Coffee, Caves and Mountains

Each new country we enter seems to be our favourite and Laos was next on the list. It’s beautiful and was the hardest cycling yet. We arrived in Thakek where we decided to do a popular route called the Thakek Loop. The loop takes you through some amazing mountains and normally people arrive in the village of Konglor and take a boat through Konglor cave and then back to the village, but we were able to go through the cave as part of our route. We took a back road that motorbikes aren’t allowed on and had one of the best days of the trip so far:

We arrived at one end of the cave, got a boat for our bikes and a boat for us and travelled 7km through Konglor Cave to the village on the other side!

After finishing the loop we spent a couple of days in the capital, Vientiane, and a couple of days in Vang Vieng where we went tubing and to more caves.

Afrer a couple of relaxing days in Vang Vieng it was time to start the hardest part of our trip – cycling three days to Luang Prabang, which included two days of biking up mountains and after meeting TWO families who had cycled this part, we had no excuses. One family had 10 year old twins and the other family consisted of the dad on a regular bike with an attachment on the front for one child, and the mother in a recumbant bike with a baby strapped to her chest!!! Cycling up and down crazy mountains! We also met a 70 year old woman who spends 5 months of each year cycling in some part of the world!

Luang Prabang was the end of cycling in Laos and we got a two day boat down the Mekong River to Thailand. We spent a total of 16 hours on this boat and in that time neither of us managed to get a picture of it!

We entered Thailand again in order to make our way to our chosen Myanmar border and our first stop was Chiang Rai. On our way there we stopped to look at our map when someone helped us with directions. His name is Kong and he invited us for coffee at his coffee shop where we found out he grows and roasts his own beans! We even got invited to the coffee plantation to see how coffee is grown, harvested and processed. A lot of the coffee at the plantation is actually sent to Canada – maybe you’ve heard of Doi Chang coffee? This is where it comes from!

While we’re talking about Chiang Rai, I’d also like to tell the world (well, the 10 of you who read this) about the best burger we’ve ever had. It’s from Heaven Burger in Chiang Rai and I’m genuinely upset that I’m never going to have one of their burgers ever again. If you go to Chiang Rai, have one of these burgers! Anyway….

We had a little two week holiday in Chiang Mai and Pai while the bikes were with the mechanic and after all that time off, our legs seem to be resisting cycling again.

We’re all set to enter Myanmar tomorrow and have just over two weeks there and then we fly to India on March 19!

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Vietnam

We love Vietnam!

We arrived at the border to get our passports stamped and Paul went first while I waited an appropriate distance behind him. As Paul was having his visa inspected, a man walked past me and set his passport on the counter and sure enough, his was next to be processed…clearly the yellow line means nothing! I noticed a woman walking up to the counter and not wanting her to get ahead of me, I leapt sideways, squeezing my way between her and Paul – think the classic Michael Jordan image (this is still a current reference isn’t it?!) only instead of a ball and a net it’s my passport and the Vietnamese immigration counter! I showed her! The joke turned out to be on me when about 10 other people casually walked up and added their passports to the stack, leaving mine on the bottom of the pile and last to be processed.

We got to Ho Chi Minh City that same day and managed to cycle into the city. Thankfully there was a separate motorbike lane we could use, which meant we were separate from the bigger traffic, but there were so many motorbikes it was hard to keep track of each other in the crowd. It sounds initimidating, but it was actually better cycling than walking because you’re moving at the same speed as the motorbikes and the sidewalks are actually for motorbike parking, so you end up having to walk with the traffic anyway.

HCMC, while absolutely crazy, had so many cool alleys filled with hotels, cafes and pubs. We spent most of our time in these places, mostly because we were able to walk around easily. On our first day we were standing at a crossing of a busy street that didn’t have lights (not that lights would make a difference) wondering how we’d ever get a break in traffic to make a run for it, when a man told us to follow him and stopped all the traffic while we used him as a human shield!

We didn’t spend much time in HCMC before heading up the coast. The first week we found some incredibile beach camping and even though the last three weeks we’ve been biking in rain and 50km per hour headwinds, the scenery is stunning! The southeast coast is only starting to be developed and resorts are in the process of being built but the roads are finished, so we’ve had great seaside biking on new roads with hardly any traffic.

This was at one of the beach camps…no filter needed for this!

These are two tiles on the bathroom wall of our hotel in Nha Trang. Just these two – the rest were normal and not creepy, but these two babies, with their lipstick and nail polish, looked over the toilet!

Bia tu’oi or bia hoi – fresh beer brewed on the streets of Vietnam that sells for about $1 for 2L! It was actually better than the bottled stuff we’ve been drinking!

Ghenh Da Dia – the Giant’s Causeway of Vietnam!

