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, 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”
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
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?
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
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
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!
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
I was about to go to Cambodia in April 2014 year, 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”!
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.