Last part of our trip, from the Highlands and Kuala Lumpur to Singapore

Dear readers, it’s time to give you the latest news and adventures that have been pending for so long! We had left you almost a month and a half ago, after our visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, where we were able to enjoy the freshness, and drink a few cups of tea (introduced by the English in the nineteenth century) well deserved after our hikes.

After this short stop, we start the week of work on Monday the 26th, by a beautiful descent of 50km! The road is as wide as empty. It crosses the primary forest whose humidity intensifies gradually. We will find some inhabited areas only after 80km, the perfect terrain for us cyclists, the proof being that we happened to meet a Malaysian bike traveler from Malacca down the road! The rest of the day goes quite nicely in the palm hills to the city of Raub (140km total). For beer in Malaysia, you have to aim at Chinese restaurants, the only ones to offer the precious beverage at the dinner’s table!

The next day we leave for Kuala Lumpur. Two options are available to us, and we choose the hardest because it also seems to be the most pleasant. It’s a winning bet because it will be our best day in Malaysia! The climb is beautiful, on a narrow road up to Fraser’s Hill Pass. Everything is extremely quiet, and we are all alone to enjoy the free concert offered by the jungle. We have for only companions dozens of monkey tribes who show us their most beautiful acrobatics as we pass near them. On top of that, a beautiful waterfall awaits us in the descent. In the late afternoon we arrive by the north-east of KL, and suddenly, here we are in the jungle … of concrete! Once again everything is pretty smooth because we pass close to the famous Bathu Caves, a famous Hindu temple located in caves overlooking the city. The Hindu community developed itself as a result of colonization by the English, who brought many Indian workers to the area. The visit made, we cross the city to arrive at François and his family who welcome us graciously for 3 nights! We will spend a wonderful time at home. The days on the spot are spent to visit this immense and hyper dynamic city, a real cultural crossroads between the Malay (of Moslem belief), Indian (Hinduists) and Chinese populations. The transportation infrastructure, the business district (and its famous Petronas Tower) and the huge shopping centers are imposing. However, you can escape KL without too much difficulty for a small getaway on the surrounding heights, and so enjoy a beautiful view and some fairly sporty hiking trail.

Friday, August 30 we leave the city quite late after having made the first meters with Alexandre, 4 years old, on his scooter. Leaving Kuala Lumpur is hellish, the traffic is filthy and suffocating. Fortunately we have seen worse as always! We will have to cycle at least 3 hours to arrive in the countryside. Our goal is to reach the city of Malacca, a former Portuguese counter, then Dutch, and finally English until the independence of the country. As time is short for us to reach Singapore on September 2nd at the latest, we decide to embark on a great stage of almost 180km, which ends at night. We could never have considered this in the beginning of our trip, but after so many months of training, the big days are through without too much harm (except for the buttocks). The city of Malacca offers a beautiful architecture thanks to its history. Around 10pm we still find the strength to walk out of the hostel, because the celebrations for the national holiday (the next day!) are living up the streets.

On this 31st of August, therefore, we will leave later and travel 90km of coastal countryside with some shaded passages, the trees forming a green roof above the road 🙂 We wish to sleep in a Chinese temple that appears on Google maps but, surprise, this one is celebrating also to commemorate the anniversary of its construction. The Chinese community of the region celebrates Buddha with large sticks of incense in this ultra-kitsch modern place (artificial waterfall, statues of grimacing warriors, demons, deities in addition to the traditional elongated Buddha). The welcoming given by some members of the community seems rather cold, so we will head towards a playground not far to camp.

