Cycling Xi’an city wall

Xi'an city wall 015

After cycling around Hangzhou I was eager to get back on the bike again, and so when we got to Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi province, I took advantage of an opportunity to cycle the city wall.

The 12-metre high wall, which is just under 14km in length, is one of the oldest in China.

Together with a fellow traveller, we paid the 40 RMB (£4) entrance fee at the South Gate, went through security and climbed the stairs to the top of the wall.

Xi'an city wall 004 Xi'an city wall 071

Cycle hire was easy to arrange — and cheap. After paying a 200 RMB refundable deposit for the bikes, we were charged 20 RMB per 100 minutes.

Xi'an city wall 023

I was pleasantly surprised at how few people were on the wall. I had expected the place to be heaving with tourists and I wasn't particularly looking forward to weaving in and out of them on two wheels.

Xi'an city wall 030

But during the entire 14km journey we spied only a handful of cyclists, and an equal number of pedestrians. It was a bit like discovering Xi'an's best-kept secret.

The surface of the wall was a little bit bumpy in places, and, typically, if there was a pothole to be found my two wheels found it!

But we weren't in any rush and spent just as much time off the bike as on it, while we took photographs or peered over the edge of the wall to check out the neighbourhoods below.

Of course, we didn't get around the circuit in 100 minutes and had to fork over extra cash for being late (an additional 5 RMB for 30 minutes extra time on the bike), but it was worth it. Cycling Xi'an's city wall was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to China!

A two-hour cycle in Hangzhou, China

Hangzhou 064 How's this for an exotic location in which to go cycling?

Yes, I'm in China, two-thirds of the way through a 21-day tour, criss-crossing the country with six other independent travellers.

Hangzhou, which is two hours north-west of Shanghai, is an incredibly cycle-friendly city. It has an extensive cycle-hire scheme, a bit like "Boris bikes" in London, but for a non-Chinese speaker it seemed a little complicated to use. I decided to rent a bike from a little man outside the main department store instead, and after elaborate use of sign language — lots of thumbs up, smiling and numbers scribbled on paper — I was given a little pink bike with orange wheels.

Armed with a map and a sense of adventure, I then took to the road by myself.

I had an amazing time cycling the streets around the West Lake, a picturesque circuitous route totalling about 14km. In places I had to cut it up with the best of them, because the traffic was pretty manic. In China there as just as many bikes as four-wheeled vehicles, so it never feels as if you're out there as target practice for cars or buses, but it can be daunting if you're not used to the unpredictability of large groups of bicycles.

What I found particularly liberating was not so much the scenery — absolutely stunning in places — and the lovely wide lanes dedicated solely to two-wheeled vehicles, but the fact that there doesn't seem to be any rules whatsoever for bikes: you can cruise through red lights, go up one-way streets, cycle against the traffic — or with it, and even trundle along the footpath with no-one blinking an eye.

And because everyone cycles — and drives — at an ultra-slow pace, it feels very safe. I got the impression that everyone, including pedestrians, are so used to the chaotic nature of it all that they're prepared for the unexpected and take things easy, with a view to stopping quickly or getting out of the way if necessary.

I have to add that it helps to have a bell, or a horn, and to use it freely — just as everyone else does, so all you can hear is a cacophony of toots and whistles and ding-a-lings!

I took my time cycing the route and stopped a lot along the way to take photographs and admire the scenery.

Hangzhou 042

 All up my two-hour adventure cost the equivalent of £2. And the bike was terrific: new tyres, ultra-strong brakes, an easy-to-adjust seat and a lock. A highly recommended way to discover the city if you are ever in this neck of the woods!