I just left Vientiane in Laos where I finally got a Chinese visa in my third and last attempt. When you read this, I’m on my way north through mountainous Laos and afterwards two even more mountainous months through central and western China heading for Kyrgyzstan. Like Thailand, it’s going to be a race against time but at least I’ll have incredible views – maybe I have to take public transport to avoid getting in trouble for overstaying my visa but only time can tell.
Early January 2016 I came back to Singapore where I spent a couple of weeks with my friend Lars and his family amongst other getting my Myanmar visa and finalising the planning for this part of my trip. As I headed out my chain overshot after only 25k, breaking 7-8 spokes obviously making it impossible to continue. The wheel was brand new, so not the best start on the long journey back to Europe. I went back downtown and had a new wheel built though with normal spokes as no shop had the stronger touring spokes.
I wanted to meet my friend Sandy in Myanmar on 26 February, so the ride through Malaysia and Thailand became all about timing, especially because the Thai visa was only 2 weeks, leaving too much time in Malaysia. Malaysia was very hot on the coast, so I quickly headed inland, up the hills – still warm but cloudier and therefore a bit cooler. As always, it was tough starting up again after a long break, but it went surprisingly well especially the long climb up to Cameron Highlands in 1,500m. I spent 5 days relaxing and enjoyed socialising in the hostel and doing some walks in the hills. My plan had been to do a long loop northeast using the extra time to get in shape, but a broken spoke prevented that. Instead I went straight for the border on backroads providing lovely views of countryside, forest/jungle and lush hills.
As I never got in good shape in Malaysia, the 2 weeks in Thailand implied a straight run for Myanmar on the big, busy, noisy, polluted highways - leaving no time for detours or sightseeing. Despite changing 16 spokes along the way, I still made better progress than expected not least because it was fairly flat, the road quality decent and I had equally much tailwind as headwind (a first ever!). It says a lot, that the highlight of every day was having an aircon room, a shower, a hot meal and a cold beer. Thailand was the worst long distance biking I’ve done of all 65,000k - I expect the 6,000k through China will be much the same racing against limited visa time, but biking around the world (as well as life) occasionally implies adversity.
Based on recent years’ countless positive stories, I had difficulties keeping my Myanmar expectations down, which is part of the reason it never became an incredible experience. Nature was fairly ordinary as was Yangon, Mandalay, the temples in Bagan and my 3-day bike trip through the countryside. On the positive side was visiting a school in the delta and Inle Lake, where it impressed me how they have created a big society on stilts. However, best of all – and what I take with me from Myanmar – was the smiling, friendly and always helpful people; as I remember Thailand 15-20 years ago but very seldom experienced on this trip. I think mass tourism has destroyed the Thai culture, so if you’re wise, visit Myanmar soon the same happens there (it’s already bad at Inle Lake and Bagan). I also loved the joyous, friendly and helpful Malaysian people and equally much their ever present cheap, delicious food. Maybe my assessment is biased on language barriers, as Thailand was completely hopeless, while in Malaysia and Myanmar a number of people spoke at least some English (admittedly, I have equally much responsibility not speaking the local languages but the outcome is nevertheless the same).
In general, it’s been very hot increasing from 30C to 40C (and much warmer biking in the sun) as I’ve come north and the dry season set in – only a few rainy days in Cameron Highlands and the last days of my second leg in Thailand. Night temperatures have only been below 25C during the short periods I’ve been in the mountains. This has been one of the main reason why I haven’t camped much as I get little sleep in these temperatures – other reasons were cheap accommodation and difficulties finding remote wild camping spots while in Myanmar it’s illegal - not only to camp but - to stay outside government approved hotels.
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I wish you and your family all the best - may you be as happy and fortunate in life as I am.
Many greetings from Michael