Tania's tour: South East Asia
(3 339km - 47days)
(999km - 12days)
Day 1 – 1 September - Bangkok – Phanat Nikhom – 75 km
We ummed and ahhed about which route to take, and in the end, we decided to stick to the original route. We did, however, opt for a taxi ride out the city. I’m not sure if the taxi ride did any good, for when we had been dropped off, we were still in the thick of things. There was nothing to do but pull up our big girl panties and face the traffic out of Bangkok. A high five to Tania, who did exactly that, and after about another 30 km, we were out of the worst of it and finally on some rural roads. It was a pleasure, as always, to be in the countryside with the bright green rice paddies, blue skies, and colourful temples. We were clearly in the land of the friendly Thai people. A local man stopped to give us drinking water, and the lady at a roadside shop gave us drinking yoghurt. We continued until we reached Phanat Nikhom, a small village and home to the worlds largest woven basket. We met a lady who showed us to a lovely room which was near to food and the ever-present 7-11. Well done to Tania on her first day; although she was sunburnt and stressed, she did well getting out of the city and still had the energy to walk to the market and look for food.
Day 2 – 2 September - Phanat Nikhom – Sronlaihomestay – 70 km
Right from the start, we were on rural roads, making for a pleasurable ride through the country side. We cycled past wetlands and farmland where pineapples, cassava, and papayas formed the main crop. We stopped at a stall to eat a pineapple, and what a sweet pineapple it was! Once again the lady wanted no remuneration for it, making me feel terribly guilty as they have so little and here I am on an extended holiday eating food from them.
We passed large rubber tree plantations, always with spirit houses. Typically, the spirit houses are for the earth spirits that lived on the particular piece of land. Eventually, we turned off and headed in the direction of what looked like a large dam or lake. We were pleasantly surprised to find a most idyllic place with cottages and a place to camp. As it was still early, we could rent a kayak and went rowing on the lake. What a lovely end to the day.
Day 3 – 3 September - Sronlaihomestay – Khlong Hat – 87 km
Tania was up at the crack of dawn, and by the time I woke, she was already all packed up and rearing to go. It was a lovely ride along the dam wall to the village of Khlong Takrao and, from there, back on the main road to Khlong Hat. The ride was most enjoyable as it was mostly along country roads and through rural areas where they farm corn and sugar cane farms. The road also runs through a protected area, and although we looked carefully, we did not spot any wildlife, let alone any elephants. It, however, remained stunning to cycle through such a densely forested area. It was easy riding with a bit of a tailwind, and we sailed into Khlong Hat just after 15h00, where we opted to camp at the police station.
Day 4 - 4 September— Khlong Hat—Aranya Prathet— 88 km
With Tania around, there is no sleeping in, and we left our spot at the police station early and cycled to the nearby caves. We had to do a bit of climbing before we reached the cave. The cave looked very inviting, but it was pitch dark and very slippery. None of us brought a headlamp, and it was far too risky to explore any further. We did, however, find the view point and then headed back to where we left our bicycles under the watchful eye of the Buddha. We headed back to the village of Khlong Hat and then swung east in the direction of Prasat Khao Noi, ruins of a Khmer temple sitting on top of a small (Noi) hill (Kho). Prasat Khao Noi’s claim to fame is that the lintel found during excavations is one of the oldest ever found dating back to the 7th century (most likely reused). It started drizzling, and we headed back down the 254 steps to where we left our bicycles.
It was still early, and we decided to head in the direction of Prasat Muang Phai. The place sounded interesting as Phai was an ancient city dating from the Dvaravati-era (6-11th century AD). Mueang Phai was a walled city measuring 1000 meters by 1300 meters and was surrounded by a 40-meter-wide moat. We only found a heap of stones with chickens running over it. LOL. Could it be that we missed the main ruins?
We then headed in the direction of Aranyaprathet, to the Aran Garden Hotel, which has double rooms for 280 Thai baht!
Day 5 - 5 September – Aranyaprathet – Non Din Daeng (Lam Noang Rong Dam) – 105 km
We were up at the crack of dawn and on the road by 8h00, an early start for me on any given day. We cycled through residential areas and past bizarre temples on our way to the ruins of Sdok Kok Thom. Sdok Kok Thom is a 11th-century Khmer temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. The temple is best known for the original site of one of the most illuminating inscriptions left behind by the Khmer Empire. Again, it was a day of kindness as we were given ice-cold drinking water, mangos, and steamed rice in banana leaves by people we met along the way. Thailand is truly the land of the kind people.
The sun was relentless as we slowly made our way over the Sankamphaeng Range. Gutsy Tania put her head down and never complained about the steep climb over the mountain. Shortly after reaching the top, we found ourselves in a passion fruit area, and all along the road, we found stalls selling passion fruit and ice-cold passion fruit juice, just what we needed after such a steep climb on a hot day! As we neared Non Din Daeng, we could see dark clouds forming on the horizon, and we could hear thunder in the distance. We pedaled as fast as we could (after such a steep climb) and headed for the Lam Nang Rong Dam, where I thought we could find a spot to camp, and arrived at the dam just as the first drops started falling. The people at the dam were kind enough to allow us to pitch our tents, and there were more than enough restaurants where we could pick and choose what we wanted to eat. The food was absolutely delicious, and we sat watching the moon reflecting brightly over the dam.
