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!
 
 
 
 
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Back into the good stuff

I’ll be honest – we’ve been experiencing something of a Laos lull since I last wrote.  Interesting how your perspective on a country can change so vastly once you explore a few more corners!  384 kilometres of flat, dusty, bumpy roads with considerably more traffic that we’re used to.  The wow-factor scenery has been scarce, and villages have lost their charm partly due to the ever-increasing quantity of litter, and the number of deserted building sites.  Does Laos really need ANOTHER petrol station?? And it’s very nice that you have some money, but surely you can find a better use for it than that ostentatious monstrosity??  (Bah humbug!)  It’s not all doom though, obviously.  Still much better than being at work  😉

Huge building under construction
Excuse me while I build my PALACE

From Vang Vieng, we headed south on the increasingly busy route 13, and didn’t hesitate to make a detour to explore the huge, artificial lake that takes up a good chunk of the region.  This did involve a good 5km on dirt….which came as a nasty shock, especially at the end of a 100km day.  I’d read so many accounts of people riding this way, and yet no one had mentioned it?  Obviously this made me very grumpy 😉 but all was forgiven the next day, when we finally made it to the beautiful Nam Ngum lake.  It looks like the sea!!  We persuaded a reluctant cafe to provide us with an instant coffee, and sat there for a while, taking it all in.  Not quite Devon, but not bad at all.

Cyclist on a dirt road
The face says it all

Restaurant overlooking a huge lake
Have we been teleported to the med?

We dragged ourselves away and enjoyed a significant stretch on quiet road with forested hills all around. And then we were back on the 13 with the traffic and the dust…..oh take me back to Northern Laos!!  We pushed on right to the outskirts of Vientiane, where we ‘glamped’ for the night in a spacious bell tent.  The place was a bit random (something of a building site and very disorganised) but the welcome was friendly, the food good and the beer cheap.  Our spirits lifted a little…..until we had to ride into Vientiane the following morning, but I won’t dwell on that to avoid sounding like a right old whingebag 😉

Inside a bell tent
Happy glamper

We consoled ourselves by eating our way around Vientiane for a couple of days.  It’s a lovely spot with beautiful colonial buildings and temples, and a long stretch of Mekong waterfront.  I even managed a (short, slow) run!  We also had another ‘blind date’ with a cyclist – Chris (from Somerset!) – Ed laughs at how excited I am when we meet other cyclists, but it feels like such a treat :). Chris and his wife Laura cycled the Pamir highway before heading to Vietnam and Laos…many stories were shared over the course of a thoroughly lovely evening. 

Bikes in front of ornate arch
On the way into Vientiane

Eating curry
Mmmm cuzza!

And then it was time to hit route 13 once again.  Busy, dusty, flat, boring…..  A couple of non-descript days, until we passed through a little down called Pak Kading and crossed a dramatic bridge over its beautiful, wide river….and hit the wind.  So sudden, yet so strong!  We persevered for a while, but there was no let up.  We could barely cycle without being blown off the road.  We saw many buildings in the midst of losing their corrugated iron roofs – presumably it wouldn’t be ideal to come into contact with a piece flying across the road!   There was nothing to do but seek solace in the next town.

And that is how we ended up in Phonsi.  There isn’t much to Phonsi.  Our guesthouse was the most basic we’ve stayed in yet; a windowless box with a cold shower and bucket-flush squat toilet, yet exceptionally clean for this part of the world. We managed to find a restaurant for lunch, and then we hunkered down and waited.  Don’t tell Ed, but I actually quite enjoyed this mini-adventure.

It was still pretty windy the next day but, as the gusts were less violent and the road less busy, we set off once again.  And we were glad we did, as the wind eased dramatically within 10km.  Very weird!  We’d been thinking we must be feeling the edge of typhoon Damrey, which has certainly been battering poor Vietnam.  But now I’m not so sure!  Oh for a weather forecast that actually means anything in this part of the world…..

