Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Nothing was going to stop us! Wind, punctures, stomach problems, road works, hills, bad weather, heat and humidity - all had to be coped with in our quest to cross the border into Malaysia not later than 26 December. (I exagerate a bit, because the wind was often in our favour and there were only a few moderate hills - although my tyres have worn to the point where I suffer a glass puncture almost every day). We were allowed "NO FEAR" in our efforts, as the road sign in the picture indicates ("ban Bang Boet"). However, in our Southern rush we did manage to stay over at some of the nice spots where we'd previously been (what a good thing we'd already cycled this way earlier in the year when we had the time). Well, we made it into Malaysia in the afternoon of the 26th (due date), and managed to cycle to the coastal town of Kuala Perlis by evening. The following morning we took a ferry boat to the resort island of Langkawi, about 30 km off the mainland coast. I need some time to unwind, and have been relaxing on the island for a day or 2 now. Leana obviously has more energy, as she quietly packed up and left this morning (or perhaps it's just that I'm not the best person to get along with!). There are some obvious differences between Thailand and Malaysia, the most notable being that Malaysia is predominantly an Islamic country. In Thailand women are often "skimpily" dressed, whereas in Malaysia they tend to be covered up, often with head scarves and all. In Thailand there are many Buddhist Wat's around, but here every town has it's mosque with the Immam calling the faithful to prayer. For me Malaysia is also much more expensive than the previous SE Asian countries where I've been, so I'll have to pinch my pennies. Otherwise there is no immediate rush, as I have a free stay of 3 months in this country. Daily distances cycled since Bangkok have been:- Puktian Beach 151 km; Prachuap Khiri Khan 146 km; Bang Saphan 101 km; Chumphon 118 km; Chayo 142 km; Chawang 146 km; Phattalung 125 km; Hat Yai 107 km; Kuala Perlis (Malaysia) 109 km; and Langkawi Island (after ferry boat) 26 km. Total distance cycled since Cape Town is 52 457 km.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
After sharing a barge with a number of large trucks across the Mekong from Laos, Leana and I were not surprised to only receive the miserly 15-day Thai visa usually issued at land borders. We weren't sure about a visa extension in Bangkok, so we made haste in a Southerly direction. Fortunately the route allowed for some speedy cycling, and even on the few occasions where we had to cross hills the good road was a pleasure. We mostly camped on the grounds of Buddhist temples and at petrol stations (convenient toilets, water, and usually a 7-Eleven shop). Just North of Bangkok we arrived early at the former Siamese capital of Ayuttaya, where we fortunately found cheap rooms. The place was pretty much destroyed in a war a few hundred years ago, but walking around the old river-bound city one can still observe many interesting remains of the former glorious palaces and temples. Then it was on to the present Thai capital, Bangkok, working our way through many kilometers of heavy traffic before reaching the crazy tourist-haven suburb of Banglamphu. Eight months and 12641 km later, we booked into another cheap guest house not far from where we'd stayed on our first visit to the city. Hoping for a visa extension it was a bit of a mission finding the Bangkok Immigration Bureau. Traveling by river ferry, sky-train, and taxi, we were dismayed to discover that the visa office had recently moved to the far Northern suburbs of the city. Another train and bus ride later we reached the place, and after going through all the bureaucratic "red tape" only Leana got an extension for a further 7 days. (The short extension costs a lot of money, and none of the many ATM's there were prepared to give me any. The next morning I managed to squeeze out my last few cents, and I had to go all the way back to that miserable office for the essential stamp in my passport). Today we were still in Bangkok as Leana had some unfinished business to take care of, so I spent most of the day working on the bikes. Daily distances cycled since my last update were:- Thoeng 88 km; Phayao 103 km; Rong Kwang 130 km; Uttaradit 102 km; Phitsanulok 107 km; Nakhon Sawan 149 km; Chaiyo 126 km; Ayuttaya 50 km; and Bangkok 83 km. Total distance cycled on this trip is 51286 km.
