Thailand – following the sea.

(April, 2012)

After Bangkok I came upon the sea. For some reason its always nice to see the sea for the first time, and yep, it popped up as I came down a hill. What isn’t quite as pleasant is the smell of drying fish, at occasional intevals along the side of the road where net platforms with fish drying on them. They’d often be people turning the fish, or vans collecting the fish. And they smelled – well fishy, strongly fishy.

Some days I’d be cycling along the sea front. Able to look out at the beach, sea, rocky lumps that projected out for most of the day. The roads weren’t all on the map (they really weren’t on the map – I wasn’t just lost the map didn’t show all the little ones), but as long as I kept the sea on my left (or right later) I couldn’t get too lost since all the roads eventually got to where I wanted to go.

Upon wondering upon a resort town, as well as eating a lot of amazing ice cream, I decided to try kitesurfing. The day I got there, as I walked along the beach there were hundreds of people out kite surfing. Looked fun as they whizzed along, some doing tricks, others just falling over.

I obviously decided to give it a go and get a lesson or two. The next day I went off to the beach eager for my first lesson. However, there was no wind, and what little breeze there was apparently coming from the wrong direction. I ended up spending the day chilling out of the beach all day with the  instructor people and random other kite  surfing people. Went though a bit of kite surfing theory, swam in the sea, ate and read my book. By the second day there was still no wind. Hmmmmmmm, but late in the afternoon the wind picked up and I ended up having a lesson.

The lesson was fun, although a little frustrating as the wind was still pretty low so the kite kept dropping (for the instructor not just when I was flying it). We didn’t get onto using the board but ended up having the kite drag me along in the sea.

The further down the peninsular you got, the friendlier people got. Not that people where ever unfriendly but people started waving and smiling at me. I’d often get “Welcome to Thailand” shouted at me.

After a relaxed rest day swimming in the sea and sitting on the beach reading I was feeling refreshed and keen. The obvious thing to do was to try and cycle a 100 miles, I’d been meaning to do this at some point, so I didn’t see why not now. A breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, toast and water melon set me up. The cycling was great, it felt a bit like when, in a race, you can just go faster and easier than normal, I was zooming along, with a higher average speed than usual and happy to push it on the odd hill. Two lunches and various snacks later and I was still feeling strong, managed the 100 miles, got into the planned town and ended up having to go a further few miles to get to a another beach side hotel. So 110 miles, 177 km in 8 hrs 40 , which I was pretty chuffed about.

Once I crossed over to the other side of the Peninsular – which was an easier crossing than Loas, although they did put a few hills in the middle to remind me how flat everything had been lately! I ended up in a very touristy village. However, this wasn’t where I aimed to be but after taking a turning too early off the road I cunning ended up going back north for a while and getting completely disorientated  my map wasn’t showing any roads and there weren’t people about to ask. I ended up finding a hotel and stopping there, it wasn’t until 2 days later when I actually worked out where the hell I was! Anyhow, there was signs for a boat trip, so I went on it.

The trip was fun if a little controlled. Having spend the last c. 2 months doing exactly what I wanted when I wanted, to be told at what time to return to the boat and where we were going next all the time was a little strange, but kind of nice in a I don’t have to think about this way. Got to go snorkelling in some pretty impressive waters. Lots of nemo – style fish, bigger colourful ones and funky rock formations with all sorts of stuff growing on them.

Then I carried on down Thailand and into Malaysia,  naturally enough, crossing into a new country involved some big hills to get over a pass…

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To Bangkok (tee hee hee, such a funny name)

The roads in Thailand, well the roads between the Laos border and Bangkok, are straight. Long and straight. Flat, long and straight. My road atlas wasn’t showing any options that weren’t straight, long and flat. The roads were mainly 2 lane, dual carriageway with wide bike / motorbike lanes. It was actually fine, you were kept far enough from the traffic that you felt pretty safe and at least navigation was easy! Just a matter of putting your head down and getting the miles in – not the most inspiring riding, and I have to admit it was a bit boring at times, but better than being in the office.

