The bike bags are always packed quickly, just before I start. The bike takes a little longer, but I tied it up the day before I left, now only the large taxi has to be on time and then it can actually start. Where? First I fly to Bangkok and then I want to cycle again towards Cambodia and further north-east. I applied for and received visas for the neighboring countries, even for China, which was a very time-consuming process because you have to appear in person at the Visa Center in order to not only submit the application but also your fingerprints. As an individual traveler you also have to declare every overnight stay in advance, and if you want to travel overland, as I plan to do, you also have to explain your plans in some detail – without mentioning the bike, for sure.
So roughly where I ended my trip two years ago, I want to get back on the roard and the flight from Amsterdam is even on time in Bangkok. Early morning, it is hazy and of course very warm, actually a wonderful day, but I have to get used to the high sun and the oppressive heat. It is about 32°C in the shade when Maik, a friend from Berlin, and I start at one of the many exits of the airport terminal. Maik will accompany me for about a quarter of the planned route.
However, we are initially on the wrong level. The built-up street that leads past the exits of the arrival hall leads as an elevated street directly onto the motorway. So we push the bikes back into the building and take the closest elevator to the basement. There we come to the ground level from the terminal and can turn below the highway to the next intersection with a smaller trunk road to the right and towards Chachoengsao. Airports of this dimension are not designed for cyclists.
Oh yes, it’s a hot day. From the airport to Luang Phaeng Road, which then takes us further to the east, the road runs through very spacious commercial areas and large green areas located on the airport site, which will surely also have storage or factory buildings at some point. After that, the traffic becomes denser and more hectic. The street is partially lined with many small shops and workshops, bus depots or other commercial areas. Sometimes a wide moat crosses the course of the road, which is then spanned by a longer but also narrowing bridge; unpleasant traffic points.
From one of these bridges, I see a street restaurant a little off the road, which we then head for in and finally have something to eat and take a break. However, the warmth of the early afternoon builds up under the relatively high canopy. An older Thai woman runs the small food stall and cooks us some vegetables with meat and a fried egg in her wok with the rice, which she already has ready in an insulated pot.
Here I now have the peace of mind to deal with the phone card I bought at the airport. It works right away in my smartphone, so I can keep in touch with home, as well as occasionally uploading texts like this one.
A few kilometers further we pass a bicycle dealer, whose open business can also be seen from the street. Maik still needs a bottle holder on his bike and the friendly man can promptly mount a suitable part on Maik’s bike. Our water requirements are high and having at least one bottle at hand makes drinking a little easier. I’ve always had three holders on my bike.
So we gradually come closer to our goal for today, which I chose not far from the airport for the day of arrival. A small hut village, far from the main street, which has now been transferred to a construction site, on a side arm of the canal running parallel to the street. Unfortunately, it is not quiet there, as a water pump chugs around the clock, but it is clean and inexpensive.
The desire to explore the strange, exotic places of the world has always been great for me and as long as my environment allows me to give in to it from time to time – well, I like to plan and much more that that, I prefer to implement my plans.
After two days on which I mainly explored Macau on foot and otherwise put my legs up, I get back on my bike. Hong Kong isn’t really that far away, less than 50 kilometers, but can only be reached by land with a huge detour via the metropolis Shenzhen.
About half a year ago, a road connection between Zhuhai / Macau and Hong Kong was opened, a piece of highway with a total length of 55 km, a billion-dollar project that leads over three connected bridges and through a tunnel, but is of course taboo for bicycles. The bridge is mainly used by buses, but I have not researched whether I could have had my bike transported here.
Instead, I looked at the possible ferry connections between Macau and Hong Kong. That raised enough questions for me that could not even be clarified in advance. In any case, there are no vehicle ferries like the one between Hainan and Guangdong, just passenger ferries in the form of speed boats.
The ferry port in question for me, from where the boats of the Cotai Waterjet line to Hong Kong Island run, is unfortunately not in the north of Macau on the coast of the peninsula (Outer Harbor), but on the island of Taipa (Taipa Ferry Terminal) ), which makes it difficult for me to even reach the ferry.
