10 Things to Know Before Cycling Hainan
Of all the traveling experiences I've had on our beautiful tropical island, my favourites have all been on two wheels. Hainan easily has some of the best cycling in all of China, and in my humble opinion, any self-respecting adventure traveller shouldn't leave the island without doing a full loop around the island's coast.
For cyclists, Hainan has three main routes: the central highlands, the east coast, and the west coast, all of which run between Hainan's two main cities, Haikou and Sanya.
Do you have what is takes to finish all three? Here's what you need to know before embarking on an epic cycling odyssey through Hainan:
1. Hainan's central highway is as challenging as it is rewarding
The central highway between Haikou and Sanya is physically demanding on a bicycle. Right before you reach Wuzhishan is a 10km stretch uphill that will truly test most cyclist's endurance. For even more challenging cycling and beautiful scenery, you can consider cycling to Baisha fr om the main road. If you can conquer these two roads through the most mountainous areas on the island, the rest of your trip will be smooth sailing!
2. The east coast is the most popular route
The route along the east coast through Wenchang, Bo'ao, Wanning, and Lingshui is easily the most popular among amateur cyclists, and it's easy to see why. Hainan's east coast is relatively flat which makes for good cycling, and features a wealth of attractions. If you only have time for one route, make it the east coast road between Haikou and Sanya.
3. The west coast is a little less developed
The route along the west coast might require a little more preparation than the east coast. Generally, distances between major population centers are further, and road conditions aren't as good as the east coast, especially if you take any detours off the main road. That being said, the west coast still has a lot to offer. I recommend hiking at Bawangling (霸王岭) and Jianfengling (尖峰岭)
4. Protect yourself fr om the sun
This is of the utmost importance no matter what time of year it is. Even during the coolest winter months, it's very easy to get sunburned. You'll notice most Chinese cyclist are covered from head to toe, and this is for good reason. Cover up, or at least bring lots of sunscreen. This is even more important during the Summer.
5. Stay hydrated and cool
While distances between shops wh ere you can buy water are typically never that long, when you least expect it, you can get thirsty with no shops in sight. When it comes to hydration, if you've waited till your thirsty, you've already waited too long. Somethings are cliche because they are true! Taking in lots of fluids will keep your energy levels high and make your trip much more enjoyable. It's advisable to carry at least a little bit of water with you at all times, and to restock frequently.
To stay cool, you can swim at the ocean. Also keep in mind you can avoid some sun by biking in the mornings and evenings before it gets dark.
6. The 517 youth hostels are a great place to make friends with other cyclists
If you're cycling over the winter vacation, you'll have no problem meeting other cyclists to ride with, especially if you stay at one of the 517 youth hostels. There is one in every major city in Hainan, and are a great option for budget travellers. The 517s are a chain of backpackers specifically made for cyclists biking around Hainan. At many of their locations, you can buy, rent, or repair bicycles and the friendly local staff at each location have a wealth of travel knowledge.
7. Do regular maintenance on your bike
Be sure to take care of your bike, especially if you are biking longer routes. The guys at 517 are great for providing basic maintenance. There is also a Giant store in most of Hainan's bigger cities that rent, sell, and fix bikes. Be sure that your tires have enough air and that your chain has enough oil. Beyond that, it's likely a good idea to carry a spare tire and know how to change it incase you get a flat in the middle of nowhere.
The Chinese like to say, "safety is number one (安全第一)," and that's generally good advice. Wh ere a helmet. I don't care if you think it looks stupid or it screws up your hair.
Try not to bike after dark, as it's quite dangerous outside of the well lit cities, but for the odd time you get caught in the countryside after dark, you'll want a good flashlight you can attach to your handle bars or helmet.
9. Consider stopping, or at least slowing down, to smell the roses
If you want to do a full loop around Hainan, you'll likely need at least eight to ten days to bike the ~900km along the coast, but personally, I think you should take at least two weeks to take in the scenery and local culture at a more leisurely pace. The first time I cycled Hainan, I biked 1634km through all three routes over one month. If time allows, your adventure will be even more memorable if you get the chance to hike, visit museums, surf, and meet locals between rides.
10. Have fun!
Above all else, have fun on your trip. In my opinion, cycling is the absolute best way to experience Hainan. Walking is too slow, and cars are too fast. The cycling culture in Hainan is truly something special, and I hope you can enjoy it as much as I have.
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