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.

  • 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!

  • 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!
  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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: 
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:

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