OK, I'm not quite a "Beach Bum" yet, but perhaps not too far off. I have migrated along the coast East from Cape Town (South Africa). I am staying with my sister Olga, and her 3 pampered dogs, in Sedgefield town.
For the past few months I've been without an operational phone (used for GPS, Wi-Fi, and pics), but I now have the use of a fancy hand-set. Also, thanks to friends Martie & Piet, I also have the use of a bicycle to get around, and for a bit of cycle training. I am trying to start a running programme, but after 12 years of hardly even walking, my body feels as though I have been run over by a steam roller.
In addition I am still acclimatising to the weather, which is somewhat cooler than what I have become accustomed to in the past couple of years.
So, for now, I am trying (hoping!) to find sponsorship for a new touring bike, equipment such as racks and panniers, and funds with which to sustain myself on the road. My existing bike and equipment was all in such an advanced state of wear, that I left it behind when I flew out of Malaysia in January.
Well, I feel that the proverbial "Fattened Calf" has been slaughtered (and braai'd). Firstly, before I set foot on a single airplane, the guys at Pontian Cycling Club in Malaysia spoilt me rotten (and then they drove me hundreds of km to KL airport). Dave fetched me at the airport in Cape Town, and I am currently staying with him and Kathy (gourmet food, the use of a bicycle, and more - very thankful). Last night it was good to meet up with many old friends at the West Coast AC. I expect to stay around Cape Town for a short while, and wander off to my sister Olga in Sedgefield (South Coast village). I dumped my bike (number 2), and worn-out panniers, and a bunch of other things, in Malaysia. So now I dream of getting some sponsorship, a good new bike and equipment, and setting off into the sunset again. But that is just a dream at this stage.
Since my previous post (see below) I have returned to Thailand. I was denied a new Thai tourist visa, but at the border I was allowed a 30-day entry to Thailand. Now I am in Bangkok trying to get my bike back on the "GO" (that "Poor Animal" is suffering with each crank of the pedals, and roll of the wheels). And so, for now, I am probably heading towards Malaysia - OR WHEREVER?
UPDATE COMING SOON - I'LL TRY! Now that you are here on this site, it may be worth your while looking at the pictures. I should finish this post before the end of the current century.
I needed a haircut. As I cycled along this busy dusty "fumy" and noisy road - I spotted what I thought was a barber shop. OK, yes it was a barber shop. The diminutive barber was not yet at office, but the carpenter who shared the premises called, and he soon made an appearance. Very interesting, although I feared for my life at times. It seemed that he could not stop cutting, and even the beard trim ended in a smooth shave. Scary! He used an old style "cut-throat" razor, which he sharpened every now and than.
Once I had obtained the Vietnam visa in the Laos capital, Vientiane, I headed through Southern Laos. I crossed into Vietnam at Lao Bao, sort-of Central Vietnam, and a major border between these 2 countries. The following gibberish is a daily record of the distances I cycled in Vietnam:- Cam Lo 60 km; Phu Viet 77 km; Ba Don 85 km; Ky Phong 86 km; Vinh 62 km; Dong Ha 64 km; Hoa Chau 75 km; Kim Lien 49 km; Ninh Binh 49 km; Phu Ly 31 km; Hanoi 71 km; Noi Bai (airport and back etc) 71 km; Ha Dong 69 km; Miew Mong 45 km; Hang Tram 44 km; Cam Thuy 48 km; Thong Nat 55 km; Xuan Tho 76 km; Anh Son 71 km; Con Cuong 33 km; Quang Ten 44 km; Mxien 73 km; and Nam Can (Vietnam/Laos border) 22 km. Total distance cycled thus far is 166 995 km.
Hello Again! I am currently back in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, for the second time in as many months. After leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) in early September I cycled the central route North to the Thai Highlands and then I proceeded on down to the Mekong river. This was a route I had not taken before, and I had only seen this part of the river from the opposite banks in Laos.
