Asia by bike – flashback

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Mapa Azja 2013-2015

As an introduction I would like to highlight, that I found myslef in Asia quite by chance. Surprisingly, I spent there almost 2 years traveling by bike – With a total of 9 countries, under the wheels 24 000 km distance, and it looks like, that it's not the end. It was not a journey I dreamt for years , but became such.

And how it all started?

You are going to Japan miss Ewa, are you glad? I heard on a sunny day in 2010 from my former employer and I can not hide, that I was excited. I was excited just as I usually am, before going somewhere I haven't been yet and it is not important, that I was going there to work. Japan is means Asia, and it is soooo far away, another, unknown continent and the country , that is I daresay another universe, completely different reality. I was happy.

Still the same afternoon I went to the bookstore and the library pulling from the shelves all what I could find about the country cherry blossom. And two months later, When I was walking on clean streets, standing patiently like everyone else in line for entrance to metro cars, intimidated with bows until knees and kindness of people I suddenly had a desire to see this country from another perspective, such, I've been watching world for several years now - from the perspective of my bicycle saddle.

In the spring of 2013 I sat in a plane to Osaka. Packed in a big box bike flew with me, For cycling the distance of the length of Japan i.e.. all the main four islands I had three months. It was enough to, Although I would be happy to spend there more time. I write about it in the blog entry summarizing my tour of Japan.

I knew it already, that life on the road is something I love, so I decided to hit in the world without major plans. And although I have always dreamt of visiting South America that I decided to return to Asia, that is considered to be safe, cheap-and I knew it a bit already (or I just thought so. So why I did not start from Poland? Well, because I could leave in winter, and Europe is not the perfect place, four touring at that time of a year ;). So I've given myself a couple of months to organize everything (if somebody want to do so I suggest to start to do it early – It's a crazy thing! m.in. packing your belongings into boxes and carrying them into the basement, renting a flat, banks, notary authorisations, buying the missing equipment including a new bike and tons of other stuff, ufff!). In the meantime I've bought a one way ticket- via Shanghai to the Philippines. It was there where my adventure with the world began.

And how do I recall it all? It's time for a moment of flashback from the perspective of comfortable couch.

The PHILIPPINES - humidity, the sea, palm trees and „give me money”

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About the Philippines I did know next to nothing. So why did I choose to go there? Well, I thought , that if I start my touring in December, It is quite special time of a year – since it is Christmas and the Philippines is the only Asian country where the Catholic religion reigns, Therefore, it will be interesting to see it. To warm up my friend Zofia 3 joined me for the first 3 weeks.

Stepping out of the plane at the airport in Manila, I breathed thick, humid, sticky air, that at 5 the morning was 26 degrees Celsius. I was accompanied by such weather through most of my journey. Ride through the streets of Manila made, my eyes opened wild more and more .. with horror. Poverty. People sleeping on the streets, mainly children. Shops with gratings, searching through bags at the entrance and exit of shopping malls. Well, and quite unpleasant fraud on the first day made, us decide to immediately leave the metropolis.

I do not know what the end of made such an impression -whether real circumstances or a subjective fact, that it was the first pretty poor country, that I have visited, but I don't consider the Philippines as the best place to travel by bike (but great for water sports and beaches). Almost from the beginning, I was dreaming about, leaving. Senseless honking, cars going in many directions at the same time (yes, now I know, It's a picture of many Asian countries, dense population that prevents isolation and relaxation, noise, keen on raising prices at the sight of a foreigner residents, the constant asking for money, the lack of places to pitch a tent and stealth camp made me use guesthouses so the cost increased. On the other hand, many people were very friendly, wwo took in me on several occasions home, and beautiful, exotic-but destroyed the giant taiphoon Hainan, coastal landscapes. The first cats for the fences!

Myanmar or Burma - a country of genuine smiles and secret police

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Arriving to Burma, I found myself in a completely different reality-I was surrounded by unknown, intensive smells, the sounds coming from the temples , and above all there were magical, good and authentic smiles on people's faces painted with yellow tanaka that made, me fall in love with Burma right away. Although the country which until recently (and a little less now) was under the rule of the military junta has just opened on tourism and travelling by bike it still rare, I knew I have to go there. I knew in advance, that accommodation will be unknown-local law forbids stealth camping, being hosted by people, staying in guesthouses for local people - so you can sleep just in hotels authorized to receive foreigners. I have to point out, that the prices for accommodation there are several times higher, than in most Asian countries (15-30 USD).

