Thursday, April 16, 2009


Our last effort

These efforts were tougher than we hoped for. In this case more mentally than physically. After leaving the Thai paradise we have around 600km between us and Kuala Lumpur in just a few days. On a main road. Daily we stare at the concrete while we balance on the narrow left shoulder. The heat and humidity get worse every hour and we are not enjoying our selves. After four days we wonder for the first time of our trip what we are doing; this is no fun! Planner Maarten studies the map that evening and comes with the solution.

The next morning we charter a truck to take us up to the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia’s greenery. It is pretty, high indeed, and therefore cool and green. We relax for two days, hike in the jungle and across tea plantations and eat delicious strawberries.

Our very last stage is a (not so deserved) downhill, and a long one with fantastic views of the misty jungle and the large tea plantations. This detour to Cameron Highlands makes that we cannot cycle into Kuala Lumpur. The last 150km to the capital we sleep in the bus.

In Kuala Lumpur we celebrate the end of “the adventure of our life”. It has had everything: sweat, tears, suffering but much more happiness, astonishment, and ecstasy. We are very proud and very lucky that we could experience all of this.

No it’s over, we are heading home! On February 14th we land on Dutch ground and will cycle the very last kilometres from the airport to our home.

Wie dot mij wat, wie dot mij wat, wie dot mij wat vandage.
'k Hen de banden vol met wind, nee ik heb ja niks te klagen.
Wie dot mij wat, wie dot mij wat, wie dot mij wat vandage.
'k Soll wel zeggen ja het mag wel zo.

Skik – Op Fietse

Maarten and Janneke


Our Reward

Thailand is a great country for a holiday, specially for worn-out cyclists like us. The last months we have dragged ourselves through difficult moments with visions of Thai beaches, beach resorts and great food with English menus. Thailand more than lived up to the expectations, it was fantastic.

Nevertheless we cycle more than 1200km in 13 days on the bike, mostly on good roads, without mountainous obstacles and always with the dry north-easterly monsoon in our backs. Rice fields, forests, palm- and rubber plantations colour the country green. The people are as always very kind and helpful and in the south we recognise the hospitality we met in other countries with a Muslim population. The weather is great, but on our bikes we sweat in the humid heat on mid-day.

We have learned to use Google Maps to calculate our route with the option “walk” which leads us often over unpaved roads directly to our destination. We come across remarkable habits and customs. In the yard in front of many houses people show off their beautiful, big bulls. These bulls do not work on the land, people hardly eat meat and these bulls look very healthy and strong. After a few days we discover that these bulls are the men’s hobby; they hope to raise a good fighting bull to gain a lot of money. Those who cannot afford a bull raise singing birds. They gather on their scooters with their cages while a jury decides which bird has the best and longest song. People bet and the owner of the winning bird shows off while his friends encourage us to take a picture.

The other 24 days in Thailand we are in for other activities: celebrate New Years Eve in Bangkok, visiting our friends Robert and Monique in Pattaya, a kite surfing course, Thai massages, diving on Koh Tao and relaxing in a resort on Koh Lanta, snorkelling, exploring caves and natural parks and finally sea kayaking in Tarutao National Park. This truly is a reward after so much hardship!

After four days kayaking in calm, tropical water we raise an idea to our guide Tom. In these waters lives a fluorescent plankton that lights up in the waves when you paddle through in the darkness.  We want to kayak at night! Our guide thinks it’s OK. Under the starry sky the plankton lights up beautifully at our paddles. At the other side we notice that the wind has gotten stronger and we decide to return quickly. The waves and the wind make things difficult for us and we try hard to stay together in the darkness. We do not have a lot of time to watch the plankton this time as we focus on the lights on the island where we need to go. At the end we reach our paradise island safely!

From here it’s ten days in Malaysia and we will be back home again!

Luckily we still have our pictures:

Monday, February 16, 2009


One more trick

After cycling for two weeks on a flat road with the wind in our backs we start finding things boring at last. Upon arrival in Stung Treng, Cambodia, another 650km of boring road lie between us and the temples of Angkor. A prospect we do not fancy. There should be a short-cut, straight through the country-side and jungle, but this is a road less traveled and not well documented. We take a day off to collect as much information as possible: internet, travel guides, maps but most of all advice from the local people. Their advice varies from “absolutely impossible” to “difficult but possible”. So there is some hope and we decide to go for it. We buy supplies for three days and buy the best map we can find from the wall of an internet cafe. Our adrenaline level rises and when the alarm clock wakes us we nearly jump out of bed. Will it be possible after all?