I stopped in to visit Phonon Rung which was rather impressive. It was apparently similar to Angor Wat in Cambodia (which I didn’t go and see for various reasons – oh to be able to do everything!). Detailed stone work and a serious of doorways letting the sun in, I could have made it to an equinox and saw the sun shine though all the doorways at once, but that would have been a hard push without some needed rest days. Lots of photos (probably more than you want to see!) in the link at the bottom.

As I neared Bangkok I met up with 3 oldish men on mountain bikes. There English was very basic but I cycled along with them anyway, enjoying the presence of other cyclists (esp. as the roads had got a bit busier) and using their momentum to up the speed a little. It started to get damp, the rain got heavier and the clouds more ominous. We managed to pull into a little shop in time for a storm to hit, thunder, lightening and lots of rain, but still pleasantly warm. We hid away for about an hour until the Thai guys announced it was time to go, I was a bit dubious, it was still raining lightly but I was enjoying their company so off I toddled. And unsurprisingly really, they where right, within 15 minutes it was dry and I’d started to overheat in my rain coat. We cycled for another half an hour before they headed off and I carried on, Bangkok direction.

The roads nearer to Bangkok where busier (but still my nice wide cycle lane). You knew something big was coming up, discount factory outlets popped up (darn having to carry everything I buy) and various large statures randomly appeared at the side of the road. Buda’s in various positions, snakes, elephants and particularly peculiarly giant cows.

It nearly all went wrong when I missed a turning and had to cross a road using a pedestrian bridge. It’s really rather awkward to get my bike up the steep narrow steps on the bridge. Its even more awkward to get it down the other side, steep steps to a 180 degree turn and more steps. Holding the bikes weight back I was struggling to keep the bike from zooming off down the steps and could imagine it all going wrong and one very broken bike, and possible a broken Helen.

I took a bus into Bangkok, about 100 km in 1.5 hours! How fast was that! I was staring out the window seeing everything charge along and watching as we overtook bikes as if they were going slowly.

Bangkok’s a strange old city. 10 story shopping malls with designer clothes, fast cars and smoothies for sale. They have a cunning sales tactic of not seeming to mark the exits, and with bridges at different levels I managed to get completely disoriented and couldn’t escape for an embarrassingly long time.

I randomly bumped into the 2012 Bangkok Cycle show. Which was kinda cool. They had a display of old bikes (tourers and racers mainly), and various stands selling bits and pieces or with biking videos. Some folding bikes that make Bromptons look like giants and lots of fixies with their little narrow handlebars. They had a few talks and displays but nothing that exciting (or in English), but there was loads of cyclists wandering around and sitting in little groups eating lunch and chatting. You could tell they where cyclists as they all were wearing cycling clothes, it was a bit tribal really!

Naturally I had to go and see the infamous redlight district. Which is interesting but actually a pretty small area. There was offers of testicular messages, women in bikini’s and short skirts inviting you into various shows, as well as lots of normal looking restaurants, bars and massage places. and lots of other tourists wondering around. The boys section was quite a different atmosphere with everything crowded in and what felt like lots of stares. I have to admit I wussed out of going to a show on my own, hey ho.

So back on the bus to my bike, and off I go. Down Thailand’s peninsula….

Pictures, lots of pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/65983949@N05/sets/72157629276804456/

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I managed to bike across a country (Laos) – how cool is that!

Getting into Laos was a bit intimidating. Mainly because I knew I had to cycle 135 km in a day. This would be the furthest I’d ever cycled in a day, my closest being c.120 km, which I did the day before! Thankfully I had an overall elevation drop (of about 600m I think), however I still had to go over two passes. My map has contours every 300 m, and I was crossing those lines a few times for each pass.

I went for the cunning plan of getting up early and making the best use of daylight. In Vietnam there’s a lot of places to stop for food and water, every 5 km or so, so I got into the habit of pretty much not carrying any.  So I thought I’d be sensible and carry some as I could only see 2 villages on the map once I cross the border. This very nearly broke me and I was close to having to hitch a ride. The first village was just after the border timewise (it was downhill for the first bit) so I didn’t need to stop. The next village was after the first and highest pass. The road went up and up and up and up. My little legs went round and round. 60% of it must have been in the lowest gear I’ve got. I was desperately rationing my food and water but it was all running rather low. It was darn hot and no breeze to cool and I wasn’t going fast enough to get any cooling wind effect.

