Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There's no place like home....

Back home again after 7 weeks of cycling through beautiful South East Asia. Feels a bit strange to be back at work and back into it all again, hmm, I am sure that once the whole "holiday season" dies down it will feel like I never left.....

We really did have an amazing time on our bicycles, traveling through Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. We saw so many new places, met so many new people (both locals and fellow travelers), and just experienced so much on our travels.

Thanks to everyone who followed us via the blog, and everyone we met along the road. Also a big appreciative thank-you to all those who sent us encouraging messages throughout the trip :).

Elisha and Vanessa.

"Don't be scared of what you cannot see; your only fear is possibility."

Monday, December 21, 2009

So long SE Asia....

So this is it; our last day on holiday. It is sad to be finishing up, but quite a good feeling to be going home again.

We have been up to quite a bit over the past few days in Hanoi:

On Saturday we did a cooking school and market tour with 'The Hanoi Cooking Centre'. This was a brilliant experience; learning about all of the herbs and various vegetables unique to Vietnamese cooking, and then cooking up a mighty feast of Vietnamese deliciousness together. We made: Banana flower salad, seafood spring rolls, caramel pork and a sesame and peanut che (sweet dessert soup). It was all soo good, and hopefully we will be able to recreate some of the magic back at home. That is if I can ever find a banana flower in Auckland...

Yesterday (Sunday) Vanessa had an exciting e-mail come through from Adelaide University; She has been awarded an 'Australian Postgraduate Award' scholarship to study for her PhD next year!!! Good on you Nessa!!
To celebrate this excellent news we went out to 'Brother's Cafe' for lunch. This is a beautiful restaurant serving an extensive Vietnamese-food buffet located in the courtyard of an old Chinese temple. Very swanky indeed! So we had a wonderful leisurely 'last lunch on holiday' together and celebrated Nessa's success.

So we are flying back home at 1:30pm today. See everyone back at home soon!

- E & V.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back to Hanoi

Total kilometers cycled: 2212.3 kms.
Total punctures: 2.

Today we caught a local bus from Halong city bus station back to Hanoi. Unfortunately upon reaching the Hanoi bus station we had no idea where in Hanoi we were (somewere in the outer suburbs..), fortunately we were able to arrange with a motorcycle driver to lead us to Hoan Kiem lake for about 1/4 the price of a taxi and none of the trouble :). This was definately the way to go, as we had an exhillerating cycle through the crazy traffic with none of the usual urban orienteering dramas.

It is a bit difficult to think that this was probably our last trip by bicycle for the holiday...
We still have quite a few days in Hanoi, but this was the last day of real travelling, and I am finding it a bit difficult to reconcile after so many weeks of bicycling our way around SE Asia. We have certainly seen and done a lot during our travels, not to mention all of the people we have met and all of the good times that we have had over the last 6 weeks... It really has been amazing!

Looking forward to seeing everyone back at home soon, it is not long to go now.
E & V.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lazy days on Cat Ba Island...

We arrived in Cat Ba island, just off the coast from Halong bay, late last night- it looked just like the Jurrasic park island (don't pretend that you didn't see that movie...)!
After cruising through the crazy karst rocky outcrops scattered all through Halong bay for the best part of 3 1/2 hours, the approach to Cat Ba island was pretty surreal - suddenly a big, craggy, jungle-clad, rocky island appeared in front of us with no signs of habitation except for a very long deserted pier stretching out into the bay.

We disembarked from the boat with a fun German couple who were also travelling independantly, and an organised tour group. The tour group loaded onto a bus waiting around the corner from the pier, and although we were hoping that we could negotiate a fare into town on the bus, the driver wouldn't take us into town unless we paid an exhorbidant fee. Needless to say that the bus took off without us... Not to worry though, a guy that had arrived at the pier called a few of his friends from the nearby village, and us and the German couple were soon whizzing the 30 kms accross the island on the back of motorbikes -fun!

Because it is the down season on the island, we managed to score a great room right on the waterfront with a big balcony for only $6!! Brilliant luck for us!
Today we have just gotten back from sea kayaking around part of the island, checking out the karsts up close, and lazing for a few hours on our own private little beach. Ahhh, this is the life for sure.....
Oh, the other great thing about hanging around the coast here is all of the fresh, delicious seafood available everywhere at rediculously low prices! I have never eaten so much seafood in all my life - I even had prawn noodle soup for breakfast this morning!! Mmmmm seafood...

Well, I am sure that everyone is now feeling sufficiently jealous ;). Too bad for me that Vanessa and I are now almost onto the final week of our SE Asia holiday....

I hope that everyone following us is keeping well and making their own holiday plans; Christmas is nearly upon us all!

