Part 5: South East Asia
A meandering loop through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia
South East Asia
In South East Asia I achieved (and yes, it was an achievement I was very proud of) my best lycra-tan lines of the entire trip! Ensuring each day to line up the shorts and sleeves perfectly.
South East Asia sent me back into a land of incredible food and interesting cycling. Taking in mountains where i found them and hugging some impressive coast lines to maximise chances for beach camping, seafood and lunchtime swims!
Landing in Bangkok I took the train north to Vientienne, capital of Laos. I cycled through the mountains north of Laos through Vang Vieng and up to Luang Prabang. From there I swapped over to the Vietnam Coast to resume my journey South.
From Hue I cycled the Hai Van pass to Hoi an and then continued down to the seaside resort of Nha Trang. There I waited for Brad, who was only a few days behind me having cycled down from China. We cut inland to take on some of the central mountains, passing through Da Lat on our way to Ho Chi Minh City.
Following the Mekong delta we then found ourselves crossing Cambodia East-to-West, taking in the impressive Angkor Wat.
This eventually led us back to Bangkok, where we again parted ways and I met up with a French cyclist, Roman. We cycled down the East Thai coast to Phuket, where we celebrated new year.
From Phuket I continued East and South through Malaysia, taking in the islands of Langkawi and Penang. Crossing the Cameron Highlands led me to Kuala Lumpur before continuing to the end of the peninsula in Singapore.
After a while spent off the main tourist trails in India and the Middle East it was great to be somewhere I could meet other travellers and share some of the experiences. That was until it got to Australian holidays, where the ratio of drunk "bogan" backpacker to adventurous types sky-rocketed! After that i tried to keep further off the trail.
Romain is a French cyclist who has been on the road for 12 years on and off. 10 months cycling, 2 months working being his general approach.
We met first in Istanbul, as part of the random group of tourers i bumped into, but at that stage we were on different time scales.
We stayed in touch and nearly crossed paths again in Iran, before eventually meeting up again in Bangkok, deciding to cycle the 1,000km to Phuket together.
Romain carried a hammock, for lunchtime rests and was a fan of a beer in the afternoon for hydration purposes only!
"Have your dream...What you need now more than anything is discipline. Cast off mere words. Words turn into stone."
- Haruki Murakami
Christmas Day was spent in a small village in central Thailand. Roman and I went to a small local restaurant, where we ordered everything on the menu as a feast!
The meal was "spiced up" by half of the dishes unknown being unbelievable hot - forcing me at one point to dash back to my bike to retrieve some bananas to attempt to cool down the fire in my mouth!
In Laos I bumped into the first cycle tourers i'd seen in a while. On the famous, and hilly, route from Vientienne up to Luang Prabang.
Along the way there were only a couple of guesthouses to stay in, so whether or not we were at the same pace throughout the day we would meet up in the evening and share a beer overlooking the day's climb.
All the cyclists I met in Laos were French, enjoying visiting the former French colony.
"If you like to have things easy, you'll have difficulties; if you like problems, you will succeed."
- Laotian Proverb
In Vietnam I ended up on the main backpacker trail, as tourists either headed North or South passing the main sights.
Surprisingly I kept pace with many of the backpackers travelling by train or bus; their time spent leisurely relaxing along the coastal towns matching the time I was slogging along on the bike.
Food outside the main cities in Vietnam and Cambodia proved to be an experience of trying to hunt down enough calories to keep going - there is only so much Pho you can drink!
Signs for Banh Mi, a filled baguette, and Com Bun, a rice dish, were always investigated, as they offered a nice change to the mystery meat and veg floating in the typical soups.
I didn't have a bad meal in Thailand or Malaysia, whether in expensive restaurants or roadside shacks. (The latter being the more regularly frequented!).
Fried rice made the staple dining, up to 4 or 5 times a day! Delicious and spicy seafood curries being the preferred evening meal - we would often stop in the evening to have a meal at a beach-side restaurant and then ask to camp outside when we were finished.
In Cambodia Brad and I bumped into Heinz Stucke, cycle tourer of nearly 50 years! Not that we knew who he was at the time, appearing as a crazy guy on a Brompton!
We shared some route info and Heinz offered us a strange fruit, which turned out to be from the cashew. Only after we'd eaten it did he mention that some people regard it as poisonous, not Heinz though!
Cycling is a great way to see Thailand, as it forces you to spend time in the rural areas and generally keeping a wide-berth of the more commercial resorts.
Camping on beaches outside seafood restaurants was a highlight that only resulted in disaster once, when a tropical storm blew in, nearly blowing away our half pitched tents! (who needs the outer sheet in 30+ degrees!)
Malaysia provided yet another culture shift and more interesting cycling terrain - from interior mountains to coastal routes.
Highlights were making an appearance on the #1 breakfast radio show in Malaysia (I was told afterwards to upwards of 2 million listeners!), taking part in the over-exuberant Indian Festival of Colour (Holi) an hour before getting on a plane, and a week spent in the lazy and idyllic port town of Melaka.