This will be our second long distance cycling tour (the first was from Patagonia to Peru), so while we have experience dealing with adversity on two wheels, this journey poses significantly greater challenges. For one, the traffic will be problematic, and we’ve also heard that the Himalayas can get pretty high. We will be starting our journey in SE Asia during the height of the monsoon, so the first 2 months will be quite wet. And from research we’ve done, we can apparently expect to be pushing our bikes through waist-deep water in parts of Cambodia and Laos. Political strife in Tibet caused the Chinese government to close Tibet to all foreigners about a month ago. We will be traveling through at least 9 countries with twice as many regional languages, and neither of us speaks a word of any of them.
We didn’t really expect medical issues to be much of a challenge on this journey – we had, after all, lived in West Africa for 2 years while serving in the Peace Corps and thought we had seen all that the developing world had to throw our way. A trip to the International Travel Clinic at UC Berkeley quickly proved us wrong. Day-biting mosquitoes carry Dengue fever, night-biting ones Malaria and Japanese Encephalitis. We each received 5 shots on top of the cocktail of immunizations we were subjected to while in the Peace Corps. However, all of these challenges are a fundamental part of the beauty and magic of bike touring, and we are looking forward to taking them on as they come.
Perhaps bike touring’s greatest feature is the dynamism that will enable us to make on-the-ground changes in response to weather, landform, invitations, and other unforeseen events. This makes it a very useful and adaptable study method, but it also makes route planning inherently difficult. Our route is likely to deviate in a number of small ways, but the general direction of the route will remain faithful to what is described below:
Leg #1: Southeast Asia – 2 months, 2900km
The first leg of our journey takes us from the coast to mountainous jungle through 5 major metropolitan areas and 4 diverse countries. We will begin in Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam. From there we will travel south to Can Tho in the Mekong delta to study a relatively new and rapidly growing port and industrial city. Crossing the delta, we will look at how bicycles interact with the dominant canal transportation network. After leaving the Mekong delta, we will travel northwest through the rice fields of southwest Cambodia to Phnom Penh. From Phnom Penh, we will continue northwest along the Tonle Sap river, one of the most dynamic hydrologic systems in SE Asia. We will visit several of the small cities along the banks of Tonle Sap lake to observe how urbanism and bicycles mix with dramatic seasonal flooding. We will head due west from Tonle Sap into Thailand, visiting coastal communities along the road to Bangkok. From Bangkok we will cycle northeast through the Isan region, an extremely dry and poor agricultural area. We will cross into Laos through the capital, Vientiane, and then spend the next week cycling through the mountains of northern Laos before entering northern Vietnam. The metropolitan region surrounding Hanoi is a dominant feature in the north of the country, and we will study this region in depth.
Leg #2: Western China (Yunnan, Sichuan, and [maybe] Tibet) and Nepal – 2 months, 3700km
Details to come
Leg #3: India, Bangladesh, and Nepal – 2months, 3400km
Details to come
Alex Schuknecht & Rob Tidmore – June 2012