Our Summary of Cycling through SE Asia

We spent February, March & April cycling 4280km through Southern Thailand, Cambodia & Laos.
In Thailand we met Dutch, British & French touring cyclist couples almost daily, all heading the opposite direction to us. In Cambodia we met touring cyclists from Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, Korea & China. We hadn’t cycled with anyone until South Laos when 3 cyclists suddenly caught up with us, heading the same direction -two of them sharing a bright yellow tandem! So we joined forces & cycled together for a few days then continued to cycle along with our Greek flip-flop friend, Petros.

Apart from seeing hundreds of golden Buddhas our trip through Southern Thailand was incredible; we were able to cycle on dirt tracks, (thanks to our GPS) compared to the asphalt roads we needed to stick to in Malaysia. So we have been sliding our wheels through sand, loose rock, dirt & mud, all under a hardcore sunshine and occasionally through a torrential rain shower. We cycled through a trazillion rubber tree plantations, watching the entire process from collecting the latex, to squashing it into flat white sheets, which are then hung over bamboo poles to be dried out in the sun, and then piled onto a lorry and taken to a warehouse, from where they are eventually sent on to China for processing into such uses as bicycle tyres.

We also cycled passed salt fields where the workers wear ‘fonejacker’ woolly masks to protect their skin from the sun! We have also observed how durian, coconuts, pineapples, papaya, bananas & mangos are grown, collected & transported & we also visited a famous floating market in Samut Songkhram where such fruit is sold. There we got the chance to see the Thai princess at an old-style theatre-dance performed specially for her. We also took 3 weeks off cycling to explore the beach islands of Koh Lanta, Koh Tao – where I completed my Dive Leader/Manager course (hurray!) & Koh Samet, where we visited a fishery with Sergio’s parents. We tried a few Thai massages, which Sertx ended up hating, & I had a fifty fish nibble away at my feet, which took some time getting used to. We also ate ice-cream with a mountain bike champion in Don Sak who helped fix my bike brakes.

In Thailand we had cats, dogs, chickens, water dragons, snakes & tarantula-like spiders jump in front of our wheels; in Cambodia it was just the crazy drivers who almost ran us over and in Laos we had larger animals such as cows, water buffalo & goats casually walk into the road making all the traffic stop. We have had dogs tiny & large barking and chasing us as well as locals speeding passed us shouting ‘hello’ from their mopeds & staring back at us in amazement, whilst they continue to drive on. Dogs are born on the roadside & so are used to jumping in & out of the way, just as babies are born riding scooters – we’ve seen kids as young as 5 driving by us!

We did some of our longest cycle days in Cambodia; our lengthiest being 145km, but we also took 2 weeks off in Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temples, visit a crocodile farm, see 3 Child Dream Schools & also get both our bicycles serviced. We got to cycle alongside students cycling to school, as well as forest fires and some maniac Toyota Camry drivers and also heard a few too many children screaming ‘hello’ endlessly. Thankfully there are no dead animals on the road, the reason, which we came to discover, was that they throw almost anything on the barbeque! We watched some incredible sunrises & sunsets over the Mekong River & also went on a boat trip to try and spot an Irrawaddy dolphin.

Laos is breathtakingly beautiful. The roads are better than in Cambodia, & they have road signs & speed limits, unlike in Cambodia. We have seen more concrete houses, rather than just tree leaf huts; more babies wearing clothes rather than walking around naked; women wearing normal clothes, not colourful pyjamas all day long; and less screaming kids - families having 2 kids, not 6. However, here no one speaks a word of English, unlike in Cambodia where the locals understood our sign language. Here in the south, we have cycled through sandy islands along the Mekong, passed coffee bean plantations in the mountains, and swum in some mega big waterfalls.

We were in Laos for the Asian New Year which coincided with the week-long water festival - where the locals were drinking too much alcohol & throwing buckets of water at us cyclists from the side of the road, rather than lying calmly in their hammocks as usual. We also changed our road tyres to 2-inch-wide off-road ones to cycle 1324m up to the Bolaven Plateau to visit some beautiful waterfalls. Only days after we were cycling & pushing our bikes through a jungle terrain along the rocky Ho Chi Minh trail which was the hardest thing we’ve ever done. In this off-beaten track we found an American tank and saw local villagers exchanging metal war junk for Vietnamese sweets!

I’ve experienced head pains, tummy pains, muscle pains, knee pains and shoulder aches; yet Sertx only feels bicycle pains, becoming frustrated when another wheel spoke snaps, or the inner tube punctures, or the Rohloff hub leaks black oil everywhere, or the tyre is too wobbly to ride with. 
We’ve experienced sleeping in a thin-walled love motel in Thailand, on an ant-infested balcony floor of a monastery in Cambodia, and have also spent a few nights in homestays in Laos, where there is no clean water - having to wash ourselves in a nearby muddy river or from a barrel filled with old water.

This photo was taken by Petros

Our thighs are thinner but our bellies are bigger; I ate lotus fruit in Kratie, whilst Sertx ate a locust in Yan Ta Khao. Every morning the thing we look forward to least is the torture of pulling on our sweaty lycra padded pants, but what we enjoy most is being able to experience time with the funny locals by cycling through their land. Our experience of each country just becomes more insightful & the routes definitely tougher as we cycle on northwards.

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