Day 6 – 6 September – Lam Nang Rong Dam – Khao Krodong Forest Park – 112 km
We woke to the most beautiful sunrise and soon forgot about the howling dogs of the night before. Phew, what a noisy night it was!
Our first stop after leaving was Prasat Nong Honh, Khmer ruins of the 11th-century. Then it was back on rural roads where Tania bought bananas from a toothless lady trading from an old pram. We cycled past bright green rice fields, small settlements, and scrawny cows with long ears. Our next stop was Prasat Mueang Tam, built about 1,000 years ago in the old Khmer style. Interestingly, Prasat Muang Tam forms part of a direct line between the main Angkor city in Cambodia to Phimai. For some reason, these temples or structures were abandoned about 700 years ago.
I finally got to taste the colorful stringy sugary things they sell in plastic bags next to the road. They are eaten wrapped in a small roti/pancake (not sure what they are made of, maybe rice?). They were delicious. Not only did the lady let us try them, she gave us a full bag to take with us. Such incredible kindness!
We passed men in conical hats guarding their scrawny cows and both men and women collecting small kids from school on bicycles. I thought this to be a wonderful and quality time spent with kids, even if no words were spoken.
We continued along back roads to the Khao Kradong Forest Park outside Buri Ram, where we pitched our tents. We took a walk to the main road to get food, and no sooner were we gone than the rain came pouring down. To our dismay, we found just about everything wet on our return. We had not put the fly sheets on our tents when we left. Oi, what a mess! We dried things as best we could. This is not what anyone wants after a full day on the bicycle. A friendly lady from one of the houses in the park brought us each a blanket. How sweet of her!
Without any power, we could not charge our devices, and updates had to wait for the following day. At around 22:00 it started raining again, and we quickly fitted the fly sheets. We found the entire platform where we had camped covered with ants and quickly jumped back into our tents.
Day 7 – 7 September - Khao Kradong Forest Park–Surin – 57 km
“The ants are everywhere!” Tania exclaimed as I awoke. She was doing something resembling the “riel dance” to get them off her, but they were, indeed, everywhere. We pitched our tents right next to one of the park employee's houses, and they must have noticed the commotion and came to rescue us—bug-spray in hand! Wow. I don’t know what we would have done without them! We packed up our wet tent and clothes as quickly as possible and headed out of the park. We stopped for noodle soup for breakfast along the way, which was as delicious as always. It was easy riding through the countryside and past the ever-present, luminous green rice fields. What a privilege it was to cycle along a potholed country road, swerving out only for the scrawny cattle and striking up a conversation with a toothless, pan-chewing lady along the road. We watched as men cut cattle feed with sickles and carried it shoulder-high back to handmade wooden carts. We passed houses where women were weaving in traditional ways, and soon we arrived in Surin and headed for the “New Hotel” opposite the station, which was clearly not that new anymore. We did not complain as the room was only 180 TB, and at sunset, food stalls popped up right in front of the hotel.
Day 8 - 8 September – Surin
We took a day of rest in Surin as the accommodation was cheap and there was plenty to eat around town. First thing in the morning we were off to the morning market and stuffed ourselves on cold, white noodles served with a curry sauce which one gets to garnish with various greens and spices provided. There were also more than enough sweet things to pick and choose. Tania went on a walkabout in town while I went to the hairdresser (with less success!). To my surprise, I also found more than one very nice bicycle shop in town. They were all stocked with top of the line bicycle parts, and I bought an odometer as well as an inner tube. That evening we sat outside our hotel eating from the various stalls in the street. What an absolute privilege to be sitting outside at 22:00 in shorts and a T-shirt, eating delicious food from street vendors at a pittance!!
9 September – Surin – Uthumphon Phisai - 100 km
We woke early and were on the road earlier than usual. At first, we went via the glass temple, but the route was along the main road which turned out to be rather boring. We turned off and followed the most wonderful country roads in the direction of Si Sa Ket. We cycled through tiny settlements where people were truly surprised to see us. To the delight of the residents, we stopped for something to eat at roadside stalls. If you know Thai people, you will understand that we were given more than what we could eat! At first, we stopped to get corn on the cob and pineapple, but we ended up eating sticky rice with tiny fried fish as well. We were stuffed by the time we left and continued along these tiny roads, only stopping at one set of ruins. Tania did not feel well, and in the end, all we wanted to do was get to a place where we could get a room with aircon so she could relax out of the heat of the day. We found just the place in Phisai, right opposite the local Tesco Lotus. It appeared that most of Tania’s problems were due to the heat, as after a while in an aircon room, she felt much better, and we walked to Tesco for food.
