On November 4th Fred the bike is embarking on a six month journey across Southeast Asia. Starting in Singapore, Fred plans to make his way up the west coast of Malaysia, across Thailand, Cambodia, up through Vietnam and into Laos. After that... who knows? Fred invites you to follow him through his adventure. Any advice from fellow travelers is always welcome.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hin Gnome-Vang Vieng

Total Distance:73.48km
Total Time:4h34m16s
Average Speed:16.1km/h
Maximum Speed:49.0km/h
Total Distance So Far:7068.54km

I broke the 7000 mark today. Yeah for me! It was a little bitter sweet, as I thought I would have done it a couple of weeks ago. The ride today was good. Surprisingly my legs were not as sore as I thought they would be. It actually went a little easier than yesterday. The terrain was still easy in comparison to those massive mountains in the North. It is slowly starting to get steeper and the inclines are increasing. In a way it is good. I'm slowly easing myself back into the groove of things.
I reached Vang Vieng just after mid-day. I was a little on the fence about coming here. It's somewhat of a Frat-Boy's paradise. When I got here I discovered it is exactly as I thought it would be. Shirtless college boys roaming the street, beer Lao in hand. Every restaurant plays re-runs of "Friends". That is, with the exception of two. One of them plays "The Simpsons" and the other "Family Guy". Don't get me wrong, I like half naked drunk twenty year old boys just as much as the next girl, but in moderation. Being in a place where the streets are flooded with them is a little annoying.
Despite the crowd here, Vang Vieng is quite breathtaking. It is situated among rivers and limestone peaks. There are plenty of caves and villages to check out in the surrounding area, which is what I imagine I'll be doing for the time I am here. I don't intend to spend that long here. Maybe a day or so. I'm eager to get back to the peacefulness of Northern Lao and to make my way into Northern Thailand.

VIentiane-Hin Gnome

Total Distance:88.39km
Total Time:5h23m45s
Average Speed:16.3km/h
Maximum Speed:45.0km/h
Total Distance So Far:6955.06km

FRED'S BACK BABY! After nearly three weeks of limited physical activity, I'm back on the bike. My time spent in Vientiane was a little boring. Overall it is not a terrible city, but there isn't all that much to do there. Between fixing up Fred, getting a Visa extension for Laos and getting my Thai Visa, I spent a total of five days there. When the morning of my long awaited departure from Vientiane finally arrived I was more than willing to say my goodbyes and get out of there.
I was hoping to make it all the way to Vang Vieng. In the back of my head I knew this was wishful thinking. As I'm sure you can imagine, I am little out of shape after my holiday from my holiday. Sitting around drinking beer and eating all day will do that to a person. The ride was at least an easy one. It was mostly flat. There are really only a couple of hills, and they aren't very big. Still after eighty kilometers I could feel the burn in my thighs (something I haven't felt in quite some time) and I knew the smart thing to do would be to stop.
I spent the night in Hin Gnome. Mostly because of fatigue, but in part because I thought it had an interesting name. There is absolutely nothing there with the exception of the guesthouse I stayed at and a few bamboo shacks. It was at least quiet which, after spending the last little bit hanging around big cities, was nice. Unfortunately I did not spend the night alone. Just before I was about to jump into bed I looked down to discover my bed was swarming with aunts. Luckily I had purchased a hammock in Vientiane. I strung it up in the room and enjoyed a good nights sleep. I knew that hammock would come in handy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

In Vientiane

While there has been little in the way of cycling action, I thought it best to post an entry anyway. The last time I went a significant amount of time without doing so I received emails from family members, threatening to call embassies and start a world-wide search for me. To avoid such over-reactions, I'm posting this to let you all know that I am indeed still alive and well. No need to call in the cavalry quite yet!
When I last left you I was in Luangprabang. I stayed there for a few days, enjoying the festivities of Pii Mai (Lunar New Year). I must say the Lao people certain know how to throw a party. Over the three days of Pii Mai the entire country engages in a giant water fight. It's impossible to step onto the street without getting soaked to the bone. Luangprabang is a great city. There is something almost magical about it. The surrounding mountains, waterfalls, and many Wats give it a feeling that one may think only possible in fairy tales.
After spending the Holiday in LP, I took a bus down to Vientiane. The 10 hour bus ride only made me more eager to fix Fred. I have no desire to do that again! I have been here a few days now and, after a little looking around, I think I've managed to fix the old boy up. A few more days here sorting out Visas and I hope to be back on the road. All this inactivity is starting to make me a little flabby, fat and lazy. There's nothing worse than biking with a beer belly.
So cross your fingers that all goes well. Hopefully the next time you hear from me I'll be back in the saddle!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Nong Kiaw-Luangprabang

