your favorite places to cycle in Hainan in the comments below, and keep an eye out for more info on cycling Hainan.
Ricky Barrett Jamer is a travel writer from Canada. You can keep up with his travels by staying tuned to Hainan Life and following his page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FromChinatotheWorldBlog/
And as always, enjoy exploring Hainan!
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