Rice Egg Cow

The cacophony in the border town of Poipet in Cambodia was an explosion, even after the busy, bustling Thai town on the other side. Swarms of mopeds and tuk tuks are engaged in a constant drag race to wherever they’re going, and the lack of space they leave is a shock after the politeness of Thailand. The road is in good condition though, and that is a small mercy as the wind we’ve wrestled most of our cycling days is blasting us full force in the face from the moment we set out.

We started off riding highway 6 towards the south east, punctuated by stops for sightseeing and exploring. It was one long slog that felt Sisyphean thanks to a headwind that became almost unmanageable. I’m sick of writing about it, sick of complaining about it and sick of cycling into it. After a day that felt like a week we arrived in Siem Reap, a laid back town with the ancient wonders of Angkor Wat close by. We were surprised by how busy it was (though apparently it really isn’t compared to pre Covid,) as all of the tourist areas we’ve been to in South East Asia have been eerily quiet. The mix of nationalities was different too: Thailand had overwhelmingly German visitors, and Laos overwhelmingly French, but here there were also lots of Brits and Americans.

We celebrated our arrival with beers and a curry, and met Thamarai Srinivasarao who cycled round the world in the mid 80s, along with his best friend. God only knows what the roads were like then. He has since travelled the world several times without a bike, campaigning for nuclear disarmament and raising awareness of environmental issues. Originally from India he has now settled in Siem Reap, luckily for us. An amazing and humble guy, with lots of incredible stories and pictures of his journeys; it was a huge honour to meet him.

The following day was what we really came here for, and what everyone comes here for. The twelfth century temple complex of Angkor Wat is a few kilometres from Siem Reap, and is spread across more than 400 acres. Cycling is probably the best way to see it, so that’s handy. The main temple, Bayon and Tha Prohm (from Tomb Raider) are pretty cool, but we found the smaller, less visited temples more enjoyable just because they weren’t busy. We only got a one day pass to the historical park, because after that and adding in the national parks and museums, it gets pretty expensive. So we cheaped out on temples and saved more for beer. And luckily Siem Reap doesn’t have a shortage of that.

Leaving Siem Reap we made our way north to a homestay,  stopping off at a couple of sites on the way. First up a butterfly sanctuary. We were the only ones there, which was brilliant for us but a bit of a shame for the sanctuary. We got to see butterflies emerging from their chrysalises, and hatched butterflies released. The staff then invited us to join them at lunch. A few kilometres down the road was a landmine museum, set up by the hero Aki Ra, a former child soldier (amongst other things,) who has dedicated his civilian life to ridding Cambodia of landmines (with his bare hands to start with) and providing a home, medical care and an education to children who have been injured by them. Aki Ra’s story is better told in his own words though:  https://www.cambodianselfhelpdemining.org/aki-ras-story/   

The ride to the north was through gorgeous scenery, and from the homestay we intended to take a day off and ride up a mountain in a national park to get even better views, and visit a pagoda and a Hindu temple. The way to these things was down an unpaved track, which started off difficult but doable before we got stuck in drifts of sand with no end to that in sight. We abandoned the idea and headed off to a wildlife centre instead. On the road there we saw a huge white and red crane. The guide asked us if we’d seen such a bird on our ride in, and it turned out that she had escaped although she returned to be fed later.

Back down south and back to the relentless route 5. There is no shoulder, often no road markings at all, and motorists here tend to all drive like they are 18 year olds who have just passed their tests. The road surface and other conditions don’t slow them down at all, and it was hairy at times with vehicles hurtling towards us on the wrong side of the road as they crazily overtake each other. A snake slithered onto the road in front of Richard and somehow made it across alive. I only saw it from a distance, but Richard claimed it was four foot long which should be taken with a pinch of salt. Every day we’ve passed chalk outlines on the road, a couple next to smashed up bikes and lorries and some of them splatter rather than human-shaped. If it wasn’t for the friendliness of the Cambodian people it would be a miserable ride along this road. Most of the times we’ve stopped at a local petrol station or at a drink stall we’ve been offered seats in the shade, and it’s pretty normal here for people to approach us and ask where we’re from and where we’re heading. But the uplifting highlight are the school kids. Cambodians must be hard at it every night, because I have never seen so many children anywhere. Every few miles we pass hundreds of kids walking to school, most of them excitedly shout “hello” and wave. Here and there is a different wrinkle, like a good morning or a high five.

We stopped off in the middle of the day to use a cash machine, and since the shadow of the bank offered the only shade we could find, we stood around rehydrating. The bank manager came out and walked towards us, and I thought she was going to ask why we were lingering around outside a bank, but she asked us about our trip and if we would like to come and sit inside where there was air conditioning, or if she could get chairs for us in the shade if we’d rather stay out. People here are so very friendly. I mean, people are remarkably friendly everywhere in SE Asia, but in Cambodia people have been much less reserved. We are usually asked a lot about where we’re going, but people often also talk about themselves, their families, work and businesses. That unprompted sharing is unusual compared to surrounding countries.

After a very long and hot day we arrived in a town and picked one of two similar looking guesthouses. The room hadn’t been cleaned in years, which isn’t that unusual here, but this one had a resident family of lizards and all of the mess that comes with that. There didn’t seem to be many places in town to eat, but we found a shack type place nearby with pictures of food, and a woman ushered us in and motioned for us to sit down. She brought over some tea and was indicating for us to wait as she didn’t speak English. About 10 minutes later a young guy turned up and scrolled through his phone to show us the dish they served. He pointed to each individual element and told me “Rice. Egg. Cow” repeating this several times to make sure I understood. He then sat next to Richard and showed him the picture, telling him several times again: Rice. Egg. Cow. We both agreed that we would eat Rice Egg Cow. While we waited he kept apologising for his lack of English, fetching us water, showing us photos of other people who had eaten Rice Egg Cow there and taking ours to add to the collection. He was very proud to present Rice Egg Cow when it was ready. It is the national dish of Cambodia called Lok Lak, and is essentially stir fried beef in an oyster and garlic sauce, accompanied by rice, and sometimes a fried egg when it’s extra special. We ate it quite a bit in Cambodia, but this one was the best we had.

Rice Egg Cow

Back into our room for the night with the lizards and their shit, a loud piercing noise started directly outside our window. It then stopped for a few seconds but started again outside our door on the other side of the room. I asked Richard if I should go out and investigate and he replied “Yes, but then I’m not letting you back in,” so I left it and it continued to keep us awake for most of the night.

Since we had decided to skip Vietnam for the time being, with the intention of going there in a few months, we wanted to swing back round and head for Thailand without encountering Phnom Penh. We spent a day on dirt roads to catch a ferry from Kampong Leaeng which would steer us clear of the capital, and even though the dust kicked up by other vehicles was a pain, it was great to get off the main road and a bit more into rural Cambodia. The wind was in our favour, which was almost too good to be true, and the ferry was running and didn’t sink.

I am happy with Rice Egg Cow for breakfast, but the guesthouse we stayed in offered eggs, baguette and tomatoes, which I understand are a luxury now. The ultimate luxury for us was having the wind at our backs for the next three days, something which hadn’t happened before on our journey so far. Route 6, which runs south of the giant Tonle Sap lake, is in great condition compared to the one we’d been riding on the other side, which meant we were able to fly along and do long distances. They are even widening the road to make it two lanes each way, which is nice I guess, but all it means is that people will overtake six abreast rather than three.

We took a day off in the town of Battambang, which is a bit like a mini Siem Reap with slightly less to do. The family who owned the guesthouse we stayed in were some of the friendliest people we met, and gave us each a cotton headscarf to wear when cycling so we can keep the sun and dust off.

