Vietnam, this is the end

Our journey through Vietnam is coming to an end, it is time to offer a little feedback since our visit to Hanoi in the north of the country.

During our last break in the capital city (the current one, because it has changed so many times in the course of time) we decided to visit the famous Halong Bay. We chose to do so by spending 2 days on a boat. We had a great time with 2 other french and the crew… The boat was planned for 20 but we were only 4!

 

Halong Bay and its hundreds of islands north of Cat Ba Island is a world famous site. It is characterized by karst massive emerging from the ocean, slowly eroded by swell and precipitation. The place is quite majestic, in particular in its most remote parts (passage through caves emerging on lakes, the famous « secret lagoons »). We were able to taste our first Vietnamese seafood thanks to the chef’s talent: oysters, clams, fish and even squid sashimi. Unfortunately, the plastic sometimes ruins the picture, especially in the places the most exposed to the swell.

This week in Cat Ba was an opportunity to meet many people at the Countryside Hotel, a real haven of peace in the center of the island.

After that, we left Hanoi with the goal of reaching Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) along the coast. As a matter of fact, after all these mountains, a change of environment seemed important! The coasts have the advantage of offering a flatter terrain and therefore more adapted to travel great distances while making less effort, plus the end of the afternoon at the beach will be a true and well deserved moment of relaxation! Here it is necessary to make a point on our state of mind at half of the trip. Indeed, the first three months of travel were of a great intensity: the climatic conditions, the uneven profile of the course, the unexpected events all day, the language barrier, the culture shock, new encounters every day are all reasons that made this first part an incredibly rich moment, that will be engraved in our memory forever. The physical fatigue had finally disappeared after ten days, but the moral fatigue remained. So we chose to better select our moments spent on the saddle and our moments off for the end of the trip. This is characterized by a few buses that will allow us to rest and better enjoy the places that we selected. After talking with other travelers, it seems that this syndrome is common among long-term travelers, after a few months. We all want to take root and take the time to get to know the place.

Thanks to the recommendations of the people we met, we followed roughly the coastal itinerary proposed by the very good Vietnamcoracle. This guide offers motorcycle tours in Vietnam, which are also very suitable for cycling.

 

On our way we visited Ninh Binh (kind of Halong Bay with no sea) where Leo did not enjoy because he was sick for three days! We then reached Huê, the ancient capital of the Nguyen dynasty (19th – 20th centuries) which was gradually destroyed by the French colonization. The imperial city has suffered many destructions but the restored parts are beautiful. We then reached Da Nang and Hoi An, passing by the wonderful pass of Hai Van close to the sea. Da Nang is a very dynamic city, between business and seaside resort, but unattractive in terms of architectural beauty. Hoi An is very nice and well restored, we took advantage of the excellent food available at the central market. From Hoi An we took a bus to accelerate another 300km and finished the southern part of the coast to Saigon. In Nha Trang, we enjoyed a Copacabana-like atmosphere, with its long white sand beach and beautiful water (the city is also emblematic of Alexandre Yersin, disciple of Pasteur who contributed to the development of the region) then Mui Ne (some red and yellow dunes). We were able to appreciate the rhythm of life of the fishermen, and we had a hard time smelling the fish and Nuoc Mam aroma close to the market. The coasts are really heavenly on some portions, they are a mix of small coves, steep cliffs and dune beaches. The wind meanwhile has not spared us, with several days of front and three quarters, finally we were not bad in the mountains of the north!

Our arrival in Ho Chi Minh coincided with Leo’s birthday, and it is with great surprise that destiny has put Ygor on our way. Ygor is a Brazilian friend of Leo from his engineering school and the Brazilian university where they studied together. It was a very good moment! We even had the chance to be invited by a colleague of Ygor’s work on the birthday, to enjoy a barbecue of Vietnamese duck, drink beers at the Vietnamese pace (fast). They had even planned a cake, how kind of them!

 

We could observe two Vietnam, the south being much more urbanized than the rural north. People seemed more stressed (but still very friendly) in the south of the country and we also had to pay attention to scams, but it’s fair enough! The sequels of the history are still present here, although it disappears with the new generations. Indeed, Vietnam was occupied by the French and then by the Americans and it suffered bloody wars. This past is restored by very instructive museums, including the « memories of war » which shows in a very rough way the atrocities of the conflicts.

 

In the end we will have spent a month and three weeks in Vietnam, because this country offers a broad socio-cultural scene and a great diversity of landscapes. It will certainly remain among the highlights of this trip. Vietnamese are people with whom we have been able to really communicate, they are very open-minded, funny, friendly and it is easier to know the depths of their thought than in other countries that we have gone through. Their hospitality is an example we should all follow!

Today we take a bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia for our mission with Pteah Baitong, former Entrepreneurs du Monde. We are very happy to discover their action here in Cambodia.

In this regard, our kitty is always open to help them in their actions, so do not hesitate to visit our leetchi 🙂

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About cyclotourism

Today we talk about cycling, our bikes and the equipment with which we make this trip. Indeed, we often meet people who ask us questions about the material used, the necessary investment, the reliability of the material … or simply WHY?

Cyclotourism is a branch of itinerant nomadism and is not so different from trekking. Although not so famous to the general public it is an old practice. In these disciplines we are looking for a mix of discoveries, encounters, sports performances / overtaking oneself and surprises. Practiced with friends also promises good moments of complicity!