In the early morning we cross the Mekong by ferry and we land with our bikes on a dusty unpaved road. With a little luck we find the right “exit” to our route, a real hiking trail through the jungle. It is bumpy everywhere as we cycle over treeroots, cross water ways, duck for overhanging branches and walk tricky tree trunk bridges. Once in a while a scooter comes our way or we see an ox cart resting at the little bamboo huts. We feel strong and fit and the sand of the road is solid so we go faster than expected. In this area are still a lot of landmines which makes camping in the forest not a real option. We are happy to reach a village where we a family allows a home-stay.

The second day however is a lot tougher with long stretches of soft sand forcing us to push our bikes and get dusty. We reach the town of Preaher Vehear affter all and we feel another moment of triumph: we will make it! The next morning as we start cycling we spot a grass field where people are playing football and we decide to take a look. Within a minute Maarten is invited to join a game at the local Christmas footbal tournament. Many team members play bare foot and the line referees wave a leafy twig as a flag, but they play fanatically and a crowd is watching. People laugh as Maarten touches the ball for the first time and call “Van Nistelrooy!”.

The Cambodians are well humoured and laugh easily and the whole day. As we pass a man on his bicycle he can hardly control his bike while he is laughing loudly for minutes. Whether they are making fun of us or not does not really matter, we laugh with them and feel good. A team member of Maarten asks in his best French where we are heading. As he hears about the Angkor temples he askes seriously: “what do all foreigners find so interesting about these old temples?”.

The third day we reach the first temple, Koh Ker, remotely in the jungle. The guards allow us to camp next to it and the neighbours show us where we can wash ourselves. I get a sarong and Maarten a kind of skirt, like that we scoop the water from a container and poor it over our heads with the family watching us. In the twilight we walk around and in the impressive temple. It is Christmas Eve and we enjoy a great camping meal in front of our tent at this wonderful place.

Also the next day we pitch our tent next to another old temple, Beng Mealea, on the veranda of the guard. In the evening we crawl behind a tiny lady though the temple complex in search of the beautiful spots. After five days of hard work, covered in red dust, but with a broad smile we reach Siem Reap and the amazing temples of Angkor. We've made it! This short-cut adventure we wouldn't want to have missed.

In the short time we were in Cambodia we got very enthusiastic about the inhabitants of this country. People are always cheerful and interested and able to show us their most beautiful smiles. From here it is two days to the Thai border, straight ahead but it is not boring. The road is in a terrible state and we even have to buy dust masks to breath. Those we do not need on the Thai side as we hurry to Bangkok for New Year's Eve.

Our pictures you can find here:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Jewel of the Mekong

What a transition! We thought Yunnan was a transition phase but as we pass the Lao border we know where transition is complete: exactly there! At the Chinese side people are industrious and modernising, in Laos people sleep in hammocks and simple bamboo huts. While China enforces a one-child policy, the Laotians seem to be in some kind of competition.

After non-stop cycling for 18 days we take a break at the River Ou, in a village only excessible by boat. We have a bungalow with hammocks next to the river and we enjoy fantastic views and three tourist meals a day. The evenings start with moonlight, bird- and frog sounds and end with fog and roosters yelling from all directions.

We bring our clothes to the laundry service, which we will enormously regret. The next morning the laundry lady thinks to see me hurrying to the boat and she wants to hand me the clean clothes quickly, afraid I would forget them. The tourist, who looks like me (!), thinks that someone who has left for the same boat has forgotten his clothes at the guesthouse and takes the bag. And off they go, all cycling shirts and find them never after. This seems to be a real disaster as finding these outfits in Laos is a near impossible mission.

We travel by boat on the River Ou and the Mekong to Luang Prabang, the complete city a World Heritage Site for obvious reasons. As we follow the mighty Mekong down from China to Cambodja we see the river broadening and increasingly powerful.

In Luang Prabang we find new T-shirts and we decide to try and cycle in somewhat tight referee shorts so at least our skin is less exposed. On our way south we tell the story of the lost clothes to three Austrian bikers. One of them offers me his old cycling pants...I hesitate. The other two assure me it shouldn't be a problem if I wash it two or three times and I take the offer.