We’d been in Cambodia for less than three weeks, but it seemed at least twice as long. The cycling was punctuated with a bit of sightseeing, and we’ve taken some diversions onto small roads to break up the monotony of the main highways, but it still seemed endless. And now, with not many border crossings out of the country, and not many roads, we headed to the same town we stayed in on our first night in Cambodia. We rolled into Sisophon in the blazing heat, and the lady at the hotel we stayed in last time recognised us and brought us some cold water while she made sure there was a ground floor room ready that we could just wheel our bikes into. It’s a town with a lively night market and a central park with lots of food stalls and bars. The Cambodian riel is completely worthless and impossible to exchange outside of the country, so we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves that we were able to spend what we had left almost completely. Our calculations would be brilliant, unless we got turned away at the border.

I have been worried about this border crossing for a few days. Only two entries to Thailand are allowed by land in a calendar year, to prevent border runs. Technically we should be fine, because although we have already been twice, for the first one we arrived in November 2022. It only takes someone to interpret “calendar year” differently though and we are screwed. Exiting Cambodia was straightforward, as expected. There was a massive queue to get into Thailand though, allowing my anxiety to build, and as we saw other foreigners get turned away I was becoming fairly nervous. And sure enough, though I was stamped in without query, I could see that Richard had a problem and could hear slight panic in his voice as he explained what he thought “calendar year” meant to the border guard. Luckily, after going through his passport and taking notes, she finally agreed that he had one more stay allowed and we were freely back in Thailand again, a place that is feeling a bit like home.

A playlist for the ride:


Thailand Redux

The first few days back on the Thai side of the river were a blistering 39 degrees. We were glad to have made the switch and endure the heat on the smooth roads of Thailand, with lots of places to stop and reliably cold drinks at regular intervals. The cycling was initially along mostly quiet roads sometimes hugging the Mekong.

After our second day of riding, the place we stayed at did not have cold water, which is the opposite of what we’d expect and not very welcome given the weather. I tried to rinse my hair using the bum gun, but that was also hot.

This part of Thailand is pleasant but unspectacular. We have a bit of a tailwind for the first time ever, so we’re able to do long distances despite the heat. The towns are pretty nice as well; not too big so they’re easy to explore, and we’ve been treated to lots of night markets and stalls in the places we’ve stayed. I had my first sweet roti from a food cart along the way, who knows why I hadn’t tried one before. The couple waiting before me had ordered a massive amount of them, which was great because it was fascinating to watch the skill of the guy making them – they are thrown and spun around a bit like pizza dough, before being fried (YES!) filled with extra egg, and topped with sweetened condensed milk and (as if that’s not sweet enough) icing sugar. Any food that involves condensed milk is always welcome in my life.

The civilised cycling was only really interrupted one afternoon when we were passed by a horror lorry which was oozing either slurry or dead chicken juice, and this was splashing back up from the road and being sprayed in a fine mist from the side of the load. When the second one screeched by it was only just bearable because we knew there was a coin laundry at our next stop and we had planned to go there anyway. Still, I was unhappy and braced every time I heard a large vehicle approaching.

There are a large number of Japanese restaurants and cafes in Thailand, which isn’t something Richard would usually go for, but because of the trauma of the day I was able to cajole him into one. It was a cafe that almost exclusively sold gyoza. Brits get a lot of flak for taking the perfectly good cuisine of another country and changing it to suit their taste; chicken tikka masala being the most obvious example. This happens the world over though, from currywurst to katsu curry. In Thailand, gyoza is available with various toppings and one of these is usually cheese. On the face of it this seems very wrong, but like putting curry in a pie it is also so very right.

The following day the weather had cooled a bit, but so had the tailwind. We rode through Ta Phraya national park, and while the nature was lovely the highlight was a statue of King Kong, glorious in its ridiculousness. We also got handed a big bit of descent, which was a welcome bonus, because it hadn’t felt like we’ve been climbing recently.

We stayed at a place off the beaten track which promised cabins and coffee, but didn’t have coffee. I guess that was the least important part though, because it had beautiful rural views and a comfortable night’s sleep. As we were leaving the owner came out for a chat about where we were heading, and told us that a Canadian had recently been crushed by a lorry when out cycling nearby. She emphasised the crushing part by slamming her hands together. So that was an upbeat start to our last full day of cycling before we cross into Cambodia.

The road on the last day of Thailand Part II wasn’t in great shape, but it was quiet enough that we could weave round the potholes without getting crushed by a lorry. The rice paddies along this stretch were really stunning, and an almost impossible shade of green usually only seen in energy drinks.  

We had cut getting our e visas for Cambodia very fine, but they arrived just in time to get them printed out before we headed off the following day to cross the border. As usual, reports of this border warn of bribes and shady shenanigans, and as usual it was nothing remotely like that. There were helpful staff, some simple forms, a short queue and with that we have been unleashed into the chaos of Cambodia.

Ups & Downs

We planned to stay in Vientiane for only a couple of days, but were laid up longer than we wanted as I became increasingly unwell. Initially this didn’t stop me on the beers. We bumped into Ties and Chris around Vientiane a couple of times, but didn’t stop to speak until we eventually met properly at a bar – where else? They are a Dutch/British couple cycling round south east Asia and Europe for several months. They’ve previously ridden a loop round the entire of North America, and wrote a book about this journey: Wheels of Fortune.

I became more circumspect with my eating while getting better from whatever ailed me. We found somewhere to have a curry in between me absorbing my weight in chocolate milk.

The first few miles leaving Vientiane were fine, and it was nice and quiet once we cleared the city. And then the road just went to hell. Save for a few miles here and there, the whole of the main road from Vientiane is subject to road works. The bits that weren’t dug up were a nightmare: Huge potholes constantly, some of them filled in with large rocks which stick up above the road, red dust everywhere. Where the road was dug up: Huge potholes everywhere, a surface of gravel or stones, red dust everywhere, except when the dust is white. And then we got to sections of washboard surfaces, and even more dust. And it’s busy with lorries constantly. All this mixed in with an almighty headwind, and by the end of day one I’ve had enough of Laos. We found a really cheap place to stay, away from the road and the dust. It was on the edge of a village with nowhere obvious to eat, so in the evening we just walked around looking for other people eating and managed to get lots of amazing food.

After a few miles the following day we met an American couple on motorbikes when we stopped for some drinks. They were going the other way and told us that the road we were taking was really bad. The road we’ve been on is really bad, so we didn’t think much of the warning, but somehow the road got worse. By now the wind was raging and the dust was so thick I could barely see my handlebars. I went down a tyre-swallowing pothole that I saw too late and received a sore arse and an ominous sound from the front wheel. It turned out it was only a bent mudguard that was rubbing against the front tyre, which was the best possible outcome. We finally reached a finished asphalt road. Just as we did so, for some reason one of the works lorries dumped a load of gravel across it, which meant no other traffic could get through, leaving us to ride on in peace.  It was a pretty section hugging the river on one side and steep jungle-covered slopes on the other. We thought we must now be done with the road works. All things considered a day and a half of awful riding isn’t so bad if the rest of Laos would be better like this. But no. It was just a random section of finished road, it got back to holes and horror after a few miles. The signs we saw tell us that this madness is a 10 year project, which is complete insanity.

We pulled into the town of Pakxan and found somewhere really nice and really cheap to stay. It had hot water, which isn’t a guarantee, and just washing the dust away is bliss at this point. I’m convinced it has penetrated my pores and coated my eyeballs, and I will sweat and cry out red dust for weeks to come. We had an early dinner and then a second dinner, and were still in bed and out of it by 9pm, even though the beds here are so firm it’s like sleeping in Markarth.

The following day was more of the same, but without the nice section of finished road. We did pass a school where most of the kids on their break ran out to shout “hello!” and wave, which is always uplifting. It’s safe to say we had not enjoyed Laos at all up until this point. The roads and the headwind have made for some terrible days, so we began to look for alternatives to what we’d been doing. I came across a backpacker diversion known as the “Thakhek loop” usually done by hiring a moped and riding a route with good scenery, while visiting caves and carvings. We want to get something good from Laos, and route 13 is not it, so we decided to divert onto the loop at the next town.