Day 10 - 10 September - Uthumphon Phisai - Phibun - 130 km
Not much to report as it was a slow slog along the main road. We passed a few roadside stalls selling bamboo furniture and beautifully woven baskets. As always, in Isan, the rice paddies were luminous green, and we started seeing the gong maker's stalls that the area is so popular for. Main roads never make for good cycle touring, and we had our heads down just wanting to reach Phibun, where we camped at one of the temples.
Day 11 – 11 September – Phibun – PK Resort – 60 km
We followed the Mun river to the Pak Mun Dam, and from there, we cycled to the quaint village of Khong Chiam. Khong Chiam is a tiny but lovely village situated at the confluence of the Mekong and the Mun River. We stopped for coffee and then continued to Pha Team National Park where we camped on the banks of the Mekong River. That night, a storm came up, and we and our tents nearly blew away. The owners of the resort offered us space inside their conference room, which was greatly appreciated.
Day 12 - 12 September - Pk Resort - Khemerat - 115 km
“Wow, at least the wind subsided,” Tania said as we woke, still wide-eyed from the storm the previous night. From our camp, we had a slight climb to the main road. The road, for the rest of the day, remained undulating but shaded. Tania claimed that it was so hilly that not even the local dogs gave chase. It was, however, a scenic ride as part of it was through a national park. Although there were many things to see along the way, we only turned off the road once to what was indicated on the signs as a scenic spot. The scenic spot did not quite live up to its name, but we snapped a few pics and were on our way again. Once we arrived in Khemarat, we sought out the local wat and asked for permission to camp, which they granted, but after we had pitched our tents, we were told to move to an outside room which, apparently, was for women. We reluctantly moved all our stuff, and by then, we were starving and set off to look for food.
(339km - 6days)
Day 13 – Khemerat, Thailand – Savannakhet, Lao – 105 km
We were sluggish after the previous day's hills, and it was a slow ride to the Thai/Lao border. I always think that the Thai people are one of the most privileged nations as they still have the luxury of foraging for food. We cycled past people, basket in hand, collecting leaves and herbs. No wonder the Thai people can prepare the tastiest meal with only one or two ingredients. They have the knack of collecting tiny fish, crabs, and snails in local ponds or rice paddies and cooking a meal that will make you think you are in a 5-star restaurant.
Along the way, we stopped for lunch, and once again the noodle soup was served with a basket of fresh greens, giving it that extra-special taste.
We continue to the Thai/Lao border, got stamped out of Thailand, but were told that we were not allowed to cycle across the bridge to Lao. Instead, we were supposed to take a bus or truck. It did not take much to corrupt Tania, and once we had our “out” stamp, we hopped on the bicycles and gunned it over the bridge, to the great protest of the border officials. We just kept going as fast as we could and laughed ourselves silly at how ridiculous it must have looked to a bystander.
Once in Laos, we paid our $30 visa fee and were on our way to Savannakhet where we found a room at the Savanpathana Guesthouse. The fun part was going to the ATM to draw local currency (Lao Kip) as the conversion rate is 8280 = $1 with the result that one can draw 1,000,000 Kip and not break the bank. I still had a sim card from my previous visit so I just had to top up and I was set to go.
Day 14 – 14 September – Savannakhet
First thing in the morning, we were at the Vietnamese consulate to apply for our Vietnam visa. A 30-day visa costs $45 and a 90-day visa $55, so we applied for the 90-day one, as it leaves one with the opportunity to explore so much more.
Savannakhet is a lovely place to wander about, and we strolled the streets of the old quarters and along the Mekong River, marveling at all there was to eat at the small stalls, the pig’s brain in banana leaves did not do it for me, LOL.
Day 15/16 - 15 - 16 September – Savannakhet
There were rumors of a huge storm off the coast of Vietnam. Although I did not think we were in the path of the storm, as we were 300 km inland from where it was to make landfall, it still rained the entire day. We spent most of the day in our guesthouse room, which was fortunately quite a large room with a door to a balcony and therefore not to claustrophobic. At around 15h00 we took a walk to the Vietnamese consulate to pick up our visas. Our guesthouse also lost power and we had little else to do but eat. Not a bad way to spend the day if you ask me! That evening we took a walk to the night market but it was deserted and after a beer we head home again just to find that we have locked ourselves out of the room LOL.
Never a dull moment! It was no problem as these places mostly have a spare key. It did, howerver, take a surprising long time to find the key. Once inside I discovered I had the owners’ mobile phone in my bag! I was also becoming a “kleppey”! There was nothing much to do as it being pitch dark and without any power. One could not even play on the internet. The little power I had left I wanted to keep for navigation the following day.
The following morning we woke to bucketing rain and decided to stay put. It did, however, clear and turned into a beautiful day despite the weather forecast of rain throughout the day for the entire region.
