Homeward Bound

Thinner and uglier, but a hell of a lot wiser

So this is it. Delhi was the last blast in a string of unfamiliar worlds. We’ve biked through these worlds and soaked up the landscapes and cultures, trying to let them change us. Yet all of them remain foreign, because each experience was fleeting. That’s the thing about a trip like this; the nature of a bike tour means that there’s no place to miss. All it is, really, is a lifestyle. We decided to live a certain way for six months. Almost every day we moved, and if a routine set in it didn’t last. Every day we woke up in a different place, and experienced a different world of people and climate and roads and hills and emotions and even the ‘change’ changed. Will we miss the lifestyle? Time will tell, but as our taxi lurched through the city on the way to the airport neither of us felt any qualms about saying goodbye. Strangely in a daze, we didn’t really feel anything at all. We’ve amassed a world of experience, and the proof might be in the photos, but the truth of it will only be felt by those who know us, because even we can’t identify if and how we’ve changed. In the end, that might be the only thing that matters. Continue reading

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Hey China, There’s Flies in the Coffee

Shangri-La, Xiangcheng, Daocheng, Yading, Litang – 400km and feet on the ground

Litang, China. At 4000 meters we’re out of time and out of breath. Literally, short on oxygen and we don’t know why. From the lowlands we had climbed onto the Tibetan plateau feeling like super heroes. We’d conquered big passes over and over again, a bit wobbly but without ill effect. It was surprising even. Katrina, a traveling German doctor, had advised us earlier that there are two ways for the body to produce more red blood cells for higher altitudes. One: slow acclimatization; and two: smoking cigarettes. I had a third theory though. Could it have been the exhaust that prepared us? We were living in it, and undoubtedly had been deprived of oxygen. Our blood must have been kicked into high gear. We’d been acclimatized early, aaaand we’d found our golden ticket: black exhaust cigarettes, all the benefits of tobacco without the addiction. But what’s happened? After two weeks of biking and hiking at altitude we’re left sore, beaten down, breathless, our hunger for the road diminished…

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‘Please Go Away: Welcome to China’

We’re here; we made it, the big daddy, the second leg: China. At 5,000 kilometers and after a crazy 12 days of riding since Hanoi, we’ve hit the next of the big cities on our route – Kunming, China. Population: 6 million. Neon lights, friendly people, bike lanes and eerily quiet electric scooters everywhere. Silent killers, those things. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

It was time to leave Hanoi. We’d been there 10 days, recovering, waiting for visas, repairing bikes. More to the point, it was time to leave Southeast Asia. Continue reading

“Nobody bikes in Bangkok”

The stark contrast between Cambodia and Thailand was evident the minute we walked into the air-conditioned passport control office on the Thailand side. Outside, a large sign warned that anyone possessing drugs will be sentenced to life in prison or executed. But after 2 weeks of eating ants, crickets and snails we were ready for something different, even if it meant giving up the ‘happy’ pizza (look it up). Fighting the habit of 14 years of right-hand driving proved to be difficult and we narrowly avoided oncoming traffic before swerving to the left-hand side. As a general rule, car exhaust is slightly cleaner here. However, the extra volume of traffic more than compensates for the stricter air-quality standards and we were quickly overwhelmed by the constant stream of diesel trucks and buses belching black smoke. Continue reading

Cambodia – a farewell gallery

Chasing the Sun West

A border awaits again. This time it’s not a line we cross, but a zone. On our side: dirt, dust, the smell of burning plastic and human excrement. Prostitutes wander about seeking eye contact in the busy, dilapidated streets that are lit only by the flashing neon signs of businesses with confusing identities. In the border zone sit extravagant, towering air-conditioned casinos. Fancy looking Thais and Cambodian families come here for the scene and the chance to win big, though the gaudy scale of these cheesy buildings seems proof enough that they won’t. And across the border, on the other side, we know nor expect nothing besides the fact that we’ll be riding on the left side of the road from then on. But hope grips us. Continue reading

Phnom’non

— empty Cambodian roads make for enjoyable riding

So. Cambodia, holy sh*t. We had a soft beginning, we’re starting to realize. As soon as we crossed the border, the world changed. No more traffic, and the countryside was visible from the road – there were breaks in development! Cambodia is blessed, in our opinion, with a tenth of the population of Vietnam, and the reduced traffic very much compensates for poorer road conditions. Continue reading

Sweat stains and anticipation at the Cambodian border

Day 10 – Ha Tien, Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam

It’s time for a quick break. We’ve been biking for five days and our bodies are worn down from the road. Long days have added up to about 500km on the odometer, several days we’ve biked into the dark, and traffic is taking its psychological toll. Heat rash is beginning its slow march up our legs – which one of us thought that bike touring in the tropics during the monsoon was a good idea? Our first impressions of the motorbike culture were positive. Nimble, everyone has one, they take care of everything on them, and infrastructure is built to serve them. The curbs are even built with a slant so that motorbikes can be driven onto the sidewalks. Continue reading