A change of tack

I am sitting in the lounge at Sunflower Lodge YHA in New Plymouth, listening to chillaxing music, eating an apple with peanut butter, and waiting for Ed to make me a cup of tea.  It’s almost like we’re on holiday or something!  The slight snag is that when I try and get up and walk anywhere, I’m currently waddling like a duck.  More on that later.  What on earth have we been up to since I last posted??

We have cycled some beautiful roads, and taken in some spectacular scenery.

Two cyclists on a dirt track
Pretending we’re on mountain bikes in Pirongia Forest Park (on our way to the free campsite – see below)

 

Cyclist on the road in the New Zealand forest
On our way from Marakopa to Te Kuiti.

A man walking onto a black sand beach
Checking out Kawhia’s Ocean Beach

We’ve tried our best to stay on the backroads, with some unfortunate consequences…..

 

Cyclist giving a gravel road the thumbs down
And the road turns to gravel…..for 7 steep, downhill kilometres.  Sense of humour failures all round. I didn’t kick my bike, honest.

We’ve also been scared silly by the occasional close encounters with fast moving trucks.  They are mostly pretty courteous…and give you space when there’s space to give.  If there’s no space, rest assured they’re coming through anyway.  Our new tactic is to jump off the road when they approach – possibly overkill, but it makes us feel better!

We’ve camped in some special places, including one in the pouring rain (where the host took pity on us and gave us free shower tokens!)

Campsite
Camping with a view at Shekinah Farm. The hosts let everyone share their kitchen and living room so no need to sit in the cold wind either!

 

Campsite with a single tent
We enjoyed having Kaniwhaniwha campsite all to ourselves! We did have to swim in the river to wash, and the water filter came in handy….but it was free!

 

We’ve even managed to cook up something of a storm at said campsites.

 

Chick peas with couscous
Green beans, chick peas and tomatoes with couscous

 

Curry and rice
Coconut curry with halloumi

Pasta
Lentil ragu with pasta

 

We’ve also spent two wonderful evenings in the company of Warmshowers hosts….in the lap of luxury in their nice houses with well-stocked beer/wine fridges!!  Not to mention their friendly cats 🙂

 

A couple
Off to a good start – fun times with Ray and Zoe in Papakura

Four people sitting around a dinner table
Another lovely evening thanks to Stephen and Kara – who previously hosted Anna McNuff! Also great to meet fellow cyclist Ev.

And so we find ourselves in New Plymouth!  Not on everyone’s itinerary due to being somewhat stuck out to the West, but I have wanted to come here since my very first visit to New Zealand.  Why I hear you ask??  Because it is home to this beast:

 

Volcano
Mount Taranaki. Who doesn’t love a perfect pointy mountain?

Not only did we cross paths with my parents once again, leading to a bonus evening spent in their company, but we stumbled upon two days of utterly perfect weather, making it more than feasible to FINALLY don our hiking kit, and get up into the hills.  If we’re really honest, so far, cycling in New Zealand hasn’t really hit the spot*….but this certainly did.

*slightly our own fault for being on bikes that don’t deal well with gravel or single track…and thus being forced onto the highways a lot more than we would like.  Not sure any fully-loaded bike would make me feel comfortable on the slippy stuff, however, but I am the sissiest of sissies!  But really, New Zealand, can’t you manage to pave your flipping roads??  Thailand has managed…..  Grumble over!

So, we squeezed our kit and food for 2 days into our ridiculously small backpacks, hopped into a shuttle up to the National Park, and were deposited at the start of the Pouakai Circuit.  Two days of arduous ups and downs, steps and tree roots, a spot of mud…..and wall to wall sunshine illuminating view after stupendous view.

Panorama with a volcano
The track is mostly contained within this photo!

Hiking hut
Home for the night – Pouakai hut 

Hiker is the woods
In the woods

Forested hills
Looking back at the Pouakai ranges – the remains of a volcano much older than Taranaki

It was really wonderful.  Friendly people at the hut in the evening, perfect stars when night fell (is it easier to see the milky way in the southern hemisphere?  I shoud know this!), and a stunning sunrise over New Plymouth the following morning.  Sigh.  If only my legs were still talking to me!  😀

More tramps are to be tramped….this change of tack is not temporary.  Watch this space!

So, onto the usual admin 🙂  Photos from our NZ cycle adventure so far can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/A4871U

And, of course, you can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram @unprofessionaladventurers – struggling a bit with lack of wifi here in NZ but my intentions are good!

 

 

 

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All change

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while.  I’d anticipated writing about the change between cycling in Asia and being on holiday in New Zealand but, I’ve left it so flipping long that we’re about to start cycling once again!  What can I say – so much fun to be had. I’m a bit under the weather, but after 2 weeks in NZ already, we’re bursting to get back on the bikes, even if we don’t make huge progress for a few days.  So, what have we been up to?

We’ve spent a bit of time in Auckland, including meeting up with Ruth and family and participating in parkrun 🙂 🙂 🙂

People standing with the parkrun flag
Happy parkrunners

We’ve enjoyed a campervan adventure with my parents, to the gorgeous Coromandel peninsula.

