London to Auckland – stage five. The story of the recent adventures of one of our volunteers.
South-East Asia – April 2019 – October 2019 – Battling the Elements
We crossed the border from Mizoram into Myanmar and that was the start of the South-East Asian leg of our journey. The temperature in this part of the world definitely started to ramp up and we were regularly cycling in 40C+. One particular day it reached 48C! As a result we changed our cycling routine to get up at 4:30am, be on the road by 5:30am and cycle in the coolest part of the day. We’d then do what the locals all did, which was to find a cool place to sit out the heat of the afternoon – for us that was generally an air-conditioned hotel room. In Myanmar foreigners are required to stay in government-licenced guesthouses and hotels, so our route was very much governed by where we could get accommodation. The locals are amazing and we could really tell that they loved having Westerners visiting their country…
The crossing into Thailand from here was a real culture shock. We felt we’d almost arrived in America as it was very developed and modern compared to what we had experienced since India. We didn’t go to the tourist areas in the far north, but we found that there was still plenty of areas of interest between the border and our crossing point over the Mekong River into Laos.
Laos was very hot, sweaty and hilly, especially the further north we travelled. It’s largely undeveloped as far as tourism is concerned and our journey often took us into very rural and remote areas. We had what we think is probably our toughest cycling day of our trip in Laos, where we climbed over 2,500m in one day with the gradient reaching 22% at times on gravel-covered roads. It was also 35C and about 90% humidity – we definitely earned our cold beers at the end of that day!
The Mountains of Northern Laos
Northern Vietnam was a continuation of hills, high temperatures and high humidity. We went to Hanoi, which turned out to be one of our favourite cities of our tour – lots to see and do, plus the food and people are great. Our journey south towards Ho Chi Minh City took us the length of Vietnam along the coast, through towns that generally cater for Vietnamese tourists rather than Westerners, which was always interesting to observe. On the outskirts of Nha Trang, unfortunately I had an accident after hitting some gravel going down a hill and knocked myself out. Luckily there was a large hospital in the city where I could get treatment and also some great accommodation to recover in. Ten days later we were back on the road again fit and healthy.
From Vietnam we crossed into Cambodia, which was one of our favourite countries of our whole tour. And again the locals were friendly and helpful. The country’s ancient and recent history means that there is loads to see and do especially in the capital Phnom Penh, and the historical sites around Siem Reap.
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
From Cambodia we crossed into southern Thailand, spent some time in Bangkok and then headed south along the not-so-popular east coast of the Thai peninsular where there are beautiful untouched beached and remote fishing villages – and not a western tourist in sight!
A Fishing Village, East Coast Thai Peninsula
We then continued our way south into Malaysia – firstly to Penang, which although it is a tourist destination is still a beautiful town to visit. The cycle into Kuala Lumpur is another experienced that we don’t want to repeat as for an entire day we were on busy main roads, which really wasn’t very pleasant. But the city itself was great – an interesting mix of old and new – and we really enjoyed our time there. We had another harrowing day leaving Kuala Lumpar but thankfully managed to get on some quiet roads all the way to Malacca. By this point we were on a mission to get to Singapore for a flight to Australia, but when we reached Malacca we realised we were ahead of schedule so had a couple of days spare. And Malacca turned out to be just the place to spend those extra few days with lots of history and a real mix of cultures.
We’d been to Singapore before, but had stuck to the central touristy part on that trip. This time we stayed with a local family in a Chinese area, so we saw a completely different side to the city, and actually enjoyed staying there much more than we’d expected to! Mind you cleaning our bikes in 95% humidity for our onward journey to Australia wasn’t that pleasant – but a necessary requirement to get through Australia customs!
Marina Bay, Singapore
Throughout South-East Asia we found the locals amazing with kids regularly come running out shouting hello and waving. At times our faces actually hurt because we had been smiling so much!
Accommodation and food is unbelievably cheap there: On average it would cost £5 for a decent room for 2 people with air-conditioning, with a meal costing £1 or less per person. As the temperature and humidity in the region was so high we elected not to camp and our budget was such that we didn’t need to put ourselves through that discomfort!