Take care,
E & V.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Haiphong City and Halong Bay

Total Kilometers cycled: 2197.3km
Total punctures: 2

Ater having a wonderful time at Cuc Phuong National Park, we set off to Haiphong City, which sounded lovely (in the gospel according to Lonely Planet, that is) ...

The cycle to Haiphong was long-ish (124km), and pretty busy. We were going to break this into two lazy days, but decided enroute to combine it into one decent one. In the end we had a mixed ride - along the way we passed a road accident, where someone had been killed on their motorbike, which was sad and quite sobering. Makes us glad to be wearing our helmets...

We also passed and endless stream of restaurants offering dog-meat (and were passed by many motorbikes loaded up with caged dogs,clearly NOT destined for the pet shop!). Also, along the way, two teenage girls joined us for a break and we all shared some food and they practiced their English on us, which was really nice.

Despite Lonely Planet's lyrical waxing about Haiphong, we were not too impressed - the town was full of traffic and had a depressing "economic-decline" feeling about it. It seemed to be crammed with lazy men drinking coffee and leering at us as we walked about the city (although, I have to say that the few women we saw were very friendly and kind to us). Both the hotel and icecream shop recommended by Lonely Planet had been demolished, so I guess they hadn't been there for a while!

We decided to go to the port and see if there was a mid-day sailing to Cat Ba Island so that we could leave Hsaiphong a day early, but found that the only (official) sailing had been at 9am... A couple of women tried to sell us a ticket on their boat (no boat in sight!) from a fold-out table, but we were not as stupid as they would have liked, and decided to just grab a liesurely lunch and high-tail it to Halong Bay the following morning...

So, we arrived in Halong Bay last night, and it is beautiful! Clean sea air and long boulevards for walking. Even the people are really chilled out and don't constantly harass you to "buy something madame; moto-bike Miss; etc etc" Just a really chilled-out sleepy beachy town, right at the start of the high-season. Lovely ; )

Speaking of lovely, Halong Bay is not only known for it's Bay, but also for its seafood. We had a delicious seafood feast last night, including a pile of calamari and a whole grilled fish (Elisha and I both agreed - the best calamari we had ever tasted!). Mmmmm!

Yesterday we also bought tickets for the Government boat to Cat Ba Island, and are looking forward to sailing at 1pm today - we get a 3 1/2 hour cruise through Halong Bays highlights, and should arrive in Cat Ba in time to check-in to a Hotel and seek a(nother) yummy seafood dinner. Can't Wait!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cuc Phuong National Park

kilometers cycled: 1998.8
Total punctures: 2

We have spent the last two nights and a full day in the Cuc Phuong National Park, which is just over 45km from Ninh Binh. It has been absolutely beautiful, and very peaceful.

The past two mornings, we have awoken in our stilt-house to the sound of a pack of Gibbons whooping near by - sooo lovely, and a refreshing break from traffic and roosters, both of which seem to get going around 5am! The Gibbons were much more considerate and waited 'till 7am before they pleasantly woke us with their chorus.

The first day, we cycled from Ninh Binh to the National Park, and after checking into our lovely stilt-house (kind of like a tree hut), we checked out the Primate Rescue Centre that they have on-site. We were shown around by an informative park ranger, and it really was great to see all the different monkeys (and gibbons) swinging around their (big and comfortable!) cages. The Gibbons especially were an amazing sight when they really got into full flight, the speed at which they zipped around their encolusure with their looong arms was surprising!

Most species were very endangered, and many had been rescued from poachers or smugglers. Lots of the primates had small babies with them, so apparently the breeding programme is working well... The Rescue Centre rehabilitates the primates intensively (in large cages), and then they are released to a protected enclosure, where they receive limited food and human contact, and then some are eventually released into the larger park, where they are self-sufficient. It really is great work.

Yesterday, we cycled into the park centre (20km from the entry gate - a beautiful ride through temperate rainforest) and completed two treks - one to see an enormous "thousand-year-old" tree. We also stopped off along the way into the centre to trek to a "cave of prehistoric man", which, when discovered in the 1960's contained remains of three prehistoric people, suggestive of elaborate burial ritual. The cave itself was quite impressive, and we were grateful to have headlamps to explore it a little better - we even managed to spot a group of small bats on the ceiling!

Cuc Phuong National Park really was beautiful, and a slice of Vietnam that many people don't get to see - it was really great to experience the forest, animals, and other people without the huge amount of pollution and garbage that seems to intrude the rest of the country...

Anyway, we are back in Ninh Binh this afternoon, and will continue on to Thai Binh tomorrow, then Haiphong.