Eventually I did get to the top of the pass, Yay! And then I had 25 minutes of pure downhill. That’s a lot of down. The road was pretty good but often, mainly at the bottom of a particularly steep section the road broke up from where they’d been a landslide. So you definitely had to keep and eye out and not go hell for leather (not that I’m ever brave enough to go that fast in the first place!).

After another section of gentler up, I eventually reached my second village and all was saved. However, it would have been better saved if they’d been happier to accept Vietnamese Dong. You’d have thought that a border town, just after the crossing, where they had been no place to change money, and you can’t get Kip outside the country would be fairly relaxed about accepting Dong. Nope, they got quite grumpy and kept telling me this was Laos. (Was there some war between the two countries I missed, they were very grumpy?). After some persuading I managed to get some drink and snacks, but not as much as I hoped. Oh well, off I trundled up the next hill.

After this pass it turned into a beautiful FLAT plain. Conveniently there were  school boys on bikes. Which of cause meant my speed steadily increased as I attempted to pass them. One boy from each group would then typically sprint past me again while I tried to look nonchalant and take him down as soon as he tired. This all helped me pick up the speed a bit. I started at 6:00 in the morning and arrived at the destination at about 5, so got in an hour before sunset, having had a few short stops but nothing major. I took the next day off.

So then all I had to do was cross the country. Oh and go north a bit because of some small issue of getting a visa.

Riding in Laos is really fun. The roads (when paved) are in really good condition. There’s hardly any traffic and there are places selling cold drinks every 10 km or so. The scenery is stunning, much more yellow than Vietnam. Little villages with all the houses suspended on sticks above the ground. About half the houses were wooden, 25% mix of wood and concrete / normal building materials, and the rest made of fairly standard materials but typically painted a bright colour. There was lots of look at as I cycled along, which kept me entertained and happy.

The people are very different to Vietnam. I was use to lots of people waving and saying hello. In Laos, everyone generally seemed much more reserved. They didn’t smile as much and although there English seemed to be better, they didn’t try to communicate as much. When kids waved and said “hello”, they said it in Laos, (which sounds something like Zeebidee, and I don’t think they just really liked roundabouts). One could almost say that they were all a little grumpy…

As their towns were all pretty much one street affairs, with very little to do, I generally pressed on and kept cycling.

Had a ridiculous amount of fun cycling down a dust road. Managed to skid my bike in the deeper dust sections several times but somehow avoided coming off. The road went from flat and dusty, to rutted and dusty, to thick dust, to thick dust and steep downhill sections with bumps included, and finished by crossing a river and ended up chucking me out into a paved town rather covered with red dust.

Met another cycle tourer going the other way. Maybe one day I’ll meet a cycle tourer who isn’t an engineer?

And then I was in Savannakhet. Sorting out my visas, getting massaged, and drinking some wonderful cocktails. Okay, so it was the narrow part of Laos I crossed, but I still think its kind of cool.

Photos of Laos are at: http://t.co/CAMvlctI

Hopefully I’ll get round to adding some to this post.

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The road to Atlantis

A misty start and a quiet road. In the mountains north of Di Linh. the road winds though tree strewn passes with higher peaks in the distant. Small villages dotted along the way with cheery people smiling and waving at me as I go along. Fast descents on relatively smooth roads, smirking to myself as I overtake the occasional motorbike on the downs (who then wush past again on the uphills, hey ho).