To reach the main border from Thailand to Laos I traveled East before crossing and proceeding to the Laos capital, Vientiane. I had sent out some requests for sponsorship so I could complete my route through China. I was hoping for some money to drop from the sky (the best response was "God Bless You"). After I realised that there was nothing forthcoming from above, there was no point in wasting my meagre funds on a Chinese visa, and I saw another 2-month visa for the return to Thailand as the most viable option. However, due to all the previous Thai visas in my passport, I was denied another visa at this time (Vientiane has so far been the easiest place for people making a Thai visa run - so I guess they are tightening up their policy). And so I was off to the Vietnamese visa office where I was duly granted a month's visa (a bit expensive though).
I still had enough time, so I headed through Southern Laos towards the Lao Bao border, and into Vietnam. The past rainy season had taken its toll on this busy road. Now it was dry and breezy, and the broken road had turned into a dust bowl.
And so I was off to Vietnam for the first time in about 9 years (see that post for details). On my way back from Vietnam I crossed into Laos at a relatively remote border, at Nam Can. This border is situated in the NE of Laos, a rather mountainous region. I took it fairly easy along there, as bike parts were wearing out like popcorn. I also did not want to become part of the "popcorn festival" by wearing myself out. There was no need to rush, I had plenty of time (my problem was that I had no idea where to head next). So I made my way back towards Vientiane where I hope to get some clarity on my options.
I passed through Phonsavanh, a touristy town in the otherwise remote NE mountains of Laos. The reason for all the tourists is the famed "PLAIN OF JARS" (ancient large carved stone jars). I found this town somewhat disturbing. In a relatively isolated region, suddenly hordes of foreign tourists pop out of the woodwork. Busses, mini-busses, taxis, etc, are hauling the Farangs in from Vientiane and Luang Prabang cities. I am not at all fond of this place, as I was twice ignored as a customer (obviously I'm a small time player). The road is broken and terribly dusty (certainly muddy in the rainy season). Looking at the countless fancy hotels and guesthouses one may imagine that there is enough money for road maintenance. Anyway, those jars are about 10 km out of town.
On the way to another touristy town, Vang Vieng, I came across a rather interesting milestone (see the pic of the sign, the template for painting the name was probably used back-to-front, and the KM sign upside-down). Perhaps the sign was painted by one of the hordes of revelling young travellers (some who seem to get stuck here in VV).
My previous trip through Laos had been in the Rainy Season, and the Rice Planting effort was in full swing. Now, it was the start of the Dry Season, and the Rice Harvest was in the swing of things.
I stayed in the "Back-Packer Hangout" of Vang Vieng for a couple of days (cheapest room that I could find). Myself and my equipment were all in a mess, after an awkward period of time lately. Technically there is wi-fi, but it came and went at will (at least the hot shower worked, and I was in there for half the day). A highlight there was the Italian T/A Pizza shop next door, and I became their number-1 customer. While in Vang Vieng I replaced an O-ring seal on my stove (nearly caused unintentional arson recently!), and repaired the door zip of my tent (free game for mozzies).
Now I am back in Vientiane, capital of Laos. Two months ago I was prevented from applying for another Thailand tourist visa because I already had too many of those in my passport. After the whole Vietnam rigmarole, a number of thousands of KM on the bike, and the "almost" flight back to South Africa, GUESS WHAT?! Inexplicably my visa application was accepted. But my joy was short lived. Two days later I cruised over to the Thai Consulate to pick up my visa, but to no avail (the visa had been denied for the same reasons as before). There are always options, but those are rather slim, and not my preferred choice. Anyway, relax and look at the pictures. The photo below of Vientiane was taken across the Mekong river from Thailand (Still about 80 km via the border and back to what you see in the pic).