All the best to everyone at home - we love hearing from you.

E & V xoxo

Sunday, December 6, 2009

To the coast!

Distance cycled: 1866.6 kms
Punctures: 2.

So this morning we cycled out of Hanoi...hmmm, what can I say? It was a hooting, tooting, smoggy ride for the first 60 kms, then seemed to mellow out as the busses and trucks continued to zoom by, but the countryside started to take over from the city smog and grime. Within 106 kms, and after an incident involving a police officer waving us to stop at the side of the road and then proceeding to sexually proposition us (thank-you wedding ring, you saved me!!), we arrived in Ninh Binh, and a much more sedate pace of life :).

So tomorrow we plan to cycle the 45 - 50 kms to Cuc Phong national park to visit the primate rehab centre they have there and maybe go for a bit of a treck too. Should be quite nice to be in the national park for a day or two; we are both looking forward to it!

Take care everyone,
E & V.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Good morning Vietnam!

Total kilometers: 1760km
Total punctures: 2

We are in Hanoi at the moment, and it is fantastic to be able to communicate with people in English and (especially) order food from an English menu. Ohh, the little things...

Over the past four days, we have crossed over the Lao-Vietnamese border and have been cycling through remote North-Western Vietnam from Dien Bien Phu to Tuan Gio.

Although the mountainous topography (and ensuing mountain passes) have continued, the roads are in far better condtion than in Laos. However, apart from the beautiful H'mong women in their traditional dress, the scenery has been far less attractive, compared to the beautiful temperate jungles and crystal-clear rivers of Laos... I think that I really forgot how polluted and dusty Vietnam is!

Having cycled to Tuan Gio, we decided to sit down and take stock of our travel plans for Vietnam and reconcile those with the amount of time we actually have left... As suspected, we were cutting things really fine, and were not leaving enough time to explore the beautiful coast. So, we hatched a plan to fast-track ourselves (and bikes) to Hanoi and continue from there.

Yesterday, we caught a 5am local bus from Tuan Gio to Hanoi (420km) for only $12 each (!!), and 10 hours later we were in Hanoi. Yes, 10 hours! Lucky we are on holiday and in no real rush ; )

So, after navigating insane Hanoi trafffic from the bus station, we managed to find a lovely little guest-house down a quiet alley-way, and have been enjoying civilisation before we head off to Cuc Phong National Park tomorrow morning. We are hoping to leave early and hopefully beat the horrendeous traffic - heading out on a Sunday morning should help too...

We have had a lovely day walking around the Old Quarter and central lake, stocking up on reading books and groceries, and treating ourselves to a delicious breakfast and pizza and beer for lunch. Yum!

We are having a fab time, and looking forward to squeezing the last out of our holiday and catching up with family and friends when we return.

E & V.

Laos update

Kilometers cycled: 1680.8
Punctures: 2 :(.

I know tht it has been a while between posts people - sorry about that, but we have really been living rural Laos styles for the past wee while!

So we DID get the boat to Nong Kwai from Luang Prabang, a tiny little 10 person long boat to be precise. The boat itself was a real laugh, but thankfully water tight, and perched upon our tiny wooden seats we got the most amazing picture-postcard scenic trip up the Nam Ou river. The trip took ~7 hours all up, so definately not a speedy trip, but it really was a brilliant way to travel.
In Nong Kwai we had a brilliant evening drinking Beer Lao with our new French and German friends, and spending the night in a little bungalow by the river. Next morning we went over to see about getting a boat up to Muang Khua, near the border crossing to Vietnam we wanted to use. Hmm, as it turned out there may or may not be a boat going that way at 11am depending on how many passengers show up... Instead of sitting around waiting 'till 11am we just decided to cycle it to Muang Khua over 2 days. After studying our Laos map and it sounded reasonable so we set off...

Well, we knew they would be big days, and indeed they were!

The first day we cycled just over 100km to Oudomxay. Which doesn't sound too bad, except that in covering that dstance we had to conquer two massive mountain passes on very dodgy rutted roads.... Cycling up the mountain passes themselves are not so much the issue, but it is the time that it takes to climb so high and also the fact that that time is not regained on the downhill because we had to take it slow due to the dodgy road... So toward the end of the day Vanessa's rear tyre suffered a puncture, but we eventually got to a guesthouse just outside of Oudomxay as the sun was fading. Whew! The guesthouse was pretty fun - little school-camp-like cabins out the back of a familiy's house, and over a bamboo bridge -very rural and tranqil.

We were given some random tentacle soup (spicy!) with sticky rice and beer Lao for dinner, which was actually pretty good! Electricity for lighting only between 6:30pm and 10pm.