OKAY, OKAY, I CHEATED! I took a bus, but before you judge me read the last five entries.

Vieng Kham-Nong Kiaw

Total Distance:48.72km
Total Time:4h20m24s
Average Speed:11.2km/h
Maximum Speed:44.5km/h
Total Distance So Far:6866.67km

The rain continued on the whole day. Once again I had that terrible feeling of being without a single cent to my name. I thought Nong Kiaw would be my best chance for a bank as it's a little touristy. I was wrong. NO BANK IN NONG KIAW! After wondering around, talking to various people I found out the nearest bank was in Nam Bak, about 30km away. I checked into a guesthouse, assuring her I would get to Nam Bak the next day to get some money. It would have been ridable, but not wanting to risk it I took a Tuk-Tuk. I went to the bank. Finally one problem was resolved! However Fred was still not doing great, and the rain wasn't getting any better either. After a few days of contimplation I opted to take a bus to Langpraubang.

Some Village In Langpraubang Prov.-Vieng Kham

Total Distance:51.74km
Total Time:4h28m24s
Average Speed:11.5km/h
Maximum Speed:48.0km/h
Total Distance So Far:6817.95km

I started the day in the pissing rain with not a cent to my name. It was truely a terrible feeling. It rained all day. On the up side, the slopes seem to be getting less steep, so Fred can usually make it up without crapping out. At one point the rain was so intense I took refuge under a tree. I waited it out for about an hour and it finally settled down a bit. I sat on a rock afterwards, eating a little sticky rice my hosts from the previous night had given me. I could feel something nipping at my foot inside my shoe. When I took my shoe off what did I discover? Both my feet were covered in Leeches!
After peeling the blood-suckers off I got back on my bike, a little traumatized, but generally okay. I prayed the whole way to Vien Kham that there would be a Western Union there. No such luck! The next town was a little too far for me to bike. I had no other option, I had to bed for a place to stay. And this is why I love Laos...
The lady at the guesthouse not only took me in free of charge, but fed me aswell. She even went as far as to give me a little cash to buy a bottle of water the next morning. Once again, I was amazed at the kindness of the Laos people.

Vieng Thong-Some Village In Langpraubang Prov.

Total Distance:70.25km
Total Time:5h41m11s
Average Speed:12.3km/h
Maximum Speed:46.0km/h
Total Distance So Far:6766.21km

Thanks to my guardian angels in the truck I hit Vieng Thong in one piece. There I happened upon another cyclist who, as luck would have it, had a few extra chain links. After a couple of days there Fred was all fixed up... sort of.
Vieng Thong is a strange little town. On the tourist curcuit, although barely, it consists of one restaurant, a rather unimpressive hot spring, and four guesthoses. I guess it was the guesthouses I found so odd. I can't see there ever being enough travellers there to warrent that much accomodation. To be honest, the town was a little boring. Still, like all places in Laos, it was relaxing and I didn't mind terribly having to be stuck there a day extra than I had planned. Soon enough I was back on the road.
In Vieng Thong I was warned by three British travellers on motorbikes about a lack of accomodation for the next night. However, they did tell me of a restaurant that would take in travellers, for a small fee of course. Once in the town, about 70km away, I didn't even have to find the resaurant... they found me. It was another great experience. The restaurant was run by a family (mother, father and three children) out of there home. They were extremely kind, the children were sweet and all the villagers popped in to get a good look at me.
There were a couple of things I didn't count on though. First of all was the rain. It had been raining the past four days almost non-stop. When I awoke the morning after arriving in this little town, the rain was too intense to bike. I ended up staying there an extra day. It was nice. I spent most of my time reading or playing with the little girl, Neesa. Secondly, while the price of staying there was cheap, food was not. At the end of my two days there I had just enough to cover what I owed and not a penny more. This was a major problem given the lack of banks in rural Laos.