Beautiful rice fields surrounded by mountains. What you don’t know is, while riding through this tranquil looking countryside, in the distance is the sound of the local residents singing karaoke from their homes through the loudest speakers I’ve ever heard in my life! No one is singing a tune from the Ducky’s songbook either. Most songs are so depressing sounding I keep waiting for weeping to start mid song. We stopped at a shop one day and the owner started singing her baby to sleep but then switched on her mic so the whole village heard the performance! It’s hilarious! If there were a contest for the worst music, Vietnam would win. It’s kind of like gangnam style mixed with Scooter from the 90s. Those lovely beach photos earlier…this kind of music was blaring. Ever heard gangnam style Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? We have!

When we’re in smaller towns our choice of hotels is pretty slim and the hotels of rural Vietnam seem to love rock hard mattresses. This one (and the previous two nights) were so hard we slept on our camping mats!

We arrived in Hoi An after a long couple of days. Paul has had three broken pedals – his original ones somehow cracked and completely broke and the replacements broke after only three days and now we’re constantly on the lookout for bike shops. Paul also woke up the other morning with an upset stomach, but because we were in some one horse town in the middle of nowhere sleeping on a cement bed, we decided to move on. We made it about 30km before Paul projectile vomited onto the road while riding his bike! Five seconds later a kid on a bike rode through it like he was riding through a puddle and didn’t even seem to care! Paul has since recovered.

Hoi An was beautiful and after a couple of nice days we headed over the Hai Van Pass and onto Hue. Apparently Top Gear named the Hai Van road one of the best coast roads in the world. It was a tough cycle up and while some people were impressed, others were confused why we didn’t just use motorbikes (a fair question!). On the way up, a woman asked Paul why he wasn’t using a motorbike. When he didn’t have an answer other than we’re idiots, she seemed to genuinely feel bad for us!

Well earned beers at the top of the pass.

This was at a cafe in Hue. The guy working took a sneaky photo of us.

At the moment we’re in a border town in Vietnam and will cross into Laos in the morning. The plan so far is to head north!

The rest of Thailand and Cambodia

I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats waiting for an update on our trip, so here it is!

We cycled up the east coast of Thailand which was full of beautiful beaches and quiet roads but was also the start of the monsoon season. This turned out to be about a 15 minute long downpour each afternoon and then the sun was out again. This also meant unbelievable humidity! Australia was hot, like 40 degrees hot at times, but Thailand was so humid we constantly looked like we had just gotten out of the shower. Sunscreen wouldn’t stick and if we wanted to buy something we had to commit to it before looking at it because chances are we’d sweat all over it!

This is somewhere in the middle of Thailand…beautiful!

One of the many beaches along the east coast.

Sweaty back Paul biking beside the ocean.

We had originally thought we’d skip Bangkok so we could avoid dealing with our bikes in the city, and had planned to take a ferry from Hua Hin to Pattaya, but when we arrived at the ticket desk we were told we couldn’t take our bikes on the boat! Off to Bangkok for us, and I’m glad we went! First we had to make it through a bit of flooding – for a couple of days we had to go through sections of road covered in water higher than our pedals. The worst part was the water probably wasn’t just rain water because the smells suggested otherwise – it was the worst kind of mystery water (mystery water is the water dripping off things and random puddles when it hasn’t been raining!).

We decided to catch a train about 100km outside of Bangkok to avoid the crazy roads, and to our surprise we boarded at the Maeklong Train Station. This train station is also a market…that’s right, people have their vegetables, fish and other shit that’s sold at markets, lined up along the tracks. The train goes through a few times a day and everyone has their stalls set up on wheels so they can be pulled in when the train comes through and canopies are tucked back. Some of the veggies are stacked just high enough that the train doesn’t hit anything as it passes through. The place is full of people so you end up taking photos of people on the tracks who are taking photos of you on the train! Here’s a couple of videos as we were pulling away from the station:

Sunset on the river in Bangkok.

We took a train 100km to the other side of Bangkok and the last couple of days in Thailand were spent in smaller cities as we made our way to Cambodia.

Thailand drives on the left hand side of the road and Cambodia drives on the right hand side and the scene at the border crossing is just as crazy as you might imagine. It’s dusty, noisy and packed with every kind of vehicle imaginable from giant trucks to carts pulled by people, and the spot where you have to switch sides of the road seemed to be a random point in between the borders where people were like ‘right, I better just hop on over to the other side of the road now’! I don’t have any pictures of this because I was too busy trying not to get run over.

The traffic instantly changed in Cambodia. While Thailand was busy, we never actually worried about getting hit and people would sometimes give you a friendly beep to make sure you knew they were there. In Cambodia people drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn as they flew down the center line waiting for other cars to get out of their way! We actually ended up taking a 12 hour bus from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville to get to roads which were better suited to staying alive.

Angkor Wat…I don’t know how a picture of this place has ever been taken without people in it, but the temples are pretty amazing.

