Bangkok to Sihanouk Ville (posted 22nd Jan 2010)
Suddenly back in the heat, from freezing to 34 degrees in 5hrs and another change of culture; much more developed, finally able to get a decent cup of coffee.
Had an amazing new year on the kao san rd, cheap beer and dancing in the street, but time to get back on the bike. Once the hang over had gone we headed off down south to find the sea and relax on the beach. After a few days of riding from beach to beach we made it down to Koh Chang island. Time to rest the legs in a little island paradise, oh it's a hard life.
After putting a few kilos back on with great sea food and 50 cent beers we set off towards Cambodia, 3 long hot days of riding through the jungle & Cardaman mountains brought us to Sihanouk Ville and oh woe, more beaches, more beer & a bit more relaxation. Two days on the beautiful bamboo island, drinking cocktails and snoozing under the palms in a hammock. Rested now and ready for the 3/4 day to ride north to Phnom Penh.
Sihanouk Ville to Siem Reap(posted 7th Feb 2010)
A great trip from Sihanouk Ville to Phnom Phenh, 5 days via Kampot, Kep and Takeo. All along great roads ranging from winding coastal sections to crossing the Mekong delta. Endless paddy fields lined with coconut palms, great little villages and hundreds of smiling faces. Then a few days to sight see around Phnom Phenh, the royal palace, riverside views over the Mekong/Toule Sap rivers and a heart renching visit to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Dedicated to the millions killed by the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot Regime.
Changing from bike to boat, we headed north/west up the Tonle sap river to Siem Reap to visit the ruins of Angkor Wat, remains of the great Khmer empire.
The Temples of Angkor Wat
Built between the 9th and the 15th Centuries by the various Kings of the region each attempting to outdo the last with the size and grandeur of their temple. At the height of the Khmer empire it is believed that the population of this great city was over 1 million, opposed to London which at the same period had a population of just 50,000!Abandonned sometime in the 15th Century the city has since been partially reclaimed by the jungle. If there is anywhere on earth you want to feel like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones then this is it.
Siem Reap to Vientiane (posted 23rd March 2010)
We headed back to the Mekong through Skun (town of renown spider eating fame….apparently!) and took some slightly less travelled roads (in the broadest sense of the word) following up river until we reached the Laos border (a small wooden shack). From here although we were on the main highway north (equivalent of the M1!) we saw about 1 vehicle every hour!
Taking the opportunity to do some island hopping we took a while to relax on Don Det, Don Khon and Don Khong in the middle of the Mekong. Lots of swimming, dolphin spotting, kayak trips and general lazing later we decided that we really should do some cycling and some days later we reached Pakse.
From here we headed up our first hill in a long while to the Bolaven Plateau (50 km up hill to be precise…..not that we were counting every inch…) to a landscape of coffee plantations, thick jungle and huge waterfalls for yet more swimming!
Whizzing gloriously down the other side ( a whole day with nearly not a peddle stroke!!!!!) we reached Tad lo a clearing in the jungle with more waterfalls and crystal clear swimming pools at the bottom.
Returning back to our northern route for several days before turning East for yet another climb up through the jungle and stunning limestone Karst scenery until we reached Kong Lor cave. 7km though the hillside in a tiny long tail boat with torches was quite an excitement before we headed Northwards once again to the Thai border racing against time before our visas ran out!
After a month of eating noodle soup and rice for breakfast, dinner and tea with the occasional excitement of slightly stale baguette, arriving in Thailand was a bit like children in a sweet shop. For a whole day we ate nothing but icecream, pork and chicken on sticks!