The shortening days make us cycle the last kilometers in a dark forest on a few days. The forest lives as we cruise in the moonlight while the fire flies lighten our path and the frogs and birds encourage or warn us. Cycling in the dark is not something we would do on purpose but it is a remarkable experience.

On our way to Vientiane we break our climbing record that was still holding from day 1: an ascend of 2050meters. There is a good atmosphere in Vientiane, we enjoy Mekong BBQ-fish while watching a beautiful sunset. Here we find Janneke a fantastic Lao-style cycling outfit. After a day rest we go further south to the Cambodian border. We take a small detour to the caves of Kong Lo, which is more than worth the extra kilometers. It is a beautiful, few inhabited area with limestone mountains and thick forests. Somewhere down this road the bolt of my saddle breaks and I decide to cover the last 30km standing on the paddles to the next village. There we find a motorbike repair shop with a replacement.

In Southern Laos in the Mekong river are the Four Thousand Islands. On one of those islands we take a two day rest, refilling our energy reserves with good food and drinks and we relax in the hammocks under the palm trees. It has to be said that starting up the cycling after days like these is quite difficult.

After 600 flat kilometers we have almost arrived in Cambodia. In fact we are looking forward to entering a new country. Laos has a beautiful landscape and the life at the river is often very laid back. We find it a bit too lazy from time to time. Men are invisible on the land, they decide taking a shower anytime of the day, they play with their fighting roosters and relax in the hammocks in front of their houses. The women sit virtually jobless in their shops with a dozen products, they chat with the neighbors and take care of their many children, that is if they are not feeding them. But if anything can be called the Jewel of the Mekong, it is the children of Laos. They are always happily playing with the simplest toys, they do not seem to be bothered by poverty and are not in need of a PlayStation 3. If we pass by bike a wave of children's greetings travels through the village: sabaidee!!!!!!

We have altered our planned route slightly in order to visit the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. Also our final destination and returning date lie further ahead. On the 13th of February we will return to Amsterdam from Kuala Lumpur. Doing so will give us time to enjoy Southern Thailand like most travellers do.

Friday, December 26, 2008


The transition

Right on time we are out of the mountains: we have snow in the morning in Shangri-La. The narrow streets, lantarns and wooden houses give us a Christmas feeling. But it does not matter, from here we expect things to get warmer and easier, well?

In the cold rain we cycle south to the Tiger Leaping Gorge, an enourmous gorge in which the Yangtse river thunders. In two days we complete the hiking track on a high path above the gorge with a fantastic panorama. Then again we cross the gorge by bike on our way to the "Old Ferry".

After pushing and carrying our bikes on a small trail down we get to this smallest ferry to cross the Yangtse. Luckily, there's a horse on the other side to carry our bags up the bank.

The next day, when we have already been climbing on this steep muddy road for three hours, we discover to be in the wrong valley..It had to happen once! We are anxious to get to the right road, that one must be better. With a 40 km ascend on cobbles stones it is a bit better, but our progress remains slow. Exhausted we end up at a Naxi family's house. They have a spare room for us if we promise not to sleep in the same bed (we still look that energetic?)

On the way to Lijiang we leave the last snow capped mountains behind us. Lijiang is an old Naxi village with beautiful sites: small alleys, wooden houses, clear canals with goldfish swimming in it and old ladies selling corn on every streetcorner. In the morning the local ladies dance at the main square and at night we can see the (very) old man playing in an orchestra.

The cute little town is also ran down by rich Chinese tourists who party at night and vomit while standing on those beautiful small bridges. Poor goldfishes. Further south we can wear our shorts again as temperatures keep on rising. On the road to Dali we can see the first rice terrases. All of a sudden it changes fast: Instead of walnuts we eat coconuts, yaks change to waterbuffalos and we do not get to drink yakbutter tea anymore, now it is green tea.

To make the Chinese experience more intense we arrange Tai Chi lessons. At 7 in the morning we wait for our teacher in the dark, in his silk outfit he comes running with to Chinese students and calls: follow me! At a good pace we run up through the old town to the ancient city walls, where the sun is just rising above the mountains. Fully concentrated we try and copy the slow, graceful movements of Tai Chi. It is great to start the day like that and to stretch our legs differently.