The food so far in Laos has been amazingly good, and apart from all the happy greetings from kids, it’s been the highlight so far. We muddled through ordering dinner by pointing at pictures, and once again the food was really great. The owner brought us an extra dish because she wanted us to try Laos’ national dish of laab, a minced beef salad. 

Setting off in the morning we knew we’d be in for a bit of pain in the next few days tackling some hills, but gambled that the divert would be worth it. Within a few minutes we knew we’d made the right decision. I hadn’t realised how grindingly noisy the last three days had been until we left the stream of lorries behind, and despite this being a route into rural Laos, the road was in good condition. The dust was left behind as well, and in the clear air we finally got to see the landscape of Laos. It was one of karst peaks and open fields to start, and then a really enjoyable climb into the beautiful rolling hills.

The place we most wanted to visit on this loop was the Kong Lor cave, which is a turnoff of 40km in a valley. It’s an incredibly quiet ride through farmland, where many of the homes are made from woven bamboo and the happy greetings from kids are at their most heart-warming. We planned to stay two nights, because we thought the whole ride here would be pretty tough going and we wanted to visit the cave after a night’s sleep, but the road was much better than we had anticipated and we got there early in the afternoon. That meant I was able to cram in three meals of pork fried rice.

Kong Lor cave can only be accessed and travelled through by boat, since the Nam Hin Bun River runs through the length, cutting through the karst mountains which line the countryside here. The Laotians we’ve come across to this point have seemed reserved and chill. Our boat pilot was cocky, charismatic and clearly shit- talking to his fellow pilots. The ride was amazing, and probably the best thing we’ve done so far, apart from visiting Cappadocia. The cave is seven kilometres long, and most of it is in darkness apart from the head torches the three of us wore. It was eerie and exhilarating to hurtle along in a motorised long wooden boat, only being able to make out vague shapes until we were up close to the rock formations. There are lit sections in both directions where we went on foot among impressive stalagmites and stalactites.

Normally backtracking is something we avoid at all costs, but the road back out of Kong Lor was a good one, even though it rained heavily in the morning. The weather had changed overnight and became suddenly very humid, and I had a crushing afternoon of climbing. My legs were on fire, my heart rate was high I was gasping for breath and severely annoyed. Richard was way ahead and managing better. He stopped well before me at a viewpoint and was having his photo taken with some teenagers out on their mopeds by the time I arrived. The second half of the climb got worse for me, to the point I was stopping every 10 pedal turns or so. I hadn’t felt this crap for ages. We stayed at the only place we could find, and once again had some amazing food in a small village.

The morning broke to heavy mist along a river, which didn’t abate as we wound around the next hill and above the low hanging clouds. Those two things obscured the view somewhat on what would probably have been the showcase day of scenery so far. In the afternoon, after the descent, the road passed through the “flooded forest.” Except it’s the dry season, so it’s not so flooded at all. The scenery was still quite eerie though. I must have just had a bad day yesterday, but it was Richard’s turn to struggle and grumble along today. We were pretty upbeat from some online reviews that the day’s guesthouse would be good at the end of a long ride. There are only two guesthouses in this vicinity. One of them is touted as the place where backpackers in this area get together and share stories of their adventures, so we chose the other one. It was the worst place we’ve stayed on this journey so far.

The following day we got the rest of the payback for all the climbing, with a 400 metre drop in about 6km. At the bottom were some dusty villages and some pleasant scenery, though the natural landscape is somewhat spoilt by the heavy industry going on here and all the works lorries that go along with it. It’s hard to criticise a country as poor as this for what must be economically fruitful projects though. And it would be hypocritical, because I’m happy enough using this asphalt which has also destroyed some of the natural landscape. As the day went on though the vistas became jaw dropping. We rode along quiet roads up close to vast stone rock formations and mountains. It just cemented how rewarding this route has been, even though it was tough in places and even though we had some heavy rain on the final approach into Thakhek.

Our aim now was to head east for Vietnam, but we’d misread the visa situation. We were planning to get a 30 day visa in advance, but when actually paying attention saw that this is only available when flying into the country, and not at land borders. We can either backtrack to Vientiane to visit the embassy and apply for 30 days (this is not happening) or get a 15 day visa on arrival, which isn’t enough time to ride the coast south and get to Cambodia (at our pace anyway.) So, we were now intending to head south in Laos roughly following the Mekong and heading for Cambodia directly. That is until we got back on route 13 and it is being dug up here as well. We are not spending the next week or so dealing with a shitshow of a road like the one from Vientiane. So a last minute decision was made to return to Thailand, and get to Cambodia from there.

We turned up at the border with not a lot of cash, but forewarned to expect bribes on the Laos side. That didn’t materialise, although we did have to pay an extra fee we weren’t expecting. Then we were told that we couldn’t cycle on the bridge and across the border to Thailand. We tried three separate people, but the answer was the same. We are counted as foot passengers, and therefore have to get the bus. We were now in the no man’s land part of the crossing, with no access to cash. The bus fee was more than the kip we had left, but fortunately we’d kept hold of our baht rather than changing it, and we were able to get tickets using both currencies. The bus luggage guy then wanted a fee for the bikes, and to be fair they are a pain to deal with. He then put them in the aisle which probably pissed off everyone on the bus. The Thai side was nice and easy though, and with that we are back in Thailand.

It was a bit of a whirlwind departure, taking away my time to ruminate and agonise over the decision, much to Richard’s relief. Riding the Thakhek loop was one of the best travel decisions we’ve ever made, it was tough but incredibly rewarding. And I’ve had the most incredible food, and unlike in the past I haven’t suffered from it at all. I think what’s saved me is that the meat on stick stuff is so obviously covered in flies and left out that I have completely avoided it and mostly gorged myself on pho and fried rice. I could probably eat fried rice every day, if not live on it. At home I’m tempered by Richard’s lack of enthusiasm, but here I can go nuts. And since I’m cycling all day, I can now interpret every feeling as hunger and get away with it. Long may that continue.

A playlist for the ride:

Limping to Laos

After the exertion getting to Chiang Mai, we took a few days to rest. Usually this means some beers. On the first evening we went back to our hotel intending on an early night after dinner, but a group of  Thais were singing and playing guitar in the bar/garden, and they were so good we decided to have a few more drinks there. One of them absolutely LOVED Richard, for some reason. A German couple joined too, and we ended up having an early morning instead of an early night. We met the German couple, Rafael and Sabine, for dinner the following day. They’d rented motorcycles to travel round northern Thailand, and have travelled in many countries this way. Their adventures sound amazing, and it’s given us more ideas of places we’d love to see.

Chiang Mai was a nice and relaxed place to spend a few days, with lots to see and some great places to eat. Although Richard had his worst haircut of the trip so far, costing a whopping £8.

Leaving Chiang Mai we headed east/south east, and some of the scenery in this part of Thailand is amazing. Off the main roads in the Khun Tan national park was stunning. It is also mercifully cooler, which has been almost as good for me as the landscape, after the furnace of the south.

Our next main stop was Lopburi, which is home to the several ancient ruins. Most famous of them is the Khmer temple of Phra Prang Sam Yot, which is populated by hundreds of wild monkeys. I am pretty happy around most animals, but most animals won’t attack unless threatened or provoked. Monkeys are the ones I think would fuck you up just for the sake of it, so I had a bit of trepidation walking round. I made the mistake of kneeling down to get a good picture of the temple, and immediately had one jump on my back, and another on my head trying to pull my hairband out. When we got back to our bikes one of them had undone a frame bag, taken out and unscrewed the cap of a water bottle, and was sitting casually drinking out of it. The other ruins (without the monkeys) were much tamer.