It’s actually only 9 days since we left the dramatic scenery behind at Vang Vieng, but our transition onto route 8 today has been oh so welcome.  The mountains are back, and I’m not even complaining (much!). Today’s ride was an absolute feast for the eyes, and our westerner-friendly guesthouse feels like an absolute palace after several days of tiny, characterless boxes.  Although the other guests are all rather young 😉 Tomorrow we’re going to explore a (reportedly amazing) cave, and then it’s full steam ahead to Vietnam.  Visas start on Thursday!

Cyclist heading into the hills
And breathe. That’s more like it!

Limestone forest
Amazing limestone forest

For the non-facebookers, here’s the link to the latest album which covers the journey to Vientiane:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/A572x7 

Next post will be from a different country!  My mind is slightly blown by these land borders, I clearly haven’t spent enough time in wonderful Europe….sniff.  When we crossed into Laos, Ed kept saying ‘how different can it be?!’  Answer – very!  I can’t even imagine what Vietnam has in store for us.

Once more into the hills

Two kilometres out of Luang Prabang, and normal service resumed.  Colourful villages, where life is truly lived in the community, kept us both entertained and intrigued.  I’m blown away that we’re seeing World Vision-installed taps, and signs celebrating projects funded by various countries, World Bank and the like.  I know I’ve said it before, but I really did not know Laos was this poor.  Not all of it….we see occasional brightly coloured mansions with incredibly ornate gates, which create quite a contrast against the plethora of wooden shacks and tin roofs.  But the norm, in the villages at least, is a pretty basic standard of living.

We see plenty of children dressed in school uniform, which is heartening.  Most people we encounter speak little English other than a few numbers and various greetings (‘bye bye’ is quite popular, not sure how to take that!), and I’m certain that one hotelier could not read the Lao phrase that I presented him with via Google translate.  But then, occasionally, we’ll meet someone who surprises us with a high level of proficiency.  I’m not sure if this is a sign of intellect, education, or youtube!  Either way, they are still firmly ensconsed in their rustic hillside village, running their guesthouse, restaurant or shop. Perhaps the contrast of life in the big wide world is just too great to entice them to leave.  

After our greatest ascent of the trip so far, we spent the night in the town of Kiew Kacham which sits at an altitude of around 1400m. It was almost cold in the evening, a strange sensation indeed!  We took a tiny but cheerful room at the Kiokajam Guesthouse, reports of which had suggested there would only be a bucket ‘shower’.  On inpsecting the room, I was so pleased to see the electric shower unit in our tiny bathroom that I completely missed the fact that there was no sink!  Just a bucket, also used to flush the toilet – works perfectly and is actually quite good for washing one’s smelly cycling attire 🙂 

Small bedroom
Small but perfectly formed

Tiny bathroom
All mod cons. Well not quite.

The next morning, it felt like a real privilege to watch the early morning unfold in this tiny, remote town.  I say remote – it is on highway 13 which is the main road through the country.  But we get the sense that people don’t move around too much.  Tourists may whizz through in an air conditioned minibus but, in the grand scheme of things, there’s aren’t too many of them either.  The reactions of the locals to our presence confirms these suspicions – I often feel a bit like I have two heads!  Nonetheless, it was wonderful to roll through and see rural Laos waking up for the day.

Rural Laos road
Riding out of Kiew Kacham. Note moped, loose dog, and enormous truck approaching…common sights!

Chillis on roof
We see chillis, rice, corn and soya beans drying by the roadside many times a day

The scenery became gradually more impressive as we wound our way south.  This comes with challenging terrain, of course, but still nothing close to the gradients we experienced in Thailand.  Perhaps the fitness we gained there is also helping….  We’d met some French cyclists in Kiew Kacham who’d shared their intention to stay near some Hot Springs that evening….and when we found said resort, it was impossible to resist.  The pool was warm rather than hot – the perfect temperature, in fact.  We soaked our aching muscles before heading to the attached restaurant for beers, food…and excellent conversation with our French friends who arrived some time later!