In the middle of the forest we cheer as we pass 10.000 km's by bike! It appears to be a critical distance for some of our equipment since we experience the first real breakdowns. Both our cranks have a problem that needs fixing what makes us go 400km up and down to the next big city to get it repaired. One of our mattresses gets punched and a gearing outer cable gets broken. That part we did not take with us but we find an alternative solution: we put a splint on the cable with a used chopstick.

In the meantime our progress is still quite slow. We thought to have chosen a reasonable road south, but it changes suddenly to a cobble stone road to remain like that for three days. There is hardly other traffic (we understand why) and it is just us in the bush bush. Even Chinese tourists do not seem th get here and it is just us enjoying the views of the rice terraces. With incredible effort people work on the land, ploughing with their buffalos and planting the rice. It is not for nothing as we find the food here incredibly delicious.

Once we arrive to a bigger town (with asphalt) we are told that the road will get worse from here... There is not much we can do with this warning, it is the only way through. We still believe we have had the worst on the cobble stones. But mud, sand and stones do mean a worse road, while there is a lot of road construction going on. We proceed slowly and get very dirty but we are enjoying it. It seems like mountainbiking in the jungle and people passing on the motorbikes cheer at us.

Finally we go down through banana- and tea plantantions to the palm trees of Jinghong. The transition to South East Asia is almost complete. We will leave China in about a week and enter into Laos. What will that country have in mind for us?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sichuan, China

Of the mighty mountain passes of Western Sichuan

Our route takes us in a southwesterly direction across the eastern Tibet plateau in the direction of Yunnan Province. Our travel guide has the following to say about this route:

"The Sichuan-Tibet Highway is one of the world's highest, roughest, most dangerous and most beautiful roads. As yet there isn't much in the way of tourist facilities."
"If possible, the disrepair of roads of the northern route exceeds those on the southern route and offers a real test of the mettle of any mortal who dares set upon them. The highlights are many, however."
Just what we are looking for...

The result of this choice is a simple list:
- 12 mountain passes above 4200meters
- 1200km at altitudes between 3000m and 4700m
- 17600 meters ascending
- 19 days of cycling

We can call ourselves lucky that we do not only enjoy the tour in hindsight. The valleys in autumn colours with their wild streams, the high mountain ridges, the downhills, the many Tibetan monestaries and the fantastic panoramas have pushed us to complete the route as long as we possibly could. Above all we met the nicest people at the moments we needed them most. The locals have received us in their houses and tents, where we were always welcome at their stove for a decent but simple meal. The other touristsm, mainly Chinese, have cheered at us from their jeeps at the highest parts of the passes while shooting videos and photos.

At the highest point of our journey at 4738mts at a scenic spot we see two tourist buses. It is already around three in the afternoon, our water supplies finished and the cold and icy wind made that we had not been able to find a good place for lunch. We know what will happen and we take this opportunity with both hands. We halt and I ask whether we can get some water while Janneke desperately asks the driver if the road will finally descend from here. While we drink the water we got and open a package of cookies the Chinese cannot hide their compassion anf start searching their cars. We get two bars of Toblerone (!), rolls, an apple and more water and better cookies. Apparently we make a good opportunity for a photo shoot: hundreds they take.

The local Tibetan population has also received us very warmly. Living in a windy tent at 4200mts their camp lies at the right place for us. Tired we descend a bit into the grassland and arrive at the families. All of them want to help pitching the tent, have a try on our bikes and all together we collect the yaks for the night. We make fun with photo and video camera and around the stove we enjoy a wonderful evening. As we have just lied ourselves in our tent we hear the family singing and praying for the night.

For conquering the high passes we have found our own routine: in the last village we buy food for a couple of days: oatmeal with milk and apple for breakfast, instant noodles for lunch and rice with a can of fish and some vegetables for dinner. The higher passes we cannot take in one day as our energy is depleted after climbing for 1200 to 1400 meters. A fewe hundred meters under the pass we find a good place for our tent, preferably close to clean running water. After a smooth routine to prepare the tent for the night, we shift quickly to preparing our meal. I cook on the stove and Janneke cuts the vegetables. In about half an hour we hide for the cold in the tent and eat. After that we quickly cook water to wash, make tea and most importantly to prepare a hot bottle for Janneke's sleeping bag. At night it freezes, but luckily our sleeping bags are fantastic. In the morning we prepare breakfast, remove the ice from the tent and wait until the sun reaches us before we can start packng our bags. Beginning the day with gloves and wearing all clothers we are ready for a new day of cycling.