This was our night bus to Sihanoukville – it’s bunk beds! We also managed to get the bottom bunk (which is the floor) above the wheel. The other people in bottom bunks could sit up completely, but because we were above the wheel, we could only half sit up – good thing it was overnight and we just slept the whole way!

We spent my birthday in Sihanoukville and rented a scooter and drove around the beaches. When the guy at the rental place saw Paul drive (drag his feet along the ground with the scooter moving) he said he didn’t think he’d be able to let us take it. Paul pretended not to hear him and continued dragging his feet along the ground at 5km per hour.

We spent the rest of the time in Cambodia in Kampot and then Phnom Penh where we visited the genocide museum and the killing fields.

Sunset in Kampot

One of the best days cycling in Cambodia.

This brings us to Vietnam where we’ve been since mid December, and where we’ll be until mid January. I’ll do a separate post on Vietnam next.

Malaysia and the start of Thailand

We flew through Malaysia in only two weeks after getting off to a stressful start out of Kuala Lumpur. It turned out we weren’t able to put our bikes on public transit, so we had to find a way of biking out of the city. It started with a nice little bike lane…

That had a bit of construction…

and then we were on the shoulder of a busy road that out of nowhere turned into this…

That’s where we ended up…in the third and middle lane of this five lane highway! At the point where this photo was taken, a separate motorbike lane had started and we were able to safely leave the city.

Overall, traffic in Malaysia was busy but road rage doesn’t seem to exist and lucky for us the drivers are used to having to watch out for motorbikes driving wherever they want so people were pretty considerate.

We were in South America a few years ago and a local once told us to pick restaurants that have dogs around because if the food isn’t good enough for the dogs, we won’t want to eat there. There weren’t really many dogs hanging around in Malaysia, but there were A LOT of cats and we liked to think of them as the equivalent of dogs in South America…

They were everywhere and sickly! The one with the purple is missing half his face which is why he’s been coloured over.

Now that we’re in Thailand the cats have been replaced with dogs. Now, city dogs don’t give a shit about you. They’re too cool for you and spend their time sleeping in the middle of the road expecting cars to dodge them. The country dogs on the other hand like to chase you – we must’ve had 15 dogs running behind us the other day…about 12 of them were puppies, but the three big dogs were hot on our heels! Normally Paul is faster than me on the bike, but when a dog starts barking and chasing after us I manage to take off like a bullet, using Paul as a human shield and leaving him for dead! We found some sweet bamboo sticks the other day though and now we just shake the sticks at the dogs when they come near. We looked crazy enough on our bikes but now we look extra crazy shaking sticks at dogs.

Ordering food has become an adventure whenever we leave a tourist area. In Thailand we’re actually like small children when we’re not in a tourist area – we can’t read, we only know a few words and we need help finding the right toilet if there’s no picture! We think we’re ordering food just fine as well until it arrives – the other night we managed to ask for four small pieces of fried chicken (to share), two plates of plain white rice (not a drop of sauce) and a teeny bowl of ketchup (also to share). Clearly we still need some practice!

The locals have been so friendly and we get great reactions when we tell people we’re cycling for a year to Ireland. Usually it’s a full body reaction of people doubled over with laughter, wide eyes and shaking heads. There’s lots of ‘oh my gods!’ followed by more laughter. Kids always like to yell hello to us as well and they always squeal and laugh when we say hello back like they can’t believe it worked…which is actually how I feel when a Thai word works for me!

Cycling in Malaysia and Thailand has been pretty cruisy and we’ve done more beach going and island hopping than cycling. Here’s a few photos of the islands:

Pangkor Island, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia

Langkawi, Malaysia

Koh Lanta, Thailand

It always seems like a 50/50 chance as to whether we see the bikes again at the end of a boat journey.

Koh Jum, Thailand

2000km done

Since my last post we’ve only had a couple of days of bad wifi and one day of good internet, but this was after four days of hell and I was too traumatized to write anything.

We’re in a better place now and can give a recap of what we’ve been up to. Since leaving Croydon we started on a few dirt roads here and there which led to a final big stock up of 5 days worth of food before travelling over the Northern Territory border and onto 320km of the worst dirt roads we have ever seen in our lives. If someone had stopped to give us a lift we would’ve had the bikes loaded and been in the car before the driver could finish their sentence, but unfortunately no lifts were to be found.

Let me introduce you to National Highway 1.

That’s right…National Highway 1. In Australia. When you research this ‘highway’ it’s compared to the Trans-Canada and the Trans-Siberia, both of which are completely paved and have bridges.

Some things lost along this ‘highway’ include a lantern, our odometer showing our actual distance travelled, the coating on our pots, cookies that were rattled to dust, bolts, Mr. Croc

…and our will to live. Reading back through our journal you’d actually think we’d been blindfolded, captured and thrown into the outback to survive and find a way out!