Our great daddy! Not an hazard… 🙂

However, it can be distinguished from its cousin by a higher investment and a need to adapt the equipment to the type of practice (roads, paths, mountains). We are now talking about cycling and bikepacking. The first discipline encompasses the second but differentiates itself by a more traditional practice on the road. World tour cyclotourists generally take in their packages what to face in all situations, such as camels in the desert. Thanks to their large volume of luggage they can afford it and they are right.

The bikepacking is quite recent in the cycle tourism landscape. As for the mountain hiker it comes from a desire for fresh air and small technical trails much less accessible. This has been made possible with the advent of MTB on the one hand, and more recently on technical progress and the craze for minimalism. It is thus possible to bring its package for mountain bike outings in autonomy over several days. The bikepacking equipment remains relatively expensive but we see some big brands showing interest, such as DECATHLON. Some may see it as a fad, and it is clear that this discipline benefits greatly from our consumer society.

On the top left a mountain bike equipped for bikepacking. Bottom left and right our vision « has the tear » of practice in 2014 with friends. At the time, we did not even know this term.

As we are not maniacs or obsessed with technic, and we did not want to break the piggy bank, we chose to leave with half new equipment, half recovery and a mixture of luggage from these two disciplines. Our bikes are rigid mountain bikes (without suspensions) which have been perfect so far for the road as for the tracks and paths. After three months of travel, we can tell you what’s going, what’s going wrong and what we would do differently if it was to do again. The goal is to show you that the investment is not necessarily huge and that there are dozens of possible configurations, so you should not be afraid to start your turn 🙂

We give you below a synthetic then technical presentation (for the curious) of our configurations.

Léo

I left on the ideal of a minimalist investment. My velo is a Rockrider 600 decathlon from 1997. It is a good quality steel and is a good base. The original bike was bought on Leboncoin for 150e in 2016. It was original at the beginning of the journey. He was a little near original at the beginning of his journey.

RR600 frame in high-grade chromoly steel.

Original wheels, I had to change the front wheel after a month and a half for 60e (hubs included)

Schwalbe Land Cruiser tires (versatile, VTC) Only 40e pair is really the best! They were not even new, must have 10000km but still do the job while they were well manhandled!

The saddle is an extremely important element and one should not skimp on the quality. For me it’s a Brooks leather that takes the shape of the buttocks, the comfort becomes optimal after 500km traveled. Value 100e but obtained at half price thanks to our partner Cyclable in Rennes.

Derailleurs av and ar Shimano Deore LX. Original equipment on the bike bought used (20 years already). They show signs of weakness over time and become easily clogged with dust. Frequent cleaning required.

Original VBrake brakes, the skates were worn down to the bone after 2 and a half months, a new pair only costs 7e.

The handles are ergonomic with support for the palm and small « horns » to practice as a dancer or just relieve the wrists from time to time. Value: around 40e

Two water bottle holders that come on the fork thanks to a velcro system. Not very reliable so I stuck on double-sided tape. 20e

Chain and new gables before departure: 20th

Zefal r70 luggage rack is not the easiest to assemble but it does not move a hair since the start. 60e

Freewheel changed just before Thailand because blocked, for 5e

Crankset changed in Myanmar as teeth broke, for 15e

2 cans of 1 liter each, 10e

luggage:

I wanted to restart the weight on the bike so I invested in the following saddlebags:

Apidura saddlebags for handlebars. Excellent product, the seal is not complete but the clothes are in a plastic. 100e used

Ortlieb Frame Pack 6l. Put yourself in the middle of the frame, perfect also for putting small heavy things. 100e nine.

Vaude 12.5L front bags each used for me in the back to make a little luggage! Great because I do not feel like shooting a shot. 100e nine, had 50e thanks to our bike partner. Over time the bindings have seized and the rivets open, it still works but the wear has been abnormally fast …

Balance sheet:

My investment before departure is therefore just 420e (luggage included) because I already had this bike that I used to go to work. Since the beginning I had to change things and repair for about 150e. A rather small investment compared to what I should have done to buy a new specialized bike.

Rather satisfied with the weight distribution between front and back. For the luggage I would not change anything except maybe replace the saddlebags with a saddle bag if I decided to go even lighter. I regret not having changed the pedals, the two wheels and possibly the transmission before the departure, because they are parts that had already aged well. I would have done a better job at decathlon and would not have wasted time in every country where I had to fix something.

Stéphane

I built my bike on the basis of a brand new SURLY frame. It is a specific mountain bike touring frame, it is characterized by a rather comfortable geometry and has many mounting holes for luggage rack and others. For the history, it comes from Quebec. My roommate holding a bike shop, I quickly saw a sign of fate … The rest of the bike parts are mostly second hand. Thanks to sites like leboncoin and troc bike it is possible to find happiness for a price well below, with a little patience!

Count approximately 800 to 1000 € for this type of configuration.

SURLY TROLL frame size L (18 « ) from 2017 in chromoly double butted steel, with wheels of 26 » original but also 27.5 « It is a versatile frame, suitable for practice on road or on any terrain Its peculiarity is to have a raised geometry, planned to receive a suspended fork. New with discount env 300E.