Pool and mountains
View from our bungalow, looking over the hot pool

The French couple – Anna and Martin – have cycled all the way to Laos from Turkey.  Chatting to them really brought home to me how much more relaxed I could be about things, and highlighted my tendancy to ‘over-plan’ and obsess about details.  To be fair, Ed has been telling me this for ages, but obviously I don’t listen to him!  So today, for me, has been about going with the flow.  This meant:

An impromptu coffee stop in Kasi:

Woman with large thermos of coffee
Extremely happy with my thermos of iced coffee

An unscheduled lunch stop by the roadside that didn’t even have an English sign, let alone a menu:

Noodle stall
Lunch at a very typical noodle stall

And, of course, it all worked out brilliantly, and the encounters with the locals will afford us memories that we’ll likely treasure long after we’ve stopped being wowed by photos of incredible scenery. I’m still fascinated that the majority of small businesses in these parts are much more a way of life.  In fact, your average restaurant or shop will be an extension of someone’s house.  You sometimes even have to wake them up to serve you!  

We saw Team France on several occasions throughout today’s ride, including one point where they’d stopped to chat to come cyclists from Thailand!  Of course, we stopped too, and it turns out that the Thais are Warm Showers hosts right down in the South.  We’re hoping that we can go and take advantage of their hopsitality when we’re on our way to Malaysia, and also hear about their fantastic trip which includes Laos, China and India!

Group of cyclists
Bonding over bicycles

Cycling heading into the hills
The last hill before Vang Vieng

We’re now back in ‘civilisation’ once again, although I am not sure how civilised the party town of Vang Vieng will turn out to be.  It’s certainly not love at first sight, although our guesthouse is a peaceful haven (cockerels not withstanding!) and we’ve just eaten an excellent breakfast for £2 each.  We’ve made such good progress since Luang Prabang that we’ve realised we risk arriving at Vietnam’s border well before the start date on our visas.  So much for my obsessive planning!  We didn’t need too much convincing to take a rest day here, and we might take an extra day on the way to Vientiane too, to explore a big lake that we’ve heard about.  Vientiane itself, as the capital, surely deserves more than a fleeting visit.  We’ve heard there are excellent bakeries…..

Lots of photos of course, alas not always in ideal conditions:  https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/iG0iFG 

More soon.  Maybe only one more blog from Laos, then Vietnam here we come!!

PS Don’t forget, we would love to hear news from home, even if you don’t think it’s very exciting!!  All usual channels work, plus unprofessionaladventurers@gmail.com 🙂

 

Making plans, changing plans, then changing them again

What a rollercoaster it’s been since I last wrote.  I can’t quite believe how much happens in such a short space of time, although I am not sure it seems quite so eventful to the reader 😉 Things got off to a bit of a shaky start in Laos, but we are now well on track and fast falling for this charming little country!  

From Chiang Rai we headed north to Chiang Saen.  And what a treat that proved to be.  A lovely little town on the banks of the Mekong, with fascinating ruins to explore and a well-preserved moat and old city wall.  And yet, only a handful of other tourists seemed to have read the relevant page in their travel guide.  I wholeheartedly recommend paying a visit, if you ever find yourself in the area! There’s a wonderful night food market all along the promenade, where little mobile carts set themselves up as restaurants with low tables and carpet on the pavement for a relaxed dining experience.  We felt a little shy but, as usual, were well looked after, and it was wonderful to share the Friday night atmosphere.

The following day, our route took us alongside the Mekong to the border town of Chiang Kong.  It was a fair distance with one hill, but seemed entirely plausible that we’d cross the ‘friendship bridge’ and enter Laos within the confines of the day’s ride.  Things started well, with beautiful scenery and quiet roads….and then we hit the roadworks.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Several kilometres of deep gravel and mud.  No cones, contraflow or traffic lights, cars just had to take their chances slipping around while dodging road rollers (admittedly, of the more courteous variety) and the like.  Watching the large trucks try and get up the hill was quite something – we kept a very respectful distance!

Roadworks in Thailand
You can not be serious!

It was unfortunate for us that it had rained recently, as it made our passage extremely painful.  Even pushing the bikes was hard work –  the mud quickly clogged the mudguards, sometimes preventing the wheels from turning altogether.  All made significantly worse by having absolutely no idea how long it went on for!  Sense of humour failures all round in Team Campbell – even the bikes were sulking.  Eventually we found the end and limped our way along the last few kilometres into Chiang Khong, with our bikes in a sorry state.  First priority was to find some spirit-lifting lunch; second on the list was to find a guesthouse with a hosepipe!!