Next day was much the sameness although a bit easier with less big hills but the same dodgy roads, but we made the 110kms to Muang Khua just fine. The scenery was breathtaking, so a very good distraction from those thigh-burning hills ; ) Again only limited power from 6:30pm and 10pm.

Next day we going to be a big one with the border crossing into Vietnam. So we set of early at 7am, cycled down the hill to the bridge to cross the river...but there was no bridge. OK no problem, we waited for the small longboat that we ferrying people accross, and got us and our bikes to the otherside to continue along the road to Vietnam.

After setting off on he other side of the river, the "road" soon deteriorated into what could be described as an ox-cart style track, composed of silt, mud and sharp big rocks.... hmm, this couldn't be the major road linking noth Laos with Vienam, could it?? We asked several people "Vietnam?" and they all pointed up the ox track and confirmed "Vietnam". So this and the fact that it really was the only road out of Muang Khua confirmed that yes, indeed this was the road to Vietnam.... So over 5 1/2 hours we forded 2 rivers (photographic evidence comming soon), crossed 2 dodgy little bamboo bridges, climbed one large mountain pass (they don't seen to come in "small" in north Laos!) and covered 45 bone shaking kms along this "road" before it got to mid afternoon and was becoming patently obvious that we would NEVER get to the remote border crosing in time. We both decided that the best option was to try and hitch a lift to the cossing, which was probably going to be easier said than done as we had only had 2 vehicles pass in our direction all day!

But afer about 30 minutes a dump truck came along... A dump truck is probably not the most obvious choice for a lift, but really we were not picky and were certainly going to give it a try! Good thing we did; Our bikes and bags were nestled atop the load of road gravel in the back, and the two of us were nestled in the cab with the 3 Loa truckies :). We had a good time with them all laughing at each others Vietnamese, and pretty soon we had covered the 30kms to the Lao border. No problems there, then another 10 kms of hell-road to the Vietnamese border control where we were hit-on by one of the border guards (very sweet), and then cycled the remaining 45 kms on beautiful sealed Vienamese roads to Dien Bien Phu, arriving just as the sun set.....

So pretty crazy last days in the far north of Laos. We have definately had the whole "rural experience", and have well and truly gotten quite literally "off he beaten track"!! Brilliant.

Hope you are all keeping well,
E & V.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Luang Prabang

Yesterday we left Vang Vieng for Kasi, with the intention of cycling onwards and upwards to Luang Prabang over the following four days. However, we got to Kasi with plenty of energy left and hatched a plan to make better use of our remaining holiday time...

We decided to get a sawngthaew (little open-air truck with bench seats along each side) from Kasi to LP to give us a bit more time to cycle around Vietnam rather than cycling all the way to LP. So after cycling 60 very hilly kms from Vang Vieng to Kasi we wheeled our bikes to the market and tracked down one which was heading north... jumped on the sawnghthaew full of locals and had a bone-shaking 4 1/2 hour ride to cover the 160kms to Luang Prabang. Very fun I have to say, and we didn't miss any of the scenery seeing as it is all completely open air! Would highly recommend.

So LP is just the most amazingly beautiful city! It is very much aimed at the "older traveller" euphamism for 'people with money and style', but we are staying in a slightly run-down little guesthouse in the best area (score!), and mostly eating at local little restaurants. Thanks to our many days spent cycling through the rural parts of the countries we have visited we are now just fine to order a variety of basic food in Lao, Thai, Khmer and Vietnamese so we can cope without the western translations, comfort dining and accompanying price... Really it sounds like I am learning the languages, but in reality it is more the insane driving need to eat after many hours cycling that has forced me to memorise such gems as "fried rice" "noodles" "soup" and several meats in a variety of SE Asian languages :).

So tomorrow, we are going to be at the boat ticket office bright and early to purchase our tickets for the boat trip to Nong Kiaw and then get another boat up to Muong Khoua. From there we will hightail it to the Loas-Vietnam border crossing and cross over the Dien Bien Phu on the Vietnam side. So that is the plan.... fingers crossed that the boat trips all work out!!

Take care,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Loving Laos (and Lao)

Total kilometres: 1315.8
Punctures: 1

Over the past two days, we have cycled from Vientiane to Vang Vien, with an overnight in Thalat. The cycling has been very much up and down (we are in the mountains now) and the scenery absolutely spectacular! Yesterday we cycled through lush, thick jungle, along-side stunningly beautiful and crystal-clear rivers, and past fantastic karst peaks. We couldn't ask for anything more!