The north and south halves of Macau are connected by three bridges, none of which is officially approved for bicycles. There are explicit prohibition signs on each of the outer bridges, over which expressway-like highways are led, and the middle and narrowest bridge is actually reserved for buses and taxis.
On the one hand, I am very happy to be able to get out of the narrow city, although Macau, despite its small size, has many exciting corners that I’ve not been able to discover in the past two and a half days.
The hustle and bustle in the winding little streets of the older districts makes the city interesting and the mixture of old Portuguese architecture, largely maintained as a World Heritage Site (but also in high demand for tourism), and the simple, rather haphazard-looking everyday architecture is unique. In addition, the large blocks of the casino hotels and the unreal-looking, golden mirrored tower of the Grand Lisboa in the form of a lotus flower set very contrasting accents. The 334 meter high Macao Tower at the southern end of the peninsula is also a rather unsuitable eye-catcher.
It is less than 10 kilometers from the Guia Hotel to the Taipa ferry port. I tried yesterday evening to find out if I could get my bike on a Cotai Waterjet boat and how I would have to prepare it, but at the only ticket counter in pedestrian distance of this ferry company, at the “Sands” casino hotel, I couldn’t be given any information.
So I start with the ‘Courage to fill the gap’ in the late morning fairly sunny weather and first roll down the Estrada do São Francesco, towards the southwest, towards the casino ‘Grand Lisboa’ and quickly have difficulty finding the right lane, on which I then continue towards the port and then on to Taipa, and don’t end in the driveway to one of the parking garages on Grand Lisboa. I roll a little too euphorically on the outer lane for too long without seeing in time that it doesn’t lead to the next roundabout, which is here at the lower end of the peninsula and serves as a central distributor.
The bad thing is: after I have worked my way up to the quay walls and rolled past the base of the not so high-looking Macao Tower, I can already see that two-wheelers are not allowed to drive up the ramp to the bridge. A sign directs them underneath and to the ramp that also leads to the bridge from the northwest, right through a construction site.
Yes, motorcycles have their own lane on this bridge, but bicycles are obviously not welcome here; Another prohibition sign directly at the driveway is as clear as it is incorruptible.
I can still drive past it, to the annoyance of the vehicles that have slowed down behind me, and will soon find myself again at the foot of the striking transmission and observation tower.
I have no choice but to cycle back around the inland lake Lago Nam Van to the central roundabout at Praca de Ferreira do Amaral and try my luck there. However, the bridge there towards Taipa is narrow. At first there are no buses behind me as I drive up the long ramp. Taxis can easily overtake me, but the city buses are a little wider and at some point a traffic jam forms behind me because a bus driver doesn’t dare. He soon starts honking and when I pass the top of the 35-meter triangle that forms the bridge, he finally passes. The southern ramp of the bridge leads almost back down to sea level and then for about a kilometer to the coast of Taipa. Whether this is actually an official way for me to get there – I don’t know.
Bicycles are obviously not favorites there, because it doesn’t get better after the bridge. I make a brief orientation stop at the entrance to a construction site, some high-rise buildings block my view, just like in other parts of the city. In a loop I have to drive around a hill with the traffic, but I can’t get straight to the port, the turning loop just before it is already part of the motorway access to the airport, which is also not far away. But pushing the bike, I finally get over the broad expressway and the barrier between the directions, and then across a side street and between industrial plants to the ferry port entrance.
My concerns about taking my bike with me onto a ferry quickly dissipate when I can buy a bike ticket directly from the ticket counter. I didn’t expect that at all, I don’t even have to dismantle the bike for transport and the bike is then stowed behind an unused counter on board the speed ferry. However, the ticket costs 65 Hong Kong dollars (about 7 euros).