People walking along a seafront boardwalk
Bowentown beach. Not too shabby.

People sitting at a picnic table next to a campervan
This camping lark’s alright

 

We’ve explored the equally gorgeous Northland.

 

Beach cottages
We stayed here. Thanks to Gracie and Mark for letting us gatecrash!

 

People on the beach
Only 80km of perfect beach…..

 

We’ve spent lots of time with the wonderful Jihanny Baby.

 

Two ladies standing on a walking track
Old friends!

 

People on swings
Never TOO old

I’ve even managed to compete* in a triathlon.

*possibly overstating things a wee bit…..the swim was a disaster and my chain came off, but I made it to the finish line and loved every minute!

Three people in wetsuits standing at the edge of a lake
Checking out the swim course like pros

 

Female runner, waving hands
On the run after a mechanical!

However, the greatest story actually comes from our, sorry, my, somewhat traumatic entry into the country in the first place.  Sigh.  I suppose I’d better fess up on this one.

Those who have known me well for a while may remember that I had a small ‘mishap’ when backpacking in Australia as a naive 22 year old….namely that I inadvertently overstayed my welcome, and received an automatic exclusion from the country for three whole years.  Oops.  Which, considering how square and law-abiding I am in reality, has been a source of amusement ever since.  To be honest, I hadn’t given the implications a huge amount of thought, other than fearing that entry into Australia at a later date may be more complicated…but they did say they would probably let me back in, and I’ve heard of others actually being deported, and still being admitted at a later date on long-term visas.  I’ve also travelled extensively since that fateful trip, including to the somewhat picky US of A numerous times, and never encountered any problems….until now.

Turns out that the New Zealand arrival card has a box that I was obliged to tick.  I also had to answer ‘yes’ to the fateful question at the e-passport gates.  

‘Have you ever been excluded from any country?’

Oh dear.

Yes.  Yes I have.  But…..it was so long ago!  And I was just stupid!  I am so boring and well-behaved, surely this isn’t an issue???!!!  I’ve been to New Zealand THREE TIMES since this happened, why is it an issue now??

I was escorted to the naughty seats and left to sweat while my passport was taken away for further examination. Eventually, a somewhat stern lady came over and took me through the one way door.  And left me to sweat a bit more.  Someone else photographed me and took my fingerprints.  And then left me once again. 

Lady number 1 (who did introduce herself with her first name and was perfectly nice to me) eventually returned, and took me into the ‘interview room’.  She informed me, in no uncertain terms, that I fell under section 51 of the immigration act, 2009.  I fell into the same category as actual criminals, and New Zealand was not at all keen to let me in.  With Ed sitting on the wrong side of the one way door, my parents already safely in their hotel room, and Jihan on her way to collect us, you could say that my heart sank a little bit.  We went through everything:  what happened on the trip to Australia, what I was doing in New Zealand, and how on earth I’d managed to enter in 2013 when the new rule was already in place (still a mystery).  She wanted Ed’s details, my parents’ dates of birth and flight number, even Jihan’s date of birth which I didn’t actually know.  She said we needed to ‘make a case’ for letting me in – did I have any really pressing reason to be there?  Not really.  A holiday and the expectations of others. Things were looking very bleak indeed.

Then, off she popped to ‘speak to her manager’ and left me to sweat once again.  I was sobbing by this point – things looked completely hopeless and I couldn’t imagine breaking the news 😦

After what seemed like hours, she returned.  And it was a bit like a switch had been flicked.  We went through everything again, but her demeanour was more cheerful (I should say that at no point was she unkind to me – in fact she was pretty nice, considering the conversation we were having!)  A six month visa was to be mine after all.  

I am still unsure if the two hour ordeal was ‘teaching me a lesson’, or if my entry into the country really was in serious doubt.  Apparently they deal with people like me on a case by case basis, so maybe I really did have to convince her that I was worthy!  Either way, it was pretty harrowing for me, and possibly worse for Ed, stranded on the other side of that door.

Quite funny that we’d been so worried about the weight of our luggage, yet Qantas didn’t even weigh our bike boxes.  We’d also fretted extensively about the state of our tyres and tent, knowing how strict New Zealand’s biosecurity controls can be.  The guy DID look at our tent, and DID check that our boxes indeed carried bicycles, but was far more interested in chatting to us about our trip than giving us a hard time.  It’s always the things you haven’t thought of that come back to bite you!

We were then in a big ol’ rush to get the bikes unpacked and ready for Jihan to collect us – good job we didn’t have to ride anywhere, as I wasn’t in any fit state to do a decent assembly job at this point!!

In the bike assembly area at Auckland airport
Not sure my mind was quite on the job!

Two weeks later, I’m still heaving a big sigh of relief.  And, in case you’re wondering, I applied for my Aussie visa as soon as we had a spare moment….success!  I’m not counting my chickens, but all does seem to be well…..and I am am well aware of the conditions of said visa, like a proper responsible grown up.