Cycling to Thalat, we had a bit of a sleepy start, thanks to a late-ish night (for us anyway) at a martini bar the night before. We had a great night chatting to a couple of guys (Chris and John), who were based in Bangkok but on a brief holiday in Laos. We met them at the Thai-Lao border crossing and kept bumping into them in town - Vieniane really is a small but perfectly formed little city. Nice guys with some exciting and crazy plans up their sleeves!

Not to worry because following a healthy breakfast, and a bit of traffic exiting Vientane, we were able to enjoy a quiet side-road all the way. Lovely rural scenes and really kind people riding along side us on their motorbikes asking "where you go?" "where you from" "you very strong (!)". Almost every kid we cycle past screechjes "sabadee" at us, and we always give a wave back. The kids are sooo cute!

Thalat is near a hydroelectric dam (the Lao sell most of the power to Chinese and it seems to be doing their country very well, economically), and about 10km out of the town, we came across a fabulous river (downstream from the dam). It was like the rivers around Huka falls - lots of rapids and absolutely clear and pure. It was just beautiful to be able to cycle along the rushing water and banana tree lined road on our way into town ; )

It was a long but beautiful cycle from Thalat to Vang Vien. We met two couples cycle touring in the opposite direction - one Belgium and the other Australian. Both were much older than us (midlate fifties) but were good to talk to and ask about their holiday so far.

We were sure glad to get to Vang Vien and get some lunch into us around 2:30pm ; ) We had a roam about the town, and went out to dinner - it sure is a strange little place with lots of the restaurants\bars converting their seats to lounge-style seats, that all face a couple of TVs, which either play Friends or Family Guy. A bit strange to me, but popular with the other backpackers, apparently. It really is a purpose-built tourist town in the middle of some of the most spectacular natural scenery!

There is rafting, kayaking, and (of course) tubing on offer, and a lot of people walking and hobbling around with slings and bandages - there are bars all along the river, and people just hop from one to the next while bobbing down the river. Needless to say, there have been a few deaths, but mostly just stupid injuries.

The local hospital seems to be doing quite well out of the madness, though - They just got a new x-ray machine and I suspect that they fleece insurance companies for all they can, and pour the money back into good health care for the local Lao. Smart!

We are off to Kasi tomorrow, then another stop-over before arriving in Luang Prabang, so will be out of touch for the next few days.

E & V xoxoxox

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lovely Laos

Total km: 1106
Punctures: 1

We crossed over to Laos yesterday (21 Nov), on the popular "thai-lao friendship bridge". The crossing was busy, but a lot faster with bicycles, so we didn't have to wait for a bus to fill up before being taken across the bridge. Excellent.

We managed to find our way into Vientiene, despite a patent lack of signage "follow-that-VIP-bus" seems to work pretty well ; ). We immediately cycled to the replica "arc de triumphe" in the middle of town, called Patuxai, and got a few photos of us with loaded bikes.

We have found a really nice guesthouse, right in the action, but up on the fourth floor, so pretty quiet at night ; ). The nigh markets are, as with Thailand, THE place to go for cheap-eats in the evening, and we enjoyed a great meal on plastic chairs along the river front last night. Elisha got a 860ml bottle of Bia Lao (very good local larger) for under $1US. Brilliant!

We also sampled banana paratha on the way home, and they are HIGHLY recommended! Basically, they are thinly stretched pastry sheets, filled with bananas, folded, and grilled with lots of butter. Then, they cut the cooked parcel into bite-sized pieces, and douse the lot with condensed milk. Mmmmmmmm! Addictively good!

We are off on the road to Luang Parabang tomorrow (via Vang Vieng), so should be able to update in 2-3 days.

Thanks for all your lovely comments, and updated on goings-on at home. Love E & V. xoxox

Thailand Catch-up

Total kilometers: 1066
Total punctures: 1

Apologies for the lack of updates - we have been out in the whops for a while, without access to internet.

We left Thailand for Laos yesterday (21 Nov), and are enjoying our second day in Laos today - both days have been spent in the capital Vientiene.

We have cycled quite a bit since last updating, so I will break-down our Thailand journey:

Phimai to Phon (75km) - After enjoying one and a half days at Phimai, we set off to Phon. A very quiet little town half-way between Phimai and Khon Kaen. Unexpectedly, the guesthouse we stayed at was operated by a British ex-pat. The town was cute and good for a walk-around, plus the non-touristy food was excellent! We also scoffed a bag of delicious green puffed-rice, honey, peanut etc, that is a specialty treat of Phimai.