The trip to Hong Kong Island takes over an hour, in the first class there are even cold drinks. The crossing is very comfortable and because of the bike I am even asked to get out early in the row. The passport control is also unproblematic in Hong Kong and, like in Macau, there is no stamp in the passport, just a printout that allows me to stay until the beginning of June. Outside of the “Macau Ferry Terminal” first I have to orientate myself. Left-hand traffic is also popular here in Hong Kong and there are actually only one-way streets, and then the traffic is more or less three-dimensional, because the lanes are also arranged one above the other. And these ramp constructions, which often lead to one of the expressways, are of course taboo for pedestrians and cyclists.
I want to come to Queens Road and drive along it for a while and luckily it is also one of the few roads that are signposted. So all I need to do is follow this sign at the beginning. There are many bus stops and besides taxis, the two-story buses are the most striking vehicles on the street. They are always very fast and at the stops they mostly ruthlessly get in my way. Apparently there are many different lines and the stops, at least here in the city center, are very close, often only a few hundred meters apart.
I have to stop at a lot of traffic lights, usually drive up to the line and then I’m usually the first. At least until an overtaking bus, that already drives to the next stop slows me down by pushing me to the lane border, is slowing me down. The road is 2 – 3 lanes; there is no lane reserved for two-wheelers here in Hong Kong. But the curb is high and a fence often delimits the footpath next to the road.
I have long since arrived on Hennessy Road and at the Causeway Metro station, from which my hostel is only about 200 meters away, but it takes me a long time to find it. It’s a relatively small building between all these tall office and shopping towers, and lots of signs for several small hostels hang out at the two entrances. The room I get on the first floor is extremely small, reminds me a little of Amsterdam and the sometimes very small hotel rooms there. For the next few days I can put my bike on a kind of balcony or extended canopy, right in front of the small window of my room.
The disadvantage of a world tour by bike, which I can only do in small stages for many reasons, is obvious: I have to travel to each stage more or less elaborately and somehow also have to come back from the respective destination. I envy everyone I meet during a bike tour and who, unlike me, could go on the ‘big trip’ more or less freely and directly from their home town. Whether these are people from Sweden or Korea whom I met in Southeast Asia, young people from France whom I met in Zambia, or the lonely Canadian with whom I cycled a few kilometers in Malawi and who came from China had made his way to his homeland by bike.
They are individualists who have found a way for themselves to both be able to forego income for the long duration of their trip and to be able to spare the time for it at all. Whether this is ideal remains to be seen. In any case, I am very satisfied with the opportunity to keep going for at least a few weeks.
However, the price for this is a lot of additional stress in the weeks and days before a planned departure, since the preparations can sometimes be intensive and my job naturally continues until the deadline – this time the airline also knocks branches off my spokes.
With a flight cancellation, which I accidentally find out four days before departure when checking my booking details, a chain of rebookings begins, which ends in an approximately 30-hour later arrival in Haikou. The real annoyance is caused by a delay in the feeder flight to Frankfurt, where the actual flight to Beijing can of course not wait. So I’m stranded quickly and unexpectedly at Frankfurt Airport and since there are no reasonable alternative connections for the same day, I only fly via Shanghai to Haikou the next evening – because of the bike I want to avoid unnecessary transfers.
My travel partner from Guangzhou, whom I meet in Hainan and who wants to cycle with me through Hainan for a few days, will have to wait for me for so long. This is the real bitter pill, because she cannot easily use another day of vacation.
After all, my bike arrives safely in Haikou with me and the way from the airport to the selected hostel, which is located north of the old town, becomes a fun experience with the somewhat unregulated road traffic in China.
I already have stopped counting them, as they simply are too many, the number of other traveling cyclists that I meet on the road here in Thailand. Often it’s not more than a ‘Hello!’ or a sign, beckoned by the hand. And even some of them do ignore me; maybe they too, they already have seen too many other travelers on a bicycle.
