South East Asian Chapter; summing up a three month journey

Today is the 24th December although we won’t see much of Christmas here in China, except in the huge shopping malls. We left our dear French Alps about three month ago and have cycled North from Bali through South East Asia since then. This part of the journey is now over. We have cycled 3232 kms through 7 countries. In the next weeks we will be confronting the super cold and super majestuous Himalayan Mountains. We will actually pass in front of the Annapurna (8091 m), the “Goddess of the Harvests”. How lucky are we?! Then, we’ll cycle down towards the sacred Varanasi in India. Later on, we’ll head toward South America: in February, we have planned an expedition to try, and hopefully success, climbing the Aconcagua (6962 m). It is now time to sum up the three first month of this one year journey around the world.

Getting to Bali was an easy part; only we had to pay an extra for our bikes. We spent the first few days with Refi, getting used to the tropical heat, visiting a Green School and a Clean Development Mechanism project about composting. Indonesia was enchanting to us; we were welcomed by so many couchsurfers on our way; we climbed our Asian’s “symbolic” summit, the Rinjani volcano (3726 m); we saw other extraordinary places such as the magical submarine views of Bali island, the mighty Bromo volcano, the ancient temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Cycling in Indonesia was not confortable. Due to the lack of secondary roads, there was a lot of traffic and pollution therefore we took more buses and trains than expected. In Indonesia, and ever since, we attached a great importance to going out the touristic circuit by meeting many locals and sharing bits of their lives. This makes our trip so much richer. From Jakarta we took a Ferry to!

Singapore; this is an island of modernity in South East Asia; this is a futuristic and vibrant city that has a lot to offer to two cyclists like us. We really enjoyed it. Akira, a Japanese expatriate, was hosting us in his beautiful flat with a huge swimming pool on the roof, Jacuzzi and steam room! In Singapore we discovered how they purify waste water to drinking water. This is a unique example in the world. We also were privileged to meet with a researcher from the government who gave us an energy outlook of the city. By cycling north of Singapore, we reached!

Malaysia. We soon renamed it “the land of warm-hearted people”. Julien has many friends of friends there, and we were welcomed and treated like kings in every city we stopped. Cycling in Malaysia was safe and interesting; although we were going through endless palm oil and rubber trees plantation for many kilometers. Malaysia has a great diversity of food (especially fruits and fish), beautiful natural environment with green mountains and refreshing waterfalls, Melaka (a very interesting city from the Portuguese colonial time), and its people! Even now, their laughs still resonate in our ears and their smiles heat our heart! In Kuala Perlis, we jumped in a boat transporting cement. By going through idyllic islands we arrived in!

Thailand. This country offered similar cycling conditions than Malaysia. It was safe but really warm and humid. Along our way appeared many more mountains, very steep and green. We cycled towards the Ton Sai bay, where we practiced rock climbing in a postcard-like landscape. Even the sea water was a little too hot! We also visited famous places such as Ko Phi Phi Island and Phuket though we were mostly disappointed to see tourists tsunami there! In Bangkok we met the director of the energy research institute, which taught us about the particular situation of Thailand, and its future. Communicating with people was harder in Thailand; they don’t speak any English so we tried and improvised our mime skills! From the capital we jumped in a train heading to the border of!

Cambodia! Cambodia, our favorite country for cycling so far. Even if the roads are very very dusty and have many pot-holes, the traffic is low and the landscapes amazing. Imagine cycling through an ocean of green (rice) fields, under a huge blue sky, being greeted by thousands of smiling kids running after you and shouting HELLO as loud as they could! Imagine a country where most people would give you their most beautiful smile everywhere you go. Cambodia is a poor country, 80% of the population is farmer and the living conditions are tough. However, they seem to be absolutely happy. Like in previous countries we also realize that the family is a strong unity. All generations are living together and it is probably a strong factor for the mental force people have there. For sure, we, Westerners, have a lot to learn from it. In the Western part of the country we spent three days visiting the old temple of Angkor War (12th century AD) and the many surrounding temples. The site is classified by UNESCO and it includes Hindu and Buddhism temples. This was a fascinating shot of magnificent history. After that we cycled towards Phnom Penh and met up with Phavy there. She and her lovely family hosted us in her cozy house in the city center. There, we visited the S21 center, which served as a prison under the Pol Pot regime. At that time, almost a third of the population was executed by this mad man! One of the souvenirs that also come to our mind now is the very long file of beautiful kids (hundreds of them) going to or back from school… by bike! Many of them tried to race us! Phnom Penh is just 270 km away from Ho Chi Minh City, in!