Rear luggage rack TOPEAK SUPERTOURIST new 40E.

SPECIALIZED PIZZA RACK front luggage rack 50E.

ITALIA TREK GEL 70E saddle new. So I do not know what to say, having systematically ass pain beyond 3 days of bicycles in spite of 3 months of tanage of the buttocks. It is a saddle that has a very good reputation. She’s probably not suited for me. The choice of a saddle is as for shoes: you have to try and be wrong.

I had high-end wheels SHIMANO XT and hub XT used env 250E

Transmission SHIMAMO XT and XTR, env 200E.

Mechanical disc brakes and AVID levers env 100E.

New SCHWALBE MARATHON WORLD tires at 30E.

You will note the very rough estimate of prices, I do not have all that in mind. However the order of magnitude is good.

In terms of luggage, I opted for a mix between classic ORTLIEB cycle bags, a DECATHLON waterproof bag at the front containing light bulky items, and a MISS GRAPPE frame bag for tooling. It gives me a big volume at a lower cost. About 250 €.

For this type of trip, mainly on the road, it suits me well. Tending to minimalism, I will probably exchange my bags for something less bulky.

I am very satisfied with my setup. This trip, however, helped identify areas for improvement. I am thinking in particular of the cockpit, the saddle, and the luggage.

The final word

Cyclotourism therefore requires an initial investment adaptable but you can enjoy many times in the future! We invite you to try for yourself on a weekend near you, then on a week during a vacation … you will see your environment in a new eye;)

Volunteering at Pteah Baitong

Our first day on the bike was just over 3 months ago in Myanmar. We then visited Green Lotus, with whom we spent a wonderful week discovering their support work in the Ward67 community of Yangon. In 10 days, we will let the bikes again, because we will be in Cambodia with our second partner NGO, Entrepreneurs du Monde. We look forward to spending a few days in the Pteah Baitong project team, launched by EdM in 2015.

A word about the Pteah Baitong project:
Pteah Baitong (« Green House ») was created to promote access to energy in Cambodia. Pteah Baitong promotes green energy and offers energy solutions using solar panels, to allow people in the most remote villages to illuminate and cook. To do so, they choose the best products on the market, reliable and at attractive prices, and distribute them through their network in the country. Pteah Baitong also offers financial assistance to villagers through very advantageous microloans.

Worldwide, one out of seven people still do not have access to electricity, and a large part of the world’s population has only limited and pollutants means of accessing electricity. Not having access to electricity has a major impact on lifestyle: difficult for a child to do homework in the dark, delicate for the family to preserve food, recharge a phone, have a social life in the evening…

To learn more, please visit the Pteah Baitong website (http://www.pteahbaitong.com/)!
Feel free to have a look at the website of Entrepreneurs du Monde and discover their numerous projects around the world: https://www.entrepreneursdumonde.org/en

North of Vietnam, you shall pass

Our last article ended on a rainy day to join Ha Giang. The next day was not much different because it rained almost continuously. After the breakfast brioche and coffee, we finally put the raincoats! It’s a quiet 60 km ride before attacking the serious stuff with a beautiful climb in the rain of 1100m. We climb in swimsuit like we were at the beach :). The landscapes are splendid, one almost comes to denigrate Sa Pa. At the top, the pass is called the gate of paradise and it was opened by the French in the 19th century to create an access to the fertile valleys on the other side. The name is deserved! We go down at nightfall to the city of Quan Ba. This evening, the restaurant is no limit, we are welcomed by two adorable brothers who make us taste their Ruou (just once will not hurt).

We leave in the morning for the second leg day of the Ha Giang half loop (the name of this famous motorcycle tour increasingly popular among backpackers). Descent, then up on a pass, the road is now much quieter! At the break we are particularly tired, and the afternoon promises because we have again a collar and a rise of 1200m to get our teeth into! It will be done smoothly because we stop frequently to talk with motorcycle tourists at all belvederes. It feels like we are riding the Tour de France because we are applauded by groups, we just wish we had our names on the road and some devil disguised Belgian to run after us (or just walk). One of the switchback climbs is really spectacular. Arrived at our goal at nightfall, no luck, the guest house are either closed or too dirty … So we still do fifteen miles by night with an « overall fairly flat » profile yes yes we know! In a village we finally fall on the providential man, Hang is an English teacher in the primary school and he is an angel! He opens his room for friends and tells us that we can stay at home. He is a hard worker, and is constantly improving his beautiful terrace restaurant that welcomes many tourists during the day.The discussions will be really interesting, he loves the French and learned riding bicycle as child with a bicycle of the brand Peugeot (pronounced peuzô). His dream was to be able to buy a motorcycle, but tourism in the region has made him a « relatively » wealthy man so he is happy to tell us that he could now buy a dozen :). What we remember of people like him and Vietnamese in general, it is their sense of hospitality and sharing. We have a lot to learn from them in this sense, to trust your neighbor and open your door does not cost much, on the contrary, it is an enrichment! We will keep that in mind when we have our home.

