Monday, December 31, 2012

The Land of Smiles

The saying that goes something like: ‘you don’t know how much you miss something until it’s gone’ certainly held true when we crossed into Cambodia.  After a few hours of cycling in the country we realized how bad we wanted back into Thailand.  No 7-11’s or Tesco’s in Cambodia, just little shops here and there.  And the selection was rather weak.  Oddly enough we did see more foreign cyclists in Cambodia versus Thailand.  That I didn’t quite understand as the roads and conveniences of Thailand are so much better.  Anyway, after two nights in Cambodia we were back into Thailand.

Not much excitement though since everything is going great.  Thailand is called the land of smiles and we can certainly attest that.  To emphasize the non-excitement factor I will explain a typical day in Thailand for you.  We start the day by going to a 7-11, then listen to tunes or podcasts while cycling at fast speeds on flat roads, then stop again at a 7-11, then cycle more, then stop at a Tesco and pick up reduced priced items, then cycle some more, then stop at a 7-11, then cycle, then stop at a town and find a place to stay.  In the evening we go out and grab some fruit or chocolate shakes and down some street food.  That pretty much sums it up. 

We are now in Wiang Sa which means we most likely have a few days left in Thailand.  You may think the good times will end for us but that shouldn’t be so.  Oh no.  I am confident that Malaysia will let the good times roll.

We cycled into Bangkok late in the afternoon and went straight to this bike shop Trevor had marked.  On the spot Trevor got a new Surly fork to replace his bent one and his bottom bracket replaced.  I had my cassette replaced.  All of this was done in an hour or so.  They get top marks for service that is for sure.

We took a day off in Bangkok to run some errands like shipping things back home.  Trevor sent back a lot of stuff so he was quite happy about lightening his load.  Later in the day we met up with Tomas for lunch.  He is a former work colleague of Trevor’s who now lives in Bangkok.  Quite nice of him to treat the both of us to lunch.  Thanks Tomas!    

A Thai statue.

Let’s play Where’s Waldo.  Except this time let’s replace Waldo with Trevor in the Cambodian town of Sisophon.  You may begin. 

To give some purpose of our detour to Cambodia in addition to refreshing our Thai stamps, we decided to cycle to Battambang and check out the bamboo train.  Got there and after a quick look decided a ride on it wouldn’t be all that great.  It is pretty much a tourist trap with foreigners taking rides.  I’ll pass. 

Apparently the area from Battambang to Pailin was very heavily land mined from the Khmer Rouge.  As such, we didn’t go off the beaten path and stuck to the main road all the way through. 

Shortly after getting through Bangkok for a second time we saw a few monitor lizards on the side of the road rummaging through a pile of trash.

We try to take side roads as much as we can as they are obviously more peaceful and there is less traffic.  One side road we took led us to this park where we saw quite a few monkeys and some scenic limestone cliffs.

It has been awhile since we have had the opportunity to jump in the water.  The last time we were next to a Sea was in Turkey!  So taking a dip in the Gulf of Thailand was pretty refreshing.     

Here is a rare picture for two reasons.  One: we are both in the shot.  And two which is even rarer: Trevor is not looking down at his GPS.  Wow.    

If you ever are interested in doing some cycle touring and don’t know where to go, I suggest Thailand as the conveniences are well, so convenient.  And when you enter that 7-11 for a drink or two, tell them Kevin sent you.  Chances are I probably have been.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In The Clear

Feeling great for obvious reasons… out of China and in Southeast Asia!  It was like night and day when we crossed into Laos.  And things got much better when we crossed the Mekong River into Thailand. It is warm, the roads are flat here in Thailand and it is just good times all around.  We don’t have strenuous days.  Huge change indeed.

One surprise though for us when entering Thailand was getting only 15 days.  When we cycled through back in 2008 we were given 30 days.  Apparently they reduced the land crossings by half late in 2008.  I think we could make it through in the time allotted but want to spend a bit more time in the region.  As such, the plan now is to detour over to Cambodia and re-enter Thailand later. 

We are now in Kanchanaburi and just checked out the Bridge on the River Kwai.  I watched the film a few weeks ago so I was interested in seeing the real deal.  Well, I guess it isn’t exactly the actual structure since it was bombed a couple of times back in the day but just neat being around history.  It was a little out of the way but we don’t mind given we are cycling in Thailand now.

Enter Laos.  To add to our elation that we were entering Southeast Asia, we also didn’t have to pay for a Lao visa.  Swiss citizens get 15 days visa-free.  That was a pleasant surprise. 

A piggy taking a nap under a Lao house.  Passed many structures like this en route.  

Laos had more than enough hills in the north with gradients a bit steep for my liking.  We were dripping in sweat going up 10% grades. 