Northern Laos(posted 24th April 2010)
Vientiane to Vang Vieng:
After 4 days of resting, eating and sorting out Thai visas (a right pain may I add). It was time to head north once more. Another early start to get out of town before the heat had a chance to build, taking the minor roads to avoid as many trucks as possible which took us to the village of Thalat on the Nam Lik river. Then, onwards and upwards, rejoining the main highway 13 to take us up to Vang Vieng; just a mild introduction to the hills which where about to come. On route we met Pat: an English man living in Thailand who was touring with his 2yr old daughter Chris on the back of the bike. Most impressed!!!!! We then spent a couple of days relaxing in Vang Vieng, drinking beers, floating down the river and general laziness amongst the wonderful limestone scenery. However due to the limitations of a 30day visa we had to move on, and this time it really was upwards.
Vang Vieng to Phonsavan:
Our first real mountain day since Nepal saw us climb over 1400m in about 80km, a proper shock to the legs after all the flat. The scenery was amazing though and we ended up at a great little resort with a hot spring. So of coarse had to have a beer Lao whilst relaxing the leg muscles. Up, up, up and up was the main theme of the next 2 days, 1000m up to the town of Phou Khoun and our first rain in months, on the decent we ended up using bin bags as wind proofs, we actually got cold for the first time in 4 months. Then a further 1000m of ascent to get us to Nam chat, our first 2000m day of many. All through wonderful forested scenery, a total contrast to the plains of the south. The day from Nam Chat to Phonsavan saw more changes as we dropped down onto the plain of jars, less hilly but no less beautiful. Undulating grassland, dotted with lakes and woodland. The plain of jars, literally covered in jars, well not covered. There are many archaeological sights dating back at least a thousand years where there are huge stone jars. Some weighing up to a ton, carved out of rock very similar to gritstone. The sites reminded us of the millstones left along the many peak district edges. The area was also the scene of intense fighting between the royalist forces(backed by the US) and the Pathet Lao(Lao communists) during the second indo china war(Vietnam). Many of the local hillside are still covered in trenches and bomb craters from the war that finally finished in the 70’s with the communist forces the victors.
Phonsavan to Sam Neua:
From Phonsavan we made our way again northwards, 4 days of monster hills(2 days of more than 2000m ascent) and some of the steepest roads yet. One section we climbed 800m in just 6km, combined with the humidity and heat we definitely put it down as one of the hardest climbs we have ever done. However these are some of the greatest roads we have ever ridden. Winding their way through rainforest, following ridges and dropping down through beautiful rivers valleys. Well worth the effort. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it to Sam Neua by bike. Shimano let us down (this is the first time we have to point out). The new freewheel we installed in Vientiane snapped in half, one hill to many, and a shock as the old one had been on the bike for 6 years. So the last 20km was by bus, bit disappointing as most of it was down hill. Thanks to Willy at Top Cycles in Vientiane this turned out not to be fatal, just had to have a few days resting whilst the part found it’s way to us via the Lao bus network. Thanks again Willy!!! We made good use of our time by taking a moped trip to the village of Vieng Xia. Here the beautiful limestone karste scenery hides the rather brutal past. For many years the local people and the Pathet Lao resistance lived hidden in caves spread all over the area. Literally a city under the ground. The reason for them to hide was the biggest bombing campaign ever. More bombs have been dropped on Lao than where used by all sides in the second world war. All by the Americans in the fight against communism. One of the worst things is that 20% of the bombs didn’t go off on impact, so even today someone is injured or killed everyday in Lao by unexploded bombs. Just as we emerged from one of the caves there was a deafening explosion as one of these UXO’s went off nearby, giving us a tiny taste of what these brave people had to endure for nine solid years. A very interesting ,yet harrowing place to visit.