So it happened, that I stayed with local people and I slept in guesthouses meant for them only. However, the journey through this enchanting country was not strewn with roses-I was followed by secret police many times, sleuths. that slowly followed me on their motorbikes 10 metres behind me or front of me with a protruding from the pocket of the trousers shortwave transmitter, escorting me to the nearest official sleeping place thus increasing the degree of my annoyance caused by restriction of freedom. I do not know exactly why they were doing this, but. this fact has become one of the most intense experience of my trip through Asia.

THAILAND - can you get more?

Roi Yot National Park
Roi Yot National Park

Passing only a few months before opened land border crossing with Thailand (so far to/from Burma one could only fly in and fly out by plane) I found myself still in a completely different reality. I was greeted by smooth, asphalt roads and TESCO supermarket.

I fell in love with Thailand immediately still for other reasons than Myanmar, Despite overpowering this time of year (March-April- avoid!) the heat, travelling is simple. The roads are good, roadside shops were plentiful 7/11 people, friendly, food cheap and good and the country is just beautiful. I visited Thailand 4 times in the end therefore and it still surprises me, that I still did not get to its most popular region. that is the South of the country. Accommodation was no problem at all - almost everywhere you can find inexpensive and clean, really clean guesthouses, Those travelling like me on a budget have also a wide range of possibilities:
– national parks (my love, they are plentiful in Thailand and I used them many times) - there is a campsite in each of them and if you arrive after 6 pm you can save on the admission ticket
– Buddhist temples called wat are everywhere, the problem is that, they are quite loud due to the morning prayers and a menagerie of animals living there. dogs and cats, always out there in large quantities. Here the woman is not always welcome will have the possibility of accommodation, When in the temple there are only monks and there is no part for women
– police stations (!) it never happened to me, that was denied - jsut the opposite, as a general rule I was invited inside to some air-conditioned conference room
– beaches/people's houses/others . as long as your imagination permits

There is also one major discomfort about travelling in Thailand-there are a lot of aggressive dogs. No idea why, why just there. But it was not cool.

LAOS-lazy levitation, “noodle soup” and smoke

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The country was on top of my list, While I admit, that somehow it did not fall deep into my heart. Good side of travelling by bike in Laos is that, that the roads (and there are basically only a few of them) except for a few larger cities) are very quiet. Laos is lazy, people are sleeping in hammocks, roadside food is very simple and the same - usually it is the immortal "noodle soup". It is not so cheap there - most of the products are exported from Thailand or Vietnam.

I was in Laos twice, solo, and in company. I was exhausted by going through the mountainous, in the northern part of the country not only because of the long uphills, but mostly by the fact of burning woods, that is held there annually at the end of the dry season which is between February and April. The smokes cover the sky getting into your nose and throat, visibility was therefore scarce, and it was hot. and so on. Gem of Laos to me is not Luang Prabang but small town Nong Khiaw by Nam Ou river surrounded by karst mountains. Idyllic!

In Laos, quite often I slept/we slept in schools, that are usually not closed for the night – you can put your tent there or sleep in a class. You can be sure though that you will not be alone in the morning, as all your movements will be observed by dozens of students, who appear as early as 6 am.

CHINA – a country of contrasts

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I spent three months in China traversing the mountains in jsut two provinces-Yunnan and Sichuan, However, they have a reputation of being the most beautiful. And it was just magic to go through eastern Tibet . It was not flat 20-30 km up, 20-30 km down.. to the level of the river and uphill again . Whew ... As for China, I have ambivalent feelings – on the one have in my memeory plenty exciting exotic landscapes, among others. the terraced rice fields, tea fields and all kinds of crops on the slopes of the mountains, grasslands of eastern Tibet, architecture, colorfully dressed people from national minorities and on the other hand achievements of civilisation of the largest possible scale , dirt and pesky habits. The most burdensome for me were excessive and widespread use of the traffic horns, that sound has nothing to do with the one used in Europe. Is always terribly loud. People ure honking even driving on empty streets. I could not get used to this. As I could not get used to the widespread disposing any waste, spitting, CIGARETTE SMOKING non-stop by almost each and every man.. At the end of touring in China I was really tired.

On good side in China the food is great: – fresh, aromatic, prepared in 10 minuts.. Oh and cheap. My heart has won by fresh ginger, that cut into strips is added to many dishes-absolute hit, which now I adapted to my kitchen.

When it comes to sleeping on the one hand it was easy, and, on the other hand, not. Guesthouses are cheap and can be found almost everywhere, but almost nowhere I could find a suitable place to pitch my tent – every piece of land, even the space between two trees on the street is used for crops. Hard to imagine, but so it is.