I had crossed from Thailand into Laos at the Nong Khai border-bridge across the Mekong river. On the following day I was at the Laos capital, Vientiane, about 30 km from that bridge border. For visa purposes etc I had to hang around in the vicinity, so some of these distances are not at all phenomenal, but mainly a search for accommodation. Then, from Vientiane I cycled through Southern Laos towards Savannaket, and then East up towards the Vietnam border at Lao Bao. Daily distances from Vientiane on this occasion are:- Nongtaeng 33 km; Nongkhankou 36 km; Mai 31 km; Vientiane (again) 27 km; Mai 25 km; River Watt 37 km; Mixay 26 km; Naxon 52 km; Paxxan 80 km; Pakkadan 50 km; Vieng Kham 72 km; Thakek 85 km; Ban Nao Nua 75 km; Dong Hen 76 km; Kethamouak 78 km; Ban Dong 80 km; Lao Bao (Vietnam) 23 km. Total cycled by this stage is 165 635 km.
From Vietnam I returned to Laos via the relatively remote Nam Can border post. After the 20 km climb up to the border the previous day, I was expecting some respite, perhaps even some downhill. Not to be! Still early in the day, but after torturing my poor overladen horse on the relentless uphill (sometimes over 10% gradient) on a somewhat broken road, I called it a day at Nonghet town. So distances into this mountainous part of Laos, from the Vietnam border, were:- Nonghet 18 km; Ban Pakho 32 km; Kham 41 km; Ponsavanh 43 km; Nongtan 59 km; Hinsua 54 km; Phoukoun 45 km; Kasi 42 km; Vang Vieng 59 km (and 3 days onwards to Vientiane). Total distance cycled is 167 550 km.
UPDATE COMING SOON - I HOPE. Until then here are some pictures for you to look at.
Distances cycled since leaving Pattaya (SE Thailand) on 10 September are as follows:- Bang Saen 66 km; Phanom Sarakham 74 km; Nakhon Nayok 72 km; Saraburi 79 km; Lam Narai 75 km; Bueng Sam Phan 83 km; Lom Sak 102 km; Hill Watt 69 km; Huai Lat 57 km; Chiang Khan 85 km; Pak Mang 61 km; Tha Kathin 77 km; Salakhamtai (Laos) 74 km; and Vientiane 24 km. Total to this point is 164 749 km (exactly 1000 km since leaving Pattaya).
And so I entered NE Malaysia, about 30 km from Kota Bharu city (with a broken arm and uncomfortable dog bite). Surprisingly, my first night in Malaysia was spent, not at a mosque as I had expected, but at a Budhist temple!
This was the time of the Malaysian political elections, and party paraphenalia was everywhere. Depending on the wind direction, I was sometimes slapped in the face by rows of party flags (I had to keep my line of cycling in the traffic).
I was cycling down the E coast of Malaysia, which is home to more Malays and therefore more strictly Islamic than the West (which has a larger proportion of ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians in the population). The elections were hardly concluded before the start of Ramadan, an important time for Moslems involving a month of prayer and daytime fasting. While in Malaysia I often camped under shelter at mosques, and I would usually be invited to share the evening meal after sunset. Usually the mosques would also have showers (cold, but the climate is hot and humid, so OK).
I bypassed Singapore while crossing Southern Malaysia from East to West coast. The weather was extremely wet, and besides, foreigners are not allowed to camp in Singapore (you have to pay for rooms). The exception is Ubin Island, but I would have had to pay Singapore Dollars for the ferry to get to the island and back. Also, the camping there seems rather basic with no rain protection (and it was pouring).
Due to the rain I had to protect the moving parts on my bike from the "road muck" which gets thrown up together with the rain water. I was fortunate to find a part of a car fender at the roadside, with which I could extend the rear mudguard on the bike. That, combined with some other innovations, serves to keep that "muck" off the bike - and even the bags are not as messy in the tent at night.