Sam Neua to Luang Prabang:
Bike mended, off we went again. Cheating a bit, busing the first 90km as we had already ridden it in one direction and time was not on our side: (10 days until our visas expired). Riding from Phou Lao we headed west along highway 1, not so much highway as single track road. Expecting more of the same sort of scenery as our ride north we were somewhat let down. The road was great; winding through the hills passing through small mountain villages. However the scenery has been destroyed by and burn agriculture. Well, the locals call it slash and burn agriculture, claiming the reason is so they can grow rice. All we saw was the burn bit. There doesn’t seem to be anything grown once the forest has been cleared. What was at one time clearly thousands of square km of rainforest has been reduced to ash. The second biggest problem for us was that they were burning more and more whilst we were there. This meant that not only could we not see anything due to smoke we could also not breathe properly whilst trying to ride. Regular stops where required for coughing fits by the road side, and finally enough was enough. Towards the end of our second day we couldn’t ride anymore; our clothes, skin and hair full off ash that was falling like snow, eyes streaming and lungs bursting we climbed very disappointingly onto the bus for Nong Khiew. Not able to see any the famous karst scenery due to the smoke we headed the next day straight to Luang Prabang.
Finally getting to Luang Prabang felt like a real relief after our epic journey of smoke and several buses. The town was just warming up to the start of the Song Cran festival(Buddhist new year). The main event is just one big water fight. On the short cycle into town from the bus stop (all Lao bus stations are at least 3km from where you want to go. Then you have to pay for a rickshaw for the rest of your trip. Another great way to make money out the foreigner scheme) we got absolutely soaked. This was great because it was incredibly hot and humid. This went on for the next 4days whilst we where in town. The main date and biggest water fight being the 14th April. Not only soaked but covered in flour and some strange black stuff. It was one hell of a great party, mildly drunk for 3 solid days and permanently soaked to keep us cool.
Boat to Thailand:
A two day boat ride up the Mekong, eventually taking us into Thailand., Very scenic and relaxing but 9hrs each day on the boat was a little too much for comfort. A last night in Lao and it wouldn’t be fitting if we didn’t use up our last few kip on some Beer Laos. Nice to share the experience with our friend Pat and family . Leaving Lao saw the same experience as entering, grumpy border staff demanding bribes to stamp your passport, and a small dose of food poisoning for good measure!
Golden Triangle to Chaing mai (posted 21st May 2010)
Cycling along the Mekong to the north we hit the golden triangle and coach loads of Thai tourists, great scenery but the crowds where a shock after Lao. We stopped in the border town of Mai sai, just metres away from Burma. After lonely planet berating the town we were very suprised to find a wonderfull little place with really friendly people. Headed south to Chaing Mai where we planned to do a 10 day ride around the area. It hit 40degrees and 80% hummidity so we decided it was time to head for the beach. Two buses, a night in Bangkok, a sleeper train for 16hrs, a 1hr taxi ride and 40min boat trip and we made it ....... beach time !!!!!!
Beach Bums!!! (posted 4th June 2010)
So time to chill..... We arrived on the island of Ko Mook after what felt like a seriously epic journey. But it was well worth it, peice and calm, beautiful beaches and clear blue seas. Back to the good life, aircon rooms and beers on the beach at sunset. From Ko Mook we island hoped our way north up the west (Anadaman) coast, Ko Lanta, Ko Phi Phi, Krabbi, Railey. Loads of great snorkling, swimming, eating and drinking along the way. Then headed east to the gulf coast and Ko Samui. Wonderfull memories of our honey moon (has it really been 4 years).
The final leg, Ko Panang, Ko Tao then home!!!
(posted 10th July 2010, sat on sofa at home!!!)
On Ko Panang we really did feel old, so after a few days in Hadrin party town we headed north o rest and recover before moving on to Ko Tao. Arriving on Ko Tao with only two weeks till home, we really slipped into holiday mood(as you will have seen by the photos it has been very hard so far). Nice food, drinks and more splended beaches.
The highlight of our stay was some amazing diving thanks to our wonderfull guides Valentine and Yvonne.
Well, it all had to end some time. After one last beer on the beach we started the long trip home: 3hrs by boat, 12hrs by train and 14hrs flight back to Heathrow.
Well home we are and odd it feels, but good. Has been an amazing trip and have meet some incredible people, but good to settle for awhile.