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

23 Nov 2013

Desert Island Discs … with an iPod

Posted by Will. No Comments

At 6am last Monday morning I set off with Van the Man to Quan Lan island. The bumpy five hour bus ride on backroads, including a breakdown halfway, reminded me why it’s better to travel by bike, and when finally arrived it turned out we had landed in the wrong place. A fast and furious fifteen minute motorbike ride later, the port came into view and with half an hour to spare before the boat’s departure we set about gathering supplies.

p1060949-800I had expected a medium-sized car ferry so was surprised when Van pointed to a tiny white speedboat which floated amidst rowing boats, driftwood and splayed fishing nets. Of course since this was Vietnam, the port rang with noise, mainly because everyone shouted by way of communication. As disorganised and disorientating as the port seemed, its surroundings, hundreds of precipitous rocky islands rising vertically out of the water, couldn’t have been more peaceful. We boarded our boat with a kilogram of dried ‘pho’ noodles, four tins of canned meat, twenty sachets of instant coffee, a packet of Oreo cookies, a bag of salt and a handful of rice crackers.

Although the sun didn’t shine on the hour-long over-water skim my eyes lit up with the innumerable islands. A few other boats paddled around for fish, still others set up temporary camps in sheltered bays. My excitement mounted. Off the bow I looked out over the beginning of the Pacific and breathed in my first view of the ocean since leaving the coast of Holland, now almost two years ago.

We disembarked on a narrow, damaged pier and then took a tuk-tuk on a primitive, sandy road along the coast. Seven kilometres later we arrived at … [read more]

22 Nov 2013

Buzzing in Hanoi

Posted by Will. 8 Comments

Sunday will mark the end of three happy weeks in Hanoi. I imagined I would stay here long enough to catch up on fiddly jobs like replacing the tyres, updating the website, tightening the brakes, stun-gunning my clothes, cursing broken zips, shaking out panniers, buying new batteries, fumigating the tent, disinfecting my sleeping bag and more, after which I would carry on cycling, as I tend to do. Far from leaving promptly though, or willingly, I became so glued to Hanoi that I even had to fightp1060710-800 myself to leave for a short visit to Quan Lan island and the world-famous Ha Long Bay. Hanoi had a hold on me, there’s no doubt about that, and in what follows I will try to explain why.

Again, I will post in two parts: one today, one tomorrow. Today I describe my time in Hanoi, tomorrow my time camping, swimming and fire-building on Quan Lan. Here starts my ode to Hanoi.

Most tourists spend their time confined to the ‘old quarter’ where the life and soul of the city pounds on every one of the senses. Thin alleys twist and turn in a maze packed with motorcycles, bustling pedestrians, street-food restaurants, street-side cafes, calling hawkers and the odd luxury car blocking the way for everyone. Most western faces walk around looking utterly confused, brain caught in five minds over what to look at, and catch each other’s eyes to share incredulity at the chaos going on around them. Disorientation reaches a climax when crossing the road where locals routinely ignore red lights, whistling policemen and the imminent chance of death. They weave backwards and forwards, up and down pavements and in and out of the alleys to get a little further ahead in the traffic all the while tooting their horn to the limit. It goes without saying … [read more]

13 Nov 2013

And then came the rainforest

Posted by Will. 3 Comments

While speeding for half an hour off China’s south-west plateau my surroundings changed in phases. First, the dense mist that had hung over my eyes for so long lifted to reveal spectacular views of a deep canyon and steep winding road below. Next, the chill in the air disappeared transforming the rushing wind over my bare arms and legs into a welcome and invigorating breeze. The twists and turns continued, I raced a competitive young man on a moped, dodged the occasional pothole at high-speed, overtook a convoy of smoky construction trucks and waved in a flash to a blur of smiling faces.p1060672-800┬áPlants emerged with leaves as big as my bike and stacks upon stacks of boxed bananas appeared by the side of the road. Soon, I could hear birds and insects too, all scurrying around a suddenly denser pack of trees and bushes and then the roadside houses became poorer shacks of wood, bamboo and sheet-metal rooves. Finally the road flattened along a river of deep muddy brown and the mist swallowed me once more.

My sweat glands are apparently displeased by the stifling rainforest conditions, particularly in the tent, where for the first few nights I lay awake, dripping to the sound of creepy-crawlies. Sleeping wasn’t helped by the disconcerting number of frogs that found it pleasing to crawl under the tent’s groundsheet to become warm throbbing patches against my body. They are disrespectfully loud too with all their scuffling and ribbeting, noises they no doubt learnt and perfected with their equally raucous rainforest friends: the crickets. Mosquitoes now find their way into my lair with renewed ease, minuscule insects tickle (or if they’re particularly moody, bite) the skin and the other morning I found a thick spiky caterpillar wriggling about an inch from my nose. I couldn’t be happier with the change though. The new surroundings offer a fresh challenge and a whole host of unfamiliar experiences.

Usually, the slow pace of bicycle travel means changes are gradual. Farmland turns to desert through several shades of yellow, distinct cultural practices have a middle ground and faces pale or darken through intermediary pigments. Not this time though. The dramatic drop in altitude has thrust me into a … [read more]