2 February 2014

This section from Chiang Khong to Huay Xai is the forty-first instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

The day has come for me to leave Thailand. There’s only one day left on my visa and the election day has kicked a pretty unpredictable hornet’s nest down in Bangkok. Never a bad time to go. After an extensive breakfast and a talk with my Spanish roommate, I wheel to the bike shop where they install new brake pads while I wait. I also trade 40 USD for 1320 baht from the Spanish girl, the current rate. I need the cash for the brake pads and to avoid another ATM which will undoubtedly charge me 4 euros just to access my money.

The bike shop (near the traffic lights) only has one pair of fresh brake pads and they replace my rear brakes. Upon examining the old brake pads, it seems I had quite a lot of them left. Perhaps the steep gradients and the extended braking distances have scared me into buying new ones, but then why was there such a shrieking sound every time I applied the brakes? At any rate, it feels good to have new ones, and I can still use the spare pads for my front brakes when needed.

Ah blast, I'm supposed to go through that gate in the distance, and over the bridge on the right.
Ah blast, I’m supposed to go through that gate in the distance, and over the bridge on the right.

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This section from Mae Sai to Chiang Khong is the fortieth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Mae Sai in the morning. Burma border gate in the distance.
Mae Sai in the morning. Burma border gate in the distance.

 I start off with Chinese breakfast. That’s right, like every self-respecting town, Mae Sai has a sizeable contingent of Chinese denizens. I’m appealed by the sign that promises me a bowl of Yunnan’s very own over-the-bridge-noodles 过桥米线 and Shanghai small-basket-buns 小笼包. The order comes out wrong because so I end up having pot stickers 锅贴 instead. They’re horrible. And so are the noodles. Sweet, minging, lacking spice and a layer of oil floating on top. My fault for trusting Chinese food outside China (or at all).

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This section from Mae Salong to Mae Sai is the thirty-ninth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Again, fireworks are cracking before dawn gets a chance to. I lunge my heavy head outside the door and watch the sun rise. No chance of a morning market on Chinese New Year’s day: pretty much everything is closed, with the exception of 7-eleven. With the first morning light, singing children start terrorising the streets, banging on doors and asking for hard cash. When they spot me on my balcony, they stare a bit, murmur to each other, and then hesitantly sing something I don’t understand – probably asking for money. I hide behind my white skin and smile like an idiot.

Sunrise over Mae Salong
Sunrise over Mae Salong

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This section about Mae Salong is the thirty-eighth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

What! Explosions! War! Fire!

Oh it’s only Chinese New Year preparing to happen. Kids, of course, lighting firecrackers and shooting explosives at the sky. I’d have tumbled out of my bed if it wasn’t one of those beds where the mattress is practically on floor level. I love this liveliness but I also love my bed. I’m one of those people who can’t go back to sleep after waking up so I spend most of my morning reading while the sun rises over the hills.

Chinese restaurant, with a picture of a deceased general (perhaps a relative) and the usual maxims and wishes on the wall. These people are from Tengchong 腾冲 in Yunnan.
Chinese restaurant, with a picture of a deceased general (perhaps a relative) and the usual maxims and wishes on the wall. These people are from Tengchong 腾冲 in Yunnan.

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This section from Mae Ai to Mae Salong is the thirty-sixth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Just like yesterday, the hills are covered in thick fog until around 9.45, when the sun breaks through and starts slowly boiling life on earth. This means I have to miss an undoubtedly beautiful sunrise. Then again, I would’ve missed it anyway as I didn’t get up until 9am.

Morning fog burning off
Morning fog burning off

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This section from Chiang Dao to Mae Ai is the thirty-sixth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

I haven’t slept this well for a long time, possibly not since the beginning of my trip. Almost ten hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep with the aid of a small bottle of Singha beer. Only when I wake up, I realise how tired I’ve been the last few days. I suppose only adrenalin kept me awake.