Phon to Khon Kaen (80km) - We arrived in Khon Kaen with high hopes - Lonely Planet said it was a really cool and happening town, so we were looking forward to a bit of excitement. However, once we got there, we realised that the supposedly lovely lake was a polluted mess, the yummy-sounding cafe recommended to us was closed on Sunday, and the guesthouse recommended to us had closed down! The town did seem to have a couple of big malls and KFC, Pizza, McDonalds, though, but that is really not what we were after... Nevertheless we did find a pretty good hotel and the town had a fabulous night market, where we had dinner.

Khon Kaen to Udon Thani (70km) - Udon Thani was not a very popular tourist town, but we ended up having a great time here, thanks to a beautiful lake at the centre of town, and an open-air concert going off across the road from us. With Thai food from mobile carts, tables set out, and live Thai rock music, it really was a fun evening! The bands played mostly Thai music, but we did kind of enjoy hearing a few "engrish" songs (mostly Paramore - Thai girls are obsessed with Twilight too!).

Udon Thani to Nong Khai (55km) - just a little day in the saddle today ; ) Nong Khai was our last stop before crossing over to Laos. A beautiful, leafy little town with some good accommodation, chilled-out locals and delicious food. We actually enjoyed a whole-baked Mekong river trout, with sticky-rice and papaya-peanut salad, from the night-market (photo above). Sooooo good!

We also took the opportunity to give our poor bikes a thorough tune-up and clean in Nong Khai. Poor things really needed it and are running so much smoother now.

We have inadvertently tried some yummy, but slightly weird foods while in Thailand too -

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Phi Mai festival

Kilometeres: 786
Punctures: 1

This morning we left Korat, bound for Phi Mai. We had heard that they had some beautiful ruins in town, and there was a festival of lights on this weekend, so decided to check it out. As soon as we arrived in town, we knew the festival was BIG. Both with Thais and other Western tourists.

The whole town has turned itself into a giant heaving market! Awesome! We spent a bit of time wheeling around town, but found that everything was booked solid. All except a couple of dorm beds at a cute little guesthouse (Boonsiri guest house). We took them!

We have already been out to explore the market and have made sure to rehydrate with plenty of fruit-slushy drinks, and also picked up a delicious lunch of fried rice and a glutoneous amount of BBQ pork ribs hot off the grill. Mmmm! Did I mention that we like Thai food?

So, we have decided to stay on for tomorrow as well. We havn't managed to see much of the markets yet, despite walkng arounf for a few hours. But will have time to check them all out if we stay another day. Plus, we want to make the most of out two-week Thai visas ; )

A funny coincidence happened when we wheeled up to the guesthouse - apparently we had just missed Mark, the English cycle-tourer we met three days ago. Seems that he didn't quite make it all the way to Buriram and ended up staying two days in Phi Mai too! Apparently he told them all about us, and they were practically expecting us! Small world...

We hope that you are all keeping well - we are thinking of you.

-E & V xoxoxox

Friday, November 13, 2009

Korat: night-markets, fruit smoothies and smooth-riding

Total km: 731km
Punctures: 1

We are officially loving Thailand! The roads are really well maintained, the language is easy to pick up, and the food and drink is so, so delicious (and hasn't made us sick!).

We cycled a cruisy 50km to Buriram, from Surin, and then a longer 130km on to Korat (Nahkon Ratcharisma).

About 50km out of Korat, we met anoth cycle-tourer, Mark from England. He was on his own and had six months to make his way around SE Asia. He had only just started our from Bangkok on his first cycle-tour, so we were able to offer some advice about the road we had come from, and about Cambodia and Vietnam (which we toured in 2007)

Because we are cycling almost daily, we are trying to keep distances under 100km per day to a) ensure that we don't become exhausted b) try to get to our destination around lunch-time to re-fuel and have a decent look-around the town and c) limit exposure to extreme heat and sunlight. So far, we have only had a few 100km+ days, so things are going very well.

While it is definitely still hot in Thailand (some would euphemistically call it "beach-weather"), it is very pleasant compared to Cambodia, which was likened to "living in a furnace" by Vanessa ; )

Also, the food is much yummier in Thailand and hasn't made us sick (we were mildly sick most days in Cambodia) so that has been really helping with energy levels. Although local-restaurants are always tasty and cheap, the last two nights, in Bariram and Korat, we have had dinner at the local night-markets, which provide a great opportunity to buy little samples of a many things (noodles, BBQ meats, coconut-sweets etc) and have fun mixing with the locals. Luckily, we have both learned to count in Thai, and are pretty good at understanding how much stuff costs.

Because we know how to be polite and count, Thais always ask if we speak Thai. When we reply "mai chai" (no) they nonthless act impressed that we know how to say no! Thais really do make tourists feel lioke stars ; )

Ohh, and the fruit-shakes! Basically, you just point at the fruit you want, and the store-holder cuts it up in front of you, throws it in a blender with a whole lot of ice and blends the lot into a delicious and healthy icy-slush. Mmmmm! A big one costs about 15Baht (~50 cents). There are a lot of people selling iced coffees and iced tea on street-carts too, so we have never gone thirsty.