After that we hit the industrial heartland of Thailand, with all its aggregate plants and factories, and the accompanying heavy traffic, noise and endless dust. The night food market in Saraburi was good though, at least for me. Richard had a pizza from 7-Eleven, since he is not keen on sticks of unidentified meat like I am, and doesn’t like the roulette of “what item might the deep fried batter be hiding” (rice balls as it turned out this time, like a Thai version of arancini.)

Leaving Saraburi we had one of our more horrendous days. At the start we tried to get off the busy roads, but what started as some simple dirt road riding, then deteriorated into mostly grass and mud, and then became impassable due to being so overgrown. It meant a few miles of backtracking on what would be a long day. We thought we’d left the climbing behind, but it turns out that getting from west to the east, there’s one day of hills comparable to riding in the mountainous of the north. But this time it’s on busy roads with the constant roar of lorries and a face full of dust all day. It’s sweltering hot again, and the main climb was almost unbearable. I hate everyone and everything at this point. As we get to the top, the road is lined with stalls and people waving, smiling and giving us the thumbs up, and I mellow a little bit. Thailand is probably the best country to be in when you need that kind of lift. The people here are just so wonderful.

Richard noticed that his pedal cranks are very loose, which almost certainly means there’s a problem with the bottom bracket. It doesn’t really affect the riding, and leaving it won’t do any damage, so we decide to just put it to the back of our minds and try and get it sorted when we get to a city with a good bike shop. Slightly more worryingly, he smacked his head on a low doorframe and has had some problems with dizziness and memory (even more than what’s to be expected at his age.) And then I’ve paid the usual price for eating indiscriminately, so it was a tough and wobbly week of heat, headwind, hills and Imodium.  

The highlight of this section was the huge covered food night market in Nakhon Ratchasima. It was great just to wander around for ages, because now I am being a bit cautious. I restricted myself to khnom buang, which is a small wafer-like crepe folded and filled with soft meringue and topped with shaved duck egg yolk, and I only had nine of them.

We finally had a gentle ride to Nong Khai, just beside the Thai border with Laos. The day still had a headwind, but was mostly flat and not as busy so was much more enjoyable. Near the town we stopped in the shade for a drink, and afterwards I cycled off as Richard faffed around, knowing he’d catch me up. Ahead of me was a cyclist wearing a luminous yellow top like mine. Richard said that he saw the cyclist way ahead on the road and thought it must be me, so wondered if he had passed out temporarily in the heat and came to with me a long way ahead. I am speechless that he thinks the most obvious explanation for this is that he passed out on his bike without realising, and not that I might be riding faster than he thinks.

The Mekong river divides Thailand and Laos, with the Friendship Bridge spanning the distance between the two countries. Our first stop was Thai customs to get our exit stamps. We assumed it would be a formality, but was much more faff, and even more forms, than entering the country or extending our visas. The Laos side meant more forms and some waiting around. It seems the only point to getting our e-visas ahead of time was to pay slightly less. Leaving immigration controls, we were offered tuk tuks several times by a few jokers, with the assurance that we could just throw our bikes on the back and save us the bother of riding. On any other day of the past week it would have been sorely tempting, but we had a flat and easy ride from the border to the capital, Vientiane.

First port of call when we arrived was for beer. We were offered weed in the first bar we walked into, but I’ve seen Locked Up Abroad and I know how that ends. We intend to spend a few days here resting, getting me well and back to my full eating capacity, getting Richard’s bike fixed and his hair cut again, before riding out into the rest of Laos.

A playlist for the ride:

The Sting In The North

We got up before dawn, knowing we had a big ride to our Christmas rest stop. We are mostly clear of the chaos of roads leading to Bangkok, so the cycling is getting more enjoyable. We’d stayed in a small village surrounded by rice paddies, and the start to our day was a sunrise through the mists and a beautiful rural landscape. We had a tail wind that day for the first time in many weeks, and it was wonderful.

We stopped in a random town for a few days over Christmas, and the people at the hotel seemed puzzled that anyone would be there more than one night. The time off gave us a chance to fix some things that we’d let slide – a big hole in one of my panniers and in a pair of Richard’s shorts. We took the bikes to a business for car and motorbike cleaning, to see if they would just be able to power wash the bikes and get some of the grime off. They took this very seriously, and the bikes were given a full valet, with the tyres even sprayed with tyre dressing. Most importantly though we got our visa extensions, so we now had enough time to go further into the north west before we have to leave Thailand.

Before heading into the hills of the north, we cycled to a couple of the many historical sites in this part of Thailand. First stop Sukhothai and a visit to the Kingdom’s ancient capital, which dates back to the 13th century. The park in which the core of the old city sits is beautifully maintained, with moats and lakes full of water lilies in full bloom.  The park lends itself to cycling, and the entrance had hundreds of bikes available for rent. There were few visitors, except a group of school kids on a trip, cycling around laughing and racing each other. Cue an endless stream of “Hello!Hello!Hi!Hello! and waving. It was a concentrated example of cycling in Thailand every day, where people call out hello and wave to the extent that Captain Miserable actually said at one point “I’m a bit fed up of waving.”

We chatted at dinner to a restaurant owner, who confirmed how empty of tourists this place is. He says that the planes are full coming into Bangkok, but they all must be going to the beaches in the south. And of course even if the planes are full, there are still less of them than pre 2019, so tourism here is nowhere near back to normal.

We took small roads out of Sukhothai and stopped at a couple of even less visited ruins a few miles from the town. The sites were completely deserted, and there is something special about total silence amongst ancient things. The dirt roads then wound through head high sugarcane, before we could see through the morning haze the mountains we’ll be heading to. The hills, sugarcane, and rice fields dotted with some coconut palms and ancient tualang trees were like a greatest hits of Thai landscapes.

We had been told that wasn’t much in our next stop in Kamphaeng Phet, which wasn’t true at all. There are two main collections of ancient temples, monuments and palaces. The park in the town by the river was well preserved and very impressive. The park slightly out of town now sits amongst woodland, with roads and paths winding between the temples and monuments. It isn’t as neatly curated as the other but the quiet woods make up for that.

The next day’s ride was partly along quiet roads beside the river Ping. We had lost track of the days and forgotten it was New Years day. In the villages we rode through there were lots of people gathering together around food and music. The scenery was amazing, with corn and sugar cane fields and a backdrop of mountains. However, I’d decided to have pork rib soup and a panang curry for breakfast before a long ride with very few amenities, and spent the afternoon regretting my life choices.

We’d had a run of good cycling days, but they came to an end with a return of a headwind on a very long day of dusty towns and constant undulations. The terrain hadn’t looked that bad on the route profile, but it really took it out of us. Setting off the next morning, the instant sting and then burning in the legs on a small incline was worrying, but the main climb that day was only 10km, short enough to manage mentally. Day three in this stretch was the main event, with the climb going on for nearly 20km. The road was uphill all the way, but with a steep section at the start of the hill proper. Those are the worst ones for me to deal with; the stinging pain immediately, while knowing that it’s barely even begun. There were a pair of old tankers (not me and Richard) that barely made it up this section. Before the gradient eased off, Richard overtook them. I did not.

After most of the climbing was done we diverted into the countryside and stayed that night out in the sticks amid the most stunning scenery we have seen here so far. There is a downside to this. That night Richard went into the bathroom to clean his teeth, but shortly after backed out exclaiming “Oh God, what the hell is that?” He grabbed a shoe and inched back into the bathroom, then ran out again with an “Oh no, I missed it and it’s gone.” As someone with a paralysing fear of spiders, I know the answer to “Is it a spider?” And the answer is: “Yes. I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in a zoo.” These are not the right words to say to someone with a paralysing fear of spiders. He shut the bathroom door, and (now standing far away on the bed) I point out that the door has quite a large gap to the frame. I have mixed feelings about being told “Yeah don’t worry, it’s far too big to get through that.” Away goes anything I needed the bathroom for, and any sleep.