Vietnam. We covered that distance in two days. In Ho Chi Minh we were hosted by Hector, the fitness coach of the national futsal team of Vietnam. He’s living in the expatriate area of the city, where we could renew with Western food and enjoy the swimming pool. In Ho Chi Minh, formerly called Saigon under the French Indochina, we visited the War Remnants Museum which exhibits many US fighting machines. Remember that Saigon, supported by the USA, fell in 1975 under the Communist North Vietnam invasion, supported by China. In this museum we discover many horrible photos about the American war crimes and their usage of the noxious Agent Orange. After its spraying, kids were turned to complete freaks over three generations! We are also surprised to discover that the USA has dropped more bombs over Vietnam than during the whole Second World War! Despite having the best war technology they lost against an army which was much more motivated! However, we also notice that this museum is biased as it does not talk of other crimes committed by the Khmer Rouges. From there we cycled towards the South China Sea, where we had once again, many couchsurfers to open their door to us on our way. Cycling along the coast was a challenge; we faced a strong headwind practically all the time. The last stretch to Hanoi was covered by bus, a kind of wheelbarrow that broke down all the way. Therefore we only arrived in Hanoi after 50 hours. If you are looking for an adventure, a bus can also do it! In North Vietnam we quickly visited the famous Halong Bay, which comprises something like 2000 mountain islands! Our stage in Vietnam now comes to an end; we must jump in the reconciliation train that brings us to!

China. We leave South East Asia behind us. In the Yunnan province, we have nothing else than rain and cold weather. Cycling in China is definitely a different experience: the contrast between traditional and modern life is interesting. The good thing is that we are taking a two week rest there.

So, what about cycling itself? Well, we are really happy with our bikes. Because their frame is made of steel they are quite heavy (20 kg bikes + 20 kg luggage) but very comfortable (we love our Rohloff gearbox). They are also fast due to the use of high quality components. One also needs to know that there isn’t one style of cyclo-touring. Some people choose to go with a very cheap bike but need to repair it often. We didn’t have any flat tire since the beginning! We are ready for warm dry/humid and cold climates though a good part of our gears such as the tent or the stove have not really been useful for that first part of the adventure. We are also very happy with our GPS and the Open Street Maps we could install; it really helps to find small trails and! our couchsurfers! On our usual cycling days we used to cycle between 70 and 140 km / day. This really depends on the terrain of course. Our favorite source of energy was the sugarcane juice (our “magica bebida”) and coconut juice(fresh of course!). What do we feel when cycling? Complete freedom! We feel free like the wind, improvising our way depending on whom we meet, the landscapes, our energy and our motivation. We are also thrilled to accomplish a one way trip; we are not coming on our steps.

To finish this little sum up. We should emphasize the fact that our trip is above all a human journey; we are delighted to meet so many welcoming and warm-hearted locals on our way. They really make our trip more colorful and meaningful. We learn a lot from them, we learn things that are not in the common guide books. We could also appreciate how the different religions impact people’s life: Islam in Hinduism in Bali; Islam in Malaysia; Buddhism in Thailand; Christianism in Vietnam! These first three months have confirmed us that we made the right decision to embark for that adventure of a lifetime. We are very much looking forward to continue it; and we’ll do our best to share it with you!!

Thank you for reading and happy new year 2014 !!

Mickael & Julien