And as usual, things improved as quickly as they’d deteriorated.  We had a wonderful lunch at a delightful little cafe on the main street, and then checked into a lovely, friendly guesthouse with a gorgeous pool – what a treat.  And a hosepipe! All for only 250 baht (£5) as an absolute bonus.  We sorted the bikes (which came out unscathed, phew), swam in the pool, and chatted to some of the other guests – all in all, a pleasant end to the afternoon.  Delicious dinner and a peruse of Chiang Khong’s fab night market was the icing on the cake.

It was soooo tempting to stay another day, but we dragged ourselves away and headed for the border.  The formalities were straightforward, and we were soon in Huay Xai, our first town in Laos.  We found a decent guesthouse and enjoyed an extremely delicious lunch (washed down with our first Beerlaos!), but didn’t think much of the place…..I’d describe it as ‘reluctantly open for business ‘ – the people weren’t particularly friendly, and serving customers often seemed like far too much trouble.  I was very much looking forward to leaving….and then we awoke to torrential rain.  Like nothing I’ve ever seen in Europe.  Rivers running down the road!

Bikes on a bus
First class border crossing for Cecil and Henry!

The plan was to catch the ‘slow boat’ down the Mekong (a two-day journey), but we just couldn’t face it, either in terms of comfort or safety!  So we ended up stuck there for another day.  Urgh!!  Things did improve slightly though.  Turns out, if you go back to the same restaurant three times, the staff eventually warm to you and even start chatting.  And the sunset view from the temple (once it had stopepd raining) was very lovely….there was pizza….and then there was whisky….definitely Ed’s fault!!

Nonetheless, we were pleased to be on our way the next day!  But….the boat…..oh my…  We were forewarned that it might be cramped and busy.  It wasn’t actually too bad on those fronts, although the drunk backpackers did get a little tedious towards the end of the journey.  We were highly entertained by a large Laos family using the boat to move house – yes, including all their stuff….TV, mopeds and all.  And it was fascinating to stop at teeny villages along the way to drop people off – our first taste of the ‘real’ rural Laos.  But…..  Our bikes ended up ON THE ROOF, and UNDERNEATH two other bikes.  The roof was flat and, although the nice luggage man made attempts to tie them on, we were fretting about them falling into the Mekong for the entire journey.  And then the Mekong itself was swirling and brown, with huge rocks for our ‘captain’ to navigate!  And not a lifejacket to be seen of course.  

Bikes on the roof of a boat
Oh my giddy aunt – can you imagine the kittens Ed was having at this point!!
View of river from boat
Looks more idyllic than it was…..

We arrived in Pakbeng, both having decided independently that there was NO WAY we were going back for the second leg the next day!  This decision was actually a lot less rash then it sounds, given the previous plans we’d floated for our time in Laos:

  • Plan A:  cross the border at Huay Xai and ride from there to Luang Prabang.  This was scrapped on account of its extreme hilliness, once the Thai hills had stolen my mojo.
  • Plan B:  cross the border at Huay Xai and take the slow boat all the way to Luang Prabang (a 2 day journey).  This was originally scrapped on account of reports that the slow boat was another slice of tourist hell.
  • Plan C:  cross the border at Huay Kon, further south, and cycle from there to Luang Prabang. This was scrapped when we discovered you can’t take bikes into Laos at this border crossing.
  • Plan D:  reluctantly back to Plan B.  The bonus of this plan would be the significant time saving, or so we convinced ourselves.
  • Plan E:  plan D/B for a day, deemed too traumatic to continue….which meant riding from Pakbeng to Luang Prabang instead.  Which is actually pretty much plan C, as that route would also have taken us through Pakbeng. Are you keeping up?!

Sod the time constraint, we’ll just get more trains in Vietnam if we have to!!  I slightly blame the nice German couple (whose bikes ended up on top of ours, through no fault on their part!) for this, as they were always planning to cycle from Pakbeng.  I guess we had a bit of FOMO* on hearing their plans, which only made our decision easier.