Despite all our efforts we get into a time squeeze. Our visa expires nearly and Shangri La in Yunnan Province is the nearest town where we can extend. The detour from the beginning in Sichuan and the tougher than expected journey have costed too much time. Above that Janneke cannot see any mountain pass anymore, although she has focussed fantastically and motivated herself to reach Litang by all means. After a day of rest she agrees even to three more days of cycling and climbing to the border of Yunnan, what a power of will she has! In Xiangcheng we finally have to surrender and we take a bus for the last 200km.

Now we have arrived to Shangri La. It is a beautiful, but cold town at 3300mts with wooden houses. We have found a luxureus lodge with heating, western toilets and an electric blanket in a wonderful bed with clean white linen. This finally makes Shangri La a true paradise on earth!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gansu & Sichuan, China

A Taste of Tibet

On our way heading south we cycle around the Tibetan plateau for the most part. In the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan a large part of the inhabitants are Tibetan. Soon after crossing the Yellow River we enter a world largely Tibetan. In ever greener surroundings little villages lie on our way decorated with prayer flags, stupas and monestaries. On the first pass we follow the locals in their habit of throwing paper money in the air for good fortune. This act we will not regret.

High in the mystic Ganjie Grass landslands we ride. In a little village we charter two Tibetan motor bikers to take us to a remote monestary. Behind the monestary lies a buddhist cave in which we descend together with some pelgrims. Everywhere white flags and holy stones. We do as the pelgrims and touch stones, circle others and drink holy water. Down in the cave one of the pelgrims sings some Tibetan prayer as loud as he can and we shiver.

We come closer to the most important buddhist city in the Tibetan world after Lhase: Xiahe. In the last weeks we had already heard that it might be closed for foreigners but we assume it is just rumours (and play stupid). Cold after the downhill into town we arrive late in the afternoon at the checkpoint. It's closed indeed, but the english speaking official (who has lived in Holland for 3 months) feels sorry for us. After a lot of phone calls we are put in a gouvernement hotel. "and' the official says, 'maybe you feel sick tomorrow, you can spend one more night'. The following day we feel sick and we visit the famous Labrang monastry. We walk our round of prayer wheels and watch the astrology class of the monks. The monks are very surprised to see us. We really are the only foreigners who visited Xiahe in 6 months. As yet we had not realised how lucky we really are.

Further south we see a lot more (armed) checkpoints. At the 3th point they will not let us trough after a lot of talking, we have to go back north. Maarten: "maybe this would be the right time to start crying Janneke". Full of tears I leave the checkpoint and indeed: within 5 minutes a police car comes to tell us that we can spend the night at their post. Surprisingly they let us travel south, but only by bus. In the next town we are picked up at the bus stop by the police and put in a truck. At the end of the prefecture they let us out, right on a high and deserted pass. It's already getting late and still 60 km to a town. We are kind of flabbergasted by al the events taking place in the last 24 hours, whats going on?! The reasons they gave us: bad road, bad weather, landslides even the earthquake do not make sense at all. We suspect it's all about problems with the Tibetan people living in this area. Luckly we can put our tent between 350 yaks on the grass. In the tent of the Tibetan family we're having some yak butter tea like in Tadjikistan.

In the town everybody is really surprised again to see us . How did you get here? That area has been closed since march! You must be very special. Suddenly we feel very proud and we do realise how lucky we are (again!).

To avoid the earthquake area we have to make a big detour, completely off the beaten track. For days we cycle through big forests with only rare villages. For the two strangers they open the doors to an old temple to show us the beautiful paintings inside. Afterwards we make a round of prayer wheels behind the monks, for a bit more luck.

In the next valley where there are houses like castles, we try to find a place to sleep. How sad to find out all the inhabitants do not dare to live in their houses anymore after the quake. There are tents behind the small village where they live. We feel sorry to bother them but they will not let us go. We can put our tent next to theirs and they almost fight about in who's place we can have dinner. They bring us an extra matress and warm blanket to put in our tent. Eventhough it rains the morning we leave, all the peolple wave goodbeye until we're completely out of site. How did we get this lucky?