“Away”. That’s the word that retired couple Alex Wong and Allyson Yik use to signify their joy of travelling. It’s also the initials of their names: AW and AY.
Nearly 10 years ago, the pair made it their mission to see the world... on their motorbike. They went on a tour of North America in 2013, and then continued their journey to South America.
“During my trip to the United States I met a man who coincidentally was a distant relative of mine who had moved to California. We talked about many things, but when he brought up the topic of discovering our roots, it inspired us to go on a tour of China,” said Wong in an interview recently.
So, in 2018, Wong and Yik got on their bikes again and headed for China as a way to return to their roots.
Wong shared that they took some time planning for the trip, primarily mapping out their routes according to the weather in China. You see, Wong can’t stand the cold, and winter in some parts of China can be extreme and frightful.
The couple started their journey in Jiangmen in the Guangdong Province in eastern China, which is where his late grandfather was from. “We stayed there for nearly six weeks, mainly to sort out our mode of transportation problems. But we also wanted to really explore the place as that was where my late grandfather was from.
“We managed to meet a distant uncle, too, one whom we’ve never met before,” he said.
After sorting out all the documents and permits they needed for their special tour in China, Wong was able to secure the same model of motorbike they had back in Malaysia, the KTNS 250cc Dual Purpose Motor. Once they got their bike, they were ready to properly begin their journey.
Here’s something interesting about traffic rules in China – only certain types of motorcycles are allowed to run on highways where there are toll booths. Wong and Yik’s motorcycle did not meet the requirement, but they were not too bothered by it as it gave them the chance to take the “scenic route”.
“Only some motorcycles are allowed on toll roads, so my wife and I had to only take the roads that we were allowed on, which we thought were much more adventurous anyway,” said Wong.
The couple mapped a “circular route” in China, starting in the east. “Basically, we went from east to north, west then south and back to the east. It was kind of like an elongated U-turn,” Wong explained. Some of the provinces and regions they passed include Guangxi in the south, and Guizhou and Yunnan in the south-west.
Travelling by road in a foreign land over a long period of time comes with many challenges, even to experienced folks like Wong and Yik, who said that communication was the biggest obstacle to their adventurous journey. Though the duo were fluent in Cantonese, they could only manage basic Mandarin, which of course was the main language in China.
“Because we could not speak the language well, we played it really safe and abided by all the laws to avoid getting entangled with any officials. However, we knew just how important WeChat (a messaging app) was in China so we used that to help us communicate with other people, and for other things too,” Wong noted.
He and his wife, who prefer not to disclose their age, have always enjoyed going on long-distance rides on their motorbikes as it was a great way to spend their retirement days.
“Back then, I looked at a lot of my retiree friends who were still healthy but just sitting around and not doing anything, and I felt like I could do much more. That’s what drove me to do this, that feeling of not wanting to stay still, instead enjoying a different setting and experiencing new things every day,” he shared.
When it comes to travelling, Wong said that they always look forward to these three things the most: the scenery, the people and the food.
“Every time we go travelling, we meet all sorts of people from many different backgrounds, many of whom are friendly and kind. I would really like to highlight the kindness of people around the world,” Wong said, adding that it is the main reason why the couple prefers to ride instead of driving a car or taking the bus or train.
“When you take a bus or a car, you spend the whole day in a confined space not talking to the people around you. Plus, the general ‘vibe’ or feeling is not the same as when you ride a motorbike.
“When you ride, you get to connect with other riders. It’s a sensation and privilege you don’t get to enjoy when you drive,” he explained.
An example of this is when one of the routes the couple took in the Yunnan province was faced with a landslide causing them to turn around and take a new path. A local biker then gave them a different route, a better one.
“The guy told us that the route we were taking was actually heading towards the wrong direction. We wanted to visit the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“He also told us that the view from his place was much better!” said Wong.
Yunnan was perhaps the best and most memorable place for Wong and Yik during their trip, thanks to the diversity of the people living in the province.
“We learned that at least 38 minority groups had lived there for thousands of years and most of them originated from Tibet. The fact that they walked thousands of kilometres from their homeland just to get there, and then proceeded to live there for many, many generations tells you something about the place, something good,” said Wong.
When the couple first started their trip, they only had one friend in China, but by the time they left, they had over 80 friends from around the country.
“We talked to the locals a lot. They would greet us, and sometimes invite us over for dinner and even to even stay the night with them. We have stayed connected via WeChat all this while,” he said.
“As frequent travellers, we have met a lot of nice people who have been very accommodating. We really believe in the goodness of people.”
Wong recommends that travellers and especially adventure lovers should try and make a trip like theirs at least once.
“Life is short, so start exploring!” he concluded.