Friday, 4 December 2009
Don't panic, as my bike (Old Saartjie) hasn't gone into permanent retirement. After reaching our Northern-most point in China (Chengdu city), Leana and I had to head back South, visa expiry being just one of the reasons for the hasty retreat. So, first of all we had an interesting 19 hour train trip from Chengdu back down to Kunming. I arrived back at Cloudlands Hostel in Kunming to find quite a gathering of long-term cyclists (about 10 of us in total). We'd all been travelling individually or in pairs, and had followed different routes, but all of us moving South to escape the harsh Chinese winter (Germans Robert and Martin in picture). My efforts to get on an overnight bus from Kunming down to Jinghong were in vain, as there was no space for the bike and my ticket was refunded. However, the next day both Leana and myself were more fortunate and made the 9 hour bus ride down to Jinghong which is less than 200 km from the Laos border. Although the "moving parts" on Old Saartjie were spared due to the train- and bus travel, there is - as usual - some sort of damage, but fortunately not too serious. After the short rest my poor old bike had to hit the road running - on the 2nd day after resting she cracked the 50 000 km barrier on this trip. From Jinghong Leana took another bus further on to Laos, while I preferred to cycle (we'd both been suffering from a bout of flu, but I'd recovered sufficiently to be able to cycle). I'd rather not say anything about Swine Flu, as you never know who may read this report and I don't fancy any time in quarantine. I was sorry to leave China, but Laos is a good relaxing place to go from there. However, there hasn't been much time to relax, as in only a few days I've cut through the "short NW" corridor of Laos. I've also finally caught up with Leana in the town of Houei Xai, on the Mekong river. I arrived here in the gathering darkness after racing the sun before it disappeared into the river. On the opposite bank of the Mekong lies Thailand, where we plan to take the ferry tomorrow. Distances cycled since Chengdu have been:- To and from railway stations Chengdu & Kunming 15 km; To and from bus terminals Kunming & Jinghong 23 km; Menglun 76 km; Mengla 77 km; Luang Namtha (Laos) 110 km; Vieng Phouka 65 km; and Houei Xai 124 km. Total distance cycled since leaving Cape Town at the start of this journey is 50 348 km.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
The rain in Yibin (where I posted my previous report) was just the start of an unusually cold spell for S-China so early in winter. According to the weather reports there was snow all around us, but Leana and I were fortunate enough to be spared the snow. We did, however, have to contend with some icy rain, and even when it wasn't raining we had to cycle with a few layers of clothing on. For a change there were no serious hills on the route, and we stopped over at a couple of interesting places. The city of Zigong is historically known for it's salt wells, and more recently for it's dinosaur fossils and renowned museum (obviously the dinosaurs were waiting patiently to be discovered since long before the salt mining). Leshan, another Sichuan province city on the Min river, is a favourite tourist destination mainly due to it's ancient "Grand Buddha". In the freezing drizzle we took a sight-seeing ferry down the river to see this 71 m high sitting Buddha which has been carved from the river-side cliffs. In another city at the end of one particularly long freezing day, I walked out to get some necessities, and decided to buy some fried potatoes from an old lady on the corner. I was still wearing my rain jacket and cycling tights, and hadn't yet washed the "road muck" off myself - so I probably looked like something which the cat may have left on the doorstep. However, the old lady refused to serve me, and instead she threatened to clobber me with her food ladle (the beard probably added to the consternation, and I've since had it trimmed again). As we approached Chengdu the area along the road became increasingly built-up (with endless high-rise buildings almost all the way from Leshan - more than 150 km away). Chengdu is certainly the largest and most crowded city which I've visited in China, and we spent an exciting hour or more in the rush-hour darkness being directed to all corners of the earth in search of Sim's Hostel - which we eventually found. Distances cycled since Yibin were:- Zigong 107 km; Rongxian 48 km; Leshan 92 km; Meishan 89 km; and Chengdu 98 km.