Today we head south.  We’re actually only cycling 18km, then taking a boat and a train to Papakura, where we’ll be staying with Warmshowers* hosts for the first time. We then have a couple more easy days lined up as we potter towards the surf town of Raglan and eventually on to Mount Taranaki for a spot of tramping (NZ-style hiking!)  We’ve had blissful sunshine for most of the last fortnight so, of course, the weather is breaking today and rain is forecast. As my Mum would say, this is why New Zealand is such a green and pleasant land!  Bring it on 😉

*Warmshowers is a network of people who are happy to host smelly cyclists in their homes.  We are hosts in the UK so if you’re ever passing near Ottery St Mary, look us up!

Photos from the first stage of our Kiwi adventure can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/h08G8h

ICYMI my round up of our SE Asian adventure can be found here:  https://unprofessionaladventurers.wordpress.com/2018/02/13/asia-you-blew-our-minds/

The next blog will feature some actual cycling once again, fingers crossed!

 

 

 

Asia, you blew our minds

Oh Asia.  What an adventure we have had!  How we will miss your incredibly kind, friendly and delighted-to-see-us people, your delicious (and CHEAP!) food, and your (mostly) sunny skies.  If you could sort out your issues with single-use plastic, too many kids not in school and treatment of animals, our love would be virtually unconditional!  Oh, and maybe start providing roast potatoes. 

So.  Many.  Memories.  It’s impossible to name the ‘ best bit’ or our ‘favourite place’. Instead, here are a few(!) of the most unforgettable moments from the last five months.
 
 

Thailand
  • Cycling 26km through central Bangkok and its crazy traffic. Without dying.
  • Finding a bike shop in Uttaradit to fix Cecil’s bent rear mech hanger…for the princely sum of £1.25.  And having our photo taken with the lovely owners for their Facebook page.
  • Deciding to go out for a walk in Lamphun when we really didn’t feel like it, and finding ourselves the only visitors at a beautiful temple, complete with chanting monks. 
  • Braving a very local restaurant in the tiny town of Mae La Noi for lunch, and encountering a friendly teacher who spoke perfect English, in addition to a beautifully laminated English menu.  And the food was excellent 🙂
  • The wooden windmills outside all manner of establishments.  Why?  ‘Because they look nice’.
  • Cycling up Chiang Mai’s local mountain, Doi Suthep, on our day off.  WHAT were we thinking?
  • The birth of our fascination with the local agriculture, and the ability to grow crops on a sheer hillside.  Mountain cabbage, anyone?
  • Stumbling upon a celebratory night market in Mai Hong Son with traditional music and dancing, tons of delicious food and everyone out enjoying themselves.  What an atmosphere.
  • The sight of the ‘backwards 17’ sign signalling the presence of a fully vegetarian restaurant (yumtastic).
  • The day we cycled to Pang Mapha, and encountered Devon-style gradients for kilometres on end.  #shutuplegs #shutupkaty
  • The first time we saw the Mighty Mekong, and looked across it into Laos.  Then sat next to it while eating our dinner at the wonderful night market.
  • Trekking through the jungle on Ko Mook with Marie, and literally being EATEN ALIVE by mosquitos.
 
Yummy veggie food served here!

 
Laos
  • The process of entering Laos – AKA general confusion.  We soon learned that this was the norm, and to just go with the flow!
  • Our first day cycling, involving encounters with free range children, chickens, pigs and goats, and seeing people washing under communal taps in the street.  With big trucks hurtling through at (fortunately) infrequent intervals.
  • Cycling in the hills up to Kiew Kacham and down again, including a night in the tiny mountain town.  Not sure they see many funny western tourists…..
  • Eating lunch with chickens wandering around under the restaurant tables.
  • Finally meeting a few other cyclists, and having a good old chinwag.
  • Arriving in shiny, cosmopolitan Luang Prabang, where there are croissants-a-plenty.  Is this really Laos?
  • Bathroom sinks emptying directly onto the floor.
  • Getting stuck in the tiny town of Phonsi due to high winds, and the fear of flying corrugated iron from nearby roofs.  No window, squat toilet and cold shower?  No problem.
So cool to meet like-minded souls!
 
Vietnam
  • The weird, post-apocalyptic no-mans land at the border.  Made weirder by dense fog.
  • Our incredible first meal (fried rice, quite the staple) in a tiny restaurant in a tiny town.
  • Hot taps and sinks that don’t empty onto the floor…..but baths that do(!)
  • Exceptionally loud karaoke in the middle of the countryside at 10am.
  • Stopping at the friendly MOC coffee shop with the proudest owner in the land.
  • The coffee.  Full stop.  
  • The free tea that comes with the coffee.
  • The entirely uninhibited people.  Happy to holler, to stand and stare, to follow, to touch, to selfie.  Always wanting to help (think tiny ladies carrying Ed’s massive panniers up three flights of stairs). Overwhelming at first, but we learned to love them!
  • Hiking up the side of a waterfall in Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.  Health and Safety, what’s that?
  • Going in search of veggie banh mi sandwiches in Hue and eating them sitting on teeny plastic chairs in a building resembling someone’s garage.  And THEN finding veggie bun noodles next door and just having to try those too.
  • The large, modern towns that look somewhat Western and yet feel totally Vietnamese all at the same time.
  • Mopeds (and cars) living INSIDE the houses
  • Cycling the Hai Van pass in the pouring rain, accompanied by shouts, waves and beeps of encouragement (incredulity??)
  • Mopeds carrying pretty much anything.  TV?  Washing Machine?  Plate glass?  No problem.
  • Getting happily lost in the heart of the coconut industry in the delta, and stumbling upon the most wonderful veggie restaurant for lunch.
  • The sheer plethora of veggie restaurants in general.  Google for ‘chay’ or just keep your eyes peeled – they are everywhere!
  • Ferries instead of bridges.  A dying lifestyle.
Cafe vong (hammock) AKA cyclist heaven