Taking a breather from all the hills we climbed up and down in Laos.

Crossing the Mekong River from Laos into Thailand.  I will miss the delicious banana shakes Laos had on offer.  They went down so nicely in the hot sun.  Yum. 

All smiles in Thailand.  Trevor ecstatic as this was our first of many 7-11 stops.  We had dreamed of this day for some time.  We also hit up Tesco Lotus.  Pretty much every time we see either one we stop for a break. 

Trevor sampled a few critters in Laos and here in Thailand picked up a bag of grasshoppers for downing.  I’ll pass.  

This has to be the largest snake albeit dead we have seen thus far.  Sucks because that would have been cool to see if it were still alive.  Kind of disgusting to look at as bugs were having a field day on the carcass. 

Trevor at the Bridge on the River Kwai looking thrilled to be there.  As usual I explored and wandered around while he sat bored as ever.  This was his second time there though.    

Monday, December 10, 2012

Beat Up By China

Well there is good news and there is bad news.  The good news is we are done China!  Really pleased to have completed the country as it really threw a lot at us.  And it wasn’t good stuff being thrown our way.  The last province of Yunnan turned out to be quite hilly with crappy, bumpy roads.  Other good news is we are in the tropics so that cold feeling we had in most of China is no more. 

The bad news is I face planted the pavement again but this time I was riding my bike.  As a result I have a purple eye and a bloodied up face.  Knees are also torn up and my right shoulder is hurting.  I am down for the count.  Basically I was riding down a hill and went over some water when my back tire slid and next thing I know I am crashing to the ground.  Unfortunately I had to change my back Marathon Plus tire for Trevor’s old worn down with no traction Marathon tire since my Plus tire had a bulge in it.  Having no traction, going over water and turning at a high speed isn’t a good mix.  I learned that the hard way.  Each day though I am getting better so I am optimistic I will be fine.  Time heals all.  It was annoying though the next day my right eye was closed shut so I was riding with one eye pretty much.   

In other news we were camping on the side of the road early on in Yunnan when a light flashes on my tent late in the evening.  Then I hear voices and realize crap, we’ve been had.  I open up my tent pretty freaked out as it could be anyone out there and I am in a vulnerable position.  Then I see three policemen.  They said they wanted to help us as it was cold where we were and we should pack up in the shivering night and follow them to the police station to sleep.  I tried to politely decline over and over again but the officer didn’t quite get what I was saying.  Sometime later more people arrived by vehicle and it turned out they called over an English teacher to translate.  After examining my passport and asking if they could help in any way they all finally left.  It was sort of strange looking up from my tent and seeing about 6 or 7 people hovering around my tent.  I was really glad they didn’t make us leave from our spot because it was really freezing in the night. 

We are in Mohan which is the border town with Laos.  We enter Laos and one of my most favourite regions in the world, Southeast Asia, tomorrow! 

Oh and just to forewarn, there are a few pretty grotesque pictures below so if you do not like those types of pictures better stop reading.  Viewer discretion is advised… 

The delayering begins.  Real nice not to have to wear layers upon layers.  Now it is just shorts and a shirt.  

Me taking a breather in front of some nice scenery.

Me exhausted from a crappy day of cycling around Kunming.  We tried to get on the expressway but were caught by some police officers who told us to go back and take the side roads.  The side road G213 was complete crap.  Nonstop cracks and bumps everywhere.  Plus there were so many big dump trucks always driving by and polluting the air.  So I wasn’t having a good day as evidenced by this photo. 
Here is a stretch of crappy, muddy road on the G213.  It was literally a mud bath.  Had to walk this bit.  Seriously China needs to invest some money into their infrastructure and not just their highways.  They appeared to have built their side roads many years ago and then just leave them to rot with no proper maintenance whatsoever.  We do however see road workers at times jackhammering the roads and doing horrible patch work which in effect makes the roads worse off.  Good for nothing they are. 

A lot of mornings as of late started off in the foggy mist much like this.  I don’t mind it since it cools me down now. 

In a town called Ninger I stopped for a food and drink stock up and stumbled upon a huge, happening bazaar.  I enjoy bazaars and browsing what is on offer.  I have only seen dog for sale once in China but never like this.  So this was quite surprising to see.

Larvae and huge insects for sale.  Guess they are supposed to be a tasty treat.  I’ll pass.

The most grotesque photo of all… me after falling off my bike. 

We have seen many flattened, dead snakes on the road in Yunnan but no live ones until we passed this dirt mound.  Just cycling along when a cobra pops out from one of those holes.  It hissed at us and then expanded its hood.  It was pretty cool.  Then it went back inside its small hole.  My research tells me it could have very well been a Chinese cobra.  Given we are now seeing large spiders, poisonous snakes and just thick jungle with little camping opportunities; we are hitting up hotels and guesthouses.  Probably will do this the rest of the way in Asia.    

