Asia on a tandem

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  • It's now been two months in Thailand, and it's easy to see why it's such a popular cycling destination. Roads are good, train network is good, food is good, accommodation is plentiful, people are nice.

    We took trains to the South and slowly made our way up from there. Loose route was Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chumphon, Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi, Uthai Thani, Kamphaeng Phet, Chiang Mai, and Nan (where I am now). Met plenty of other cyclists here, each one with a different itinerary.

    I liked the mid-sized towns the most. Places like Uthai Thani, Kamphaeng Phet, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Sukhothai. Picturesque, 'normal' cities with cool night markets. There's one tonight in Nan, we're looking forward to that.

    I liked the touristic towns a lot less. After a while in SE Asia, it feels like we've been to the same place many times over, foreigner zones where you find the same things over and over again. In the beginning we loved these places, a slice of home comforts in another country, but now we're avoiding them entirely. I'm definitely not a hardcore traveller, I don't have a fascination with the tiny villages in the middle of nowhere where there's no electricity or hot water, I carry a tent but I don't usually enjoy camping, but still, I'm ok without sourdough and yoga when I'm traveling. I think Thailand made us feel like this because you see so much of it. I might be totally off here, but it felt like in Vietnam we were visiting a country and seeing it as it is, whereas in Thailand it's as if the country caters to you the visitor, which is sometimes less interesting.

    That said, some of the touristic programs we did were absolutely stunning. Waterfalls and caves so beautiful I'd do this again just to see them once more. It is also nice to be in a country where things are easy, and there's fresh coconut and Khao Soi :)

    One last note about the burning season: the air gets really polluted. There's a thick haze all the time, so we get to the top of climbs and can't see shit around. It's quite annoying. From what we hear it goes on for two months, Feb and Mar, and it's quite terrible in the North (where we are now). Check out this pic at the viewpoint on top of a mountain:

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  • On the other hand, the haze also does this:

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  • Awesome. Always excited when I see this thread bumped.

    Great update.

  • Amazing. I love your photos, they are very evocative. One, or both of you, has a very good eye. Safe travels!

  • love that last pic,
    safe travels to you both!

  • So nice ^___^

  • Oh yess!! Got excited when I saw this thread was updated. I'm going to Thailand in a few weeks so extra stoked now

  • The touristic parts of thailand have been ruined by the seedy side of things.. thankfully there is plenty of escape and it looks amazing by your photography.

  • Favourite forum thread right here. Damn those photos are so so good.

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  • Resisting urge to follow as I’m sure you don’t want to be indundated.

    But echoing the above - one of the threads I most look forward to seeing an update from. Your pics and adventure are awesome.

  • Thanks for the accept!

  • Likewise. Some lovely shots there.

  • Looks like you two are having fun! I'm in Malaysia, was wondering where you're at. saw a fully loaded tandem, a few months ago and thought of this thread.

    Are you gonna take the east coast or west coast on your journey south into Malaysia? There's better beaches in east and more civilization in the west.

  • Oh, we're not going to Malaysia this time, we're on our way to Northern Laos.

  • A much better plan! will be looking forward to thw next round of updates

  • Another bump of thanks - I discovered this thread a few months ago when I was stuck at work in a hospital doing nothing and had forgot my laptop so couldn't do any other work. I'm now raving about it to many friends and would dearly one day love to do something similar. Keep the stories and photos coming please :)

  • Just read through the full thread. Amazing stuff. The bike looks great and your trip even more so. It's got me fired up to try a short bike packing trip here in Canada once the weather is better. Look forward to seeing more updates over time. Stay safe and enjoy!

  • We covered a lot of ground by boat in Laos. It's an amazing way to travel, shame there's less and less of it as the rivers are being dammed. As with Cambodia, it's remarkable to see the pace of change in Laos, mostly due to Chinese influence. We crossed a couple of bridges being built for the new Vientiane railway, it's hard to imagine the impact it will have once it's ready. But it's also equally hard to imagine what places like Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng must have looked like a few years ago, I'm aware we've already visited a Laos in transition. It felt a lot more undeveloped and remote than the other countries we visited up to now, which was interesting to experience. Some of the landscapes are incredible, though I don't think we rode through the most dramatic parts.