By my standards Richard is a fussy eater, and that is especially true at breakfast where he’ll eat toast and maybe an egg, but nothing more. This benefits me at situations like this. The grandma of the place we were staying made us plates of fried rice, which means I got to eat them both.

Our goal in northern Thailand has always been Chiang Mai, one of the main stops on the travel trail of South East Asia. After some more scenic riding, and over 2,000 km of cycling from Thailand’s southern border, we made it to the city. We are now looking forward to spending a few days seeing the sights and enjoying the food before we move on again.  

Food watch:

Green guava – North of Nakhon Sawan

Pomelo and Papaya – South of Phitsanulok

Corn and sugarcane – north of Kamphaeng Phet

Ceramics (not edible) – Around Lampang

A playlist for the ride:

Land of Smiles

We stayed up a hill by a farm on the Malaysian side of the border. On the walk back from getting food in town, the biggest monitor lizard imaginable crashed out of the undergrowth ahead, desperate to get away from us. Now every time we’re riding and hear movement in the undergrowth beside us, I tense up at what might be in there. We spent a night of non-stop chicken squawks and apprehension about the border crossing, which by land are always fraught. Richard’s a worrier and we’re both organised, so we turned up with all our proofs of funds, lodging and all the paperwork in order when called into the immigration office. Having biometrics taken, getting a passport stamp and an “enjoy Thailand” was all that happened. Sod’s law says though that if we didn’t have everything we’d be asked for it.

The ride to Hat Yai was half very rural rice paddies, small roads, and a Thai wedding, and half on a busy smog filled road. The city itself (third largest in Thailand) is chaotic and a pain in the arse to navigate with a one-way system confusing and frustrating to a foreign cyclist, not helped by endless stalls and carts spilling out onto the already congested roads. But decent hotels in Thailand are good value, and we booked one in advance in case we got asked for an address when we got our visas, so we had something nice at the end of the day.

Breakfast at hotels in Malaysia is very rare, but pretty normal in Thailand, so I filled my happy face with fried eggs, congee, fried chicken, rice and noodles. Once out of the city we crossed the longest bridge in Thailand, which was very impressive and thankfully not very high. We stopped at a small place on a deserted beach for a couple of nights, which was relaxing and very beautiful. We only took one day off in Malaysia, and that was when I was ill, so we decided we’d earned a break to just swim in the gulf and eat, and that we should do it more often.

After the rest we made our way along the coast on beautiful quiet rural roads, and then across a wildlife sanctuary where we saw loads of tropical birds and huge herds of water buffalo. We lingered too long and had to try and (unsuccessfully) outrun a storm. It’s reliably rained in the early to late evening so far, so the early onset caught us out.

We had a long but flat day into Nakhon Si Thammarat, where we stayed at a really lovely, friendly place. The food in Thailand had been amazing, so we were really looking forward to dinner. When we ordered a couple of dishes the waitress checked “this is spicy, is that okay?” We love spicy food at home, so how hot can it be? Well. Richard looked like he was going to cry, and I downed cold beer to the extent that I said hello instead of thank you when we left.

We hadn’t so far spent much time seeing cultural sights, but visited Phra Mahathat Woramahawihan temple, some of which dates back to the 13th century, and is a large complex of shrines and stupas. It was closed but lit up at night and very beautiful.

On the way into the city I’d seen stall after stall selling grilled eggs on sticks, and decided that I’d get some the following day for lunch, but never saw them again. Lots of foods are sold like this – runs of stalls selling the same things for a stretch, and then they disappear. Also the fruit is sold incredibly locally at the roadside stalls, so I kept a food watch (below) of where things were sold on our route.

For our next stop, we got a ferry from the mainland to Koh Samui. It was nice to relax and refuel with lots of food, but the place is much the same as any other holiday resort in the world.

For this initial part of our time in Thailand it’s been in the early 30 degrees, but unimaginably humid. We are both a dripping mess by mid morning, which is very unusual for Richard, and I am now on another level (TMI warning) where I can ring my t shirt out and can’t see half the time for the sweat running into my eyes. We turned up exhausted at a cafe in Surat Thani, and once we’d got our coffee, someone came out and gave us bottles of water to take with us.

As we headed further up the coast, the rain took over from the sun as our biggest enemy. It started to rain almost all day every day, and we were hopping from one shelter to the next to avoid the worst of it, often waiting out downpours until it was “only” raining normally before we cycled on. We decided to stick to the main road for days, because we were worried about getting stuck in floods if we ventured off it. It made for boring cycling, but was the right thing to do. Some of the side roads we rode by were impassable. People’s homes were flooded, we passed lots of stranded vehicles (even an artic lorry) and one car aquaplaned into a ditch in front of us as we were crossing the road. We spoke to a resident of one village we stayed in who said the weather is incredibly unusual for December, and he hasn’t known anything like it in decades.

We’ve been both lucky and made good calls when judging when it’s going to really tip it down, and finding shelter at its worst. But on one day we were frustrated at the constant delays and just went for it. The heavens opened on us. There were some overhanging trees at the edge of the road so we tried to huddle there, but the rain started coming down in sheets and within seconds the water was running in rivers up to our ankles, so despite the lack of visibility we had to get out of there. Fortunately we found a bus shelter less than a mile on, so waited it out there. Some guys on mopeds joined us, and one of them gave me a spare poncho before they rode off. We gave the rain a send off with one last wet day of undulating terrain and our longest distance of 125km. It was a day of only drizzle and light rain, so we hoped that now it would end and we would be flying along. Be careful what you wish for!

From around Prachuap Khiri Khan the clouds have cleared and the heat has ramped up, but what has really been a killer is the headwind. It has been absolutely brutal and riding in it has been exhausting and thoroughly awful. We haven’t had a run of cycling like this before, where every day is just relentless. It doesn’t help that for the northern part of the peninsula the only real road option is the main artery which heads to Bangkok, so the traffic and dust and dirt and noise make cycling miserable. Along the way, Hua Hin was an unexpectedly pleasant stop, except that the demographics of foreign visitors is really grim.

The food in Thailand has hands down been the best of any country so far, and most of all the people we’ve met have been wonderful. There are constant smiles and waves and good wishes. And the acts of kindness from strangers are even comparable to Turkey.

We had a horrendous day to get to Suphanburi. It felt like cycling for 9 hours in a wind tunnel, and honestly like it would never end. We took a day off and visited the Dragon Paradise park, with its beautiful temples, food stalls (my favourite kind,) pagodas and a giant dragon. It was one of the best days off the bike that we’ve spent, and restored our mojos a little bit.

Because of the rain and the dust, plus our exhaustion-induced can’t be arsed attitude recently, the bikes have taken a battering. We needed to just find somewhere we could get running water, but came across a shop that offered a motorbike cleaning service and gave it a shot. The guy there was happy to do it, and spent ages meticulously cleaning and lubing the chains and mechs, and then wouldn’t accept any payment.

It’s a couple of day’s ride now until we will take a few days off to rest, recharge, and hopefully get Thai visa extensions.

Our Christmas break divides our cycling in Thailand neatly into two, bridged by some long, tough days on busy roads. Behind us is the south, the palm trees and beaches, with either heavy rains or piercing heat and headwinds. Ahead, the mountains of the north, with their ancient cities and landmarks. The same country, but two entirely different adventures.

Food watch:

Rambutan – south of Nakhon Si Thamarrat

Grilled eggs and grilled fish on sticks – into Nakhon Si Thamarrat

Loads of durian – around Lang Suan

Pineapples and snakefruit – between Luang Suang and Chumphon

Smoked sausages – Muslim-run stalls in Chumphon (must be beef?)