On the first of September, we leave for 120km because we have spotted a small waterfall near the border town of Johor Bahru, which promises a last moment of interesting nature before Singapore. All day or so, we are in oil palm plantations. It’s pretty ugly, especially in the heat … We can easily see that the soil and the rivers are very polluted at the foot of the trees, not to mention that the primary forest continues to be destroyed to give way to new plantations … The debate is particularly thorny because the outright boycott of palm oil would in fact lead to the shifting of the problem to another source of vegetable fats. To limit the breakage, we can all make a small gesture by reducing our consumption of palm oil products or by focusing on RSPO certified products (a palm oil using little or no pesticides and whose crops are not grown at the expense of the primary forest). If you are a true healthy ecologist, you can also simply cut off the fats! In the evening, the waterfall holds all its promises. It is a popular Sunday outing for locals on the weekends, who modestly bath in pants or veil (Muslim religion requires). But at night, we are alone for our last night of camping. Very happy to finish on a good night in hammocks!

September 2nd, we leave for Singapore! The crossing of Johor Bahru is not very relaxing again. After a smooth crossing, we are finally in the city of the future, the checkpoint alone is impressive. Here everything is set like music paper and the flow rate is very high. We still have 50km of crossing all the territory in front of us, which allows to have a nice overview of the country as a whole :). The residential neighborhoods of the towers are very well organized and surrounded by many gardens. Everything is clean and seems to work perfectly, it’s almost disturbing for us after 5 months in the region. The city deserves its nickname Southeast Asia’s Switzerland in any case! At the end of the afternoon, we arrive at the outskirts of the great bay of Singapore, lined with the most beautiful skyscrapers and architectural monuments of renown. In the background stands the business district of one of the most powerful financial centers in the world. It’s time for the finish picture, and we could not dream more photogenic. Singapore is really fantastic, we want to stay there to enjoy its cultural, culinary, architectural, and quality of life in general. We will be hosted by Rebecca and Andre (aunt and uncle of a friend of Leo) in their beautiful home not far from Chinatown. A big thank you to them and to Sheila for their hospitality, which allowed us to have base where we can leave our bikes before going to rest for a month. The adventure ended here, after 5 months on the roads and paths and a distance traveled estimated 8500 km (we will attempt to count soon).

We then spent a month without a bike in the Philippines for Leo and in New Caledonia for Stéphane, in order to recharge the batteries before finally returning home. At this time, we returned to Erstein in Alsace, where we were able to see our family and already enjoy a delicious Choucroute cooked by our grandmother! See you soon for the adventure review and our video of the trip. Thank you all for having followed and supported us during these 5 months!

The south corner of Thailand and our first roads in Malaysia

After our wonderful week in Koh Tao, we felt like we wanted to visit the neighboring island of Koh Pha-ngan which is famous for its beach parties, including the famous « full moon party ». We have the perfect timing so let’s enjoy it! We met again with friends from Koh Tao and went to the first evening, in the jungle. Actually there was nothing very local there because we were between Westerners, but we spent a good evening enjoying the techno music. During the stay, Leo has a bad fall with the bike. Fortunately, nothing is broken except for bruises and wounds, so we can leave after a day of convalescence.

We are very happy to be back on the road on August 17th. Indeed, the interest of this trip lies in the meetings with the inhabitants, the unforeseen events, the landscapes off the beaten track, and even if it is good to breathe a little with the other travelers, it is the bicycle adventure that really thrives us. We start again with a beautiful day of flatland between Hevea plantations (very numerous, Thailand is the world’s leading producer of latex!) and the coast. We will notice that the cultural landscape is already evolving. There are indeed many veiled women and we see the first mosques. It is a progressive evolution that is as usual characteristic of border regions. That day is Sunday, and there are many cyclists on the roads, finally! We are escorted by two guys from the « Thai Angel Cycling Club » and meet a (very) big group of bicycle tourists for the first time in the whole journey. They are on average fifty five and are all from Pattani on the Southeast coast. Happy to see that Thailand adheres to cycle tourism! Very good atmosphere in the group, we will eat together a breakfast. In any case they seem to have a small pace, when they are not stopped an hour in each restaurant! We drive in the afternoon and after a small gear issue fixed in the MacGyver style, we stop in a small town, and head to the Buddhist temple. Very good evening with the monks, all very humorous. Note that it is very difficult to find a beer here in the evening!