*Fear Of Missing Out

And so the ride in Laos began.  It’s been wonderful.  Firstly, along ‘highway’ 2W.  Think Devon back lane, with additional potholes and craters, free range animals (ducks, chickens, dogs, goats), and occasional MASSIVE Chinese trucks to avoid (included for dramatic effect – nowhere near as bad as it sounds!) We rode through tiny, basic villages with zero mod cons but delightful occupants – shouting ‘sabaidee’ and waving madly to initiate response from the crazy ‘falangs’ seems to be a sport to the younger members of these communities!  Our hearts felt happy again.  We hit highway 13, and felt like we were in the French alps thanks to the impeccable tarmac and incredible views, not to mention the incredible ascent ;). The surface  deteriorated again for the last section, but the increasingly dramatic scenery was sufficient distraction to propel is the final 113km (70 miles!!) to our destination.  We also saw our German friends several times on the last leg which was really fun – I definitely thought we’d see a lot more cyclists than we have thus far.

Moped driving through typical Laos village
Typical village, complete with the ubiquitous moped
Valley view
Wow, Laos

And so we have made it to Luang Prabang.  Wooden shacks have been replaced by colonial buildings, enthusiastic (if grubby) children have been replaced by well-dressed* white people, and I’ve yet to see a pig roaming the streets.  Quite a contrast to the last few days but extremely pleasant nonetheless.  We will be here until Wednesday to sort out our visas for Vietnam, and generally recharge our batteries.  The main challenge is to resist blowing our budget on all the delicious food….it’s east meets west here with bundles of baked goods to supplement the delicious Laos staples!!  

*Not us, we’re still grubby and scruffy.  Although we have given a large bag of smelly clothes to the laundry lady, so things are looking up.

Temple in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang. Far from the average for Laos, but rather lovely!

And that brings you up to date.  I do make myself laugh with talk of our trials and tribulations:  of course it’s all pretty trivial really!  Cycling Laos has already been an incredibly humbling experience – I knew it was poor, but I wasn’t expecting to see people washing under communal taps next to the road, or laundering their clothes in the river.  We literally don’t know we are born!

And there endeth the profound moment for this edition 😉

Pics are up, first Laos album here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/639GK0

And the last bits from Thailand here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/126636200@N07/r52Uk8

Don’t forget we’re also on Facebook and instagram, @unprofessionaladventurers, and you can follow our progress here: https://unprofessionaladventurers.wordpress.com/where-are-the-unprofessional-adventurers/. That’s all for now! 

Four weeks in

Time is a strange thing when you’re travelling for a long period of time.  A year (or so) seems like an unfathomably long time, and makes me feel very unsettled if I think too hard about it.  I can’t imagine what it will feel like to be away for that long.  It feels out of my control, and a little bit scary, even though ‘this time last year’ doesn’t feel very long ago at all.  When I travelled on my own after University, I had a countdown of days until my flight home, which I interpreted as a symptom of the unexpected homesickness I experienced.  I am not particularly homesick at the moment (although I do miss everyone and everything) but I still feel the need to count how many weeks until this, how many weeks until that.  Four weeks down, 18 weeks left in Asia.  I’m already excited about meeting Mum and Dad in Singapore and flying to New Zealand in February, and yet already pining for Asia as I know I will miss it terribly!

So it’s come as a bit of a surprise that we’re leaving Thailand in four days time.  I had this transition firmly in the ‘future’ pile, and somehow it’s crept up on me without me realising.  I’m not ready!  Frantic backpedalling has commenced.   I’ve only just discovered incredible iced Thai tea, how many can I drink in that time?!

Iced Thai tea
Looks weird, tastes wonderful

In my defence, we’ve had an enforced plan change that has shortened our time here by a few days. A few days ago, we were in a tiny town called Phrao.  We’d just arrived, after an easy (flat!!) ride from Chiang Dao, and we were having some lunch (and iced drinks of course) while deciding our next move.  Not many visitors make it to Phrao but, as it turns out, it does have a significant ex-pat community, and in walked their Norwegian member.  We had a bit of a chat with him which was very pleasant.  He wasn’t the most positive person I’ve ever met, and seriously seemed to doubt our ability to ride over the next day’s mountain pass, even when we regaled him with tales of roads conquered in recent times.  So I didn’t really take him very seriously when he said we should check that we could cross the border to Laos at our chosen point….as he’d heard that motorbikes weren’t being allowed, and it might extend to pushbikes….