The northern part of the Gulf of Thailand is a good region for cycling tours, and the more I come to the north now, the better the touristic infrastructure gets. More southward, in the area between Chumphon and Surat Thani, the resorts are small, simple and partly abandoned, maybe because it’s not the season now for local tourists. But there I could find a rural and more original Thailand that doesn’t exist in the north (at least not along the coast line). European or Australian tourists usually do not come to that region, with maybe some rare exceptions. Accommodation there still is relatively cheap, what doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be simple or on a lower level, but the quality can just be different. And around the city of Chumphon the ranges are somewhat hilly, so maybe because of this fact bicycle tourists see this region as the southernmost boundary for longer tours starting from Bangkok.
But north of Chumphon I meet several cyclists who travel through the country for two or three weeks, as I do, besides other tourists or people who stay here for the whole winter. There are a lot of retired people from all corners of Europe who circle on their scooters through the cities and along the beaches, deeply bronzed of the tropical sun.
And there are places between Chumphon and Prachuap Kiri Khan with a more or less concentration of people from Northern Europe. Beaches in this region are not the beautiest, with few exceptions that could be an insider’s tip.
In proximity to Ban Krut, for example, where a 20 km long beach region is terminated to the south by a wonderful and picturesque bay. And also near Huai Yang, which is almost completely in the hand of Scandinavian expats and tourists. There the beach is ending in the north at the boundary to a natural reservation and inside the village and in its surroundings several ad-signs promote the sale of cottages and the development of properties in swedish language.
The little train station remembers also a little bit to Sweden, because it is made of wood and painted in yellow and red colors. Most of the stations along the line Surat Thani – Bangkok are arranged more or less in this style, but here at this station the association to Sweden is obviously.
And now, about 100 kilometers north of Prachuap Kiri Khan, the beaches are no longer an insider’s tip, here the hotels stand close to each other, almost seamless, restaurants court for clients and shops offer souvenirs and colorful beach tissues besides suitcases and bags (e.g.) and have creative names, such as “The Hugo Boss Collection – Beach Schneiderei”.
Tourists are jogging along the beach in the morning, others cycle with rented city bicycles up and down the promenade or lie for half the day in the sun. At the edge of the city Cha-Am hundreds of beach umbrellas are arranged in several rows along the beach, like they are at the Italian Adria or the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.
This isn’t mine, but the high demand for accommodation creates a diverse range of possibilities to find a bed, and so I can choose between beautiful arranged facilities with private security and affordable rooms in also nice hotels, also near the beach, but which maybe have their best seasons already long behind. Maybe they are a bit dusty but they aren’t that booked-up as modern hotels and nevertheless they offer the comfort that I’m searching for as a cyclist after a long stage. At least I experienced this in Pak Nam Pran and also in the near of Cha-Am, where I stay for another day of relaxation.
In Thailand it’s obviously not a problem to rent reliable bicycles with a luggage rack for a good price. Yesterday I met two cyclists from Germany in the restaurant of a seafood farm where I had a longer break for lunch, who have rented bikes in Bangkok and were cycling from there southward. Like others I met before, they also want to return to Bangkok later by train, doing a one-way tour with the bicycles. The mountain bikes they are using now cost about 150,- Euros for three weeks, an affordable price. At least compared to the transport costs, charged by an airline for the shipment of an own bike and the effort for its packing, that also has to be taken into account.
The two just have taken their own cycling bags and saddles from home and use this gear now with the rented bicycles.
Less though, but kind and surprising chance encounters that I remember well, did I have at the beginning of my journey in Malaysia. On the one hand there has been the driver of a mini-van that was trying to stop me on a hot and sunny morning with signs of his waving hand while he was passing me, which was successful first in his second attempt, because of my skepticism with such behavior. It was a big surprise for me when he was giving me a can of an isotonic drink (Plus100).
Another time, few days later when I was starting early in the morning only with a banana and some cookies in the stomach, because the hotel wasn’t able to offer breakfast (in Batu Paha), I had my first break at a restaurant that seems to me likeable by the side of the road. It’s a sunny morning meanwhile (after an overclouded sky earlier this morning) and some of the tables under the wide awning are empty.