The next day, we decided to take a small step and enjoy the morning to set foot in China, just 8km away. There is no check point, which is normal because it is a very small trail through the mountains. Nothing to report on the Chinese side, not even a patrol to shoot us, phew! In the afternoon, we go to the next town just 20km away. Dong Van is very pretty, the city is in a narrow valley and the few houses are fighting duels with the rice fields. The view from a small promontory makes it a great reading area! We booked a hostel where groups flock in the late afternoon. This evening will be memorable, a good time of fun with all the backpackers, we all wake up with an hangover on the next day. For them it’s ok but when you have to pedal it’s not the same, so it will be another micro step of 40km. We nevertheless go up to the old French fort that dominates the valley, but we will not take it again for fear of suffering another bitter defeat. For us the rice alcohol defeats are more than enough already… We go through Meo Vac, another beautiful town that offers a last pass and a great descent, that’s it, the famous loop is almost over! The landscapes of the region are really a highlight of the trip until now. Having not been able to find a good place to camp high up, we resolve to descend 800 meters to fall on a river, where we witness the brutal killing of a rabid dog. It is cruel but the inhabitants have to treat the problem as quickly as possible, we understand them well. Going up this small river on the side, we come across a bunch of very funny kids to share a well deserved swim. Camping is done in a grove of bamboos pretty tough. The fatigue is installed for several days, we hope to sleep well. Given the risk of storm announced we put the tarp as we could, unfortunately it was not enough to protect Steph who wakes up soaked at 5am.

When I wake up very late, he goes off and is waiting for me on the road. That day, we travel about 60 km to spend two nights at the hotel in Bac Lao. French people are there too and we spend a memorable barbecue together :). The next day is rest, cleaning and maintenance of bikes etc … The objective is now displayed, head south on Hanoi for a real restful rest. After about 30 km, the most direct route sends us on a track in very bad condition, but we always say that we saw worse (especially in Laos). On Maps.me it is strongly discouraged to take it, but we are very happy with our choice because the landscapes will still be a fantastic track and the place very remote. On the other hand one advances not quickly, and under these conditions 85 km are well worth 150 of flat. Once again at nightfall, we can not find an interesting place for camping. Note: next time consider the tent rather than the hammocks, which are sometimes difficult to set up, especially in the mountains and in the corners where there are no vegetation. Fortunately Steph is using a bit of his sympathy and we find a gang of friends at which we can squat. We spend the evening talking with the help of smartphones (thanks google). Tonight we really drink a lot because they have never seen guys like us, we are invited to two different dinners with all the shooters that it means. After a day like that, let us say it does great damages! We are with the village guys, a little bit of all generations. They all work in the fields, old-fashioned. We are lucky to be able to go on holiday here with an interesting purchasing power, but they never comment on it and do not accept anything from us apart from the beers.

At 6:30 in the morning we are awakened by Ching who makes us understand that we must go quickly because he is leaving for work. For Léo it is one of the hardest days because he drank with a little too much enthusiasm … The climb is a good medication though! We finally come out of the track of death around 9am, and we go to the Ba Be lake to rest in the afternoon and swim. There is finally a little water solo boulder (climbing over the water) to tey but it’s hardly lost because our arms and our dorsals are definitely in the closet …

Three days of cycling now separate us from Hanoi. The fatigue is heavy and we feel it on the morale, but the excitement of the long-awaited destination keeps us on the wheels! We also have in mind that it may be the last moments we spend in the mountains with such special scenes, and try to enjoy it;)

So we go through mountains and wonders south, skirting sometimes rivers, sometimes rice fields on a day which is still difficult but worth it. In the evening we camp at the edge of the water. Here we are almost in the plains and mosquitoes are back! ZzZZzzz … Paf …

Gradually the landscapes change and we enter the flat country: rice fields leave a little room for the tea fields, but also plastic … Are we approaching a capital city? After these two days we finish at the gates of Hanoi … To tell the truth it is with great astonishment that it will be done by small agricultural ways, looking almost like our beloved region in Alsace during the summer, with its ponds and swamps. Here we are already back home, the proof, the finisher picture is in front of a cathedral adjoining the hotel :).

So here we are in Hanoi, where we will regain our strength, meet friends from Laos and North Vietnam before heading to Cat Ba Island so as not to miss the beautiful Halong Bay!

North of Laos

We spent a few pleasant days in Luang Prabang. The city is nestled between the Mekong and a tributary, all surrounded by mountains. Luang Prabang has a strong religious and royal past, but has also been colonized by the French, which gives it a very beautiful mixed architecture. It is in this context, favorable to tourism and visit, that we arrived with a huge desire to do nothing! The first two or three days, we loved having long breakfasts, playing pool, going to the Sauna (even with 40 degrees), to the bar, and we made good traveling friends at the Hotel Vongprachan (good one!). Nevertheless, we made the effort to go see the beautiful waterfalls of Kuang Si 30 km away, which is worth seeing because the fish offer their foot massage!

May 16th, departure for the north. We drive 110 km in valleys, following rivers, and in the middle of the day we are awakened during the nap by the storm. All excited, we put our sandals and hope to ride in the storm, dance in the rain and especially enjoy the fresh air. Only a few drops will fall … The rainy season is really late this year and it is worrying for the locals. In the evening we are in a Chinese hotel at a crossroads. The Chinese seem to have a foothold in the region already, they seem to finance projects of roads and dams and we see Mandarin written everywhere!