    There's two reasons for this: one is the smoke, which was a real downer for us unfortunately. Laos was as bad as the North of Thailand, if not worse. We parked the bike in the guesthouse's garden in Luang Prabang, and we could see soot accumulating on top of it. Secondly, we heard reports from other cyclists that the main road to Vientiane was taken over (and being destroyed) by trucks working on the railway. The stretch between Luang Prabang and Vientiane was on my bucket list, it's one of the roads I really wanted to ride because I'm a sucker for karst landscapes, but I ended up thinking we were there on the wrong time and it wasn't going to be enjoyable.

    So we came up with a plan to ride in search of another karst area, so we wouldn't feel shortchanged. Satellite images show a lot less burning in Vietnam, so we decided to ride East and go to Sapa and the Ha Giang province. I left Laos feeling like I'll want to go back again, the little stretch of road 1C we rode to Nong Khiaw was really pretty, I'd love to ride its whole length one day. But now we couldn't contain our excitement in going back to Vietnam, to our own surprise.

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  • Bit more Laos

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  • Back to Vietnam then. I don't know if we were lucky, but it was SO nice to see a blue sky again. This is a picture we took just down the pass from the Laos border, it's a nothing scene (actually it's a tarp set up by the lady who we were buying sugarcane juice from), but look all this blue and green compared to the pics above. Things make shade! Hard shade! Felt good.

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  • It took us all of ten minutes to be swallowed by chaos, but we were happy to be on this side of the border. Dien Bien is quite a beautiful area, and the town is rather nice. We had one day of flat riding, and then we hit a mountainous area for the next couple of weeks. From there to Hanoi it was around 1,000km with 15,000m elevation gain, the hilliest stretch we had up until now. Luckily the grades were gentler since we left Thailand, with the exception of some tricky but short bits on the Ha Giang loop.

    Sapa is an interesting place to visit, it looks positively alpine and has a crazy fog that wraps over everything every 20 minutes. It's amazing. We wore our warm clothes and had hot drinks, it felt like Christmas. Sapa is another place being developed at a crazy pace, there were so many cranes around, and you just hear construction noise everywhere. But we were very happy to go and see it anyway.

    From there we rode towards Ha Giang to start a loop going to Dong Van, Meo Vac, and back. @Pawlus was kind enough to give me some pointers, as he rode the Ma Pi Leng pass a few months ago. The amount of tourists on motorbikes in this area was incredible, I feel uncomfortable easily in these situations as there was a bit of a gap year vibe going on and it inevitably creates a reaction on the locals.

    In a loosely related note, it was in one of the climbs of this area that I lost my cool to a degree I didn't know I could. A guy in a scooter overtook us, stopped and took out his phone. We know this can happen, after all we're a couple of farang on a tandem, it looks ridiculous, fair enough. I just get really annoyed when there's no smile, no hello, no nod to engage before you put your phone in our faces. We overtook him puffing and sweating and clearly making a face to say 'we're not cool with this'. My girlfriend opened her harms like 'really?'. I think the guy didn't realise it at all, because I could hear him starting his engine and inching closer, very slowly. He went parallel with us, phone still in hand, filming us without saying a word or anything. Such a weird feeling. I totally lost it, I don't remember feeling so aggravated, and obviously I felt super ashamed straight away. Ultimately the guy meant no harm, and he was doing no different from what we see a lot of tourists doing. I hope he managed to capture some, erm, interesting footage to amuse himself.

    Anyway, the Ha Giang area is incredible, so very dramatic. I don't think we rode through more beautiful mountain landscapes in SE Asia. The valley marking the border between Vietnam and China is so deep it gave me vertigo looking at it.

    After Ha Giang we rode to Hanoi, where I am now on a mini break. In a couple of weeks we go back to China, where the idea is to make a high altitude route to see how we cope before Central Asia. It's getting so close now! All we have left is a few hundred km in China (we have a friend flying over, so we won't ride much there), then pack it all up and hit Tajikistan. Wow.

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  • Ma Pi Leng pass

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  • Some more around Ha Giang

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Asia on a tandem

Posted by Avatar for ough @ough