In the small vitrine close to the cooking plate, where someone is baking chapati, there are some dough balls stapled on display, beside a bowl with raw eggs and another one with green leafs and spring onions. In front of the vitrine are placed some smaller bowls with different thin sauces – could be hot and spicy. In a big and isolated bucket is some sticky rice.
I ask one of the two women, who obviously manage the restaurant together with the man at the cooking plate, for coffee, which I get delivered shortly later in a glass by the other lady. Hot and black with a spicy note and a little bit sweetened. I ask the woman what I can get to eat and make sign to the dough in the vitrine – Roti, is her answer, that I don’t understand, but I make sign that I would like to get two of them, accompanied by two fried eggs, sunny side up. A short while later I have two crispy thin chapati on a dish right in front of me on the table, topped with a fried egg. The second egg maybe was getting lost in space (or in the surrounding noises). Additionally I get a small bowl of a brown and viscid sauce that also contains some chili seeds, a fact that lets me hesitate to taste it. But then it turns out, that this is just a delicious and mild peanut sauce with a note of curry that also gives a good taste to the roti. So I’m really satisfied with this kind of second breakfast, and maybe I also let on about it.
While I’m eating, I write some notes into my diary, as usual when I have a break, and I’m still not finished with the two roti, when the kind lady that was serving the meal talks to me about money. Yes sure – I’m thinking, I also have to pay for the food, and I touch my wallet in the small bag at my belt. No, no – she is denoting, it’s already paid, an elder gentleman who is sitting at a neighboring table, did pay the bill for me.
Uups – is my first thought, and I don’t have the right idea what to reply to this generous gesture, as it astounds me a lot. I definitely noticed this friendly Muslim at the table next to me, an elder gentleman dressed in a grey colored caftan and wearing a white Taqiyah on his grey-haired head, accompanied by an also elder lady, when I was arriving respected them, but then I didn’t pay more attention to them.
I don’t know what to say, am at least thoroughly thankful to him, while the lady is nodding friendly to me. He also smiles without saying a word, while he is moving away slowly. For me it’s not clear what was making the man paying for me, but I’m glad about his gesture.
This kind of encounters makes a part of the charm and excitement of such a journey, that I wouldn’t want to do without it, neither those random encounters with other travelers or globetrotters, who have developed this special love for locomotion with a bicycle, like me, too.
There are e.g. the two young Swedish couples, that both started in Stockholm to travel the world (one of them), or as far as Singapore, that I met within an interval of about 2 weeks, and there are Kanzo from South Korea and his wife from Thailand, who I suddenly had right in front of me, cycling in a slow manner, the morning when I was leaving Malacca in the north direction, and who also were taking the time to talk with me about their experiences and travel plans.
This was more or less the best encounter, that I had in Malaysia. To meet such friendly and unhurried people is a rare experience.
Theoretically we could have travelled together till the border of Myanmar, as they were putting their focus on that country, and I was passing a border checkpoint to Myanmar first two days ago, but my travel speed is too high for them. So we only roll together along the edge of the main road for few kilometers, beside some heavy traffic, found a place in the shade and with some meters distance to the road, where we could talk for a while. Kanzo has already retired from his former work, has enough time to really move slowly, and both of them don’t travel for the first time through Asia. But he is the first and only that I met traveling with a recumbant bike.
Before I started my journey I have supposed that I would meet cyclists, have anticipated this, but not that it would be so many over all. In Africa it have been rare encounters, when I was traveling there in the past. One time a German cyclist in the south-east of Burkina Faso, who was traveling through the whole West-African region, a Canadian in the north of Malawi who was on his world tour, two French cyclists in Zambia – that’s it. But anyway, nowadays no-one is really alone, who travels with a bicycle around the globe.
I have breakfast at the Orient Star Resort, where I was staying for the last two days, even Lumut has nothing to offer though besides the small ferry port, from where connections to the island Pangkor start and terminate. But the break was necessary and I also had to wash and dry some clothes. Here the laundry was getting dry on the clothesline and I was sitting on the balcony writing some sentences, while the muezzin of the nearby mosque not only was singing his call for the prayer with his beautiful voice out into the world several times a day, but also was singing all the surahs, his pieces of wisdom and admonition on the loudspeaker of the mosques.