Here we go again on May 17 for a very small step of 30km on to Nong Khiaw, a very pretty village surrounded by vertiginous peaks at the edge of Nam Ou (the river that we have already followed the day before). There is a nice campsite with swimming pool and we fall quickly on our French friends from Luang Prabang, who in addition had seen us on the road from their bus. Apparently we seem to suffer sometimes but this is only an illusion of course! The place is so nice that we stay one more day. Short walk to the belvedere at sunset, then a beautiful kayaking expedition plus waterfall the next day, which allows us to exercise with those poor arms :). The surprise of the evening is the “pétanque” alley of the restaurant next door, where French tourists all have an appointment. Note: the Laotian rules are quite strange and we do not really understand the terrible loss they inflicted to us, so we will remain good losers!

On May 19th, we go back on our tracks for 20km and take straight north on a mountain track. It is not on google so we already know what to expect! It’s chaotic and hot as always on the tracks, hard, but we know that we are getting closer to one of his lost places that we love so much. The transmission is so seized by the dust that the chain of Leo breaks. It is necessary to clean, to repair, and everything is fine again once well greased(thanks to the villagers) as a good chef cook might say, the fat is the life! Unfortunately the climb is terrible, we had never pushed so much because it is very steep and dusty, the heart beats at 200 bpm!! Once we arrived in a small village on a ridge, we gave in, and it is an excellent choice because the local Lao ambush us. With nothing in the belly, the place is made for beers and rice alcohol. Not much to say but everything went very quickly 🙂 we spend the night at the village school, each under his little pagoda! Children want to play as always but sometimes we miss the strength!

Departure early May 20 to hope to finish off the track and rest in a guest house. The steepness continues the first 3 hours before the long descent, again, maps me plays tricks so we go through paths almost retaken by vegetation, it’s green hell! We arrive at Muang Khua (80km from Vietnam) in the afternoon. As Steph made a small mistake in his electronic visa for Vietnam it will be necessary to wait one more day, whatever, we could need it. Indeed, the rest of the road has two good passes.

On the 21st and the 22nd we are heading towards Vietnam, on a beautiful calm road. On the 22nd we will cross the border with a Frenchman on a motorbike, the opportunity to take the time to discuss and enjoy the landscapes!

This concludes our visit to Laos, the country where we rarely saw a flat road! We felt the need for a few days of unemployment in the middle, because the first and last days were quite hard. Note that we nevertheless have made good progress and now have legs to ride several straight days of mountain, good news! In any case the Lao people are really hospitable, funny, smiling, and not stressed at all. We found the country very rural, which changed a lot and delighted is compared to Thailand.

Sabaidee Laos!

After the last night spent near the dam, we just had to head to the border to reach Laos! For the first time of the trip, it was necessary to put our bikes in a bus to cross the No Mans Land. It is a shame for two bike travelers like us!! But let’s go anyway… The first kilometers to Lao immediately remind us, that we are new in a much less westernized country (and also poorer unfortunately) than Thailand. On the other hand, the Lao seem to know how to bake some French baguette, at least we have this! The goal of the day is to take a boat (this is allowed) to go down the Mékong River! The 7 hours of slow boat are very quiet maybe because we have a huge lack of sleep from the last days. The river is quite narrow and has many meanders, fast and canyons, very pretty. It is a popular option for backpackers because they constitute half the boat, and there is a Moroccan colleague who travels by bike 🙂 We stop at the evening in a village named Pakbeng, for us will be a definitive stop, the other tourists continue by boat the next day Luang Pragang.

So we decided to join Luang Prabang by the mountain to enjoy the Laotian campaign, very good idea! The detour still has a couple 285km and it promises good climbs. The first relatively short step (for lack of motivation) brings us behind the first massif, and we again spend an evening drinking beers with the locals. A nice group of buddies that makes us drink cold bottoms up glasses of beer, we fit well in this country!

May 8, 100 kilometers of mountain! In the middle of the journey we will make a crucial choice between 120 km from Pure mountain or 190 km of detour to make a little less. Go for Option 2! After a long stiff climb and some trucks to hang on, we are on a beautiful peak with charming villages and smiling lao that offer us Leetchi, salvation. It is probably one of the most beautiful roads of the trip until now! The descent at the end of the afternoon is breathtaking and it takes us to a canyon that we follow up to a village. This time it is with no hesitation that we keep asking people if you can sleep at home or beside their homes. It works better than expected since a villagers opens his barn, then prepares fires to cook and brings us a sound system just in case we wanted to party, but the energy has left us. It will be cuisine then a good sleep. As we can not communicate, we offer our chocolates to the kids and let a nice primary school like drawing on the table in the morning 🙂

The next day, there is still 135 km, so we leave very early. It’s a slow start in the climbs on the bike … It’s harder than expected so we already know it will take another day, no big deal 🙂 at noon a Lao barbecue intercepts us in a move restaurant, and in the evening we leave for some 30 km, still climbs and a new type of landscape made of beautiful limestones massifs. Steph is in charge of searching a camp in a village and he finds a small country hospital, the teacher of the villages school speaks English and gently invites us to sleep in the meeting room at the edge of the river, sweet. In the evening it’s finally time to watch a little episode of Game of Thrones (downloaded at the last hotel) on the iPad!

