Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand (06/12/2013) - 31200km cycled

14 Dec 2013

Two stories from SE Asia: Dog eat dog and the vicious ant attack

Posted by Will. 11 Comments

I’ll tell a story or two this week, written from a quiet balcony in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I love the giant banana plants less than 3m from my nose. Every now and again a lizard creeps down the adjacent wall. The sound of a scooter drifts up lazily from the street below.

p1070171-800I’m getting hungry, as usual, so soon I’ll head round the corner to a lovely old lady who ladles the city’s signature dish, Khao Soi, into colourful bowls. After 5pm, I’ll wander through the street-food stalls for sticky rice and a pre-made green curry. I’ve arranged to meet friends this evening too. While I still have reservations about Chiang Mai, it’s starting to grow on me.

Dog eat Dog

Back in Romania I wrote that dog isn’t man’s best friend. That was after I’d been hounded across the country, my packed lunch incessantly whined for and my stealthy, scenic camp spots routinely discovered. I was chased by packs of the beasts in the Kurdish lands and thrown over the handlebars by a stray one in Vietnam. They’ve frightened me out of asking for water and growled me away from getting directions. In short, they have never welcomed my great journey eastwards. Like the postman, I am a constant target for their abuse. … [read more]

7 Dec 2013

Laos – It’s like they know something we don’t

Posted by Will. 5 Comments

From what I’ve seen so far, Laos is the poorest country I’ve visited. I travelled across the less developed north, skirting at times less than a hundred kilometres south of the Chinese border, through an uninterrupted wave of wild, sunlit jungle. It’s a shame money doesn’t grow on trees: if it did every owner of Laos’ radiant smiles would be millionaires. dsc_0331-800But it doesn’t, and to the passing eye it is quite clear that past a smile, community spirit and enough to eat, the ordinary people of Laos don’t have much else. So how is it they’re always smiling, laughing, beckoning, calling, jumping and dancing? Why are the children readier than all the world’s others to shout ‘sabaidee!’ (hello) at the top of their lungs, little arms swinging excitedly from side to side? Outwardly, they are the happiest people I’ve ever seen. The more I ride through villages with nothing but faces alight with everything I can’t help feeling they know, or understand, something we don’t.

In a week and several hundred kilometres’ cycling I don’t consider I passed through a town, let alone a city, in Laos. The biggest red dot on my map, Luang Namtha, seemingly one of the country’s main cities, turned out to be little more than a village with a few coffee shops and guest-houses pandering to tourists. Other dots on the map contained a village shop or two selling no more than coffee sachets, dried noodles, eggs, tacky sweets and a few other similar, insubstantial products. Past that, tiny houses, almost always made of wood and sometimes standing on stilts, where kitchen huts used open fires and were separated from other rooms, composed the rest of a typical village. ┬áCommunal taps stood along the roadside where everyone washed themselves, their clothes and their pots and pans. Countless times I cycled past naked children washing unabashed beneath fountains of gushing cold water. They always found it funny when I stopped to scrub my neck and face.

Gone were the smartphones of China and Vietnam. Gone were the ‘wifi zone’ signs, designer trainers and the compulsive need to be noticed. Food was cooked over smouldering fires, washing was done under taps, flat footballs replaced iPads for child’s play and sandals stood for shoes on their feet. A rare man to speak English told me his village had been hooked up to electricity only two years ago. The asphalt road had come a year before that. The villages looked only partially emerged from the surrounding jungle, entirely out-of-sync with the standard of living expected almost universally around the world. … [read more]

30 Nov 2013

A very hilly road out of Vietnam

Posted by Will. 9 Comments

Foolishly I had left very little time to get out of Vietnam – I would have to make 500km in only 5 days to reach the border in the time allowed on my visa. Normally, this wouldn’t have bothered me too much but my Hanoian friends kept warning of the mountainous regions that lay ahead. Heeding their advice, I set off for Laos at 5am the following morning.

p1070056-800The first few hours went very well indeed. A light breeze blew in my favour, heavy traffic never materialised and a tasty bowl of pho soup awaited me at a quiet cafe a few dozen kilometers outside the city limits. Some local men called me over to drink ‘wine’ but after cautiously sniffing it I realized its true identity lay closer to paint stripper. I joined them anyway even though my watch showed the time at only a little after 8am. With a nasty taste in my mouth, I set off again intent on lengthening my headstart.

I cycled past spectacular limestone cliffs which looked much like the scenery at Ha Long Bay except now they rose from land instead of water. A few small villages were cast entirely in their jagged shadow at this early hour. They were the beginning of the mountains to come. As I had expected, the road began to slope upwards, gently at first as though to lull the ambitious cyclist into a false sense of security, only to turn a corner and reveal the true nature of the climb. As far as the eye could see, the road twisted and turned at a terrifying angle up the side of the mountain. Over the next few hours, I puffed and panted slowly upwards, realising in the most agonising way possible how much Hanoian food, drink and armchairs had stripped my physical fitness. The bike wobbled and creaked, my legs strained and trembled and my mind cursed the Vietnamese road builders who had decided this was an acceptable gradient. … [read more]