Some Village In the Middle Of Nowhere-Vieng Thong

Total Distance:40.68km (this is the distance I rode. You'll understand after reading the blog)
Total Time:3h54m48s
Average Speed:10.4km/h
Maximum Speed:47.0km/h
Total Distance So Far:6685.96km

The previous evening was fantastic. It's strange that such a great experience came from something that could have turned out so horribly. I awoke in the morning to find my hosts had prepared breakfast for me. It was the perfect way to end my stay with them. Shortly after eating I was off again. Again the hills were steep. The rain was relentous. Fred was getting worse and worse. I stopped a couple of times to see if there was anything I could do, but to no avail. I pressed on hoping for the best... also to no avail.
After about 30km the inevidable happened. I would have been more upset about it had I not half expected it to happen. The Chain snapped! I had lost my extra links, and the chain was too short to just remove I few. So here I was, once again stranded in the middle of nowhere. And this is why I love Laos...
I started walking down the road, pushing Fred along. I didn;t really have much of a choice. The worst part about it was this was, what I suspect to be, the only relatively flat road in Laos. Had I had a working bike I could have cruised past i t pretty quick. I trudged along the road, my spirits surprisingly still high. The road was desolate. Only a few motorbikes passed. I held on to the hopes that eventually a truck would pass and give me a ride. Sure enough, eventually a truck did pass. I held my arm out palm down, waving my hand back and forth. (according to what I've heard this is how you hich a ride here) The truck came to a hault. Once more using hand gestures, and my handy Laos phrase book, I was able to communicate that my bike was broken and I needed a lift to the next guesthouse. Before I could even blink Fred and I were loaded in the back of a truck and on our way to Vieng Thong.

Sam Neua-Some Village In The Middle Of Nowhere

Total Distance:64.26km
Total Time:6h31m53s
Average Speed:9.8km/h
Maximum Speed:42.5km/h
Total Distance So Far:6644.28km

YES, I AM STILL ALIVE!!! It's been a while since my last entry. A lot has happened. Laos is a little lacking in the technology department. I haven't had access to a computer in a while, but I've been taking notes. Where to begin? Lets begin at the very beginning, shall we.
When I last left you, I was in Sam Neua. Not a lot to do there, but it's quiet and relaxing. Well worth checking out if you happen to be in the area. It was there I met a fellow cyclist who told me that finding accomodation in the region would not be a problem. Looking back, I suspect he was one of those cyclists who claim to be biking when really they are taking a bus from city to city. (this does actually happen, I've met them) I spent a night in Sam Neua and in the morning I was off.
The first thing I encounter was a massive hill. It's a tough way to start the day. The ride was beautiful, but difficult. Fred still wasn't doing very well. His chain was stretched and slipping out of gear. I was still having to walk up steep slopes. Other problems were arising aswell. The back gears were hitting the spokes, and the front gears weren't shifting very well. It was difficult, but not impossible.
The fellow cyclist I met said the next accomodation was about 50km away. 50km passed, and nothing. Just small villages. No guesthoses or hotels. Another 10km passed. Still nothing. At this point I was beginning to worry a little. The sky was clouding over. It looked although it might rain, and it was starting to get dark. As the sun began to set it was becoming clear that I would not be finding a place to stay. At this point I was really starting to pannic. It was cold, dark, and there are all sorts of things waiting in those mountains to eat scared, lost Canadian cyclists. With no other options left I decided to try my hand at asking the locals if I could stay with one of them. And this is why I love Laos...
Communication was difficult being that I don't speak Laos and they didn't speak English. However, through the use of hand gestures, I was able to communicate that I needed a place to sleep for the night. The first people I asked didn't even hesitate. They brought me in to there little shack, gave me a palce to stay, and fed me. I have never experienced such kindness. It was great. Of course, I gave them a little money for their trouble.
The experience was one of the best I've had on my trip. It was great to see how the locals of these remote villages actually live. The house was small. A single room with a few beds and a fire pit in the middle. No electricty or luxuries of the western world. Dwelling within these four simple walls were eight people. Grandparents, parents, and four children (all of which were boys). Conversation with them was pretty limitted. I wish I could have understoode more. They were so happy. It seemed although they were making plenty of jokes. I didn't know people like that actually existed.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Vieng Xai-Sam Neua