Rice packets and sugarcane – south of Chaiya

Giant green beans – North of Chaiya

Dragonfruit – south of Hua Hin

Pineapples and homages to pineapples – around Hua Hin

Mangosteen and limes – around Phetchaburi

Thong yip and homemade biscuits – north of Ratchaburi

Red grapes – North of Suphanburi

Dried fish and pomelo – south of Nakhon Sawan

Bananas, coconuts and meat on sticks – everywhere

A playlist for the ride:

Truly Asia

Our departure from Istanbul was a stress filled experience. After queuing for ages to check our luggage in, the check in staff couldn’t find the information that we’d booked and purchased cargo space for the bikes. After that was solved, we were sent to the oversized baggage area for the bikes, but they refused to accept them because we’d been given no luggage tags. In a rare moment of assertiveness, Richard refused to go back and queue again. The guy we spoke to just shrugged and left, but fortunately someone else helped out.

We landed in Kuala Lumpur the day before Richard’s birthday, so that combined with the fact that the bikes needed some work doing, meant we planned to stay in the capital for a few days. Nothing whatsoever to do with me booking a hotel on “food street” and wanting to eat everything I could. I guessed that of the food cultures in Malaysia, Indian would be the one we might not see as much, so took advantage of roti breakfasts and curry dinners. We probably stayed a bit too long though, as we were itching to get going again almost immediately.

On the way out, some of KL had a bike lane, which was really pleasant. It was a Sunday, and lots of cyclists were out and about and stopped for a chat or just waved. And then there wasn’t a bike lane but a road hellscape for cyclists. And like the circles of hell, the roads were all at different levels, so not only did we need to find a road going in the right direction, but one at the right height. However, once we got on the correct road out of the city, there was an entirely separate motorbike path running alongside an expressway. It ended at one point, disintegrating into roadworks and a jungle, but the expressway was the only road and clearly signposted as no bicycles or even motorbikes. A guy on a moped noticed our confusion and rode over to check we were okay and knew where to go, I told him where we were heading. “Follow me” he said and rode off onto a small piece of the expressway and then down a fenced off path and back onto a motorbike lane. He waved us on as he went his own way. We never would have found our way, it couldn’t be seen from where we were and wasn’t signposted.

The next day we overreached, underestimating how soft our legs and arses had become after a couple of weeks off the bikes. I was coming down with a throat infection, we had a headwind and found doing 100km a slog. There were lots of friendly waves and hellos throughout the day though and we have found Milo in cartons, which is the single greatest non alcoholic drink in the world. We used to order cans and cartons from an online Thai food shop, but they stopped doing it a few years ago. The hot chocolate drink is available in the UK, and it’s nice, but not the same. That evening we ate at a small outdoor restaurant. The young guy who served us came over with his phone to translate that the business was started by his mum 30 years ago, and was the first chicken rice restaurant in this town, and he wanted to let us know that his mum was happy we wanted to eat here.  He then brought out a huge sharing bowl of dessert as a gift, and then took a round of photos with his mum and her friends.

The following day we took some small rural roads and were treated to some gorgeous scenery and  sightings of otter and monkeys. We planned to get a small ferry boat across the Penak river, but the road started to deteriorate and seemed to be going through a large logging space. The road was blocked, and from a security hut a man very aggressively told us we couldn’t go through. With no other way to get to the crossing, we had to turn back. I wondered if it was just that we weren’t allowed into the area where there was clearly some very scorched earth deforestation going on, but on our way back a moped rider pulled alongside for a chat and told us the boat isn’t running. So gatekeeper guy saved us a few more miles of backtracking. It was a major detour to double back and then get to a bridge, adding about 20 miles onto the day. We’d been lucky the first couple of days cycling in Malaysia that it’s been very overcast, but as the day wore on the clouds gave way to the intense sun, which makes things difficult on top of the humidity.

As the days had gone on, my throat problem had been getting worse, and when it got to the point of struggling to eat (I’m almost entirely driven by food, so this was distressing) we knew we had to rest for a couple of days. Cue catching up with washing and giving the bikes a good clean too, so at least the time wasn’t entirely wasted.

As we travelled further north the opportunities to ride routes along small local roads have become fewer. The deltas and wide rivers mean being funnelled over the large bridges which are only accessed by bigger, busy roads. There have also been flood warnings in the north, and we’ve seen many rivers bursting at the seams, so it doesn’t seem a good idea to go too far off piste and get caught out. The rains have been like clockwork every day in the late afternoon. Heading up the coast, the landscape has changed to huge palm oil plantations, which means there can be stretches with not many services, since it’s all plantation land. It’s very safe riding here though; most of the main roads have a large shoulder or even a whole side lane, because there are so many mopeds. On roads where the opposite lanes are separated by a central reservation, there are even bridges specifically for motorbike use so they can cross safely. They also love to pull alongside and say hello or “Welcome to Malaysia!”

We made it up in the north to a nice seaside town where I was hoping to get a river ferry boat across another river, after the disappointment of the last one. But alas, this one wasn’t running either. At least this time we were prepared for it, so the detour to a bridge wasn’t as galling. On the road later that day we pulled over to rest at a bus stop when a driver pulled over, went into a nearby shop and came over with two cans of drink for us. The kindness of some people never ceases to amaze me.  

The scenery in the far north changes to endless rice paddies and karst formations. It’s a nice change from the palm oil plantations, and signals how close we are getting to Thailand. We’ve spent the whole time in Malaysia surrounded by political party flags, banners and posters. They drape from every lamppost, bridge and pillar, and the flags are planted for miles upon miles with no space in the ground for any more. We’ve ridden past rallies and huge preparations for more of them. We knew there was a general election coming up, impossible not to, so we decided to cross the border to Thailand before the day itself, mostly just to avoid the massive disruption.

There aren’t too many land border options on the West coast, the only one really available to us is at Padang Besar. We read some reviews of the Thai border guards being really strict, but in the end the process was smooth and friendly. And as luck would have it, for a limited time Thailand is offering 45 day visas rather than the usual 30.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed Malaysia, despite me being ill for all of our time on the road. But our intention is to loop round South East Asia and come back to cycle down the East coast, so it’s farewell and not goodbye.

A playlist for the ride:

A Fond Farewell

The steppe of Central Anatolia is not entirely flat, but it is very barren. Very large towns are interspersed with nothing much at all. The route is a grind, and isn’t as rewarding as the scenic coast and mountains, but has its own charm to me. This is unspectacular Turkey, without anything to draw tourists, but with the same warmth and kindness from people as everywhere else. Not much beer though. Inland it has become very noticeable that it’s difficult to find places that serve alcohol, and when we do see them, they are generally full of older men, and have the atmosphere and smells of Working men’s clubs. And the roads are not as well kept here; there were some particularly godforsaken ones around Aksaray.

We finally made it into the town of Nevsehir, which gave us a short ride to the centre of Cappadocia, known for its distinctive “fairy chimney” rock formations, and one of the highlights of our travelling. Richard got a puncture riding there, the third one in the same tube. We tried to change it, rather than fixing it on the road, and discovered that we have brought the wrong inner tubes with us, so we have no spares. We do nothing but ride bikes and carry a few bags, but we can’t even manage to have our shit together even when we have so little shit.

The roads were incredibly quiet, and we kept expecting to see hordes of tourists and the sky full of hot air balloons, one of the things this area is known for, but they never materialised. Richard saw one take off early in the morning (me: asleep) but none the whole rest of our stay. We decided to base ourselves in one spot in Cappadocia, and it was great to be able to explore without the bags weighing us down. We spent the first day riding to see Ortahisar rock castle, then past the eastern outskirts of Göreme. On our unladen bikes we were able to get off road, where usually only the quad bikes go, and get up close to some of the rock formations, which was amazing. We were also able to ride off road through Love Valley, though it was a bit of a slog on very sandy  tracks, then walk round Uçhisar rock castle, which was well worth exploring. The highlights of the other two days were the ride through the Zelve Valley, which was incredible, and the Göreme open air museum. The latter was easily the busiest place we went to, but overall the area was eerily quiet, and we are very lucky that through a combination of things which have affected tourism, we’ve been able to see this otherworldly place without crowds.  Even better, the evenings are now getting chilly. After being blasted with heat for 4 months, it’s nice to feel a change of seasons.