Day 17 - 17 September – Savannakhet – Muang Phalanxay - 119 km
We were rather keen to leave, and Tania was up and packed by 5.50. I was not that inspired and took much longer to get ready. We left Savannakhet via rural roads and cycled past Ban Bungva, a lake with restaurants on stilts, which looked rather nice. We ended up That Ing Hang, a stupa that is rumored to house a relic of Buddha’s spine. We snapped a few pics and continued in an easterly direction in the direction of the Vietnamese border. It was a lovely ride, as it is a rather rural area with tiny settlements and roadside markets. Towards the end of the day, we found a roadside guesthouse with food close by. The room was hardly worth the 60 000 Kip but then what does a person expect for 60 000 Kip ($7)?
Day 18 – 18 September Muang Phalanxay – Ban Dong – 115 km
It rained throughout the night, and in the morning, we left our humble abode via a muddy, potholed road and cycled right through the morning market. You could tell by the stares and giggles that not many farangs ever visit this market.
The area between Savannakhet and the Vietnamese border is very rural, and we cycled past tiny settlements with simple houses on stilts and past people carrying their wares in woven baskets or on shoulder poles. We passed women preparing food on open fires and small children herding cattle. We passed people going to the market in basic, wooden, homemade carts and others in equally minimal long boats heading up river. Bare-bottomed children played in the sand next to the road while their parents sold bamboo slivers for tying up rice. We stopped for a bowl of noodle soup along the way and admired the stunning scenery. We arrived in Ban Dong, dodging chickens, goats, and small black pigs. We found a lovely guesthouse right on the road with a very convenient food stall across the road.
(1 160km - 19days)
Day 19 – 19 September - Ban Dong, Lao – Cho Cam Lo, Vietnam – 90 km
First, we got our breakfast from the woman across the road, and then, we set off in the direction of the Laos/Vietnam border. It was a short ride to the border and a quick in and out stamp. Once in Vietnam, we stopped in Lao Boa for a new SIM card and to get money from the ATM, a whopping 3,000,000 Vietnamese dong!
We were hardly out of Lao Bao when Tania’s bicycle chain snapped, and we had to turn around and do a free-wheel downhill. Fortunately, we were able to find a bicycle shop where we could have the chain fixed. However, we made the shocking discovery that the derailleur was cracked. There was not much we could do but nurse the bicycle along and hope to find a decent bicycle shop further down the road, in either Dong Ha or Dong Hoi.
Again, we were in a beautiful and very rural part of Vietnam. We passed people on motorbikes that were loaded to the hilt with bananas. The scenery was sublime as we followed the road past the famous or (infamous) Rockpile, a karst rock outcropping south of the former Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. It was used by the United States Army as an observation post and artillery base from 1966 to 1969.
It was a boiling hot day and quite hilly, so the going was slow, and by the time we reached the tiny village of Cho Cam Lo, we decided to call it a day and continue in the morning.
Day 20 – 20 September - Cho Cam Lo – Cửa Tùng – 67 km
Before leaving, we asked around for a bicycle shop and found one just up the road. It was located in a very basic, corrugated iron shed and mostly repaired motorbikes, but the owner was helpful enough to fit Tania’s bike with a new derailleur, albeit a seven-speed, cheaply. We were in no position to complain, and we paid him his 120 000 VID and waved goodbye. We soon discovered that the new derailleur did not quite live up to our expectations; the gears were slipping to such an extent that cycling was no pleasure. I did try to tune it, but I know little about fixing gears, and it was a better option to return to the nearby town of Dong Ha. Enquiring about a bicycle shop in English is not the easiest thing to do, but in the end, we found an amiable chap who, through the use of the Google Translate app, understood what we wanted. He even escorted us to the shop, which turned out to be a quite nice bicycle shop, but even they only had seven-speed derailleurs. They did, however, manage to tune the gears well enough for us to continue.
We found a great rural road next to a river and continued along the coast in the direction of the Vinh Moc Tunnels that we wanted to explore. The main business along the coast is fishing and drying fish, and we passed ladies in conical hats, covered from head to toe (to avoid the sun), collecting the dried fish in large plastic bags. Seven kilometers from the tunnels, we cycled past a typical Vietnamese beach village and decided to stay there for the night. As we were early, we did our laundry and took a walk to the local market and stopping at a local joint for a seafood noodle dish.
21 Day - 21 September Cửa Tùng – Dong Hoi – 90 km
We woke to a beautiful sunrise, and I’m always amazed by just how quickly the light can change. We stopped for breakfast at a local restaurant and ate noodle soup at small plastic tables and even smaller plastic chairs. We followed the coastal route to the Vinh Moc Tunnels; once there, I found the tunnels even more amazing in real life than on brochures. We were lucky to arrive early and were the first visitors of the day. The tunnels are much more extensive than what I had expected and also quite narrow and low. We had to walk bent over in order to not bump our heads, and I thought it is a good thing that most of the Vietnamese are so tiny. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like to live in those tunnels for an extended period. It, however, seems that they were well organized, as there were sleeping caves, hospital areas, bathrooms, a well point, and many other demarcated areas. Still, it must have been terrifying living there and hearing the enemy bombs dropping overhead. Again, I cannot imagine what it must be like to be living in one's own country while the enemy drops not one bomb, but bomb after bomb after bomb, for years on end; it must be a desperate situation.