….we quickly checked into the nearby Poo Phrao Guesthouse (much nicer than the name suggests, albeit extremely pink) and I was straight on Google to find out more.  And there it was, on the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum.  As of sometime in 2016, you can not cross into Laos with bikes (or motorbikes) anywhere in the Xayaboury province.  Exactly why is not clear, but that is somewhat academic!  Of course, the majority of visitors are relying on public transport, with which there is not problem, so most of the time it isn’t mentioned.  But the fact remained that bikes receive a firm ‘no’, so we have no choice but to re-route.

Pink bungalows
Thailand loves pink, and Poo guesthouse was no exception!

Fortunately, we hadn’t cycled too far towards said border, so changing direction to head North East instead of East wasn’t too much of a problem.  It’s also meant we’ve ended up in Chiang Rai, which had originally been a small sacrifice in the route planning.  AND it means that we’re skipping a few hills, which I’m secretly a bit relieved about. But it does mean that we are very close to the border indeed, with just a couple of days between us and Chiang Kong, where we’ll bid Thailand farewell until we return for a short stint in January.

We came to SE Asia because we loved Thailand so much when we visited last year, and this love has only grown in the time we’ve been here.  A beautiful country with bags of character, great food, excellent cycling and welcoming people…it’s been a bit hot and has rained a fair bit, but that’s our own fault for coming during the monsoon. Will we love Laos as much?  It certainly has a hard act to follow, but most accounts are very promising indeed.

Buses
Colourful buses in colourful Thailand

All of this rambling and I haven’t even updated you on our progress since my last post.  Since then we have:

  • Finished the Mae Hong Son loop by cycling 52 miles (5800 feet ascent) from Pai to Sop Poeng.  Another very tough day that nearly ended badly for Ed, as he changed the plan at the last minute and made me cycle an extra 20 miles (while we were standing outside a perfectly good guesthouse!) Fortunately, this did mean eventually staying in a fabulous place with a room as big as our house in Devon, completely decked out in teak, so all was forgiven.
  • Pootled 31.5 miles to Chiang Dao on the flat, leaving us with enough energy to explore the fantastic cave in the afternoon.
  • Coasted 27.4 miles to Phrao….you may wonder why we didn’t combine this with the previous day, but I’d seen pictures of the amazing location of Chiang Dao and wanted to visit!
  • Struggled 33.2 miles (4700 feet of ascent) over our Norwegian friend’s impossible road to ‘the junction with the Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai road’…which was about as exotic as it sounds!  This was one of our toughest days so far despite, on paper, actually being quite short. This suggested that we may need a rest….the mountains have seriously stolen my cycling mojo…
  • …..and the following day confirmed this, as I spent 57 nearly flat miles to Chiang Rai giving Ed an extremely hard time.  I am sure you find this difficult to believe, no??
Mountain
The scene that lured us to Chiang Dao – a good decision

So here we are in Chiang Rai.  It’s raining.  A lot. But we don’t mind.  We’re staying in a wonderful little ‘homestay’ (B&B) in a quiet spot, where it’s impossible not to feel relaxed.  We’ve explored a bit but also slept a lot, and we still have two more nights here, hooray!  More importantly, we are taking the opportunity to wash absolutely everything, and tomorrow I am going to GO FOR A RUN.  If my legs still work, that is!

By the way, in the last four weeks, we have cycled over 750 miles which is keeping me nicely at the top of the Met Office cycling club on Strava.  As I am good friends with the admin, I am giving her full freedom to kick me out of the group once this has been deemed unfair…or just downright irritating for everyone still plugging away at their sensible jobs.  😀

So there you have it.  Next time I write, all being well, we will be in Laos!  Not sure wifi is quite so widespread there, so there may be some welcome relief from my constant updates 🙂

As a complete aside, in case anyone is wondering how our tans are coming on, I leave you with this picture of my hands.  Our feet are no better and, as it’s disrespecful to wear skimpy vest tops and the like, my farmer tan is almost as good as Ed’s!  I care a lot more though, of course.

Tanned hand, white fingers
#cyclistproblems