 
Cambodia
  • Arriving in lovely Kep with its beach and warm sea.  Bliss.
  • Having a much easier time of it in general, thanks to the kind, gentle people.
  • Incredibly noisy weddings right by the side of the road.  ‘We play the music loud so that everyone knows there’s a wedding and can come and join in’.
  • Red coolboxes full of cold drinks outside every other house.
  • Cycling in the craziest, most lawless but surprisingly considerate traffic in Phnom Penh.
  • Exploring Bayon Temple after the crowds had gone home with Nixie and AJ.
  • Unexpectedly pretty scenery.
  • Unexpectedly pleasant towns.
  • Unexpectedly good roads
Cambodia. Pretty countryside and chillaxed cows.

 
Malaysia
  • Oh the food.  Once we’d cracked it, we couldn’t get enough of the veggie Chinese buffets and the fried rice / roti canai / lemon tea at the 24 hour Muslim eateries.  
  • Not the roads.  Or the traffic!
  • Being back in the mountains.  With the promise of elephants….we saw some poo!
  • Wild camping up a tower.
  • Actually being sad to leave a country that we really took a while to warm to!  This short list is unrepresentative 🙂
Wild camping with a view

 
Singapore
  • The absolutely wonderful Tree in Lodge hostel which looked after us so so well (spoilt us rotten, in fact!) and allowed us to meet so many other cyclists, with so many stories to share.
  • parkrun with Emilie.
  • Watching the Marina Bay Sands light show from entirely the wrong vantage point with the Morgan-Forsters.
  • Eating delicious food in Chinese veggie restaurants with Mum and Dad.
Singapore. Not too shabby.
 
And that was that.  New Zealand here we come!
 
PS last lot of Malaysia photos here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/g403M2 
Singapore pics to follow!
 
 
 
 

How different can it be?

Malaysia, Malaysia.  What were we expecting?  Not sure we were quite prepared for the rollercoaster we’ve been on – it’s like Vietnam all over again!  But we were certainly craving change.  

Culturally speaking, Malaysia is really quite different, and absolutely fascinating. It feels predominantly Muslim, yet a good chunk of the population is of Chinese origin (and Buddhist), with a healthy smattering of Hinduism thrown in.  So we have mosques and calls to prayer rubbing shoulders with red lanterns ready for Chinese New Year, and elaborate Hindu temples joining the dots.

Mosque roof
Incredible mosque in Alor Setar
Red lanterns hanging across a street
Chinese lanterns in Georgetown

I have to say, many of the small towns we encouncountered really haven’t been very appealling. If I am completely objective, I would argue that this is true of every country we’ve visited so far on this trip.  Yet Malaysia got off on the wrong foot somehow.  Perhaps we expected too much! It is a bit more modern and developed than some places we’ve visited, but this tends to mean strips of delapidated concrete buildings that are completely devoid of charm.  It probably didn’t help that we arrived when there were a couple of days’ holiday, so lots of things were closed, quashing any hope of a vibrant atmosphere.  Things are certainly perking up now, but that first impression is hard to shift.

I had great hopes for the impact of the cultural melting pot on Malaysian food – as you know, we are all about the food!  However, food has mostly just felt difficult and stressful.  It’s been hard to figure out how the various restaurant types work, and they are pretty meaty.  Accounts of the country assured me that ‘everyone’ spoke English, so we were expecting to have little difficulty in comunicating our vegetarian preference.  And yet I’ve found msyelf picking chicken and prawns out of my fried rice on more occasions than anticipated.

Katy in restaurant
Extremely happy to find a vegetarian restaurant

And then there’s the accommodation.  I like to think we aren’t very fussy, especially after staying in some pretty basic places in Laos and Cambodia.  However, the ‘Homestay’ options in the tiny town of Jeli really brought things to a new low.  It’s pretty standard to have no window, and actually this can be a bonus as at least it’s quiet.  But these places were too depressing to contemplate.  They weren’t even that cheap!  There are good places of course, but it will cost you.

Brown room
We’re getting used to dingy!

The tourist hotspot of Georgetown brought welcome relief, with a very lovely hostel, and restaurants with English menus and vegetarian options galore.  We stuffed ourselves silly (naturally) but just couldn’t quite love the place.  As I keep on bleating, it’s just really hard to readjust to the more touristy places when it’s been days since you saw another Western face. Somehow it just doesn’t feel real, even if it does feel easy!  