Then it was off to Dong Hoi, mostly via the main road, something that is always dead boring. Towards the end of the day, we did manage to find a smaller road with some interesting sights. Dong Hoi is a pleasant riverside town but during the war had the unfortunate location of being very close to the DMZ, with the result that American bombs razed the town to the ground, leaving only part of a church, part of the old city wall, a water tower, and a single palm tree. All quite sad really, I always get the feeling that I'm overcharged for things in Vietnam; if that is so, I guess, they think it’s their right after suffering so much.
We found a pleasant hotel, took a walk along the river, snapped a few pics, and ate at a local restaurant.
Day 22 – 22 September – Dong Hpi – Son Trach – 51 km
We headed for the nearby Ke Bang National park, home to the largest cave system (open to the general public) in the world. In the village of Son Trach we found the Paradise Hotel, dropped our panniers and headed to the river where we found boats heading to Phong Nha Cave. The caves were spectacular and were made even more so by the fact that we got rowed into the cave. It is difficult to described the share vastness of it all and even more difficult to capture its beauty on camera.
Day 23 - 23 September Son Trach – 50 km
After breakfast, we cycled to Paradise Cave. It was an extremely scenic ride to the caves and once there, it was a short walk and the tiny entrance of the cave. It is hard to believe that such a small opening in the mountain hides such a huge treasure. Paradise cave was only discovered in 2005 and was then the largest cave system in the world. There is no words to described the beauty of what we saw and all I can say is that, if ever, you find yourself in Vietnam, these caves are a must see.
Day 24 - 24 September Son Trach – Dong Le – 80 km
We were all caved out and headed out of Son Trach. First, we followed the river, and what a beautiful ride it was. Unfortunately, we ended up back on the main road. At the earliest opportunity, we turned off and headed inland again. We followed the Song Gianh River past the quintessential Vietnamese scenery of rice fields, karst peaks, small villages, and grazing buffalo. Away from the main road, Vietnam is a very scenic country, despite all the mining. Along the way, we stopped for coffee. Coarsely ground beans go into a French drip filter (called a phin), which sits on top of the cup. The ground beans are weighted down with a thin lid, hot water is added to the phin, and then the water slowly trickles through into the cup. The coffee is always served with a side dish of ice. We sat sipping our coffee overlooking the rice paddies, grinning at our fortune.
We passed salesmen on motorcycles, friendly kids bathing in the river, and produce drying in the sun, all while dodging cows, pigs, and chickens. We passed ladies selling strange-looking worms by the roadside and snapped a pic of the guy manning the railway crossing.
We arrived at the typical Vietnamese village of Dong Le with its red-tiled-roof houses and market and decided to stay there for the night. We found a lovely room for 200000 Dong, and Tania went off exploring and looking for food while I did my journal entry and photos.
Day 25 – 25 September – Dong Le
Tania, felt unusually tired and our decision to take a rest day was made even easier by continuous rain. We did our laundry, ate and I had plenty time to do my updates and photos. People found us a huge sauce of interest, a sure sign that not many foreigners come past Dong Le. They stared openly and had no problem looking into our bags or touching us. Eating is a real challenge as once they see us sitting down at one of the kindergarten table and chairs, the they come to have a look what we eat.
Day 26 – 26 September – Dong Le – Duc Tho – 113 km
We left the tiny village of Dong Le and cycled along one of the old Ho Chi Minh trails. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was a logistical system that was used during the war to provide support in the form of manpower and material. There were many of these trails; some run through Loa and others through Cambodia. Nowadays, many of these trails are properly paved roads. It is an incredibly rural area where people still farm in the old way, ploughing with oxen and buffalo. Ladies trade from wooden shacks shelling their meagre produce or freshly butchered meat. We watched in fascination as farmers transported logs down the river and then used buffalo to haul the logs out the river to the roadside.
We cycled past grapefruit plantations where large grapefruits were awkwardly hanging from branches. The grapefruits are much larger than what I'm used to see and the skin is very thick. Once peeled away, one is left with rather large and somewhat dry wedges encased by a very tough skin.
Dark clouds loomed, but we only got caught once and made use of the opportunity to have a coffee, something that is always a pleasure in Vietnam. Fueled by caffeine, we cycled the last section to Duc Tho where we found a lovely hotel right on the river. We were so hungry that we did not even have a shower but headed straight for the nearest eatery. Again, the people found us fascinating, and we chatted away via Google translate. Mostly they want to know where we were from, what our names were, how old we are, and where we are going.