So, basically, we have been having a really great time cycling, eating, drinking our way through Thailand. We only have ten days left on our visas, before we need to move onto Laos and, while it will be great to see a new country, I want to stay in Thailand a lot longer! The people, roads, and food are all such a joy in the "kingdom of smiles".

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bye Bye Temples; Hello Thailand!

We are writing this blog entry in Thailand! So happy to be moving onward with our holiday and checking out a new country.

We spent last night in Anlong Vien, which is about 150km from Siam Reap and 17km from the border crossing town of Choam. It was a pretty dusty little town, with nothing to recommend it except its proximity to the Thai border, and some macabre Khmer Rouge memorabilia, if one were that way inclined (including Pol Pot's cremation site and Ta Mok's old house).

To us, Anlong Vien was a comfortable place to rest, between two big days.

Today was spent crossing from Cambodia to Thailand, and hoofing it to the Thai town of Surin. Although we set off at the crack of dawn, the 17km up to Choam were slow, thanks to it being at the top of a small mountain range. In the end, we made it to Choam by 8am, and 45 minutes later, we were happily in Thailand.

Surin is 150km from Choam and, after cycing for 100km in the scorching heat, we decided to call it quits and try our luck at thumbing a lift to Surin. No problems - Thais are so friendly, the the first pick-up we hailed stopped for us! After roping our bikes onto the flat-deck, we spent the next 50km happily watching the world whizz by from the back of a pick-up truck. Lovely ; )

Although we did enjoy our time in Cambodia, it is good to move on. Thailand has been great to us already - better food, roads (and vehicle drivers!) and accommodation than in Cambodia, although it seems to be a little more expensive. We went for a cycle around Surin this afternoon, and it was nice not to be heckled by beggars and orphans, for a change. In almost every regard, Thailand is notably more affluent than it's poor neighbour.

Tomorrow we are on to Biriram, and on to Khorat a few days after that. No matter were we go, internet speeds (read: photo upload speed) seems to be a major problem, although we will continue to try to pop photos up.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Taking in the Temples

Total Kilometeres : 420km
Punctures: 1

It has been a few days since we last updated, and we have been going flat-tack up to Siem Reap and all around the Angkor Temples.

Still no photos of Tuol Sleng, and very few of the temples, sorry. This one took 45minutes to download. We will get things sorted inThailand, land of fast(er) internet connections!

We cycled from Kampong Thom to Kampong Kdei, and then on to Siem Reap, about +/-80km each day. We thought that we would have been able to cover more ground, but it has been pretty tough going in the 30+ degree heat and high humidity, although we are loving it.

Our fan-club is steadily growing actross the country too - everywhere we go, there are heaps of cute kids and some pretty friendly adults who say "hello" (in the case of the kids, usually screaming!). Some of the people are pretty funny, too - in some of the rural towns, the "barangs" have caused quite a stir while going through. A little kid said to us the other day 'bye bye Barang"as we were cycling past. Pretty sassy!

We are finding the the heat is messing with our appetites, but have taken to exploring the full range of icy-cold canned drinksto quench our thirst and provide much-neded energy. We have been very impressed with the range of Fanta products available in Cambodia ; )

Oh yeah, and the temples... they have been okay. No really, they are AMAZING something everyone should try to see in their lifetime, if possible. We are constantly amazed by the sheer size of the complexes and the intracacy of the stone carving is breathtaking. We have decided to take a tuk-tuk around the temples, both to give us a bit of a break, and also to maximise our time here. Our driver for both days, Soviet, has been really helpful.

Just to make you all jealous, we got an hour massage each yesterday - $5 for a whole hour of pummelling! Sweet. Nothing like an hour massege to straighten out cycling-weary bodies. To bad there isnt aquick-fix for those odd tan lines we are developing though... hmm.

We were planning ontaking a dirt road up to some off-the-beaten-track temples, but the roads ate like papaya-shakes this time of year, so definately not bicycle-friendly... Not to worry, we are planning on taking in another far-flung temple - Kbal Spean - tomorrow as we make our way up to the Cambodia-Thai border crosssing on Anlong Veng. Apparently, there is a small monument in the town, marking the place where Pol Pot was creamted atop a pile of tyres, but I think we might give it a miss. Pretty grim stuff.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fried Bananas and Fanta.