Old buildings
Georgetown was pretty easy on the eye….

Chocolate brownie
….and we certainly enjoyed the food!

All this complaining.  So get off your butts, and steer this adventure down a path more fulfilling already!!

What is it that you enjoy about all this?  Aside from food?  We’d have to say mountains.

My legs would argue that it’s been a while!!  We’ve had some tough (not to mention hot) days, but it’s been pretty spectacular.  We did indeed camp, and it felt great.  We aren’t quite at the stage of loving it…….not quite…..we’re still on the rollercoaster.  But the peaks and troughs have been smoothed out at least a little, especially over the last couple of days.

A mountain panorama
Not bad
Tent on top of a viewing platform
Did you really camp there?!

We’d had a bit of a mixed day on Monday, with some great cycling and incredible views, but a disappointment of not being able to visit the State Park we’d been looking foward to. However, the day did end on a high when, rather than camping, we stayed at the positively delightful Rose House in Dabong.  The friendly welcome (including tea and toast) was the icing on the cake; we were sold when we laid eyes on the sofa.  

So, we restarted somewhat revived on Tuesday, and had a real ‘choose your own adventure’ moment when we consulted the map for the first time.  Shall we take the obvious route along the main-ish road, given that it really isn’t very busy? Or shall we put our adventure pants on and head into the jungle?  The jungle won, and it was so worth it!  Our best ride in ages.

Cyclist looking at a road in the jungle
Into the jungle

And then yesterday.  We were feeling pretty tired after 5 days’ strenous cycling, so the prospect of another 100km day was a little daunting.  However, once we’d conquered the one hill near the beginning, we were treated to a day of smooth, quiet roads and fabulous views across the jungle canopy.  Until it turned into palm-oil plantations…..but at least palm trees are appealling!  We were deposited in the bustling, colourful town of Kuala Lipis which looked just perfect for a rest day.  

Rainforest trees
Now that’s what I call jungle
Lanterns and old buildings
Colourful Kuala Lipis

We’re still on that rollercoaster, however.  We checked in to the very pleasant Hotel London, and had a delicious (fully vegetarian!) Chinese meal to replenish our stores.  There was even beer!  Back at the hotel, however, during an admittedly torrential downpour, water started coming through our ceiling.  Not ideal, but no problem!  A new room was provided, and we settled in once again…..and then the neighbour’s squeaky aircon unit started…..and did not stop…..all night.  We didn’t love Kuala Lipis very much this morning, and 7-Eleven’s failure to provide adequate breakfast supplies did not help things.  But then……we braved the little Chinatown-esque alleyway for lunch, and had one of our best meals to date.  To top it all off, we have upgraded our hotel and it is very nice indeed!  We won’t get complacent though…..a few nights ago we ended up staying next door but one to a nightclub, which battered our eardrums until 4am…..let’s hope we don’t surge that far down this evening!

Man with plates of food
A good lunch makes all the difference

The bottom line here, is that we’re just itching to get to Singapore and then New Zealand. I also realised that I am actually a bit lonely with only Ed to talk to 99% of the time.  Not that he isn’t great(!), but I simply can’t wait for more regular human interaction, and am besides myself with excitement about the various reunions with friends and family that we have to look forward to.  This is making it hard to appreciate Malaysia…but I promise we are trying.  Woe is us and our exotic adventure…..but please understand that it doesn’t always feel like paradise!  We have one more week, and we will be trying to squeeze out the very best that Malaysia has to offer.

While I’m sick of hearing myself complain, one more thing…..the wifi here is RUBBISH!  So I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for Malaysia albums.  I will post them as an update if I ever get them to upload.  I think I’m yet to share these pics from the last few days in Thailand, so they will have to do for now:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/3cH572

I’m already writing our final SE Asia blog in my head…to be posted in Singapore!  Woo!

Counting days again

Today is our last day in Thailand.  

We have been in Asia for 4 months and 6 days, and have cycled 3028 miles / 4874km in that time.  We are here, cheers Our Kid for the ongoing map updates :). Tomorrow, we will cycle over the border into Malaysia.  20 days later, we’ll enter Singapore.  We’ll stay for 5 nights, and then we will fly to New Zealand.  

I can no longer tell you any of the above at the drop of a hat but, given that our flights are booked and time is marching on, counting days is fast becoming a logistical necessity!

We’ve actually done precious little cycling since I last wrote.  From Siem Reap, we headed back to Bangkok by bus, still with Nixie and AJ.  The intention was to sample New Year Bangkok-style, but some of us were still too sick to make it past 10pm 😦  I am assured our visitors had a wonderful time, however!  And I also had a wonderful time, until 10pm 🙂  I even managed a glass of rather nice red wine, and being woken up by the incredible noise from the fireworks was actually a pretty special experience.  

Eating street food in Bangkok
Sampling Bangkok’s street food (and beer)
Roti time at the night market
Glass of red out of shot

Nixie and AJ headed off for some island time before returning to their sensible lives (sniff!), and we headed South to find some beaches of our own.  

Travelling in comfort on the train
Things were rather less roomy on the bus!

