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Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh By Bicycle An autobiographical and reflective account of traveling from Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh on a bicycle.

The Xin Jian Zhen from Osaka to Shanghai

JAPAN | Wednesday, 8 December 2010 | Views [1767] | Comments [3]

Osaka proved to be the perfect place to relax and collect my thoughts before arriving in China. To say that I was nervous about landing, finding the hotel and learning how to get around would be a understatement. Whilst lying in my cosy hotel bed and full of personal insecurities regarding cycling across China, it was a struggle to get up and as a result I eventually arose a good hour later than I would have liked to. After packing and checking out I pointed myself in what I believed to be the right direction and then spent the next thirty minutes going around in circles. I had estimated that the ride would take an hour but left with two in hand just in case. It was a fairly boring ride and after several warnings from other travelers about the quality of food on board the boat, I stopped off at a trusty 7/11, and bought a couple of bottles of wine and some food for the journey. I'd researched this particular ride in detail, so as to not miss the boat and was well aware of a tunnel connecting the harbor to the mainland. What I was not aware about though was the fact that bicycles were not permitted, so as I sat on the bike staring at a giant sign of a cyclist with a large red line emblazoned across it I wondered whether that's what would happen to me if I entered, and if I'd ever be arriving in China at all. I checked the map again but the next bridge looked like a much less inviting choice than cycling the Golden Gate during rush hour, and the only other option was a 20km detour across the city, which under the circumstances and of time being of the essence was not an option. I cursed my luck and thought back at all the other tunnels I'd ridden through over the last few years in Japan. I remembered one in particular that I'd steamed through recently that was about three and a half kilometers long. All the drivers had used their lights and given me at least a cars width of space and in some cases two. I now had about thirty minutes to make the boat after getting lost earlier. I decided I had no option and adorned my most reflective gear, turned on the lights and went for it. I'd only done about ten meters before I heard sirens behind me, and as I turned around expecting an ambulance I wasn't all that surprised to find myself being pulled over by the traffic police. I could see only two ways that this would pan out. One, that I would continue regardless or two, that I'd be booked and wouldn't reach the boat as the Japanese red tape and paperwork would take months to sort out, resulting in me being stuck in Japan indefinitely. My wisdom got the better of me, so I pulled over, and out hopped two men in bright orange overalls and another rather official looking gentleman in a waistcoat. I didn't need a good grade in Japanese language proficiency to understand what they where saying, so I held my ground and tried to explain the problem. It fell on deaf ears, but after a good ten minutes of waving my arms around and smiling like an idiot, the chap in the waistcoat came up with a brain wave. "Why don't we put the bike in the van and drive the silly foreigner?" he told the two overall clad and rather confused looking men. So without further adieu we piled the bike into the van and ten minutes later I found myself arriving at the boat terminal in a police van with my bike much to the surprise of all the other passangers and ticket attendants. I felt like I'd just jumped from the highest diving board and belly flopped in front of an audience of groaning spectators, but with a noticeable lack of any severe stinging sensation.

The boat was a far cry from any boat with Cunard written down the side of it. Any romantic vision that I'd had of lying on deck sipping margharitas in the sunshine whilst watching skimpily dressed girls jumping in the deck pool was immediately quashed. There was a restaurant, TV, kareoke room and small shop that never opened. I was led to a big room where I would sleep on the floor and found a young Japanese archeology student from Sapporo who introduced himself as Ryohei. At this moment I discovered that I wasn't the only touring cyclist on board which lifted my spirits a little. After exhausting the usual set of questions that touring cyclists ask each other I grabbed a beer and went on deck. I was amazed that a can of beer which I expected to be around 400yen / £3 was only two hundred yen. As I strolled around the deck I looked back across the water to where I'd been several hours earlier, it was like traveling back in time. I could now finally sit back and relax in the knowledge that I had a two day sail ahead of me, whereas two hours ago I'd been pondering over whether I'd end up in a police station and miss the boat. After living in Japan for four years this would mark my final farewell. As we sailed out of Osaka port and along the coast I looked back on all the wonderful memories I had of living in Japan and of all the tours I'd done around the country that had served as a platform for the much longer tour that I was now on. Leaving Japan though was surprisingly unemotional.

The journey was generally a quiet affair. Drinks on deck with a mixture of Chinese, Japanese, English and American people helped pass the time. I met Avi, an interesting young guy from Pennsylvania who was returning to Shanghai after a three year absence. There was Ryohei, the Japanese student, an English couple who had recently crossed parts of the Altai, Mongolia on camels, some very excitable Chinese girls and an old drunk Chinese man who smiled like it was going out of fashion to add to the fray . We passed the Japanese space program and saw what I believe was the launch pad. I watched several episodes of Sparticus and Mad Men on my laptop. I amused the crowd with renditions of Johnny Cash songs in the karaoke room to such an extent that a Japanese man insisted I have his leather jacket so that I look more the part. A gift that I politely refused until the situation became embarrassing. Trying to explain that a leather jacket wasn't quite the thing I needed for touring around China on a bicycle just didn't seem to register, but it's the thought that counts and I was very grateful all the same. No sooner than the boat had left Shanghai it all seemed to be over. Arriving in Shanghai by sea was an awsome spectacle. The dock yards and ship building yards were dazzlingly large. The quays running 3-4 km long, and the stunning amount of cranes used for loading and unloading the freighters served only to convince any spectator that China's promotion to the second strongest economy in the world was by no means mere imagination. We saw parts of China's ever expanding naval arsenal and more destroyers awaiting completion. I watched the Chinese as they looked so happy and celebrated their return home and then before i knew it, it was time to pack and hopefully glide through customs.

I'd been dreading this point for a while. What would I do if for some reason they decided to deny my visa? We waited forever to disembark and I fell asleep against a vending machine but awoke with a jolt. I was one of the last off and several people thankfully helped with my luggage. Carrying four panniers, handlebar bag, tent, sleeping bag and rucksack is never easy. As we qeued for customs the man who I hadn't seen without a drink in his hand for the entire journey, and who I'd had a drink with on deck the day before, was still clasping and swigging back his rocket fuel. He smiled a toothless smile and looked at me with googally eyes. I reckoned that if they'd let him back in then I had nothing to worry about, and so was the case, I had finally made it to China.

Tags: boat, china, cycle touring, ferry, japan, osaka, shanghai, ship, xin jian zhen



Hi Luke,
Can't believe you are actually doing this! hope you get to transmit some messages from within China. really interested to hear how you get on. Good luck man!


  LIam Dec 8, 2010 9:31 PM


So you made it across with only one run in with the police. Good going by your standards... Good luck with the next leg and keep us posted.

  Matthew Dec 12, 2010 8:37 PM


Finished school for the Xmas holidays so have finally had the time to read your blog properly. I am loving it and look forward to the next installment. Hope you are safe and well and having a fantastic adventure xxx

  Liz Dec 20, 2010 11:54 AM

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A random shot of me in Majorca with my lightweight tourer before flying back to Tokyo.

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