SOUTH KOREA: paradise, , cycling paradise!

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After a few months of advantages and disadvantages of Southeast Asia I needed some change, and South Korea has been such. None of the news that reached me was exchagerrated and the country is now on top bike friendly places for people on a budget as well.

The network of recently built cycle paths goes around the country. It is quiet, beautiful (Although landscapes are similar to what may become monotonous) and safe. I could contemplate landscapes and at nightime could always find a nice by-road shelter, to pitch my tent. As I it was getting cold (November!) It knocked at churches's doors, sometimes stayed with local people. A bit worse side of Korea is food- it is super tasty to me . And, of course, it is expensive, but as I saved for accommodation I could afford to eat something in eatery. South Korea was as well the easiest of all the countries I've visited to communicate in English.

CAMBODIA: architecture and history

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I was about to go to Cambodia in April 2014 or most of the counties, but because of the heat at this time of the year (April) I decided to postpone a trip to the end of the year. And it was good move - in January/February the weather is more tolerable, and cooler. Journey through Cambodia was not that memorable-the landscape apart from the southern Cardamon Mountains is not particularly interesting, the roads are poor to very poor, food available, but so-so. It used to be dirty at times dirty as also happens in other countries of this region.. The country is small, so I made two extended stops – by the sea and in Battambang. Cambodia is a history and architecture lesson for me-you can not forget the temples of Angkor (and the horrible price of the entrance ticket- 40 USD 3 days!) – It is a mixture of beauty and mysticism. and travelling there one can not just cut off from the tragic story of the country and the massacre, caused by Khmer Rouge.

VIETNAM-".. and I will not get back there again, so help me God”!

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Viet Nam is not perceived as cycling eldorado. One of the blog entries I read ended with the words ". I left Vietnam after 2 weeks only 2 and will not return,. so help me God”! Everyone has its own feelings, but it's just in my case it rather worked. The country is a long and narrow, with just two roads - one along the coast and the other one in the mountains. The first one is rather flat, However, the horribly congested and in perpetual construction. The second one beautiful, rather quiet and calm, but a lot more difficult.. in the end, these are the mountains. Large population makes it, crowded, even the road habits resemble those in China - crazy honking !!! I felt as if I was constantly connected to electricity and nervous. The heat did not make it easier. 40 40 degrees celsius and huge air humidity. Although as everywhere so there as well I met wonderful people, however, a bad taste in my mouth is left -you are stranger you pay more. The Vietnamese like to inflate the price somehow passionately-seems they have it in blood. From Vietnam I will also remember huge, Communist banners, radio played loud long before dawn. Always busy people, rushing somewhere .

Asia in my mind means the overwhelming heat , sometimes terrible cold, price fields in fresh green colour , Palm trees, pineapples and durian, Buddhist temples, mountain passes over 4000 high and blue seas. Tent, straw huts and metropolis from concrete. And, above all, nice, gentle and smiling, not aggressive people. I saw only a small part of this continent and I would like more. Will I get back there - will decide very soon. Will let you know!

Practical aspects of traveling around Azi South-Eastern Europe can be found in a separate blog entry.

Added 18 thinking about "Asia by bike – flashback

  1. Well done and very interesting that we both had different experiences ….I guess it is often just pure luck – weather, people, personal mood……
    Cheers from Japan…Heike

    1. Thanks Heike! Yeah, I agree with you completely. Happy cycling and hopefully see you on the road one day 😉

  2. Great summary! I have been following for a long time your adventure, but it was the first time I dare to comment. I'm fascinated by how differently are received in the same places by different people, how much depends on small details, or something that happens at the beginning of our trip and at some extent brings us positively or negatively to the site. I recently visited with each other cyclists, who had just returned from a similar route to your and their observation were quite different (For example, they drove just a piece of Burma and quickly they were leaving because they could not cope with undercover, it was also difficult for them to find an accommodation other than the official guesthousy). I love these extremes, because even more encouraged me to do so, żeby sprawdzić co i jak na własnej skórze 😀 My ruszamy niedługo, but now going for your advice embrace all “important” case, which they are indeed thousands… Skipping amount of things, we gather around you, and which later turn out to be completely unnecessary… Na pewno pomaga to przewartościować pewne kwestie 😉 Kiedy ruszasz dalej? Is it a mystery? Yours sincerely!!!