We’d picked Krabi as our meeting point with Marie, based on a very positive experience on our previous trip.  It’s a pleasant town with some (but not too many) tourist leanings, excellent food, and easy access to a large number of appealling tropical islands. Marie arrived without incident, we gave her a day to catch her breath and then we were off on an island hopping adventure.

Thai food initiation

I say we gave her a day….  Actually, we went off on a modest day trip to see if all the fuss about Railay beach had foundation.  Verdict:  a worthy day trip if you aren’t seeking solitude.  It is undeniably beautiful, but that was more than enough ‘following the crowds’ for these adventurers.  Apologies to anyone who is utterly sick of sunny beach photos.  I don’t blame you.  Look away now.

Railay West is justifiably popular!

Once the jetlag had passed (well, not sure we checked that, sorry Marie!) we hopped into a mini-van and headed South into Trang province.  A short speedboat ride later and were were deposited in Paradise, AKA Ko Mook.  

Beautiful beach with palm trees
Is that even real?

We hiked through the jungle to a deserted beach.  We chartered a ship (ok, small boat) and swam through a cave to a hidden Emerald Cove.  We ate, we drank, we laughed, we made new friends.  Sigh.  Can we go back?

Only 60 mozzie bites were sustained on this adventure

On our way to the cave with Gina

Oh how many attempts we had at taking this photo!!

It was pretty tough to drag ourselves away, but Ko Kradan was calling.  We were promised perfect beaches and incredible snorkelling.  And a very ‘rustic’ beach bungalow experience with added wildlife.  All promises were honoured!

Oh my
The location was worth a few bugs!

 

I was a little reticent about our decision to head to the much larger, more developed, Ko Lanta.  However, we had liked it on our previous visit but felt we hadn’t made the most of it, and it also fitted in very nicely with our itinerary.  As it turns out, it was an excellent contrast to the teeny tiny islands, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  Our cooking course was a particular highlight, thanks again to our generous ex-colleagues for funding that one!

Not too shabby
Cocktails and large knives, what could possibly go wrong?  At least we won’t forget our names

We reluctantly dragged ourselves away from Paradise and headed back to Krabi, where we said goodbye to Marie (sob!) and mounted our trusty steeds once again.  

Four days cycling, and we’re already having a rest!!  While it’s been fine, we ARE pretty tired, it seems prudent to look after ourselves at this early stage, especially as our plans for Malaysia are somewhat mountainous.  So, we find ourselves in the small, sleepy town of Satun, with little to do other than write blogs, binge watch Grey’s Anatomy, eat excellent food and drink the last few Thai teas….sniff.  Actually, we did find a very cool market this morning, just to reassure you that we have moved!

Satun market

I fear that adding any more photos to this blog will limit its chances of ever uploading, so let’s wrap this up!   Photo fans can catch up on our Bangkok photos here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/qw80wf and, in the unlikely event that you are NOT sick of beach photos, our island hopping album is here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/N8S0j8.  Thank you to AJ, Nixie and Marie (and Ed!) for freely sharing their photos with me – I am not organised enough to remember which are yours and which are mine, so please take this as credit!

Don’t forget you can also find us on instagram and facebook (@unprofessionaladventurers) for more regular updates (some may say spamming), and we are also on Crazy Guy if any cyclists would like a bit more detail on the actual cycling part of this cycling adventure:  http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/unprofessionaladventure2017.  As ever, we love hearing news from home so please use all usual channels, or drop us an email at unprofessionaladventurers@gmail.com. 

Next time….Malaysia!  I am assured that we have a good chance of seeing wild elephants along the way, so watch this space……  

 

 

 

About time

Before I started researching our trip, I knew precisely two things about Cambodia:

  1. It is home to a massive temple called Angkor Wat that people seem to get very excited about
  2. Blue Peter ran an appeal for its people sometime in the 80s, because some other people called the Khmer Rouge had done a lot of bad stuff.
A little research on the cycling side told me to expect horrible roads with bumpy / muddy surfaces and crazy traffic, grotty guesthouses, and scary food options.
 
As it turns out, Cambodia is a wonderful country, and we thoroughly enjoyed our 3 weeks exploring.  It’s pretty high in our ‘which country did you like best’ list, despite its lack of conventional cycling wow-factor.  So what was it that grabbed us and stole our hearts?  
 
Firstly, we have been pleasantly surprised by the roads.  We had one tricky stretch just south of Phnom Penh, where it was narrow, bumpy, busy AND under repair.  Other than that, it’s been great.  We managed a good chunk of the journey on smaller roads which is always preferable, but even once we were on Highway 6, it was fine!  Good, even!  Great surface, wide road with a decent shoulder, and just not that busy.  A cyclist’s dream!
 
Secondly, it’s actually very pretty.  It’s an extremely flat country, so we weren’t hopeful of much in the way of views.  It’s certainly true that we haven’t seen anything like the jaw-dropping scenery of Northern Thailand and Laos, but Cambodia has still been pretty easy on the eye.  Somehow we never tire of paddy fields and palm trees as far as the eye can see.  Add to that a host of appealling villages nestling within the tropical foliage, and it’s easy to like the place.
 