Most things are already stowed into my bags before I have breakfast, but despite this I do not start before 10 o’clock onto this relatively short stage of today. At meanwhile chilly 24°C, I pull an additionally thin vest over my shirt. Meanwhile I really got adopted to the climate here, so while cycling I quickly sense the airstream as relatively cool.
The sky is densly clouded, but it doesn’t start to rain. After about 3 kilometers I see a group of local cyclists with mountain- and crossbikes that seems to meet each other at a filling station, while I’m passing. They quickly reach me a short while later, three guys and a man in my age, who is discussing a bit with me while the group is passing slowly. They go out for a drive, nothing special, it’s the weekend. Later on I meet a bigger group that is moving in the other direction, when I’m climbing the ascend of the bridge that crosses the river Sungai Lumut.
On the way to Taiping I’m following an alternative route of the NR 5 that guides over several bridges, passing the city Sitiawan and goes further on into the north direction. In the region of Damat Laut, some kilometers behind the longest bridge of today (with a length of about 1.5 km) that also leads directly into a construction area, I have a break under the flat roof of a street restaurant where I eat some noodles with vegetables and a fried egg and get an iced black tea with some milk for the sum of 7 RM. With my air-pump I can give some aid to a motorcyclist who needs some more pressure into the front wheel of his cross motorbike. The restaurant seems to be a meeting point of young people with their motorbikes, at least on this Sunday.
I move on along route 60 that is passing now a more ondulating region, a range that partly is covered with oil-palmtrees.
Also this more rural road seems to be widenend or renewed as every few hundred meters there’s contruction activity beside and on the road and siómetimes huge amounts of sand are place besides the road. At some sites houses near the road have to be re moved, at other places the neigbors may get the road right in front of their doors, where now is a wide enough gap between the surface of the road and their properties.
At the village of Segari I leave the NR60 to have a short detour down to the coast where I want to visit a seaturtle protection station, that is announced by signs already since several kilometers. The 7 km won’t take to much time, as I only have a short distance for today to my next destination Pantai Remis. The small protection station is located directly behind the beach and only a small fence is dividing it from the beach. In several small bassins turles of different size and age, from about 8“ up to 32“ or more, are presented and some information about their lifes can be found on display at this station.
It’s cute to see them, also the bigger animals, but with the view over the beach and over the ocean, I also can imagine that living there must be hard for these seaturtles. So many fishermen in their boats are spread over the horizon. Small boats though, but they all catch their fish with nets.
While I’m cycling back to the main road, it starts again to rain. But this doesn’t matter for the remaining 10 km. Sometimes it seems to me that this road really needs to be renewed, as there’s no longer a shoulder on the side and also the surface itself suffers a lack of material. The bicycle is hopping a bit from whole to whole, because it doesn’t has any cushioning elements as motor bikes have. But in general the roads in this part of the world are in good condition for the cyclist. About 5 km before I reach Pantai Remis the road construction terminates completely.
At the first houses of Pantai Remis I see some small restaurants, where people sit with a tea or coffee and talk to each other, and there are also some small shops where people offer their products and goods under their shelters very close to the road. Fresh fish is sold here directly from the cool boxes, and also fresh mussels.
I buy some bananas at a small shop of an elder woman who speaks English very well. Curious she wants to know where I’m coming from, a question that I’m meanwhile familiar with. I move slowly through this small town. It seems that there is a party on the other side of the road, a lot of people wear traditional clothes and someone is singing into a microfone. I’m wondering about the many old fashioned houses, made of wood, simple business- and living houses of an already gone period. Lately I see a hotel here in Pantai Remis and finally choose one in a small road, about 50 meters away from the through traffic. There I get a splendid room for 60 RM and the bicycle finds a place for the night inside the garage near the laundry machines.