One night I was camping in a convenient mosque close to the town of Mersing, SE Malaysia. I hit the showers but forgot one of my phones (luckily I had 2 phones) in the bracket on the bike handlebar. I could not believe that there would be theft at a mosque on the conservative Islamic East coast of Malaysia (but when I returned from my brief wash, the bracket had been opened and the phone was gone). I expect that someone had been watching my movements from the shadows beyond the premises (there are plenty of migrant workers in the country). And NO, I am not crazy about telephone conversations - I use phones only for Wi-Fi and GPS navigation (hence the handlebar bracket).
The first town I reached on the SW coast of Malaysia was Pontian. It was raining and I intended to reach the next town on my way N in daylight. But instead I was stopped by 2 Chinese Malaysian men (Michael Ho and Jackie Lua) who vaguely asked if I needed help. It turns out they are members of the Pontian Cycling Club, and they escorted me back into town where I camped for 3 nights on the floor of their upstairs "club house". They admit that the club is more of a "party club" than an actual "cycling club", as only about 5 of their 30-odd "members" ever do any cycling. I was welcome to try and empty their fridge of beer, but Jackie kept coming back to re-stock the fridge. They also took me out to restaurants for all meals during the time that I was there, and treated me as though I was some kind of a celebrity. Thanks all of you people, it is unlikely that I will ever be able to repay you for your generosity and kindness. I was also offered stacks of cycling clothes, and I chose to keep a number of outfits (the first time I have ever owned a cycling shirt in my life). Apparently "club members" have grown out of their fancy cycling gear (perhaps the beer has something to do with this phenomenon). I could also dump 2 more of my original perished panniers, as Jackie gave me 2 of his old front panniers (now I only have one of my original panniers left). One morning 2 of these guys carried my bike downstairs, dumped it on their pickup truck and regardless of my protests the bike was soon receiving attention at their local bike shop. The shop did not have my size tyres (27.5 - otherwise I would have had new tyres there and then), but there were a lot of gear etc adjustments made, new tubes, and a new saddle (the saddle made a huge difference to my battered ass, and subsequently, after a number of in-transit adjustments the healing could begin).
On my second day with the Pontian Cycling Club, I was taken on an excursion to the Southern Tip of Mainland Asia. There I bumped into an odd-looking tourist, who turned out to be a touring cyclist who has been on the road for more than 5 years (his bike was hidden close to the park entrance, and he was planning to camp in the vicinity for the night). Well, Allan Cascante, from Costa Rica, was dragged back to Pontian and I had some company that night on the floor of the Pontian Cycling Club. True to their custom, Allan was also invited out that evening, and treated to the hospitality of these wonderful people.
Up the Malaysian West coast, and the next major stop would be Penang Island, where I would apply for a new 2-month Thai visa at their consulate in Georgetown. I arrived at the start of a weekend, so I went to camp at my usual spot on the derelict fishing platform at Batu Ferringhi on the N coast of the island. This is the 3rd time in 8 years that I have camped here, and certainly one of my favourite sites.
And so, by Monday I had visa photos, dummy air ticket out of Thai, etc etc. But, surprise, those "wonderful" officials at the consulate refused to give me another 2-month visa for Thailand. Apparently I have to be going back to my own country on a regular basis, instead of hanging around in SE Asia and spending this much regular time in Thailand.
I still had plenty of time to hang around in Malaysia, but I was keen to know if I could somehow enter Thailand again. So I headed for the Pedang Besar border into Thailand in the NW of Malaysia. To cut a long story short, I was given a free 30 day stamp into Thailand (the notices read that I should have THB 10 000 in cash with me, but nobody asked). Thirty days was enough for me to cruise directly North through South and Western Thailand, until I ran smack-bang into the Mekong and splashed over to Laos.