On May 10, we are ready for Luang Prabang. Small waterfall morning (in private please) for Leo who left before, we find ourselves on the road at the last pass. Here we are in a very nice hostel (card games, pool table …) where we friends from the boat. We will be able to rest a few days, enjoy, and repair the stove and the water filter that both already have a defect!

Thank you lovely Myanmar

And here we are, last week we finished our first part of the journey in this multi-faceted Myanmar. We lived there a lot of social, gastronomic and cultural experiences, and we were stunned by the variety of its landscapes.

We were touched by the kindness of this people with a complicated past, nevertheless very pleasant and curious. Here people give this impression of a simple day-to-day life: « be yourself and learn by yourself ». Indeed there is a certain trust between people and generations, just have a look at the family trips of 4 people on the bike with a baby in the middle, or children at the children playing with machetes.

On the other hand, in spite of our efforts we haven’t been able to put forward our meager knowledge in Myanmar language, but people had a good time laughing at us, and this is already something!

We headed for the Thai border at Mawlamyine in the south, after a good climb and some dusty roads. On the way, we stopped at Hpa An, city in the heart of a region dominated by karstic massifs. Pretty impressive! It is also here that lives a gigantic colony of bats which can be seen flying every night at sunset.

We are very thankful to this country and felt ready to discover Thailand!

Second week in Myanmar, the mountains in the east

Last day in Bagan, rest! In the afternoon we finally find the energy necessary to play the Tche Tche, this super spectacular sport practiced throughout Southeast Asia. It is a mixture of football and volleyball in the manner of Brazilian futevolei, except that the ball is made of braided plant material (bamboo?). It is very aerial, difficult for beginners but fun. We finally bathe in the Irrawaddy River in the late afternoon. The locals do not recommend it because the water is probably very dirty especially in this season! But it’s refreshing so we take it. In the evening we take a sleeper train to join Mandalay and gain some time. It shakes in all directions and we arrive at 5 in the morning, having not slept too badly though!

The day begins very early and we decide to visit the old royal cities outside Mandalay. All day we pass by a multitude of craft districts: the jade market invaded by its Chinese buyers, Buddhas sculpture workshops, tanneries, silk weavers … The visit of the great monastery of Amarapura is very beautiful. Thousands of monks queue at mealtime under the cameras of Chinese tourists who are quite unbearable for their Myanmar guides who can not stand it anymore: D. Outside, we walk in the calm of the monastery to see the monks studying and doing their daily chores. After the midday meal we fall tired and find a small hotel in Saigang. Siesta extended then visit of the beautiful old city. There are many pretty corners with peaceful monasteries and pagodas. We climb to the highest point to enjoy the 360 degree view. Some monks take selfies with us, because yes, they also live in 2019!

On April 8, we head southeast to finally get to the mountains! Fifty kilometers of highway where we see elephants on trucks, motorcycles that carry … Motorcycles! This kind of motorcycleception! After all this stress we can finally turn full east towards the countryside. What a contrast with the west of the country, here is everything much greener. We follow the bed of a river with clear water and find a great place to swim in the afternoon. We are tired but the locals do not let go at nap time, some selfies and voila! As there is no hotel, we begin the climb in the late afternoon and manage to hide on a ridge to finally sleep in wild camping. View of the mountains, the first puny trees crack when laying hammocks! We ended up being settled and we made a small rice with the fish of the river, delicious. The storm passes and leaves us be. Steph has some new belly problems so the night is not easy, but we do survive!

The next day is expected to be a hard climb. The road quickly becomes a crushed and difficult dirt track and it is quite steep. After the first passes, the landscapes become green and beautiful. It’s hard enough for the legs and Steph gets a flat tyre after about 60 kilometers. After the repair, light descent into a kind of Burmese Switzerland, very peaceful. Here there is no garbage, small trash cans in the villages. We arrived in the town of Ywangan (1300 meters above sea level) after a grueling day. The area is very nice but obviously not yet known at all by foreign tourists. Great hotel at an affordable price 🙂

On April 10, we drive about 90 km on the plateau of « Shan state highlands », made of agricultural landscapes and rugged mountains. On the way we pass by chance in front of a mountain where was built a monument consisting of 7 huge Buddhas of gold. Funny that we did not even see them on purpose! In the evening we are in Kalaw, 1400 meters above sea level and enjoy the cool pine forests. It changes. There is a small bar to go drinking rum with some tourists and Myanmar people from Yangon mastering English, they give lessons to children from surrounding villages. The bartender, Ye Ye, does some mind-blowing tricks, usually seen only on TV: Steph opens his clenched fist and a handkerchief pops in, unbelievable… Time to go to bed!

« Today quiet day » is what we were thinking before starting from Kalaw to the Inle Lake, only 60 km by road. We decide to cut through the mountain, which shortens the path, thinking that it will be funnier. After two hours we are already pushing in the onion fields and this is only the beginning. The Maps.me application plays tricks and invents paths, so here we are lost all morning on tiny hiking trails, where there is an intersection every 100 meters. It’s mountain biking, it rises strong, it is often necessary to go down and push. For the first time in a month Leo wonders what he’s doing here! Fortunately we end up falling on a remote village, and that’s all the beauty of this adventure! These people do not even have a decent path to connect them to civilization, but they are always so smiling and curious, except for the children who seem frightened enough to see two extraterrestrials like us. At the top we finally arrive in sight of Inle Lake and can begin to descend on the trails, a pleasure, except that we get lost again a few times. In the end this was a very big day, not for beginners! On arrival, surprise, there are traditional massage boxes, one hour for about 5 euros we will not deprive ourselves. Night in a bamboo hotel, tomorrow it will be rest. We even exchange our bikes for a scooter in the late afternoon to see the villages on stilts that line the lake, the houses are rather impressive in their size we believe in the Venice of Asia, with the Myanmar mom driving our traditional dugout around.