Leaving Cappadocia, we headed West for the first time in ages. The overcast weather has set in, and there were lots of horrible bumpy roads covered with bone jarring chippings. If anything, the random acts of kindness have been more frequent here. On one dull and drizzly day, we were flagged down by a guy in a car who gave us some halva sweets, and then at the top of a hill by a lorry driver, who had stopped in a lay-by to take a break. He made us tea and gave us bread and some honey from the bees he keeps in his time off. We are also cheered up most days by some of the passing coaches bearing the company name Kamil Koc, which causes more hilarity than it should for people our age.

The towns along the way have been fairly non-descript, as has the cycling, although Eskesehir was really nice, with lots of cafes and restaurants by the river. But it’s everyday Turkey and full of unassuming but welcoming people. Our spoken Turkish and our understanding has got better as we’ve gone on, and I’m glad we didn’t do this route the other way round or we might have struggled, since English is pretty widely spoken on the coast, but not so much here. We’ve mostly been eating in very small kebab and soup places, and I think perhaps because we are a novelty, people have been rightly keen to show off food, with our plates being piled high.

As we’ve carried on towards the West, Autumn colours and temperatures have really set in. I’m wearing a coat in the mornings for the first time in ages, and slightly regretting only having sandals to wear on my feet. We were expecting the few days riding before we reached Istanbul to be purely functional, but Turkey keeps serving up great surprises. Heading towards Bursa, the scenery was really lush and beautiful. Although the ride through the city itself was a stressful slog through intense traffic and smog, and being constantly cut up by buses and cars pulling in and out in front of us.

We may not always make the best decisions, but knew that cycling into Istanbul would probably be lethal, so we stopped in the town of Mudanya so we could get a ferry across the sea of Marmara instead. Richard had his second haircut in Turkey (£3.24.) For someone who mostly shuns social interaction, he had a fine time sharing with the barber maps and photos of the places we’d been. The barber was insistent that at his age he must have children, so he made up a daughter, who is apparently 20 but doesn’t have a name.

We arrived in Istanbul almost a week ago. A wonderful friend of mine, Glayne, flew out to visit us. It was amazing to see someone from home, and to have someone other than Richard to talk to. We spent a few days relaxing with lots of great food and beer, and doing enough sightseeing and walking to justify that. The remaining thing to do before we wrap up here was to get bike boxes and get ready for a flight. Packing up the bikes has been a complete nightmare, but we were fortunately near some tool sellers and bike shops who were able to help.

We’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the two and a half months or so we’ve spent here. Turkey is a vast and diverse country, and while I’m happy with what we’ve done, I would love to come back and spend time riding in the far East and North. The cycling here has been physically tough, but the kindness of the people we’ve met and the places we’ve seen have made all the pain worthwhile. We’re lucky that we will almost certainly be able to come back to this amazing country. In the meantime, if I’m ever jaded or doubting the goodness of people, I only need to think of this place.

A playlist for the ride:

The Kindness of Strangers

I have been tired and lazy about keeping this up to date. Now we are inland in the Autumn, the baking hot days and amazing coastline are a distant memory. But back to where we left off: We took a very pleasant couple of days off in Dalyan, a very chill place considering it is a tourist hub. We chatted for a couple of evenings with Veysi, a restaurant manager who told us all about his travels, taught us some things about life and politics in modern Turkey, and inspired me to one day ride to Nordkapp.

Dalyan is the first of the popular holiday towns on or near the Levantine sea, the next one up is Fethiye. The ride through and after Fethiye was full of lots of both tourist and industrial traffic, on a very busy road. It was the only time I’ve felt a bit unsafe cycling here. Even though the roads were wide, there were no lines, so the usual safe little shoulder we claim wasn’t marked out. We took a slightly quieter road after this experience and had a long day in the sun, and I was feeling a bit under the weather. We were now scaling the medium climbs with ease, but the coast roads zig and zag and we found ourselves with a nasty headwind. We pulled over to a bus stop, and a pickup truck pulled alongside us. The guy got out and went into some nearby bushes and then looked like he was climbing a tree. Weird, but none of our business. Then he emerged from a grove and handed us some figs to eat, so he must have been up the tree picking them. A few minutes later, a couple on a moped pulled up, and through some signs and gestures, we realised they were saying that they’d seen us a few times today and had stopped to say hello. It’s a big boost to know we are fast enough to play at tag team with a moped.

The next few days we had our biggest climbs yet in quick succession, breaking our record each day. The worst hill was ridiculously steep, I could barely turn the pedals in the lowest gear. Thankfully we’d stocked up on drinks, because it was a bit of a barren run. We then had a descent through the town of Kalkan, and followed the D400 road along the coast. It was spectacular, with perfectly clear sea, beautiful coves, and a giant turtle sighting by Richard. It was easily the most scenic road I’ve ever cycled.

It was undulating, and as the day wore on, the earlier big climb took its toll, and at some point my legs just gave up the ghost. Other days the muscles ache and cycling is hard, but not to the point I couldn’t push through. This time there was just no power or energy left at all. We stopped at a bench in the shade, with a family having a picnic nearby. After a few minutes a young woman came over, with a tray of tea for us. I couldn’t even express to her how grateful we were, but I hope she understood. When I got up to return the tray, the mother came over and pressed a large plastic tub towards me, which I tried to refuse, but she insisted. It was full of fresh grapes.

At the end of the day, Richard discovered that he had a slow puncture, the only one so far after about 6,000km. We found the tear in the inner tube, but it wasn’t clean, it just looked like something had worn rather than punctured through. It took another couple of days, and another puncture, to get rid of a bit of wire which had worked its way through the tyre at an angle, which made it difficult to find.

After riding through Kas, the road cuts inland. Cycling along the coast is beautiful, but inland the scenery was great too, and even though we took a fairly major route we had it all to ourselves for long stretches. It was eerie being able to weave around all the lanes with not a soul in sight. Inevitably this made me wonder what would happen if the zombie apocalypse occurs when we are up here away from everything. We would just be blissfully cycling away while everyone else is eating brains. We would probably fair pretty badly though when we reached civilisation, as once the downhill runs out, I ride so slowly I could be caught by almost anything faster than a tree. We only have a pocket knife and a small folding knife to defend ourselves, and they will be useless because I’m a coward. We have no skills or knowledge to survive in the wild. Rolling my own cigarettes is probably the standout survival skill that I possess. It turns out that Richard hasn’t thought about these things, and sometimes I envy that.

Despite finding the ride along Turkey’s Levantine coast to be stunning and rewarding, we didn’t really love any of the towns. Patara and Kas were nice enough, but we’d hoped to fall in love with somewhere that we’d want to stay for a few days and relax. We’d heard Cirali was one of the most amazing beaches in Turkey, so we took a detour there (long descent in, painful climb out,) but it wasn’t our kind of place. We did really like Demre, maybe because it was just an ordinary town and we liked wandering around seeing ordinary people just going about their business.

After Demre, the road turned north around Kumluca, and there remained one final beast of a climb before things flattened out and the traffic built towards Antalya. We did a long day to get to and get clear of that city. There were two tunnels which wiped away the minor hills we were expecting, so it turned out to be the flattest day we’d had riding in Turkey. But the endless heavy traffic became unbearable, and the main road felt dangerous now with the constant slip roads and on ramps, which are always hair raising to negotiate. It became not just unenjoyable but not worth it. We both knew it was time to head north, away from the coast and the string of resorts now lined up along it.