Day 27 – 27 September - Duc Tho – Roadside Hotel – 110 km
Staying off the highway and finding back roads was a real challenge. First thing in the morning, we found ourselves on a really bumpy and muddy road. We then found a new road that was smooth as a baby’s bottom, but it took us slightly off course. Once back on the rural roads, we were amazed at the small villages that looked somewhat forlorn and half-forgotten. We continued until we found a coastal road. It had been washed away and was in poor condition, but it led us past lone beaches and bays, with only local fishing boats and the odd eatery on stilts over the water, all looking rather idyllic. Eventually, we had no choice but to get back onto the busy Highway 1. It was hot, dusty, busy, and noisy; phew! Once we spotted a roadside hotel, we were more than happy to check in.
Day 28 – 28 September – Roadside Hotel – Tam Coc – 121 km
We woke to a beautiful morning and sat watching the mist curl around the limestone hills while sipping our morning coffee. We headed for Tam Coc, one of Vietnam's top tourist destinations. We had no choice but to get on the highway, making for a rather boring, dusty, busy, and noisy ride. We did, however, find some rather interesting roadside stalls, some selling beautiful pipes and others selling all kinds of birds.
We stopped for noodle soup and, as always, it felt like we were the centre of attention. It was easy cycling, and we arrived in Tom Coc in good time. We found a hotel room for $9, which we considered a bargain in such a touristy place.
Day 29 - Tam Coc
We spent the day in Tam Coc, an exceptionally beautiful area and took a boat upriver. The most extraordinary thing is that the people here row with their feet. They mostly use their hands for talking on their mobile phone (LOL) holding an umbrella or hauling in the fishing nets.
Day 30 – 30 September - Tam Coc – Hanoi – 130 km
Our final day of riding arrived, and we left the beautiful village of Tam Coc, just to discover an even more beautiful area. It was a stunning ride along back roads through a very idyllic setting, even although it was overcast. Fortunately, the rain stayed away, and we could enjoy a relatively easy ride into Hanoi. We saw a multitude of interesting and unique things. First thing in the morning we passed a lady pushing her bicycle along, something that is not so unusual, except that the bike was customized for pushing with one very long handlebar and no pedals. We turned off the road onto a tiny and narrow road through Chinese looking rural villages, passing ladies trading on their haunches and others selling live chickens, door to door, from a wire cage strapped on the bike of a motorbike. We waved at ladies in conical hats, and men with T-shirts rolled up to under their armpits. The route we choosed run through a valley with high limestone cliffs on both sides. The valley itself was planted with rice, by now in a variety of colours as the rice was in various stages of ripening. Old men heard their buffalo and younger men had the job of cutting the rice and carrying it in baskets dangling from shoulder poles to waiting wooden carts. Women herded coats in stark contrast with kids zooming home from school on their electric scooters.
We stopped in Hoa Lu, the ancient capital of Vietnam in the 10th and 11th centuries. Although not much remains of the many buildings of the time, it is a beautiful area narrow alleys, old temples and askew moss-covered walls. Although I tried my level best, 20 km to Hanoi, we landed ourselves on a very busy road. The traffic was hectic, and by the end of the day the light started fading, and the traffic increased, but we cycled into Hanoi without any problems and without losing each other. We found a room in the old quarters and were more than happy to have a shower and a bite to eat.
So came to an end Tania’s tour of Bangkok to Hanoi, it was (as always) a pleasure to cycle with Tania, and I wish her many happy kilometers still to come.
Day 31/32 - 1 – 2 October - Hanoi
Tania extended her tour but I only had until 17 October to accompany her as my sister Amanda was planning to visit. Come hell or high water I had to be back in Pattaya by 17 October. Our plan was to take the train to Saigon and cycle from there South via the Mekong Delta and Coastal Cambodia to Thailand. We had one rather important thing to do along the way and that was getting our Thailand visas in Phnom Penh. I know from experience that we will need at least two or three days for obtaining the visas, plus a copy of a flight ticket out of Thailand and well as copies of bank statements. We, therefore, had to plan our route so that we did not arrive in Phnom Penh on a Friday.
I still had enough time in Hanoi to meet up with Bret and Heyley and, as always, they seem to pick the best restaurants.
Day 33/34 - 3 – 4 October – Hanoi – Saigon by train – 34 hours
We cycled off to the station and were told to pack all our panniers in one large bag which we obtained at a shop across the road. With that all done we filled in the forms and the helpful staff quickly did all the necessary, leaving us with just enough time to board the train.
We were in a cabin with four beds which made our trip very comfortable. The food cart came around for breakfast, lunch and dinner and a snack trolley delivered nibbles to keep us busy. Each berth came with its own reading light and an electrical point which turned out very handy for charging electronic devices as there was not much to do but play on the internet. We were under the impression that the train ride took 24 hours, but by 8h00 the next morning we were still very far from Saigon. The total time, in fact, turned out to be 34 hours, with the result that we arrived in Saigon after dark and with the baggage collection office already closed. We took a room at a hotel around the corner from the station to make collecting the bikes easy in the morning.
Day 35 - 5 October – Saigon
There was no point in being in Saigon and not spending the day there. We collected our bicycles from the station and was surprised at their professionalism. The bikes and panniers arrived intact and on time. There is surprisingly little to do or see in Saigon but in the same breath, it is a nice city to wander around. The traffic alone is something to witness.