But now there’s birds singing and cicada chirping away even though the sun is still in hiding behind a thick veil of morning fog. I waste two hours playing Pixel Dungeon on my phone – best done when surrounded by only nature – and shaving and clipping my toenails and wringing the morning dew out of the clothes I’d hung outside to dry.

Breakfast. Tiny bowls of noodles, but they are cheap and taste great!
Breakfast. Tiny bowls of noodles, but they are cheap and taste great!

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This section from Chiang Mai to Chiang Dao is the thirty-fifth instalment of my bicycle loop through South-East Asia from Yunnan – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

I leave my tiny room in Chiang Mai which I’d rented for 200 baht and go for breakfast at a place called Bon Ca Va. As this is probably my last chance at proper Western food before reaching Kunming, I decide to get a continental breakfast: Coffee, juice, eggs, sausages, bacon, spam-ham, lettuce, toast with butter and jam and french fries. It’s excellent, especially the fries. I just there were more than seven of them.

Can't beat those 7-elevens for their clean toilets and sinks
Can’t beat those 7-elevens for their clean toilets and sinks

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This section from Neak Loeang to Phnom Penh is the thirty-first instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

We were supposed to leave around 6 and get into Phnom Penh well before the day had a chance to get hot. But we’re feeling sleepier than ever and in the end we’re not on the road before 9.

A disappointing Cambodian version of Banh Mi, the stuffed baguettes I liked so much in Vietnam, has to serve for breakfast before we hit the ferry across the Mekong. The ferry only cost a few hundred and will probably cease to exist in the near future as the Cambodians are in the process of constructing a large bridge across the river.

Taking the ferry across the Mekong. Those who didn't manage to squeeze onto the platform are left on shore for the next ferry.
Taking the ferry across the Mekong. Those who didn’t manage to squeeze onto the platform are left on shore for the next ferry.

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This section from Bavet to Neak Loeang is the thirtieth instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Waking up is hard. We haven’t done all that much yesterday but we feel like sheets of paper under a massive paperweight, only flapping at the edge in the cold air-con flow. The prospect of some Vietnamese pho at the stall next door finally persuades us to lift our lazy legs out of the bed, pack and get out. The pho is delicious and at 3000 Riel (€ 0.50), it is even a little cheaper than the average in Vietnam. It will be our last cheap meal.

Signs like this are up in front of nearly every building. The Cambodian people like to party.
Signs like this are up in front of nearly every building. The Cambodian people like to party.

Because we want to be in Phnom Penh as soon as possible, it looks like we’ve a long day ahead. If we make it to Neak Loeang today, we’ve only a 60-something kilometre trip left for tomorrow. But that means pedalling another century today. The Tutin is getting used to it. (more…)

This section from Saigon to Bavet is the twenty-ninth instalment of my bicycle ride from Yunnan to Cambodia – if all goes according to plan. Titled “Slap the Belgian!”, it is simultaneously published on Crazyguyonabike.com, where you’ll find a map with the itinerary and many other bicycle diaries by me and others. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Finally, the big day breaks. The visa time’s up, we’re well rested and we’re going to Cambodia! A country I’ve heard much good about but haven’t been able to visit, despite coming very close a couple of times on my trips. We don’t know what to expect. And when the senses are devoid of impulses, the brain makes up its own chatter and noise. Here’s the product of the fantasies running amok in the fragile shells that bob around on our shoulders:

A nap during the hottest hour of the day
A nap during the hottest hour of the day. Picture doesn’t follow the text.

Cambodia’s a mix between Thailand and Vietnam with a little Lao poverty tossed in. It’s flat and hot but food is great, much like food in the Mekong delta is awesome. Also, because of the poverty, it’s a relatively cheap place, but some inflation and corruption certainly make for elevated prices. Yet they do not exceed the prices of Vietnam’s megacities, where a nourishing noodle soup costs $ 1.5 and freshly pressed juice goes for $ 0.75. The people, not belonging to the strain known as homo Sinensis, are less competitive and scheming than the Vietnamese, and rather friendly if a bit resigned as to their lot.

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