Category Archives: SE Asia 2011

South East Asia Day 1

South East Asia Day 1, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

This is the inside of an Airbus A321. I’m going to have to get used to this sort of view for this trip.

This blog started as a record of my round the world bike trip. When I decided I wanted to do more bike travel (a lot more), the blog was redefined to be a blog about bike travel. I will be doing more bike travel, but this particular trip won’t be on two wheels. Not with an engine attached, at least. South east Asia appeals as a travel destination but not as a biking target, so for this venture I’m doing the backpacking thing. I’m still going to use this blog, which will now be redefined as a record of my attempts to see as much of the world as possible.

Travel without the bike means lots of public transport. When you travel by bike, there are a lot of things that can go wrong, but you’re always the one in control. It’s always just up to you to make things work. When you want to move on, you suit up and ride. Backpacking means lots of waiting around, queueing, more waiting, and everything is in other people’s hands. A double booking, a late departure, a cancelled flight, a careless baggage handler, there are lots of ways for things to go wrong. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling trepidation and apprehension, where normally I’d have an ear to ear grin at the thought of weeks of travelling. I’d prefer to be in control. On my bike, not only do I have plenty of leg room, a great view, no hassle finding space for my luggage, and no screaming children nearby, but also no need to wait when I’m ready to go, and no need to transfer to a bus to do the last couple of miles.

At least the flight from Newcastle to London with British Airways is considerable more refined than the hell that was the EasyJet flight I used to do twice a week to go to work, mostly because BA has allocated seating unlike the idiotic EasyJet free for all. There’s also a complimentary glass of Tempranillo, which is satisfying and relaxing enough for that ear to ear grin to reappear, even though the next day and a half will be more airports, busses, queues, stupid airport security, cramped seating, one very long flight to Kuala Lumpur and a short one to Saigon.

I’m not expecting to have any interesting stories or scenic photos for a while. I’m just hoping that Air Malaysia’s economy class also features a complimentary red wine…

Day 4 Saigon

Day 4 Saigon, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

Up at 6 for a session in the hotel gym. English breakfast followed by American breakfast followed by Vietnamese breakfast. Onto the bikes and to the Cu Chi tunnels. Into the specially widened for tourists tunnel, which still gives you a good taste of what it must have been like. To the War Remnants museum, which is very one sided but where the photographs are so explicit and shocking that you leave in no doubt about the horrors of war. To the market, and a very enjoyable session of haggling with the delightfully friendly and very young seller of knock-off watches, culminating in splashing out over four million dong between us on Tag, Breitling, Patek Phillipe, and Omega watches with a market value of over £20,000, if they were real. A few more road crossing escapades (gambling with your life in the face of a million oncoming mopeds and taxis), and a few beers by the river, in the company of four or five geckos. Dinner at the Wrap&Roll – two beers and a
plateful of noodles and beef wrapped in banana leaves for under a fiver. Caipirinhias at the tenth floor bar in the famous Carravelle hotel, with live Cuban salsa music. Guided by a kiwi barman to a bar hidden away down a back alley and patronized exclusively by ex-pats, for more cocktails, until about 1 am, when things are just starting to get going but but is way past our bed time as we have to leave the hotel at 7.30.

Saigon has entered my top ten list of favourite cities. If I was staying longer, I think it would go higher. If I could get used to crossing the road….

Day 5 Mui Ne

Day 5 Mui Ne, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

Out of Saigon on the bus, till we reach the "quiet" back roads. Hot ride through scenery of rice paddies, banana trees, coconut trees, and dragon fruit plants. Getting used to being on the bike. Fast and slow groups emerging. Back on the bus for the long run into Mui Ne, where we arrive at a fantastic hotel right on the beach, with a pool surrounded by coconut palms, and a fantastic sunset.

Day 6 Dalat

Day 6 Dalat, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

One of the nicest things about cycling in Vietnam is all the kids that wave and smile and shout hello, looking either very happy to see us or very amused at the crazy white people cycling in the midday heat. Mid 30s today, making the gentle climb up from the coast seem much harder. As we climb, the sandy dryness gives way to lush greenery, the backdrop grows into mist shrouded mountains. After 60km of cycling, we have a picnic lunch before taking the bus up the steep winding hairpin bends into the central highlands, past coffee plantations. The road is steep and rough so I’m glad not to be cycling this part, but I wish I was riding my motorcycle up here. I’d certainly be making faster progress than the bus!

In Dalat we check out the manic market place, that looks like a cross between Uzbek and Mongolian markets. Dalat is in the hills so it’s quite cool, and the sun sets fast and early this far south, so we emerge from the market place into a nighttime scene of neon advertising and the ceaseless beeping of the moped swarm.

Picture shows fishing boats along the coast north of Mui Ne.

Day 7 Nha Trang

Day 7 Nha Trang, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

63 miles of cycling today, including some long climbs, thankfully cooler up in the mountains, a long fast descent that was great fun, then a real soaking over the last 15 miles through the rain, which is so warm it’s like cycling in the shower. At the end, Nha Trang, a mix of chaotic city with half a million lunatics on mopeds, and idyllic beach resort with 5 star hotels. Dark by the time we arrive at 6, so looking forward to seeing the white sands and turquoise waters tomorrow, but for tonight the restaurants and bars beckon.

Day 8 Nha Trang

Day 8 Nha Trang, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

A rest day after the big ride yesterday. Blisteringly hot, blue skies. A boat ride out to the islands, for swimming, snorkeling, and lunch on the boat. A walk around the Buddhist temple, where the 93 year old head monk gives me a good luck charm and a younger monk laughs and says I look like a monk too, because I have a bald head…