On Saturday, April 14 we head south to leave the lake and follow a river to a second lake (Samkar) located 100 km below. Very beautiful colorful landscapes in an agricultural valley, the road is not on Google maps and we quickly understand why, because it turns into a bumpy track, watch out for the buttocks! We still make 20 km of track before stopping in a restaurant at the lake for the break, it’s hot and we really have a communication problem with the owner, obviously people do not really understand our accent. This day is also the first of the famous water festival, the 4 days celebration announcing the coming monsoon. Young people especially take the opportunity to drink booze and party, watering themselves all day. We are in the middle of nowhere and the people of the village have installed a big sound system, we hallucinate seeing this, and while we were preparing to leave, we’re having a party with them for an hour, very fun. In the evening we hide to camp in front of the lake with a beautiful sunset. Pure happiness.

We are leaving early to begin the crossing of the massif that will take us back to the central plain, the program, about 250km including 180 of mountain, it looks hard! The first 40 are marked by religious processions on the Sunday of the twigs, because yes it is surprising but the region suddenly becomes very Catholic! There are many churches and crosses are gradually replacing the pagodas at the top of the mountains. That said, the two religions seem to cohabit very well. On the way we also get plenty of water because the water festival is in full swing. So it starts to rise and the landscapes are made of beautiful mountains again. At the break we stop up near a village with stalls of “long neck women” like the ones who can be seen in Africa, another surprise! A young man from the top works in Thailand where he is an elephant rider, contact made, we will try to see each other! Small wild camping on a beautiful ridge where we make a good ratatouille after a 25km session in the late afternoon 🙂

The next day we ride only in the mountains, about 2000 meters of positive elevation, our record so far! Always beautiful, very quiet and back again, we appreciate this places and huge valleys so deserted by tourists because we have them just for us. Once again, people are hallucinating to see us around. At noon we are at the edge of a small river in a valley, where we eat with our fingers, Moroccan style. Another wild camping in the evening, no choice, there is no place where you can sleep (it’s still the same problem in this country). Providence offers us a nice, discreet shelter in a former Catholic cemetery. The same evening in Paris, the cathedral is in flames …

It’s the last day of mountain to reach the city of Taungû. Another difficult day because the legs are heavy and we have another 50km of ups and downs! We try to finish fast to go to the station and try not to miss the first train to the south. Huge descent, to arrive in the heat of the plain. Halfway there is a beautiful oasis with a great variety of fruits (pineapple, durian, leetchi, mangoes and other delicious that do not exist at home) and we throw ourselves on it! Towards the last kilometers the road gets bigger and it’s quite incredible because the water festival is in full swing and all the young people of the region are on the road to party, processions of scooters and party trucks with sound systems. The playboys are out and we get watered with the fire hose and receive large seals of water! It also allows us to finish the last kilometers in the heat! Arrived in town it is the big party, sonos everywhere, well drunk people, carnavalesque atmosphere guaranteed! On the other hand, everything is closed so it’s not easy to eat. We are rinsed in every sense of the word so we will go out only in the evening to go party under the fountains, a very good moment of fun, thank you in Myanmar and it’s people! The train leaves only the next day so it’s night at the hotel, it’s good we were very dirty after those last 3 days. We will soon be in Thailand for new adventure, Myanmar has feasted us by its diversity and the attitude of his people for now, we could stay!

First week on the bike: Yangon – Bagan

That’s it, today is the 29/03/2019, and we are off to Bagan and its magnificent and emblematic temples! We first took a train on the recommendation of a local cyclist to get out of Yangon. The reservation is old fashioned, no automatons, no computers at the counters! Just operators who still write down everything on paper. With about 150 or 200 km in 8 hours the SNCF (French railway company) does not have much to envy! Good atmosphere, between the grasshopper-eating neighbors, the small fans on the ceiling, the large open doors that allow you to get your head out to the air… Here we are in Pyay at 9 pm and looking for a place to spend the night. We try everything to sleep, even the Catholic Church where we are not welcome either! The teenager there takes us on a motorcycle to the cheapest guest house in the city, very friendly family living in a traditional house.

The next day is the big departure with freshness. We start by crossing the Irrawaddy River which goes down all the Myanmar from north to south to join a road parallel to it on the other side. Very quickly the landscapes become rural, there are a lot of crops and rice fields, all dry in this season. Three-quarters of people greet us or honk us so we try to answer most of them! Also, on the road, we often go through checkpoints where people ask drivers for money, it’s pretty kitsch because they all have music and a MC who keeps talking in the microfone. We still have no idea why they do that but they are everywhere! Around 11h Leo is already feeling too hot (it’s the critical time, we must stop) we’re on the side of the road in a kind of shelter, the food looks pretty bad, and we do not know how long it has been here, but no choice! In the afternoon it is nap time in the shade until 15:30. After that the temperatures are acceptable again and the colors are warm! 🙂 In a nice little village we created a crowd of 50 people, hallucinating, people were really enthusiastic! They have probably never seen tourists (the last ones came in December, then a person at the beginning of March according to the police checkpoint book 40 km earlier, and they certainly were not on a bike).