Progress picture.  Me the following day of my tumble.  Still looks like I was mauled by a tiger but things are getting better. 

Typical Trevor fixated on his GPS not caring or bothered to look that there is an elephant behind him.  

Haven’t seen many cycling tourists in China (probably because this country is crap to cycle in).  However, the past few days we have been cycling with Paul, a British man who has been on the road for about 18 months. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Crash Boom Bang

Leaving the province of Shaanxi, I had a few bonehead moves on the bike. First was exiting Xian where I accidently reared another cyclist.  It wasn’t a hard hit but I think the elderly gentleman was kind of pissed with me.  He was cycling quite slowly in front of me and then all of a sudden abruptly stopped due to traffic coming from all directions.  As a result, I went straight into his back wheel.  Seeing that there wasn’t any harm or damage done, I apologized profusely and jetted off. 

The second incident was going through a tunnel.  I am really not a fan of tunnels.  I just want to get out of them as fast as possible as I don’t feel very safe in them with other vehicles passing by.  Plus since the lighting is usually poor I don’t always see the pavement very well and there could be cracks and potholes.  Anyway, this particular tunnel was rather long and wasn’t very well lit.  I turned on my front light but it turned off when I went over a bump too hard.  This was due to the batteries being low on energy.  Long story short I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and picked up my speed even though my front light was off.  I didn’t realize it but I was veering off to the left and was in the other lane and before you know it I collided with the curb and fell.  It wasn’t a pretty sight in the dark.  I had to walk the final kilometer or so out of the tunnel as I did a bit of damage to my bike.  Add insult to injury I also sprained my left ankle and was limping around the next few days thereafter.  My ankle still isn’t tip top but I think it is getting better.  I should have just slowed down and stayed close to Trevor whose lights were working properly.

So I was the dumbtard for a few days there until we hit Chengdu where Trevor took back the dumbtard title.  With all the idiotic driving done by the Chinese people, his nerves were once again getting to him.  Entering Chengdu he decided to pick up his speed and cycle aggressively.  I lost sight of him as a result, but then shortly after noticed a line of taxis holding up traffic.  Then I see Trevor walking out in front of the taxis with his bike smiling.  With his adrenaline pumping he asked me if I saw the show but unfortunately I did not.  He was weaving in and out of traffic at about 30km/hr when he rammed straight into the barricade that divides the bicycle lane with the other lanes.  He flew off his bike and landed in the bicycle lane while his bike landed in the vehicle lane.  No physical harm done but his fork is now bent which effectively shortened his bike.  His lower water bottle also exploded.  He will probably need to fix or replace his fork as it is now sometimes scrapes his shoes when he pedals.

Trevor wasn’t so lucky in avoiding bodily harm today as he had a nasty fall cycling over some mud.  He slipped and fell to the pavement right in front of an oncoming truck.  Luckily the truck wasn’t going fast and stopped in time.  He was hurting afterwards and was muddy all over.  His front tire is totally worn so he had no traction. 

The food situation in Sichuan was the worst yet in the provinces we have cycled through.  Just lots of crap to eat there.  I thought the province was renowned for their cuisine but I was not at all impressed from what I had seen.  Trevor really didn’t like much of anything and has rated it his worst province thus far.    
Unfortunately there were no panda sightings in the province of Sichuan but on the up side we are getting closer and closer to the end of China.  Yeah.  Can’t wait.  

Some nice scenery in Shaanxi, my favourite province thus far. 

Trevor posing for the camera.

Here I am fixing up my bike after my self-inflicting crash in the tunnel.  My front fender and right handle both bent, and some gears were jostled around.  Luckily that was it. 

The last time I had a good laugh at the names of places and things was in Newfoundland where I saw a sign for the town of Dildo.  China has brought back some laughter with this sign here.  I can confirm the river was just like its name, shitty.  It looked the part for sure.  Another bridge we cycled on was called Long Dong Bei Bridge.  That one didn’t really stack up to its name though as it wasn’t long nor was it the shape of a dong. 

With all the idiots I see on the road I am the least bit surprised at seeing this big car crash.  So many people constantly blab away on their cell phones not really paying much attention to the road and I suspect that was probably the case here.  I think this incident was a bit unfortunate though as it looked like they were all celebrating a wedding.  Trevor found that quite funny.  He is not a fan of those celebrations where people honk like mad and make noise after getting hitched.    

Here is the barricade that Trevor got up close and personal with. 