After a particularly long fun descent I stop at the roadside to take some pictures of a very pretty lake, with little wooden boats in it. And on I go, until the road seems to end. The lake is a dead-end, the road drops steeply to the water level and stops. How peculiar. After a confusing conversation to some locals, i.e. they didn’t speak any English, I don’t speak and Vietnamese and they didn’t seem to be able to explain to me where I was on my map, I turn around and start up the hill again since I’ve obviously made a navigational error somewhere and I try to think of where the road split and I missed it. A little annoyed since I’d been going downhill for a little while and it was a reasonable length cycle today so I didn’t really fancy cycling a long way back. Oh well…

After a couple of hundred meters I notice a sign, saying the town I’m going to is the way I was previously going. Now I’m really confused. I was sure it was definitely a deadend but the sign shows that it is that way. So I turn round and go back, going to see if the road contoured round the lake and I just didn’t notice.

After further discussions, lots of pointing and most usefully a conversation on the phone with someone with basic English, it appears that there is no road and I’d have to get a trip on a boat to get to where I’m going. I couldn’t understand where the road was gone but that seemed to be what everyone was saying.

So my bike and I wobbled ourselves onto a wooden boat. It was about 5 meters long and 1.5 meters wide, made of wood with a shelter and a diesel engine. Another couple turned up and they and there motorbike joined us and we where off. We seemed to weave between islands, looking like we were coming to the end of the lake and then we’d go though another narrowing and the lake would go into the distance again. We past a few houses and boats along the side, some looked like the houses where floating, but mainly there was no signs of human habitation just mountains, trees and water.

The trees went all the way down to the water level and at lots of points you’d see the top of trees poking out of the water. This lead me to believe that the lake must be a man made reservoir, either for water storage or / and hydro.  It looked like it had not been there long and wasn’t on my map (edited in 2011!). However, googlemaps seems to know of the gap in the road.

After about an hour, we left the boat. It was 11 am now and the sun was showing its power. The path from the lake was steep and rocky. Gravel and bumps all the way up – a landrover track that had to be negotiated rather than just rode. After about another hour we intersecting with what I assume was the original road and off I went to carry on to my destination and keen to find someone who wanted to sell me a cold drink!

More photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/65983949@N05/sets/72157629328430071/

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How to find a crocodile

I believe there are two basic options.

1) Get a bus from Ho Minh Chi City (a tour bus or a standard one) to Cat Tien National Park and go in hunt of crocodiles.

Or

2)

  •  After leaving Long Khanh cycle cycle for 60 km on lovely (flat) roads with very pretty views.

  • Hit a 10% hill, with switch backs, gravel and potholes
  • Take a corner wide due to incoming truck, hit gravel, bike slides and fail to get foot out of cleats fast enough, fall off. Get mild road rash.
  • Stop for a drink, get invited to stay the night.

  • Discover how much cooler it is when you start at 7 in the morning, intend to get up earlier.
  • After a hilly 60 km cycle reach the road to hell. Steep, dusty, hot, humid, mix of paved and sections of gravel. Trucks temporarily blind you from the dust.
  • Arrive at Cat Tien village, get send to the post office.
  • Speak to a lady on the phone, she tells you to follow another guy in the post office.
  • Follow motorbike down tricky steep section of singletrack (almost red grade), over rickety wooden bridge and off down narrow trails were only bikes can go.
  • Get passed over to a couple on a motorbike. Follow them for about 5 km.
  • Get pointed to a footpath that I’m to go down and though a barbed wire gate.
  • Find hut with 5 security guards who speak no English. Work out that you have to go another 18 km (currently on c.85 km today) through the park to get to the headquarters. Feel a little like crying. Get Tea and water from them.
  • Follow landrover track. Try to remember what creatures were in the national park. Tigers? I don’t think so, Crocodiles, yes. Others? Jump at all the noises.

  • Relax and enjoy cycle. Really fun track with lots of dried out muddy bumpy bits.
  • See signs to headquarters, a french couple and a jeep load of Vietnamese.
  • Disappear off the trail since some rapids were marked 4 km away (easy grade 3, not that impressive).

  • Arrive at Cat Tien Headquarters, after riding 114 km that day.

The next day I abandoned my trusty stead and went to stay at crocodile lake. I arrived there after a hot 5 km walk in though the forests admiring all the cool trees, plants and butterflies, and looking out for monkeys and birds.

It’s a wooden platform where you stay, the island isn’t really an island in the dry season, more marsh land one side and a lake the other. Still very beautiful.