Daily distances cycled in Malaysia are as follows:- Pengkalam Kubur 84 km; Selising 50 km; Bandar Permaisuri 69 km; Marang 81 km; Dungun 72 km; Kemaman 71 km; Kampung Ubai 93 km; Leband Chondong 94 km; Mersing 79 km; Mawai Baharu 79 km; Desaru 67 km; Bandar Penawar 88 km; Johor Bharu 59 km; Senai 80 km; Pontian 56 km; Peserai 88 km; Pekan Pasir 67 km; Pasir Panjang 82 km; Sepang 59 km; Banting 61 km; Bukit Jeram 60 km; Simpang Empat 108 km; Terung 123 km; Butterworth 111 km; Batu Ferringi 52 km; Georgetown 61 km; In Penang 35 km; Gurun 81 km; and Kangar 105. Total distance to the end of Malaysia is 159 167 km. (The distance through Malaysia amounted to 2 180 km of cycling).
I had been relaxing at Leana's condo in Jomtien Thailand for a couple of weeks. During this time I was able to update this blog, as well as work on my bike (fitting new road tyres, packing wheel bearings, and so forth). Leana returned after guiding a bike tour, and then it was time for me to get on the road again. After some uncertainty I had decided on heading down to the NE border of Malaysia, which would take 2 weeks at best.
I had traveled South through Thailand a number of times before, so this time I took a slightly different route along the Gulf of Thailand coast. This also involved taking a small car ferry across the inlet to Songkhla. The pics in this post are along this route, Surat Thani, Ban Lad, and Prachuap Kiri Khan (amongst others).
At a petrol station close to Surat Thani city, these 2 ladies had stands in the on-site food court. They noticed me filling my water bottles from the "unsecured" tap, and decided to "help" me. They fed me from their respective stalls, and went to buy me T/A meal from KFC next door. Truly wonderful people, and I am just as thankful. Just wonder, how terrible did I look? (It was late PM by that time!). A day or 2 after that the monks at a seaside temple close to Nakhon Si Tamarat gave me a small brass Budha, which they saw me looking at when they brought me breakfast. I tied the icon to my front luggage rack with plastic zip ties, but there were times when I noticed people (mainly small village children) trying to rip the thing off from the bike. I was not going to take any chances about losing that Budha, so I removed it from public view. (Now I have properly secured the little statue with a hefty brass pipe clamp, through a cut which I made in the back of the little piece).
My Eastern route also took me through the predominantly Islamic regions of Pattani and Narathiwatt. Then "IT" happened! Cycling in the rain close to Pattani city, my front wheel slipped on a ridge in the road and before I knew it I had gone down rather hard. I immediately knew that I had broken my arm (just below the shoulder), as I could not even bend down to try and pick my bike up. Luckily somebody helped me, probably a policeman as this accident happened at a permanent police check point.
After the crash I somehow managed to make it into Pattani, thinking that I would find a big mosque where I could spend the night and think about my next course of action. Instead I found a very fancy Budhist temple (resembling a shopping mall) where I camped on their covered basketball court. People there could see that I was injured and suggested I go to hospital, but I did not have money for that kind of treatment. (So they gave me some medicine to ease the pain). The following morning I was invited into their fancy dining area for breakfast, and that is when "IT" happened again.
One of the big "temple dogs" probably did not want me sharing his breakfast, so he executed a meaningful bite into my leg just below the knee. Suddenly I was spurting blood all over the polished white tiled floor! It was then that the senior community people in charge rushed me to hospital, as a dog bite can quickly become infected (as far as I know, dogs don't brush their teeth). I had the necessary treatment and injections, and at the same time these people also paid for XRays which confirmed my broken arm (just a "crack" really).
With only a couple of days left of my Thailand visa, and many km still to go, I had no choice. Cycling with a broken arm was extremely uncomfortable, I had to rest very often, and I did not make it all that far in a day, but at least I was moving. I crossed the closest border to Malaysia, via the estuary from Talat by means of a ferry, sharing the ride with lots of motorcycles and commuting merchants pushing their carts/trolleys. I just managed to make the crossing to Malaysia in time (late afternoon on the day my Thai visa expired). In case you were wondering, if you overstay your Thai visa for a short time you get fined, and a long overstay will get you fined and banned from returning to Thailand. In extreme "overstay" cases the foreign offender will be imprisoned until such time as he can raise the money to pay the (by that time) hefty fine, and pay for his own flight out to his home country. Then he will be escorted to the airport, never to return to Thailand. It is crazy to even understand how things could get that bad, but I had met people in Bangkok who had overstayed their tourist visa by as much as 14 years!