Anyway, that’s all behind us now and we’re back on sealed roads and back to civilization and loving Australia once again.

A lot of people were worried about us along the way and offered various forms of help including giving us their phone numbers to contact them when we arrived , to stopping to offer us water, to a road train coming to a complete stop and climbing out the passenger’s side door to make sure we were ok (although none of this was on the dirt road), but still, people have been looking out for us. Now that we’ve finished this section we realize why – until now, we’ve been able to buy basic groceries once in the last 800 + km, we’ve had to carry 3 days worth of water at one time and when there were streams we had to check for crocodiles. We are idiots.

We’re now in Mataranka where we’re having a couple of rest days swimming in the thermal springs in the area. We’re less than 500km from Darwin and should be there in about 10 days before heading to Kuala Lumpur on the 19th.

Here’s some photos of the last couple of weeks:

We went through a bit of a fly infestation along the way. They still cling to our backs like we’re cows when we’re cycling, but are nice enough to fly away when we get to a town.

Some early morning starts to beat the heat of the day.

Some long, straight roads.

Foggy mornings.

Back to civilization at the Pink Panther Pub in Larrimah.

Now in lovely Mataranka which has natural thermal pools including Bitter Springs.

Over the next two weeks we’ll be heading to Katherine, Litchfield National Park and then on to Darwin.

And we’re off!

So we’ve completed our first week and nearly 550 km, and are having a rest day.

For those who don’t know our plan, we’re cycling through Australia, Southeast Asia, India and Europe, finishing in Ireland and are taking a year to do it. Our planned route here in Australia is from Cairns to Darwin via the Savannah Way.

We managed to get our bikes built after replacing bits and pieces that went missing during the flight over here. When we landed, my bike box was busted open and while all the main pieces were there, the bag with all the bolts and pieces that actually hold the bike together, had been ripped open and everything had fallen out.

We were both pretty nervous starting out on the first day. Paul was so nervous it took him three goes to get dressed! After two failed attempts with swim shorts and then just short liners and shoes, his third time was lucky and he managed to put all his clothes on!

Our first day was really tough – after cycling in the rockies we didn’t really believe people when they warned us of a big hill to get out of Cairns, but 20 km of straight uphill and four hours later, we made it over the Gilles range.

The rest of the week has gotten easier but also hotter the further away from the coast we get, with some good times and some bad times along the way. One of the best moments was when someone stopped to give us an ice cold Coke – you’d think we’ve been at this for months by how much we appreciated that cold drink!

One of the bad times was when I tried to use my she-pee and didn’t get it right and just got pee everywhere! The place we were camping at that night said it had water so I thought I’d be able to wash my pee clothes but when we arrived it was only a little dribble out of the tap which got smaller and smaller with every water bottle we filled! I’ve since gotten the she-pee right!

We’ve been finding some pretty nice campsites along the way but starting tomorrow we’re not going to be able to go near the water because of crocodiles. It’s also going to be a bit longer between towns so we’ll have to carry several days worth of food and water.

Here’s a few more photos from our first week on the bikes!

First morning heading out of Cairns.

The bikes loaded up and ready to go!

Morning ride out of Lake Eachem.

A google map mishap on Rock Road – this is Rock Road but it happens to lead to nowhere and just completely stop on private property – we had to turn around and go a different way.

Single strip of pavement down the middle on sections of the roads.

Camping at a croc-free swimming hole.

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Paul doing some early morning puncture repairs.

Our lovely campsite under a bat tree. The place was lovely but once it got dark the bats were out in full force and they lived in the tree directly above our tent! We had to flee to the tent only to hear the cannon sounds start up from the mango fields next to the campsite – I think to keep the bats away from the mangos! We finally got used to the screeching, flapping bats and fell asleep, only to wake up later to a cow outside the tent! We read that this area comes alive with wildlife after dark!

We golfed two holes at the free 7 hole golf course (used to be 9 holes before the rodeo grounds took over parts).

In the local pub!

Arrived in Oz

Here’s a quick recap of the first week here in Australia. We don’t actually start biking until tomorrow (September 9), but have done a few things since we arrived. We landed in Brisbane where Hayley acted as our local tour guide showing us around the city and having us stay with her. The three of us also met up with Deb and stayed with her on the Gold Coast and travelled up to Bryon Bay and had a night out in Surfers. Paul and I are now in Cairns. Well, near Cairns – we booked into cabins that looked close to town but are actually miles away, but still good! We’ve been touring around here seeing the Daintree rainforest and did a Great Barrier Reef trip where we both got burned to a crisp! I thought it would be a good idea to get wetsuits but Paul insisted that sunscreen would do the trick! At least our arses didn’t get burned because we actually start biking tomorrow! Here’s some pictures from the past couple of weeks!