    1. Welcome Kasia! So I enjoy every comment, especially from persons, I do not know personally, and who look at their blog – the more she wants me to write :). Yep, it's absolutely fascinating how the same places are perceived by different people. When it comes to Burma, but rather they are the extremes – you either love her like I, or can not stand – I also met cyclists, who were leaving as soon as possible. Podobnei with my second “1” namely South Korea, for me it was a bicycle paradise and a lot of meetings miłycgh, and already Heike, who also posted a comment here, very bored there and people are nervous it. I think, that a lot of this attitude and so it is probably from other countries – Vietnam, Laosem..
      Where you set off? If I can somehow help ogarnianiu – write.
      As for me, I have a very intense period in many respects and is not the point, I keep a secret from my future plans, but they are still evolving. I do not comprehend, but for sure yet make a decision in August. w końcu to półmetek lata i trzeba się zwijać 😉

      1. Eve, I thought to myself, that there are many readers, who carefully follow your fate, but they are not willing to comment. I do not know why that is, but probably soon I will be alone zżymała, że nikt nie komentuje moich opowieści 😉 Może wtedy sama zacznę chętniej dzielić się spostrzeżeniami na stronach innych podróżników. Coming back to various receiving the same places… it might just be better?
        As for my plans, Here we go with my husband soon (if it still 2 months, but in perspective 2 years of saving and anticipation is really nothing…) our jednośladach. Direction east – Przemysl Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria to Turkey, and then it's depending on the capabilities of visa. We have no route or destination. Chcemy po prostu ruszyć i zobaczyć dokąd los nas zawiedzie 🙂 Bardzo dziękuję za propozycję pomocy w ogarnianiu i niewykluczone, that would use, but that's possibly via e-mail…
        Regarding your plans and I am confident, that where you do not you move, it will be great. For my part, I assure, że będę śledziła ślad Twojego jednoślada 😉

        1. Read (and I read) All entries like what, but rarely comment on;) Usually I do not even know what to write simply.:)

        2. 🙂 wygląda na to, that we will be moving in the same direction.. I wrote to you e-mail and will I keep track of your fate. Regards! Ewa

          1. A ja już odpisuję 😀 No to wygląda na to, we have the first reader! Hurrraaaa!!!!!! 😀 😀 Teraz trzeba spiąć pośladki i zacząć sensownie pisać, hehehe….

  3. They remember you in Asia!A few days ago I noticed Thy faces in Malaysian television kanalTV1.program of Kampuchea and AngkorWat,where you found yourself in the frame,maybe he was interviewed?admit it?
    Cheers
    Tourister

    1. Well, I confess, że .. With no television in the Angkor Wat ting or anywhere else I did not have to deal .. But I believe, me here and there remember!

  4. There is no way,I made a mistake!This was the portrait of a whole kadr.Musialas to see them,but I do not remember – in line for steep
    stairs to the main tower AngkorWat;that – You were obvious and decoration of the queue!The whole program on TV1 not seen,only
    his Announce.
    You once wrote in forum,with the B.Serai one of devi przypomina.Moge much for you if you send the picture itself
    This devi not seen,and I can write how I znalezc.Latwo I get to know the simple nosie.To probably incarnation of you in front of wiekow.Tatarzy in captivity Cie they took and sold the rulers of Angkor?
    Cheers
    Tourister

  5. Hello,
    I ask about the overall cost of such a cycling trip through Asia? A similar plan for the coming few years and wonder how the budget should gather. I will be grateful for your response.

    1. Though it may come as a surprise, but not calculated a cost globally. I know, While I was driving on the account, but it seemed in the meantime also for other things, m.in. repairs. I can give, that the cost of living in Asia Pd-East, China, Philippines is 10-15 USD. If you are traveling in hand it is cheaper, because the cost of peace (7-10 USD average) decomposes to 2 people. To this must be added the price of visas, airline tickets and other attractions. In the final period, for example,. Thailand I could live for 5 USD per day, but not everyone likes to sleep in the bushes. Good luck.

  6. Great summary. Very useful in my situation, because I had to leave Australia and choose another country / I pick a route for the next countries. Your comments are extremely useful. Handy would just step information about visas: prices, durations and difficulties in obtaining.
    Regards! Daniel (bike2be.net).

    1. Thanks. I have no ambition of writing a guide, it's my personal perspective. Co do wiz, the situation is changing and that often the conditions are different for different nations (for example,. Vietnam), so the more that is not described the, but if you have questions, write to priv.

  7. Uf. Ale zapętliłaś tę Azję 😉

    But seriously thanks of your posts on this piece of the continent, we now have a very good “risercz” przed wjazdem do SE Asia 😉 pozdro

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