Daily distances which I cycled on this leg of my travels are as follows:- Chonburi 74 km; Samut Prakan 80 km; Samut Sakhon 72 km; Bang Lad 100 km; Pranburi 85 km; Prachuap Kiri Khan 76 km; Bang Saphan 76 km; Ta Sae 86 km; Pac Tako 75 km; Chaya 96 km; Kanchanadit 81 km; Nakhon Si Tamarat 107 km; Ranot 105 km; Singhan Nakhon 81 km; Chana 45 km; Pattani 60 km; Police Station 25 km; and Bacho (end of Thailand) 55 km. Total distance up to this stage is 156 993 km. (This leg through the S of Thailand amounted to 1 379 km).
It was no surprise to me that there were hills. I had been over this Northern Laos route a number of times, but only once before had I cycled the section over the biggest mountains, and that was a good 8 years ago! Lots of rain, sometimes rather cold at the high points. However, plenty of spectacular scenery.
This was the height of the rice-planting season, and I stopped to watch the workers on many occasions. By planting the previously sowed rice gleaned from the seed-beds, the eventual crop is multiplied many-fold. These people work hard in rain and hot humid conditions. But rice is their life.
And eventually, when I had reached the Laos Capital Vientiane, I managed to buy a 2-month Thailand visa without any hassle or fuss (so why did they give me so much trouble in Malaysia?). A sleep in a bed for 2 nights, proper laundry done, and hot showers - what luxury!
Rubber, freshly harvested from the bowls attached to the trees for trapping the rubber sap. This is an important lifeline for the mountain villages in Northern Laos. (Yes, there are tycoons raking in the money, but it provides a living for many of these isolated communities).
Then the well-known route through Laos to the South. Pakse city, and then West to the Thailand border. I crossed the border a day before my Laos visa expired. I was not in a healthy state. I had diarrhoea for a few weeks by this time, and I had festering sores all over myself. It felt as though I would rather hide myself instead of stopping at petrol station toilets where people could see me. I also felt somewhat embarrassed asking to stay at temples when it must have looked as though I was transmitting the "plague".
By the time I arrived in Pakse city, Southern Laos, the constant heavy rain had caused some serious flooding. By this time a dam further South had broken, causing disaster in that isolated region of Cambodia downstream along the Mekong river. The Watt in Pakse where I had stayed before (in the common area of this wooden stilted building) was now hardly clear of the water. Previously there had been a storage area with a paved walkway further down along the river. The big wooden river boat moored there was now at a level with the building, and the novice monks were rowing their boat around where people had previously been strolling around.
Daily distances cycled through Laos at this time are as follows:- Ban Don Chai 72 km; Vieng Phouka 58 km; Luang Namtha 58 km; Namo 66 km; Oudomxai 60 km; Pak Mong 82 km; Ban Pathung 75 km; Xieng Ngeun 55 km; Phoudam 54 km; Phachao 84 km; Vang Vieng 78 km; Phonhong 80 km; Houayang 59 km; Vientiane 35 km; Friendship Bridge 28 km; Somsavan 32 km; Ban Namlo 85 km; Pakxan 39 km; Vieng Kham 91 km; Hinboon 79 km; Ban Thung 65 km; Seno 65 km; Pakxong 63 km; Phounsavang 49 km; Don Muang 66 km; Pakse 70 km; Ban Dou 37 km; Chong Mek (Laos/Thai border) 20 km. (Total this leg in Laos is 1 705 km). Total cycled so far is 162 897 km.
So, there is some sort of legacy related to staying at Budhist Temples as often as I do. The strings tied to my wrists I received from monks praying for my safe travels (one in the South of Thailand, and one in Northern Laos).