I don’t think I’d make a good bird watcher (there where loads of them around, middle aged men with notepads and binoculars). After a (short) while I found the view and the  platform didn’t really change and I ended up reading my book. Later a German couple arrived and a merry evening was had.

Did we see crocodiles? Well, maybe. That or logs / surface piecing rocks. The rangers at the station didn’t seem to speak much English and no one seemed sure. What do you think???

More pictures at http://t.co/L87782xL

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Off I go, weeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) has a lot of motorbikes. I think, back in the day, they’d all be on proper bikes, but know they are charging around on their motorised equivalent. This means that pavements are empty and crossing roads is a terrifying ordeal involving closing ones eyes, and walking at a constant speed foreward and magically all the bikes seem to go around you. The easier option of cause being finding some locals and cross close to them. I left the city pretty quickley because I was just keen to get on my bike and go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnam is a communist country. I didn’t really register this until I arrived (yep, my research skills are impressive!). There’s red flags and stickles everywhere and happy people doing different jobs standing together posters. Statues too.

 

 

They really do like their motor bikes. The bigger roads have four seperated lanes, one each way for trucks and cars, the other for bikes. Which means that quite big roads are fine to cycle down. The roads go from big smooth paved to roads made of gravel or dust. But they are all flat, I passed a large hill for the area, it was 74 m high.

 

I’m in Long Khanh now, via Long Thanh. I’m aiming for Cat Tien National Park which is probably 2 days cycle away. I’m taking it fairly gentle at the moment but its hot and humid and I have a long way to go! And I quite enjoy sitting at the side of the road drinking freshly squeesed bamboo juice (I think that’s what I’m drinking anyway!).

 

More photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/65983949@N05/sets/72157629214107695/detail/

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Packing list

I’ve written a list of what I’m planning on taking on my bike tour. I’m trying my hardest not to take too much stuff and just sneak that extra thing or two (or ten) in. So here’s my list, it would be fabulous if you gave me some feedback about it and mention anything I’ve forgot / don’t need.

Bike based things

Bike
Rear Panniers
Handlebar bag
Rack
Helmet
SPD shoes

Bike lock

Electrical stuff

Camera
Mini tripod
Kindle
Netbook
Chargers x3
Plug adapter

Medical

Malaria tablets
Diarrhea antibiotics
Inhalers x3
Re hydration salts
Ibuprofen
Imodium
Anti-histamines

Bandage
Plasters
Menolin dressing
Steri-strips
Sunscreen
DEET

Clothes

Cycling jacket
Micro fleece
Wicking t-shirts x2 [changed from 4]
Normal top x1
Sports bra x1
Normal Bra
Cycling shorts x2 [2 taken]
Shorts x2 (or x1?) for over cycling shorts
Socks x6
Pants x3
Long trousers x1

Sandles
Bikini [Bikini over swim costume saves 15 grams!]

Bike repair kit

Bike pump
Puncture repair kit
Multi-tool

Tyre levers x2
Brake Pads x2
Spare inner tube x1
Power Links (2)
Dry lube
Spokes
Cable outers
Cable inner
Zip Ties
Gaffa Tape

[Added: Bungy cord]

Documents / money

Passport
Normal wallet
Mini (small denominations) wallet
US Dollars
Paper copies of passport, travel insurance, flight details
Maps of Vietnam & Laos 1:600 000

Toiletries

Toothbrush
Toothpaste
Soap
Shampoo (small ish)
Hair brush
Hair bobbles x5
Nail clippers
Quick dry towel

Other
Sleeping bag liner
Day bag
Cycling gloves
Prescription sunglasses
Pen
Small notepad?
Headtorch
Sunhat

Added: compass

 

[Update: Alan has suggested 2 inner tubes and a long sleeved top. ]

 

Thanks for the info everyone. I’ve updated the above list with what I’m actually taking after thinking about everyones advice.

 

 

[Removed: Tweesers, Long Pliers, Scarf? (could be used as shawl, head scarf etc.), Bivy bag?, Overall map of SE Asia? 1:2 000 000

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