Day 36 - 6 October - Saigon – Vinh Long – 123 km
We were keen to get going and we felt rather well rested and fed as we set off to face to notorious Saigon traffic. We joined a sea of motorbikes and scooters and cycled out of Saigon. It turned out to be a rather interesting day. Most of all, I was proud that we managed to make it out of Saigon unscathed! It is a rather large city and we were in the thick of it for the best part of the morning.
Once we reached My Tho, we could breathe a sigh of relief and was at last able to find a smaller road, running next to one of the fingers of the Mekong. We passed rather interesting roadside stalls, including birds, rats, snakes but most interesting was the barbeque stalls we passed. Small birds and rats were on offer and we just had to try it. Tania is rather adventures when it comes to eating and we ordered a grilled rat, right off the rotisserie. I must admit that it was rather tasty!
The small road that runs next to the river was fascinating with its small villages and we could smell the sweet smell of the coconut sweet, something the region is famous for.
I was relieved to find a ferry to take us across the river as I was not sure we would find one. Three times we had to take a ferry before arriving in Vinh Long.
What a magnificent day on the road it was. The delta is a very fertile place and we cycled past coconut plantations, banana trees, mangos, rambutan plantations, Jackfruit trees, to mention only a few. The road we took was a tiny road running next to one of the fingers of the Mekong and it was a busy one, with boats of all shapes and sizes moving up and down the river. It was fascinating to see people going about their daily tasks and they were equally surprised at our presence. We cycled past markets and farmers working in the fields, we saw traders selling their wares from mobiles shops and we crossed numerous rivers where houses were preciously balancing on stilts.
We were lucky with the weather and did not get rained on once! All day long we watched dark clouds in the distance and passed areas where it clearly rained just a short while ago. We drank coconut juice and sugar cane juice and stopped for coffee and by midday realized that we still had 75 kilometres to go and had to step on it a bit to reach Chau Doc before dark.
Once in Chau Doc our plans changed, yet again, and we decided on taking the river ferry up the Mekong River to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. The ticket was $15 plus $7 for the bicycle (each) and we were told that the boat leaves at 7h00.
(483km - 7days)
Day 38 - 8 October - Chau Doc – Phnom Penh by boat and minivan
Our boat trip was not quite what we had expected as it only took us to the Cambodian border and not to Phnom Penh as expected. On second thoughts, the price was way too low for a trip all the way to Phnom Penh but at least it did include a minibus ride to Phnom Penh. Still, it was a fascinating boat ride on the Mekong, past houses on stilts and fishing vessels both big and small.
We set to work straight away to get a copy of a flight ticket and copies of bank statements for the visa applications.
It was also nice to shoot the breeze with Mat, Chop and Teresa while having a few beers.
Day 39 – 9 October – Phnom Penh
First thing in the morning we were off to the embassy armed with all the necessary documents, just to find that the embassy was closed! Not a word was mentioned on their website but there was little we could do. It could have been a blessing in disguise as Tania found that Lucky Motorbike shop could apply for a Thai visa on her behalf and as the visa processing takes three days, they could send it to wherever we found ourselves at that time. That was fantastic news as we were running out of time. I opted for a 14-day border visa as I was planning on visiting Malaysia while my sister is visiting. That way I will save a page in my passport, which is getting full very fast.
Day 40 – 10 October – Phnom Penh – Prey Lovea – 86 km
We first had a cup of coffee with Mat and then cycled out of busy Phnom Penh looking for small roads along the Mekong River. It turned out quite an adventurous day as first thing in the morning we crossed the river by ferry and landed up on the opposite side of the Mekong River - it would have been better if we took the bridge and cycled along the road next to the Bassac River.
In any event, the first part of the road was stunning, extremely quiet and clearly not a route foreigners take. We soon found out why, as the road became one potholed, muddy mess. We slipped and slid, weaved and snaked around the potholes until we eventually found a ferry to take us back across the river. The area was as rural as anyone can wish for. Ladies were drying and dying grasses for weaving mats, others were drying rice, men herded cattle and fished while monks in bright orange robes collected food from villagers. It’s truly a fascinating country. Still the road did not improve and mud-clogged our wheels, making it nearly impossible to cycle.
A second ferry took us across the Bassac River and finally we were heading in the direction of Kampot. Our attempt to escape the traffic worked but it came at a price as the road remained potholed and very muddy, sometimes more clay than mud, making for a messy and slow ride. It was, however, a fascinating day in a very rural part of Cambodia.
Around 17h00 we reached the small village of Prey Lovea and although we planned on camping at the temple, we spotted a guesthouse and opted for a shower and fan room! First thing on our minds was food…. something there was, fortunately, plenty about.