A cow in Cambodia
Not a bad view
Thirdly, it’s a lot more developed than at least I was expecting, meaning high standards of accommodation and an easy life as far as eating is concerned.  We only spent one night in a teeny tiny one horse town, and even there the guesthouse was pretty good – five whole dollars and the shower was warm! So, some of the challenges that have been wearing us down just haven’t existed here. If anything, we’re a bit sorry we haven’t tackled the more remote areas of the country, and are already hankering for a return!
 
Finally, it’s incredibly charming.  So many of the cool and funny things that we’ve enjoyed about SE Asia are present here, and the people have been nothing but kind, helpful and pleased to see us.  Stopping at roadside stalls and coffee shops refreshes the body and the soul, thanks to heart-warming encounters with the delightful locals. 
 
Sitting at a drink stall
Very important to refuel (with iced coffee)
Hard to describe, but Cambodia just has a nice ‘feel’ to it.  It’s under our skin for sure, and has well and truly reversed the doldrums that I spoke about in my last post.  If you’d like to see what I’m talking about, photos of our journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap are here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/z5MT0n
 
Visiting the temples of Angkor with Nixie and AJ was the icing on the cake.  What fun we had!  (despite my being ill for EIGHT DAYS AND COUNTING, but let’s not get bogged down in that…). I’d agonised over our itinerary, trying to strike a balance between wow factor, horrendous crowds and temple overload.  
 
So, on the afternoon of Christmas Day, we found ourselves a random tuktuk driver (who turned out to be excellent) off the street and headed over to Bayon temple (the one with the faces).  Various accounts had assured me that this very popular temple was best visited at the end of the day to avoid the hordes, and this was certainly true.  As closing time approached, things emptied out even more, leaving us to soak up the serene atmosphere of this incredible place.  Our photos are blissfully tourist-free as an added bonus!
 
Faces at Bayon temple
Are you looking at me?
On boxing day, tuktuk driver delegated to his mate (who was also excellent), and we headed straight for Ta Prohm (the one with the trees).  My obsessive research suggested ‘dawn’ was a good time to be here to escape the masses, but we settled for a more leisurely 8.30am, which proved to be a good compromise. This incredible temple is the classic Indiana Jones / Tomb Raider backdrop and did not disappoint.  The tree roots are almost liquid, dripping over the ruins (and causing havoc with the structures, no doubt!). We then headed to Banteay Kdei for an even more peaceful, evocative wander, followed by the impressive Pre Rup for a different aspect on the archaelogical park.  What a fabulous day.
 
Tree at temple
More trees at Banteay Kdei
Day 3 dawned and we stayed in bed while the crowds watched the sunrise (through dense cloud), instead heading to Angkor Wat after breakfast.  The big one.  Would it live up the the hype?  Well…..not really….not for us.  It’s beautiful when viewed from a distance, impressive due to its immense scale, and imposing when viewed up close.  But we felt it lacked the atmospheric charm of all of the others.  I also think that these things can become victims of their own hype – it is wonderful, but hard to get that excited when you’ve seen so many photos!  Finally, we headed to Preah Khan for endless, mirror-like corridors, and fewer people once again.
 
Columns Preah Khan temple
Something different at Preah Khan
A million pictures are available for your perusal here:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/X89G66
 
All of this templing was punctuated with a healthy dose of food and the odd cheeky cocktail 🙂
 
Christmas lunch
Christmas dinner, albeit without roast potatoes!
And now, we are back in Bangkok!  After a certain amount of fretting in team Campbell, we decided to brave the Nattakan cross-border bus (not the ideal option for bikes).  And it was fine, in fact it was pretty great!  Such a straightforward journey with friendly staff who looked after both us and the bikes extremely well.  We’ve had great fun exploring this fantastic city once again, and showing our friends some of the things that keeps Thailand so close to our hearts (many of which are edible!)  
 
At the night market
Hitting the night market in Bangkok
It’s been something of a whirlwind, leaving us with just over six weeks until we fly to the antipodes!  Time is a strange thing indeed – just a few weeks ago, it was literally crawling by whereas now, I am starting to feel like I need to backpedal to delay our departure!  Some people are just never happy 🙂
 
Friendly reminder that we always love receiving news from home (no matter how inconsequential) so do get in touch:  unprofessionaladventurers@gmail.com.  You probably know that we are on Facebook and Instagram @unprofessionaladventurers; there’s a map of our route here; and you can follow the nitty gritty of the cycling here: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/unprofessionaladventure2017
 
Happy New Year!  I’m under a health-related curfew but hoping to celebrate at least a little bit…..have a good one and don’t bother with resolutions, they just make you feel bad 😉
 
 
 
 

On being grateful

I’ll be honest here.  We’ve been feeling a little flat lately.   

It’s very easy to paint a rosy picture, and I know I’m especially guilty of this with my photos (although presumably you don’t actually want to see endless pictures of South East Asia’s rubbish problem?  Correct me if I’m wrong!). However, as it irritates me when others paint over the cracks and present their saccharine-sweet perfect life on the dreaded Facebook, it’s time to get a bit more real!