Trevor really dislikes this country with a passion.  He is one unhappy camper that is for sure.  I suggested he vent more to let off steam just like I do.  He took that advice and did just that by showing this statue of a cop how he feels. 

We saw firsthand the effects the Three Gorges Dam had on the Yangtze River shown here.  Our intended route today was submerged underwater so we had to take an alternate route.   

A muddied up Trevor after he took a tumble.  He will likely be feeling it more so tomorrow morning.  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Silk Road Complete

We haven’t even finished cycling through China but Trevor has already declared this country his worst.  For me, it is definitely in contention for bottom spot.  The people here do not know how to drive and they can be quite obnoxious.  The spitting and snot flying out of their noses is very disgusting to watch.  Plus the staring can get annoying.  I like to think I don’t curse much but I am venting around the clock at the drivers and at times pedestrians for their idiotic moves.  No one obeys traffic signs or traffic lights.  They just do whatever they please.  Trevor commented the only thing they are good at it in this country is creating traffic jams.  They also love to cut us off.  Countless times every day we are cut off by dumbasses who do not watch what is coming their way, they just go without thinking.  The thing though that really annoys both of us is the horn.  I would love to take their horns and stick them up where the sun don’t shine because it is deafening and really unnecessary.  If you know how to drive, you don’t need to rely on that stupid horn.  They blast their horns at the sight of any moving object and some just honk just for the sake of honking.  It must be music to their ears.

Anyway, since leaving Yumen it has been tough times yet again with cold conditions.  Out of Yumen we cycled on icy roads.  The roads also have been crap as we have had quite a few punctures. 

Happy to say we are now in Xian, which means the end of the Silk Road for us.  Now we can beeline it south and hopefully toward warmer climes!

Free food on the side of the road!  Not sure how all these onions became scattered on the side of the road but I thought maybe I could find a few good onions.  Unfortunately they weren’t all that great so I decided best not to risk getting sick. 

We had a string of days where we were hassled with constant flat tires.  With the increase in flat tires, Trevor decided to put one of his China made tires he purchased in Urumqi to use.  Already it has had two flats.

An ecstatic me at about 3000m above sea level!  We had a few passes (the other just shy of 2600m) to cover which previously worried both of us due to the chance of being hit with snow.  We played it safe and stopped at towns just before the passes and checked weather reports.  Very glad it worked out and we didn’t get stuck anywhere. 

A useless sign.  Another useless thing in China is the traffic police who just stand at intersections pretending to direct traffic.  I don’t see what good they are doing.  If you have half a brain you should know green means go and red means stop.  Then again, not all understand that.

A pleased me in Lanzhou after getting the first and hopefully last visa extension.  It will be close but I am optimistic we can get to Laos in time.  If not, then it means another extension which would involve more waiting around.  We had to wait about four days in Lanzhou and didn’t do much at all but sit in a hotel room and eat fattening pastries, tasty mandarins and drink delicious red date milk.  The day we arrived in Lanzhou we thought was going to be easy given we made it there around midday but it turned out to be a long day.  The process of finding accommodation is very frustrating.  It took us forever to find the youth hostel and when we did find it we were turned away as they do not accept foreigners now.  So pissed and perturbed we set off around chaotic Lanzhou trying to find a binguan.  We went to many places only to be turned away yet again or find out the binguan is no more.  Seemed like the ones that did accept foreigners were of course the priciest.  That is always the case.  It was getting dark and we were running out of ideas and were about to give up and go to one of the expensive hotels when this lady approached us clearly wanting to practice her English on us helped us find a cheap binguan nearby. 

After Lanzhou the terrain sure changed.  Nice not being in the desert anymore that is for sure!  

We had another day of snow and it was a bit tough at times.  Really hope this is the last we have seen of snow on this trip now. 

The border region around Gansu and Shaanxi made for some nice scenery.  Unfortunately the many mountains meant many ups and downs.  There were many tunnels though which I have a love/hate relationship with.  Nice that they allow us to avoid climbing more hills but going through them can be a bit scary at times.  Some are well over a kilometer and aren’t very well lit.  As such, we really pedal hard to get through them as quickly as possible. 

The first Mao statue we have come across in China.  I am sure it won’t be the last.

Trevor said prior to the trip he doesn’t care much about the route we take but did have one request that we hit two antipodal cities, basically cities that are diametrically opposite to one another on the Earth’s surface.  So, here he is at Drum Tower in the center of the city walls of Xian.  The other antipodal city we now need to hit is Santiago, Chile.  Or at least that is what we used to think.  I just did some research and it appears they aren’t exact antipodal cities.  Trevor wants to be spot on so now it looks like we will be cycling somewhere southwest of Santiago when the time comes hopefully next year. 

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