Total Distance:31.57km
Total Time:2h27m50s
Average Speed:12.7km
Maximum Speed:51.5km
Total Distance So Far:6580.02km

Let me begin by saying, the keyboards in Laos are different. I don't know where some of the buttons, namely the slash button, are so bare with me. I spent a couple of days in Vieng Xai. What a fascinating town. Amidst the limestone mountains that towe over this little village are a seies of caves that were once used as a hiding place for the leaders of the Pathet Lao durring the war. If you are in this area, I suggest taking a tour of the caves. It was pretty interesting. Aside from that, Vieng Xai is a peaceful place full of smiling faces. Just what I needed. It was a great place to adjust to Laos life.
The ride to Sam Neua was a short one. The hills in this area can be demanding. Fred is not at his best. It's time to change his chain. When going up steep hills it often slips, which can be a little dangerous. As a result I end up walking up the really steep slopes. It's no that bad, although it does take a while. I don't think I'll be in Sam Neua long. Just tonight. Travelling through the mountains is slow going and I want to make a little more progress before I rest up again.
I'm still in love with Laos. Evey day I enjoy it more and more.

Na Meo-Vieng Xai

Total Distance:58.97km
Total Time:5h00m27s
Average Speed:11.7km
Maximum Speed:45.0km
Total Distance So Far:6580.02

The journey to Laos proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated, to say the least. After being declined entry at the border, I hoped a bus back to Hanoi to get a Lao Visa. Let me just say, I do not consider taking a bus in this circumstance cheating as I resumed cycling from the Na Meo. Hanoi was... Hanoi. Loud, expensive, pretty much everything I hate about Vietnam rolled into one big city. I spent a few days there, pretty much trying to avoid everyone and everything there, waiting for my visa to be processed. Finally with my Lao Visa in hand, I was back on my way. The bus ride back to the border was possibly my most unpleasant Vietnamese experience, and that's saying a lot!
In order to get back to Na Meo, I first had to take a bus to Thanh Hoa. Upon arriving in Thanh Hoa, I was told there would be no bus to Na Meo for three days. This presented a large problem. You are aloowed to go over your Vietnamese visa for five days with only a $10 penalty. At this point I was on day 4, so you can understand my dilema. At this point I started to crack a little. One of the ladies selling water and snacks led me to a bus..."to Na Meo" she said. I asked the driver multiple times if he was sure he would drop me in Na Meo, and he assured me he would. Once we reached Quan Son, which I knew to be the last place with a hotel before Na Meo, I asked again. Again he assured me I would be dropped in Na Meo. A couple of hours later the bus came to a stop and I was shuffled off. Fred was taken down from the roof racks. The problem was, we were not in Na Meo. We were about 30km away. This wouldn't have been that bad if not for the fact that it was pitch dark.
I begged and pleaded. Even tried to bribe the drive, which almost always works with the Vietnamese, but to no avail. "No" he said "you ride bike. Then he got back on the bus and drove away, but not before I had a chance to spit in his face. Okay, it wasn't the smartest nor the most lady like thing to do, but it was well deserved. So, in the middle of the mountains, on a sketchy road, in the dark I rode to Na Meo. It took three hours.
I spent the night there and the next morning, at long last, I crossed the border into Laos. It is all I had hoped for and more. The people here are so much better. It's peaceful. People still say hello, but not in the aggresive, almost threatening way of the Vietnamese. The Lao people speak softly, almost in a whisper. They are gentle and sweet. The children are well behaved. I know I haven't been here long enough to draw such broad conclusions, but I love Laos.