Life is hard

Make no mistake, we are having an incredible time.  It’s just not that much fun right at the moment.  

(Woe is us, obviously, on our extended adventure to exotic lands.  With money in the bank and a house to go back to!)

Hard to imagine how we’re coping

The fact of the matter is this.  We pretty much do the same thing day in, day out.  Yes, there is variety in the places we see, but a lot stays the same too.  We’re just a bit ‘asia-ed out’, as Ed puts it.  We are actually pretty taken with Cambodia thus far, so that is helping a little.  But the daily challenges we face, as we proceed along the extremely un-beaten track, are wearing a bit thin.  

Pretty rubbish really

Here’s the good news.  In JUST ONE WEEK, our dear friends Nicola and AJ will arrive in Siem Reap in time for Christmas!  We will spend a few days exploring Angkor Wat together, then head to Bangkok for New Year.  Woo!

It doesn’t end there either.  From Bangkok, we are heading straight to Krabi, where we’ll join Marie for some island time.  THEN we get to go to Malaysia, where we’ll head back into the mountains (which we’re really missing, despite my complaints about riding in them previously!). THEN it’s Singapore where we’re meeting Emilie for parkrun (and possibly some gossiping), Loz and Richard and family (probably for some eating), and THEN my lovely Mum and Dad, who are buying us cocktails at Raffles before we all head off to New Zealand together!  

That is probably enough change to satisfy our craving.  So the task for the next few days is to fully embrace cycling in Cambodia, as we know we’ll regret it if we don’t!  

Cambodia warrants our appreciation!

Yesterday, we rode 48 miles from Prey Veng to Kampong Cham (no, I’d never heard of them either!). It was a nice ride through pretty countryside, friendly towns, and fascinating agriculture.  There was a whopping headwind, which threatened to stop us in our tracks at various points (apparently it’s the windy season – brilliant), but I was quite impressed with the positive outlook that we both maintained, despite being a right pair of Debbie Downers at the moment.  I spent my day coming up with a list of random things that warm my heart as we cycle through this fascinating part of the world.  It’s easy to stop noticing these things, so I’m on a mission to stay in the moment, pay attention, and stop feeling sorry for myself!

  • Roadside stalls selling several varieties of fruit, some enormous, and none of which we can identify.
  • Poor old dogs with their saggy boobs and mangey coats, basking in the sun.  Not sure much neutering goes on around here…
  • Ladies in multicoloured pyjamas.  In the middle of the day.  Not always matching.  I feared we may have left this particular fashion trend in Vietnam, but fortunately not!
  • Overloaded vehicles.  A constant source of amusement, if we ignore the obvious danger factor.  It’s common to see a truck with a load which doubles its height.  Sometimes with a couple of chaps sitting ON THE TOP.
  • Flip flops.  On everyone, regardless of the manual task they may be performing.
  • Mopeds.  In Cambodia, it seems to be the norm to carry three full-grown adults (Ed muses that this is because four won’t fit).  They tow trailers, which can be large and full of 30+ school children.  They carry enormous ‘panniers’ loaded with veg, and are often additionally adorned with many carrier bags of other stuff.  You can sometimes barely see them under their load. We no longer bat an eyelid at them driving on the wrong side, pulling out without looking, or pulling u-turns in ridiculous places.  
  • The people.  We are still very popular, although the attention is somewhat less over-bearing than in Vietnam, thank goodness!  Returning all the shouts and waves can get a little tiresome (to a Debbie Downer at least), but reading another cyclist’s blog gave me a new perspective on this.  The majority of people in Cambodia (and its neighbours) are never going to get much further than the province in which they were born.  They won’t get to travel the world as we are, no matter how fascinated they might be by other cultures.  So seeing a couple of white faces in their tiny, rural village is genuinely exciting.  We are the world coming to them, and one of the few chances they will get to interact with a funny-looking foreigner, with their strange clothes and weird ways.  So we should give them their chance to ogle, even laugh!
Obviously the moped is designed to pull massive trailers
Ed also pointed out that we have seen plenty of people living in utter poverty.  Lots of kids clearly aren’t at school, and we met a teenage boy today who apparently couldn’t read.  So, whether we’re enjoying ourselves or not, we have a whole lot to be grateful for.
 
I am told it’s too long since I gave you an update on our stats, so here you go! Thus far, we have cycled 4292.6km / 2667.3 miles, and we are now in our fourth country.  We’ve now been away for just over 3 months, or just under 14 weeks.  I’m not going to calculate our average mileage as it will sound a lot less impressive than the total 😉
 
As usual, I have a new photo album for you, with the first section of our Cambodian adventure:https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/E86vD3
 
And that is all for now!  Next stop Christmas….have a good one if I don’t manage to write before The Big Day….!  We’ll likely be exploring Angkor Wat, but I expect we’ll manage to find some good food and a few drinks to celebrate at least a little bit 🙂
 
This blog is dedicated to Auntie Carol, who loved following our adventures.

Sparkly cross stitch clocks are a thing in Cambodia. Who knew.