Favourite things today: Fried Bananas for Breakfast and New Fanta flavours: Lychee and Fruit punch!
Punctures: 0
Kms covered: 290kms

We ended up altering our planned route a bit, and spent last night in Skuon (95km from Pnom Penh). It was a pretty nice little town, with some great food ; ) We are having a great time checking out the local eateries and scoffing Khmer rice/veggies/meat dishes. Always pretty cheap and HUGE portions!

Today was spent cycling to Kampong Thom (~90km from Skuon). It is really HOT in Cambodia (mid-30s by 9am), so it is pretty tough going, and the distances seem a lot further than they might in NZ... We have been drinking around 5 litres a day! The people are always really friendly, and we have enjoyed non-stop "hello"s and waves from every (literally!) child we pass. Even the adults, who are a bit shy, have been smiling at us and saying "hello". It is really nice to have this interraction with the local people along the way. I don't think that most travellers have the same pleasure.

Sorry, no photos yet. We should be in Siam Reap in the next few days and will rectify the situation.

All the best to everyone back in New Zealand (and Australia). We are having a wonderful time, but thinking of you all.

Vanessa and Elisha xox

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Phnom Penh

Yay! We finally made it! No photos up yet, as our guesthoue doesn't have a USB port on their computer. We will have photo goodness up asap though...

We arrived at TAT guesthouse save and only a little worse for wear yesterday evening (thanks for the recommendation Megan - they have been awesome). The majority of the afternoon/evening was spent sleeping our jet lag off.

Today we were awoken at 5am by the guesthouse-family taking their showers (Cambodians are early-rises!). Not to worry - most everything opens at 7am, so we didn't have to waste any time. After breakfast, it was straight off to find a bank - sadly closed on Sundays (a bit odd, since this is definately not a Christian country). Not to worry, though - we were whisked off on a moto to check out Tuol Sleng genocide museum.

The museum was incredibly sad, and still in such a raw state - it really brough home the horrors that the Cambodian people have been through in their recent history, and certainly makes you appeciate how incredibly easy-going and friendly they are. We will have pics up soon.

On a lighter note, afeter the museum, we headed down to the river font to check out the annual river-boating festival. It is an annual even to celebrate the reverse-folw of the Ton le Sap lake, which becomes so swollen from the Mekong over the monsoon season, that it flows back towards the sea for a few weeks each year. It certainly seemed like it was a really big deal - lots of people out along the water-front to cheer on the competitors, who were manning long rowing-style boats (about 20 men/women per boat). It had a really great festival atmosphere, with lots of interesting food on sale (crickets on a stick, bulotte (chicken foetus in a shell) and BBQd (tiny)chicks). Sadly, we didn't have any riel (cambodian currency) so I couldn't buy a BBQd chick... kind of like BBQd pousson, I think. Next time.

Tomorrow, we are off on our bikes to Kampong Cham. It is about 110km aaway, but a good deal of the road is unsealed, so we will see how we go. We are planning an early start to fingers-crossed that we make it!

Thinkng of you all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Gear list

With only one week to go before our departure, we have managed to gather most of the gear we will need for our latest cycle tour of South East Asia:

Bikes: Vanessa rides a Cannondale Touring 2; Elisha rides a Surly Long Haul Trucker. We have long discussions about the benefits/disadvantages of aluminium Vs steel frame construction, but all in all, both fantasitic bicycles to be travelling with!

Tyres: After some research, we were torn between Continental Contact and Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. In the end, we decided to go with the Schwalbe tyres - although heavier, they (claim to) offer better protection from punctures and side-wall blow outs. We plan to put them to the test, so will report back later...

Panniers: We have committed to travelling (sort of) light and using rear panniers only. Vanessa uses Axiom (45 litre) panniers and Elisha uses Phillips (35 litre) waterproof panniers.

Tent: MacPac Nautilus - perfect for 2, and good sized vestibules for hiding/storing panniers. We have made the decision to take the tent/mats/sleeping bags to stay at Thai national parks but also as insurance because you never know when you will end up between towns when the sun starts going down....

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tickets booked: We are go!!!!

So we have bought our airline tickets: We are flying with Singapore air to Phnom Penh on October 31st 2009!! Not long at all to go now.
We are both getting pretty excited to be going so soon. Almost two months of cycling around Indochina is going to be just what I need!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


OK so the decision has been made: Vanessa and I will be returning to SE Asia on 31 October 2009 with our trusty bicycles!
In February 2008 we cycled through Vietnam from Hanio, through the central highlands, to Saigon. What an amazing experience!
This time we plan to cycle from Phnom Penh, through Cambodia, Thailand, northern Laos and nothern Vietnam to Hanoi.
Still quite some time to go, so we are both squirelling away our pennies for now.....

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