Malaysia - Life in Langkawi

To say I was excited about visiting Malaysia would be an understatement; the echoes of  “the food is amazing” and “cycling is very popular” feeding my excitement.

Getting to Malaysia from Thailand is super easy, with numerous options. I’d only decided the day before that I would take the ferry direct from Satun, Thailand, to the island of Langkawi, where I could get my 3 month Visa On Arrival.

I’d planned it pretty well to leave Thailand with no Thai currency whatsoever, so, having paid for my boat ticket, a reasonable 300baht, or £7.50, I felt a little awkward when the lady collecting the tickets when boarding asked for another 150baht for Surly Temple, with me raising my hands up in surrender saying, “I’m sorry, I have no money”.

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Southern Thailand

A slight sigh of relief crept over me as the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac at Suvarnabhumi airport, and I set foot in Bangkok for my second time in as many months.

 

Myanmar had been an incredibly interesting and eye opening experience, and what a privilege to have been able to experience it by bicycle, but monsoon season is not ideal for touring and with the flooding and landslides affecting the east, I didn’t want to risk getting stuck in a small town again.

 

Surly Temple needed a good service and I had a few things I wanted to do, and the best place for all of these was near the infamous Khoasan Road, Bangkok.

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Myanmar, a ride on the wet and wild side

I was excitedly nervous about entering into and cycling through the unknown of Myanmar, but the imminent retreat and some very gnarly weather and remote areas, made for a very tough and eye opening experience. 

I crossed into Myanmar at the Thai/ Myanmar border at Mae Sot, and knew I had a big few days ahead of me. Add a huge amount of rain and the worst roads to date, and it made for a tough and testing few days. One thing I learnt that day was not to assume that the word “Highway” has any reference to infrastructure here!

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Bangkok – Mae Sot/ Myanmar

Riding out of BKK was a fun city riding experience and the people continued to be incredibly friendly. I took a few wrong turns, got chased by an awol dog and was pointed in the right direction by some friendly people and by this guy and who guided me across a deep part of water in the middle of a back road.

As I neared Ayutthaya (pronounced A-utia), the ancient former capital of Siam, I am joined by Paul, from Poland, a cyclist on a nice looking road bike. One of those bikes that clicks really loud when not peddling; I don’t know if you know it? Having never ridden a road bike, I still know sweet FA about bikes, but I think this is a sign of a bike with good components. Paul was quite the character and lives in Ayutthaya and enjoys touring and road biking. Paul and I cycled into Ayutthaya, chatting along then way as he guided me through the streets, using his incredibly loud electric bell as we passed cross roads and traffic lights and shouting “wait there motherf***er” with his hand held as cars tried to pull out in front of us.

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A pit stop in Bangkok

It had been 6 months since I’d crossed the Thai – Lao friendship bridge at Nong Khai, and having ridden 4,500km through the largely less developed Lao and Cambodia, and the confusion of Vietnam, I was quickly reminded of just how convenient and more developed Thailand was than all of these.

On the first day back in Thailand, having crossed the border that morning, I think I passed about 5 dead dogs on the sides of the roads, which, as well as not being pleasant, instantly filled me with a bit of dread at the thought of being chased by more lunatic dogs, with Thailand having the worst culprits. Seriously, there is something about a cyclist that makes these dogs foam at the mouth.

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Cambodia part 3 Battambang - Siem Reap and The Angkor Archaeological Park

It was only a days ride to Siem Reap, which was a tough, hot 160km through some awesome little villages, with so so many people saying hello, waving etc, which was very special, and something which was still a new and incredible thing to me, even though I’d experienced it everyday for the past 7 months.

At one point in the day, the sun was ferocious and I felt like I was in a sauna, with my body radiating heat, so I stopped on the side of the road under a tree to cool down in its shade. I was soon ushered to sit on a bench by a group of local teenagers, who took turns, one after the other, in asking for and taking a “selfie” with me, before I asked for a group shot with them. It was cool.

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The Kingdom of Cambodia - Phnom Penh - Battambang

My plans and route for Cambodia had completely changed at this point as I’d originally planned to cycle through Boutum Sakor nation park, home to many endangered animals, in south west Cambodia up to Battambang. For reasons largely out of my control, I’d spent so long in Otres, that I now risked not being able to visit Siem Reap and see Angkor Wat, and so, with this in mind, and now that I’d booked my Vipassana meditation retreat in Myanmar for August, I spent some days planning the next couple of months and ended up extending my Cambodia Visa by another month for 80$, and getting my Myanmar Visa from the embassy in Phnom Penh, for 50$, express, whilst there also.

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Welcome back to Thailand

I must admit, I wasn’t as excited about entering into Cambodia as I had thought I would be, sadly. At the very start of the trip, I was, but after 3 months in Vietnam, the though of going into a less developed country, filled me with a little bit of dread. Whilst Vietnam is said to be more developed than most, there’s something about it that just seems worlds apart from the other countries, and I think the people are the cause of that.

 

The ride out of Ho Chi Minh City amongst the morning commute was hectic. At times, I’d be sat at traffic lights wedged between a few hundred mopeds trying to find a pocket of oxygen to breath in. 70 km’s later and I’d reached the border. I crossed the border into Cambodia, and the people and the surroundings were instantly different. I’m not sure how many people cross by land border these days, as I’d seen very few at the  crossing I’d made already, but one thing is for sure, the border towns are often rowdy places.

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A bygone Saigon. Welcome to Ho Chi Minh City

You know that feeling when you arrive in any big city for the first time, and everything looks so big, so busy, unfamiliar and slightly daunting, that you instantly feel even more minute and insignificant? Well that's exactly how I felt as the boat from Vung Tau arrived in to the heart of the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. 

Usually, the nice thing about riding into a city is that from the suburbs, you get to attune yourself with the new rules and speeds of the road, but when you are dropped into the heart of the city, it’s like jumping straight onto a full speed running machine. Fortunately, in this case, without the face-plant.

The boat ride in was a very straight forward 1.5 hours and 250,000 VND or £8.30, and was nice to witness life from the water. It’s often easy to forget that with such big water systems in a city like Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok, that there are so many people dependent on, and spending their life by the water, instead of the hustle and bustle of inner city living.

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