We turned inland feeling satisfied about the change of scenery, and eager to reach Cappadocia, one of Turkey’s great jewels and one of the things left that we desperately want to see. The Southern coast of Turkey here is separated from inland Anatolia by the Taurus mountains, but we were just far enough West to avoid the biggest of them. The roads are thankfully wide and smooth, and now the heat is easing off as we head into Autumn, they were manageable. We were surprised with how verdant they were after a summer of searing weather. Even quite close up it looks like folded carpets of trees down into deep valleys, with villages nestled impossibly amongst them. It seemed like another country from where we’d just been. And then, not two day’s ride later, the steppes of Central Anatolia. Barren, arid plains for as far as the eye can see. The vastness of it is somehow more dramatic than the jagged coastline or the soaring mountains. I hope I don’t live to regret losing my rag at some busy coastal roads and giving them up to cross this. But we should be able to cover a lot of ground quickly, and at the end of it will be a fairytale landscape like nothing else in the world.

A playlist for the ride:

Riding High

We spent a couple of days off doing almost nothing but resting. We came across a launderette which we decided to splurge on, and it’s incredibly tragic how excited we were to have truly clean clothes, and not just ones we rinse every night with shower gel in a sink.

On leaving, we had a few miles of off road cycling, which I found a nice change, especially as we’ve been on some busy tourist sections. It was pleasant to just have some quiet away from the traffic noise. Richard hates this kind of cycling though, so not the best start to the day for him. 

Soon we reached Lake Bafa, and rode alongside the south road. It was a day of amazing scenery, although it’s such a busy road there were limited opportunities to stop much and really appreciate it. The road was mostly undulating and the day was very hot (as usual,) so we stopped at the top of one of the inclines where there was a roadside stall. A woman asked if I wanted water, so I said yes and picked up some bottles from a stack on the ground, but she put them back and went and got some cold bottles from a fridge instead and gave us a seat in the shade.

Round the next bend we bumped into a pair of cyclists, which was a huge shock. We haven’t seen anyone else on the road for ages. One was on his phone and the other waved us on, indicating that he didn’t speak English. But then they both came over and tried to chat using a translate app. They were both from Turkey (obvious anyway by all the flags adorning their bikes!) They are heading round the coast also, but we are diverting to see the lake, so I’m not sure if we’ll catch them up again at some point. The phone guy was wearing a long sleeved shirt, long tights, and a neck buff which also covered his face. He didn’t look hot and it probably very used to the heat here, but if I was decked out like that, by the end of the day I’d be like a banana wrapped in foil and put on a BBQ.

We were heading to a small village which was recommended to us by the guy who gave us a lift to Ephesus, and it was a great detour. We rode through some extraordinary rock formations, with a background of mountain vistas along a road with hardly any traffic, and alongside a beautiful serene lake. We stayed in a quiet little room, where we had the drama of Richard finding a lizard on the wall. He has to deal with spiders, but any other creature falls to me. We were really in need of a good night’s sleep, so were hoping that in such a quiet place that would be a given. But there was a wedding in the village that night.

Another day, another big hill, which will be a theme in Turkey. This one had a surprise tunnel at the top, which was nice as we were expecting to climb another couple of hundred feet. It was pretty well lit and not too long, and the downhill on the other side was joyous as usual. The next 10 miles or so was actually really flat, which made a massive change. We passed through a series of small towns, and exiting one a boy of about 8 or 9 ran to the side of the road and gave us both high fives.

We had a giant brake-busting descent right at the end of the day to a town by the sea which was locked in by hills, so we knew we had a nasty start to the next morning. We got a really early start to avoid the heat, and spent the first 3 miles climbing. A group of stray dogs made a beeline for us, and one of them attached itself by its jaws to a pannier for a bit, but didn’t do any real damage. My chain came off three times, my fault for not looking after it lately, but it did start to feel like a cursed day. We got to the top, where our biking apps and GPS assured us there was small coastal road, but were met will a high wall, a tall barrier gate and a padlock and chain. I felt sick as it sunk in that there was no way round this, and we had to backtrack all the downhill and do it all again in another direction, wasting the early start and all the effort put in.

The ride into Bodrum was probably the busiest yet. Most local traffic and the lorries and delivery vans are no problem to us, but tourist traffic, particularly the coaches, are always the worst. They are unforgiving with space and speed, and often get too close for comfort. We took a short rest to relax in a pool and catch up with washing. We met a lovely British couple (Louise and Kevin) and spent a good evening having a few beers. It was the only time on the trip that we have been a bit drunk, though my friends & family probably won’t believe that!

The next couple of days we followed smaller quiet roads through rural areas. We could go for miles without seeing a single vehicle. Even a couple of villages by some gorgeous coastline were very quiet, and we were able to have some leisurely paddles in the sea. The days were tough on the legs though. We had our biggest ascent and reached our highest point so far. It was through shady pine forests in the morning, and the difference of not having the sun beating down was huge. We stopped at a cafe for something to eat near the end of the day, and the guy serving us filled our water bottles and gave us extra to take with us before we left.

We then had the worst day yet, for me anyway. We had both managed the previous day’s climbing better than we thought, but I found out that a night’s sleep wasn’t enough for my legs to recover. After only a couple of miles of gentle uphill, my legs were screaming and I had a bit of fear creep in that I wasn’t going to be able to do the day we had planned. The next couple of hours of climbing were pure torture. I just had no energy and had to stop constantly to rest. It was the first time I’ve got off and walked some of a hill. I knew there was a flat section coming up, and when I got to the brow of it I was greeted by a man standing in the road, waving a corn on the cob and yelling “CORN!” at me, with Richard off to the side with an armful of figs laughing at it all. Richard had been at the top some time, and corn guy had been showing him round his fruit grove, and then how to spot and pick the ripe figs, which they had gathered for to us to eat (that is how slow I was.) He had a roadside stall where he pulled up some seats, and we sat eating figs and grapes. The man had been a teacher for 40 years, but now lived on his fruit farm and sold the excess produce at his stall. Richard and he had been exchanging the English/Turkish words for the various items, and since then the guy had been trying to entice passing trade with the corn waving and English. He asked if we would like tea. Normally it’s impolite to refuse, but it would have meant going off up a dirt track to his farmhouse some distance from the road, and he seemed quite understanding that we couldn’t leave the bikes and needed to get on. He told us that we had another kilometre of climbing and then some downhill, so we wearily set off again. I’d like to imagine that in years to come there will be a guy at the top of a hill in Turkey waving a corn on the cob in the road and shouting “Corn!” to passing motorists.

The rest of the day never seemed to end. We stopped frequently for cold drinks, and an ice cream, but nothing helped give me energy. We spent the last part of the day cycling right beside picture perfect turquoise sea, and it was a nice distraction, but by this point I was struggling with even the smallest undulation. I ended up walking the last half mile, and even that was a chore. We had a big dinner and a great night’s sleep, but I was worried about the next day. It was the longest distance we’d done for a while, but with much gentler climbs. I must just have had an off day, because once we got going I felt good. I was even relaxed about backtracking a couple of miles because I left two of my water bottles at a bus stop where we’d stopped to rest. We had a quiet and flat run into Dalyan, where we’ll take another day off.

When we first started riding in Turkey, we were wiped out at the end of every day, too tired to keep up with chores or to appreciate where we were. The plan to ride a few short but tough days and then rest for one full day has worked really well for us so far. We’ve been able to cope with the heat and hills, give ourselves time to recover and really enjoy being in Turkey. We also are feeling as though we’ve levelled up a bit physically, which is going to come in handy. Ahead of us soon is the Lycian Way and at some point after we will need to cross the mountains if we want to head inland and see Cappadocia.

Here’s my playlist for this ride through Turkey: