Vietnam has been quite an experience to attempt to cycle tour in. After fixing up our bicycles in Hanoi and an overnight cruise through the limestone karsts of Halong Bay, we hit the road along with what seemed like the 90 million population too. It is incredibly busy and mopeds, trucks and coaches drive at you from all directions continously sounding their horns until they pass.
We decided to cherry pick our rides to try and avoid the wacky races as much as possible, and we cycled a few very cool, very beautiful roads that also featured on the Top Gear Vietnam episode. We cycled through coffee plantations, rice paddies and villages in the mountains very similar to in Laos especially with the super friendly children always shouting hello.
It is VERY hot, soaring up to late 30’s and we climbed a 1600 metre mountain trying not to melt in the heat. It took us hours as we had to stop in every chance of shade, when we reached the top a thunderstorm and thick mist had rolled in, as usual our efforts of climbing mountains is always spoiled by the mist!
It seems the Vietnamese don’t have much affection for pets as seen little ducklings being grabbed by handful and chucked from cage to cage, piglet tied up in a cloth sack and carried in a shopping basket, dog meat to eat in restaurants and a little kitten that had been abandoned at a backpackers we stayed. We fed the kitten spam and milk, and were tempted by the offer to keep him but didn’t think we would be able to smuggle him home.
With a week left on our visas, we decided to leave earlier and head to Cambodia in hope for quieter, safer roads to cycle. Not before a last couple of days eating noodle soups, visiting war musuems and being surrounded by students in park wanting to practice their English in Ho Chi Minh City.
Also, a link to video made of our time in Thailand by the very talented Mr Stephen Hyde – http://www.greasychainsandchopsticks.com
Seabiscuit (Ella’s bicycle) has given up on us, just 20 miles from Luang Prabang in Laos and 7 miles from hitting 5,000 miles cycled in total (quarter around the world apparently). It could not muster any more power to pedal up the mountains, we believe through self diagnosis as the cassette is not engaged with the back wheel that the hub needs to be either regreased and retightened or worst case scenario a new back wheel. We have have been very fortunate so far that we have only had minor wear and tear repairs!
We desperately hoped that a bicycle shop would be found, but after a day of Googling, asking around and going from shop to shop – no luck apart from ‘mechanic’ who started yanking the chain with the delicacy of a bull so Ella quickly protected her prize possesion.
It is difficult to accept that our cycle tour in Laos has come to an abrupt end as we will need to fly to Hanoi to be able to mend her bike and an much needed overhaul for my bike. However trying to focus on what else we still have ahead of us in Vietnam and Cambodia.
From just our 7 days of being in Laos, we have cycled through many medieval villages which the roofs are thatched, cook on wood burning stoves, washing in communal water pump, women weaving on looms, kids playing hoop and stick surrounded by wandering cows, goats, chickens, ducks and piglets. The only signs of 2014 are the occasional smart phone and the TV aerials outside which nearly dwarf the shacks.
Cycling has been hard going again after finding the flats of Thailand a little too easy, a day riding in Northern Laos includes more hills than we experienced in New Zealand and one particular day was an 11 hour slog on a potholed galore 4×4 road.
Although tough, it has been by far my favourite SE Asia country to cycle in as the mountains give never ending views of lush green rice paddies and tropical forests against the contrast of the murky brown Mekong River. Another highlight is also the shouting, waving, giggling and high fiving kids that we have cycled by every day, although it is quite tricky to high five, wave and say hello when puffing and sweating up a hill.
As we haven’t blogged in awhile then best update on our Thailand ending, we finished in Chiang Mai after 1400 miles and 5 weeks cycling. We celebrated with a game of beer pong and promises to cycle again with Steve and Sue in maybe England, Europe or Kyrgyzstan!
We also mastered cooking the dishes that we ate daily so on our return expect a feast of papaya salad, massaman curry, sweet and sour vegetables and mango with sticky rice.
Next update will hopefully be back on the road again!
Over 6 months and 4,000 miles in to our journey. Sometimes overwhelmingly we are saddle sore, a little travel weary but still with a spirit of adventure in our hearts we carry on.
Comparing travelling in Thailand by bike to when I backpacked they are very different experiences.
Cycling offers a truly unique vantage from which to observe a country as the day can begin with dancing in a village parade with the elder ladies swinging their hips and the drunken boys swigging Thai whiskey to passing through villages with the locals gambling on cock fights to ending at a floating market eating dinner with a tshirt sporting rabbit on the table next to us. Most of the time we are less western tourist consumers and more strange weirdos entering small villages on what locals view as an outdated and strange mode of transport.
Em and I have had the rare opportunity to cycle with two other cyclists for the last fortnight. We have a bike gang name the ‘dust devils’. Yes we are cool. Yes their blog is a bit more sophisticated than ours. Read their last entry for a better version than this is of what we have been doing.
Discoveries of group cycle travel:
1) Cyclists blog (mostly to reassure friends and family they are having a good time and are not dead. This is only effective if you blog regularly, we haven’t but are still alive…hooray!)
2) Cyclists sweat profusely. Ruining all clothes that are not made of strange horrible man made materials.
3) Cyclists make other cyclists feel better about saddle sores.
4) Navigation, bike fixing, communication with locals, sing a longs and dog battling is easier as a team.
5) Sharing this experience with new friends is awesome
Our cycle tour began together on the west coast of South Thailand in Khao Lak, we cycled through the oldest evergreen rainforest in the world, Khao Sok, before crossing and cycling up east coast stopping at beaches along the way.
Along the coast in Hua Hin, a friend of Steve & Sue’s was back home visiting her family and kindly invited us to stay for 2 nights and treated us to a traditional clay pot Thai feast. It was difficult to leave home comforts again.
Yesterday stopping in Kanachaburi, the town from the film Bridge Over The River Kuwai, we visited the museum which detailed the history of the Japanese invading Asia during World War 2.
Now heading towards the hills of North Thailand, and activities galore as hope to become master Muay Thai boxers and Thai chefs.
Finishing up in Penang/Malaysia, we cycled a total of 744 miles and were averaging 53 miles a day as it was for the majority blissfully flat.
Our first night in Penang, we were kindly chaperoned by a local Malaysian man, who apparently had had Terry Wogan and Kevin Keegan as his personal customers, to our Warmshowers host. Slight breakdown in communication meant we ended up sharing a room with him but be relieved to say separate beds. In the morning, we came to an unanimous decision to check into a hostel as despite his loveliness we didn’t want to share a room with a older Indian gentleman snoring in his boxers.
Whilst waiting for our Thailand visas to be issued, we spent a few days in Penang sampling the food which is supposed to be the best in Malaysia according to the foodies we met who had made a 150 mile trip from Kuala Lumpur just to eat. Indulged in a pedicure each, the therapist had quite a job on Ella’s size 9’s compared to the teeny tiny Asian feet she must be used to. Wandered around looking at the Banksy style street art on the old colonial Chinese buildings and took a cycling rickshaw – the guy pedalling must have been at least 70 and he was wheezing a fair bit with us full of rice and noodles.
To be considerate of the pleas from our loved ones, and also slightly scared by Malaysians imitating us being shot if we cross the Thailand land border by bicycle, we decided to take the train to just clear of the safety zone.
We have been in Thailand a week now, and we have crossed from Thung Song to Krabi, around Phuket and up to Phang-Nga and will be making our way up to North Thailand.
We have cycled through limestone cliffs, past rubber tree plantations, by the coast that 2004 tsunami devastated and has now been rebuilt, stayed with a Thai couple who taught us how to make sticky rice served with mango, fed us lots of Thai food and helped fix my bike. We’ve been chased by dogs, discovered that pineapples grow in bushes on the floor, visited rescued turtles that had lost limbs on fishing nets and boat propellers, had our bikes poked and touched by little old Thai ladies before conversing with nods, smiles and sign language.
Will try to post photos soon rather than wittering on..
Another photoless post – super speedy Usain Bolt aka Virgin coverage hasn’t made it here yet so will have to make do with our tales.
Continuing along the East Coast, we couldn’t resist another island jaunt to Pulau Kapas. We were due to spend only the night and day there but we met an American couple; Bill and Kim who are sailing around the world on their yacht ‘Doin It’ and we were invited onboard to spend the afternoon drinking rum like pirates. Very fun times but the next day as you can imagine was a shaky write off. We also received our first wedding invitation, another display of Malaysian hospitality after only meeting the sister of the groom for an hours – thanks Sarah 🙂 See you in Kuala Lumpur?
After leaving the island, we headed to Kuala Terengganu and stayed in a beautiful wooden chalet on stilts over the river which was built by the owner, also a boat builder. Awi, the owner adopted us for our stay and took on his speedboat to the local market, and for dinner with his famous watercolour artist friend, Chang Fee Ming – we were hoping for tutorials on how to use the watercolour set we brought in NZ that has laid at bottom of panniers since first failed piece of art.
Reaching the top of the East Coast, our cycling troupe increased to 3 when a local joined us for the days ride. He was on training for his upcoming cycle tour from UK to Malaysia on a fixed speed bike. He was cycling up the East and down the West, sleeping on beaches, in mosques and ATM booths as survival.
Finishing our tour of the East Coast, we wanted to cross over to Cameron Highlands onto the West, but unfortunately were not able to obtain any information about the 250 mile road from locals or any other cycle touring blogs so we reluctantly boarded a mini bus for the journey. It was a good decision as the road had no food or accommodation facilities up the unshaded mountainous hills.
We drove through tea plantations and fruit & vegetable farms which are located in Highlands because it is 10 degrees cooler. Disaster struck and as you would say in India, Emily got Delly belly so needed a couple of days rest.
Recuperated and ready to leave, we happened to meet a local hostel owner, Kassim who bought us lunch and asked for our help in exchange for accommodation and food for a few days. As Emily had been ill and we hadn’t had a chance to get our jungle trek on – we decided to stay.
The last couple of days were an experience; we helped paint the new hostel with his gang of Bangladesh merry men accompanied by Bollywood music and sweet tea & roti breaks, scrambled tree roots up a 2000m jungle mountain, had a poor imitation of cream tea at a tea plantation, learnt to make chapatis and did some terribly awful dancing in the local disco.
As the Cameron Highlands is 3 times the size of Singapore we still had a 15 mile strenuous climb out before the sweetest ever so windy 25 mile downhill which we flew down in an hour.
We are now a days ride from Penang which is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the last stop of our tour in Malaysia before we enter into Thailand.