In the early morning we will see the monks sing the mantras and then we will be invited to breakfast, after they have finished and sang the prayer. They live without money so they receive everyday the many donations of the quest. We thought we would enjoy our breakfast peacefully, but here we are competing with locals who throw themselves on the leftovers! They surely need it more than us. So here we are (late), and the mechanical issue of the day (there will be another) on the chain takes us by surprise. We repair and choose the mountain out of two road options, because the road seems beautiful and deserted. Once gone in we realize the ordeal we got into… It’s hot and the ascents are around 15 +% in some places. No luck, Steph gets a flat and he leaves a lot of energy, it’s hard. We still manage to repair and leave. We cycle in the afternoon in the jungle and the atmosphere is really amazing. The senses are awake, the sounds and smells, as well as the sight of huge trees make us forget the difficulty (still) of the road. After coming back to the main road, it is very late and we run out of energy … In the first middle range city, there is unfortunately no hotel! Never mind, Steph speaks to a soldier who opens the doors of the barracks! It’s a first time Weapons and uniforms are intimidating at first sight but we come across a cool bunch of nice guys. “Enemies are everywhere” says one of them. We have seen only friends. In any case we can sleep on our ears tonight 🙂

After a good night, a few selfies with the soldiers and a new breakfast based on Durian (a big fruit full of spikes, very strong in taste and typical of the region), we go up the valley to the border town of Betong, very charming! Only 70km but the altitude gain is important again, although we are this time spared by ultra steep roads, phew. Steph repairs his bike which has suffered a lot, it is necessary to change the front gearing, the cassette and the chain. The small evening ballad on the heights allows to enjoy the tropical atmosphere of the place.

In the morning of the 21st, we finally arrive in Malaysia, the border is very easy to pass and here we do not pay a visa :). We will drive all day between oil palm plantations but also the hills of primary forest, that’s what we came for! Here we arrived at night after 100km at a campsite on the edge of a refreshing river. It is the occasion to enjoy the sound of the jungle and for Leo to see the biggest bird in the area! It is a magnificent Calao rhinoceros, how lucky! We are in good hands with the campsite owner and his friend, who have set up a network of checkpoints on all the most beautiful roads in the country to develop tourism. We are with the initiators of the project at this checkpoint, on the A76 road. They communicate thoroughly on the networks and 10 minutes after our passage we are already buzzing online 😀 Their Facebook page and site: « Malaysia local route ».

The next day we taste the Malay breakfast, before driving all day to the bottom of the climb that awaits us for the Highlands. This linking stage takes us in the afternoon round the big city of Ipoh, so we cycle through the industrial suburbs for miles, forget about the calm and say hello to urban Malaysia … These moments are quite detestable but they are part of the game! At the end of the afternoon a hot spring and a waterfall await us for relaxation.

Finally, on Friday, August 23rd, we leave for a 75km climb to reach the Cameron Highlands at 1600 meters up in the mountains. We are very happy to be back to the tops, it is the first time since the north of Vietnam two months ago. It takes us the day, we go slowly from the jungle to the plantations of fruits and vegetables in the greenhouse of the highlands, there are even strawberries! Surely an idea of the English who colonized the region first. The tea meanwhile is waiting for us up there. Crossing one of the passes we are attacked by bees and Steph is not spared, with at least 5 bites. Whatever, let’s save the bees!

We will take two days of rest enjoying the coolness here before heading back to Kuala Lumpur, then Singapore where our journey ends.

Ride through Cambodia and return in Thailand

The week with Pteah Baitong (3rd week of July) went on wonderfully. We were able to film appropriately, but also to get involved in the installation of the solar panels. The presentation video we made will soon be ready!

We returned to Phnom Penh to spend the weekend in a hotel with pool, just the once will not hurt! We found the city of Phnom Penh relatively quiet especially after the turmoil of Vietnam. The two countries have in common the fact that they suffered a lot from the wars, we did not miss the visit of the memorial of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. They organized a terrible genocide during the 1970s, in the name of an extremist communist doctrine. Fortunately, all these misfortunes belong to the past, and the Cambodian people now seem vigorous and determined to rise.