The little troubles started not so long after. We had just found a beautiful place to sleep in a hammock, an empty peasant shelter in the fields, up a hill, with beams to put the hammocks. Super cute! We try to be discreet when settling and preparing our vegetables for the stove. No luck, a troop arrives one hour after dark! They are armed with sticks and are not happy at all, the leader makes us understand that we have 20 minutes to clear and resume the road, by night then. The others quickly realized that we were not naughty and some even start taking pictures which is pretty funny. But what a disappointment! After 15 km, in the next village, we go to restaurants to ask for help. The police are already waiting for us and once again nobody wants us, but it is already 9 pm and we are exhausted. The chef is really the good samaritan of history, the cops do not care about us and just want to get rid of us. Our friend offers us food and beer then manages to find us a taxi that we have to pay a fortune to ride 50km north where we can apparently sleep. Everything seems very complicated, we can explain that we will sleep anywhere with our hammocks, nothing helps. We arrive, re-negotiation, phone calls … Finally we can lay in a bed at midnight in a city that is not even referenced on Google, almost unimaginable for us Westerners! 4:30, we knock on the door. It’s the cops, they wake us up and ask us to clear! We have nothing to do here either, again… Here we are on the road at 5am with the cops following our butt, it will take 85km to get to a city that can accommodate us. The second day was therefore mind challenging, because of the intense fatigue and heat that starts again at 10am.

We are really in Myanmar from another era, where ox carts dominate. What a contrast with the city! There is no electricity in the villages of houses often made of bamboo. Some are connected to battery or solar panels. We learn to taste the water found in the jars near each village. Water is called “Jay” in Myanmar language, it will become our favorite word: « Oh, you still have some Jay …? » Must say that we are at 6 liters per day and per person.

The situation is pretty complicated in the country, it is difficult to understand why it is so hard for a tourist to be hosted and why it is so hard to go out of the touristic itineraries. Clearly, Myanmar still has a lot to do, and its past as well as its recent international-scale scandals (the Rohingyas were persecuted in the Rakhine state just 100 km to the east from where we pass) really stretched the context. But it is an outstanding experience and we are aware of it!

The evening of this second day (31/03) we are faded! We who thought about starting to cycle smoothly … After a large dinner and a nice night we decided to return to the east and pass the other side of the Irrawady River. The contrast is striking, it is the return to civilization. The police looks like real police, registered and in uniform, people do not stare at us anymore and the traffic is intense (75% of mobilettes). In the afternoon, Leo tests the micropurs with tap water, it’s a failure because Steph ends up with a good fever, vomiting and Leo has a stomach ache! Amazing! Too bad, we were just starting to be in shape.

The next day is very difficult, extreme heat and stomach cramps prevent us from moving forward and we finish the 50km to Yenangyaung suffering. Fortunately the afternoon of rest restores us and we re-feed! Here we are again at the banks of the river in a small village. A young Myanmar who is very motivated to learn English spends the evening chatting with us, he runs away from his parents’ house and has the head full of dreams, we wish him to see the world! (03/04) Day started at dawn, in the cool. We do a check-in, we eat some vegetarian samosas done with dexterity in front of the hotel. After the meal we decide to go make our haircuts Burmese salon. For me it is the long crest and the red dye, Steph is a Buddhist monk and it is successful! All for the modest sum of 4 euros. After that, we go to visit Mount Popa, which is a Buddhist monastery perched on a rocky peak. Very nice view, an army of aggressive monkeys protects the place and they make us laugh.

Wake up at 5am the next day to join Bagan and complete our first step! The caretaker still sleeps in the hotel’s yard but he quickly opened us. It is a quiet little step on a beautiful hilly road, sugar palms line the road and a landscape of small mountains surrounds us. We arrive at 9:30 am at our hotel, which will allow us to start the temples visit in the evening! There are more than 2000 temples referenced on 42km ^ 2. Buddha always sits at the center of each temple and its statues are sometimes huge! All of them are from the ninth to the thirteenth century and were built by the kings of the first Burmese empire. In the evening, westart cycling on the dirt roads in this beautiful savannah. The lights are beautiful and the red (brick color) dominates. That’s wonderful! Steph gets a flat tyre in the savannah so we find ourselves just in time near a temple that is closed to the public for sunset. Climbing is easy enough and the view is truly magical! We will return the next day for the sunrise. A woman wants to ruin the moment by threatening to call the police, but after tough negotiations, we end up paying a little. The rich people, pay a ride in hot air balloons passing right in front of our temple, adding to the magic of the moment. The rest of the morning is dotted with small stops to enjoy people (some want their picture with us), the atmosphere, architecture and villages. This is the end of our first big stop in Myanmar! The bodies are now a little better trained and we will begin to pace in the coming days to go down to the south and reach Thailand, passing this time by the mountainous east of the country!