Day 41 - 11 October Prey Lovea – Kampot – 127 km
“This is Cambodia baby,” Tania uttered (her, by now, trademark saying) as we set off in the early morning light past green rice fields and wooden carts loaded to the hilt with all kinds of stuff. We cycled past typical Cambodian roadside stalls selling steamed pork buns, small grill birds, barbecued duck heads and unknown grilled animals with strange feet. As it was not long before we weakened and bought steamed buns for the road. We cycled through small villages where tiny kids on small bicycles were off to school, some even giving a friend a lift. Their amazing balance on a bicycle is clearly learned at a very young age.
Day 42 – 12 October – Kampot – Sri Amble Temple – 127 km
After a typical Cambodian breakfast, we cycled out of Kampot across scenic rivers where fishing boats were laying four deep. We passed oyster farms where child labour was not an uncommon sight, and we waved at monks and their helpers collecting food. At Vinh Real, the weather came in, and we ducked into the nearest restaurant for noodles with a curry sauce. The weather soon cleared and we could be on our way again, slowly making our way to the Cambodian/Thai border which was still a two-day ride away.
Once we reached Sri Amble, the weather looked ominous again, and we turned down to the small village where we camped at the temple. It was a rather busy temple with mostly small kids, around 8 to 13 years of age. We were no doubt the centre of attraction and had little privacy as the eating hall where we slept was also a sleeping area for the kids.
Day 43 – 13 October – Sri Amble – Trapeang Rung – 80 km
We stopped for a noodle soup breakfast at a typical roadside stall consisting of a corrugated iron shed and a dirt floor. As one can imagine, it is always a fascinating stop, as not only are we foreign to them; they are equally foreign to us. We smiled uncomfortably at each other while slurping our noodle soup.
It was a short but hot and hilly ride and we made slow progress. The hills were not that steep, but it made for slow going. Not that we minded, as it is a beautiful part of Cambodia. Kids were fishing in ponds, making use of ingenious methods and others were herding buffalo or looking after the cows.
We stopped for lunch in Trapeang Rung, a small community-based tourism village. It had plenty of restaurants to choose from, and the food was delicious. Heavy weather came in while we were eating and as there was a brand-new homestay across the road, we decided to continue in the morning. Good thing too, as it rained for the rest of the evening.
Day 44 – 14 October Trapeang Rung – Koh Kong – 63 km
We tackled the last part of the hilly section, and we felt amazingly strong after a breakfast of noodle soup. Hills are not something one can fight on a loaded bike, and we took it nice and easy. “Easy does it,” they say, and that’s precisely what we did.
Halfway to Koh Kong, the weather came in again. There was not much we could do but don our rain jackets and push on. The Cardamom Mountains are very scenic, and we enjoyed the landscape as much as we could. The rain clouded our view somewhat as we had our hoods down low. Soon we reached the top of the mountain, and, even in the rain, we managed to ride at 53 kilometres per hour downhill. The ride was a bit on the risky side as water streamed along the road, and I could not always see the potholes. However, it was very exciting to do it. We reached Koh Kong early, found a hotel room, and went out to fetch Tania’s passport, which the visa company had sent by bus to the city. We were more than happy to learn the passport had arrived on time along with the Thailand visa. Phew! that was a relief.
With all that done, we were ready to cross the border into Thailand in the morning. We still had 340 kilometres to reach Pattaya, and we wanted to be there in three days. We will take it day by day and see how things pan out.
(358km - 3days)
Day 45 – 15 October Koh Kong, Cambodia – Trat, Thailand – 108 km
After our usual bowl of noodle soup, we waved goodbye to Cambodia, crossed the river and headed for the immigration point at the Cambodian/Thai border. We were stamped out of Cambodia and into Thailand without any problems and continued on our way. We both still had Thai Baht and a Thai SIM card from when we left and there was, therefore, no need to draw money or get a new SIM card.
It was a beautiful stretch of road and soon we stopped for an early lunch. We turned off the main road and followed a small road through the villages, something that is always a pleasure. The road ran close to the coast and we stopped for a cup of coffee just to admire the view. Then it was back on the bikes and no sooner were we on our way and the threatening weather caught up with us. We donned our plastic raincoats and carried on cycling. Fortunately, the weather looked worse than what it turned out to be.
We made Trat at around 17h00, which in this part of the world is just before sunset (which is rather early at 17h50). After finding a room at Pop Guesthouse we were both starving so we set off immediately to the night market to get food.
Day 46 – 16 October - Trat – Klaeng – 135 km
After some discussions, Tania decided to give cycle touring a try on her own. It is an easy cycling stretch along the coast and only two days’ ride to Pattaya where we will meet and she can decide what she wanted to do next. I hopped on the bicycle and gunned it down the road before she could change her mind. I felt amazingly strong and pushed on.
My sister Amanda was arriving on 18 October and I had to be there to meet her. There was no time to waste and I cycled to Klaeng where I overnight.
Day 47 – 17 October - Klaeng – Pattaya – 115 km
I was up early, had a quick breakfast and was keen to get on the road. Fortunately, it was easy cycling and I was happy to cycle into Jontiem where I could offload my stuff, do my laundry and most of all have a very long and hot shower! After that I popped downstairs to the local pub where I had a few beers with my friends.