At the beginning of the week we were ready to take the road in the direction of Siem Reap, in order to visit the famous temples of Angkor. We crossed the Cambodian countryside for three days. The road is lined with small villages, farms, shops and majestic temples. It is with a little bit of nerve that we asked to be hosted in one of them one evening, with success! Some young monks studied English and showed a lot of interest in our culture, our photos and more amazing, our smartphones! We all live at the same era. The morning awakening to the sound of the mantras was in any case very bewitching. After having efficiently cycled the 330 km, we were ready for the visit on the next day.

Siem Reap is a dynamic city. Famous for its temples, it also presents a beautiful day and night life. During our visit to Bagan,(Myanmar) we had the opportunity to visit these monumental constructions of another time, Angkor has a very different style though. Unlike its Burmese cousin, this site, dating back to the 12th century, is set in a tropical atmosphere, where animals and trees invest the ruins. The extent of the site, once erected as capital, demonstrates the importance of the Khmer Empire, which dominated the region from Myanmar to Vietnam. The latter, sometimes well renovated, present a multitude of frescos and sculptures, vectors of history. It is sometimes necessary to climb an impressive number of steps to reach the summit of a temple, one can say that the Khmer going to the religious office were damned motivated. The bike is perfect for visiting the site, we took the opportunity to film some runs in front of the temples, an unforgettable moment! The visit to the temples of Angkor ended our brief Cambodian crossing. We will remember this very good experience and these strong and friendly people.

At this point, our heads are turning to the west towards Thailand and its long awaited paradise islands. We left the country at the beginning of May after the visit of the north. Bangkok seemed to be a real mess for our bikes, we then chose to avoid the capital to head to Pattaya instead, where a boat would allow us to cross the Gulf of Thailand. Just like the capital, Pattaya is a very touristic city, famous for the sex tourism. It is even informally known as its world capital city. We spent an evening on the main street, slaloming between the pole dance bars and the enticing proposals of the escort girls. A very strange atmosphere.

The next day the boat will take us to Hua Hin. We will then have the opportunity to camp 3 times straight (much to Leo’s relief!). The cloudy and rainy weather at this time of the year finally makes cycling very enjoyable, it is easy to ride all day.

The second day we will meet Scott, a retired American gone for… 5 years of a cycling trip! Scott was a caregiver in a palliative care center in the United States, which put him in touch with many people at the end of their life, some of them full of regret. This convinced him to concretize his project. We chatted all day long while cycling, to fully enjoy the company of our only real colleague of the trip! Unlike us and our minimalist equipment, Scott does not hesitate to carry more, and he has more than one trick in his luggage of… 42 kg !! The bicycle looks like one of those big Harley Davidson. Impressive. Good ride mon ami!

At the end of this bicycle journey, we took the boat to Koh Tao. This island has everything from the « postcard » place. No wonder why some of you will receive one from here 😉 Koh Tao is famous for the practice of scuba diving, the site is particularly well protected and preserved. We will spend our Open Water (first level of diving providing autonomy up to 18 m in the SSI system). We had the chance to do the training in French with Amelie of the French Kiss Divers, it was much more comfortable because the theoretical part is quite consistent and you have to understand everything. Stéphane will take advantage of it to pass the Advance Aventurer, to push the experience a little up to 30 m, a long-time wish! The seabed is sublime and we will see a wide range of flora (corals of all shapes, algae …) and wildlife (barracuda, grouper hunting, black tip shark for the most impressive). Leo loved the Open Water experience, but he likes to keep his feet on the ground. He took the opportunity to make beautiful hikes in this paradise on earth. One of the outings with the bike will remain engraved in the memory, the heart had to hold in the climbs of… 30%! Time passes quickly here, already 1 week but we must leave because Malaysia is waiting for us. This country promises a gradual return to the mountain in the center, the crossing of the jungle, and a Muslim culture that will surely surprise us. It is definitely time to go back on adventures for this last part of the trip!

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 🙂

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!