Biking 12 000km from Singapore to Hong Kong in 180 days

Monday, April 02, 2007

Hallo again and goodbye...
At last, after nearly three months of silence, we are posting our final blog update covering Vietnam, China and Hong Kong!
At the end of the photographs we have listed a few statistics and biggest lessons learnt for those of you who have a taste for numbers and facts and closure (e.g. mileage, costs, biggest mind-shifts, tips for bikers, etc.).
Thank you for reading our bikingasia blog and for having been part of the journey. Deo volente there will be another…

At last – passing the 10 000km mark...
Somewhere in China our ododmeters clicked over and we found ourselves racing for the end - keen for rest and for being still...

The tenth most populated country in the world - a dollar-mad people – a war-fixated nation - a country of deafening noise and a hundred million motorbikes.
We loved Vietnam for its spectacular caves and karst formations and for its endless coastline; we hated it for the trucks and the hooters and the mad traffic of Highway One. We loved it for the cool highlands of Dalat and the beautiful women in silk au dai, but dreaded the freezing Himalayan winds that buffeted us head-on every day.

The Vietnam War
The Vietnamese consider themselves a nation of proud and victorious soldiers. An example of their cunning and resourcefulness is the Cu Chi tunnels - a 350km-long labyrinth of tunnels complete with underground kitchens, schools, hospitals and emergency escape routes. The tunnels provided a refuge for 3000 villagers, and despite being bombed, gassed, flooded and poisoned, they managed to evade the Americans for 8 years.
A bat in the claustrophobic darkness of the Cu Chi tunnels

A sketch of the tunnels showing an emergency escape route into the river

An abandoned tank in a southern town

It’s a tough life in Vietnam if you’re an animal or inanimate…
A general lack of compassion for animals, the environment and even other people is a constant theme throughout South East Asia.

A pig squashed into a scooter-basket – often their backs are broken to ease the courier’s job
Dogs destined for the wok – some already dead, squashed against the wire-mesh

Cobras and scorpions drowned in rice wine – ‘it boosts your virility’ they say.

Chickens tied upside down by their feet, beaks scraping tar as they whiz by

Betting on bloody cock-fights – a national pastime

Coral reefs stripped for a pittance - the sad loot lining the coastal roads

Fossils do not escape the plunder – hundreds of ancient stalagmites and stalagtites for sale along the way.

In the coal-mining towns there is no attempt to contain air-pollution. Coal-dust hangs like a black veil in the air – covering everything and everybody in fine black soot.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Vietnamese women
Beautiful, but tougher than tough and the real workers of the country – it appeared that the men spend their days mostly gambling or sipping super-strong Vietnamese coffee or rice wine.

Two girls in flowing and flattering silk Au Di - we gape as they cycle past, cool and beautiful – Gill and I sweating and full of dirt and grime and grease

An industrious tour guide working the canals of Hoi Ann

An old lady hawking her wares on the beach from dusk to dawn in 40-degree heat

A woman drawing her nets before sunrise – hoping for a good catch

A fisher-woman waterproofing her basket-boat

A sea-gypsy pedalling her wares

When their hands grow tired, the women row their skiffs by foot

The cities and towns
In some towns the buildings are curiously tall and narrow to evade property tax

A real Rocky Horror hotel on the coast

Hoi Ann, the town of a thousand tailors and of old-world charm – like photographs should be shot in black-and-white and sepia

In Saigon and Hanoi the pavements and streets are packed - the roar of hundreds of thousands of motorbikes a inescapable

In coastal towns fleets of thousands of fisher boats crowd the harbours

And in some rural towns the only sound is the wind in the trees

The landscape
Vietnam’s natural beauty is breathtaking – not grand and vast like Laos or lush and picturesque like Thailand, but rather bizarre and haunting …
Hiking the The Red River Valley in the south

Finding peace and quiet in the early-morning dunes outside Mui Ne

Boating the underground rivers and majestic cave systems of Phong Nha

These limestone caves are considered to house the world’s longest subterranean rivers

Biking along 3000km of pristine coastline – Chapman’s Peak on steroids

Paddling among Karst formations on inland lakes

...And most spectacular of all, sailing on a scooner among the thousands of bizarre rock formations dotting Halong Bay

The food

The surest way to die in Vietnam is to be a vegetarian… The menu spanned the full range of God’s creatures – ducks and eels and pork and crabs and tortoises and chickens and cats and camels and dogs and slugs and snakes.

The Vietnamese are renowned for their coffee – a super-strong, thick, black brew served on a bed of thick, sweet condensed milk and chased down with a pot of green tea – yummy stuff…

Hot baguettes form the basis of a good Vietnamese breakfast – often stuffed with pig lard and chillies and minty greens.
Hot Dog – a restaurant advertising its speciality

Refrigeration is an early-morning business – at dawn hawkers buy big slabs of ice to keep their produce from spoiling in the brutal heat.

The motorised scooter is king in Vietnam, but followed closely by the time-honoured bicycle.

There is no limit to what the Vietnamese will load on the back of a bike…a young man transporting his lounge suite
Scooters for rent for less than R20 a day provided an ideal way for us to see sights far off our main route

Friday, March 30, 2007

What an eye-opener – austere, old and guarded, yet bustling with new energy, stirring like a giant from its long slumber, agnostic of the West and of English, driving remorselessly forward towards the promise and power of wealth.
“China eats at 6,” they say of the daunting collective mindset – the entire nation moving and working as one – like an army of ants on the march – unstoppable.

It got cold – really cold
The icy Himalayan winds intensified – the days were suddenly short, offering no more than 8 hours of daylight, the morning temperatures plummeted to sub-zero – Gill hovered on the brink of pneumonia.
We were tired – our eyes sore from the howling wind and from seeing so much. We craved rest – repose – to be still.

The endless road
After Vietnam’s noise and chaotic traffic the Chinese roads felt ominously quiet – except for the ever-present wind.
Lunch on a deserted highway
Relishing the winter sun
Taking shelter from the wind in an abandoned old warehouse

Late on a chilly winters afternoon – still far to go to the nearest town and no guarantee that we would find a room or bed there for the night.