Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Checking in...

Ainaz is in Bangkok, Thailand.

I'm experiencing a major case of writer's block... but it's been a month since I wrote, and it might be a month before I can post something again, so I better check in! More pictures and elaboration of stories to come in the not so near future.

Last time I wrote I had just completed the Great Explorations bike tour from Ha Noi to Dalat and was awaiting Dariya's arrival in the little Paris of Vietnam.

Well, the tour was exactly what I needed to recoup after the mountains.. I hopped on a new bike to take a rest from my saddle and give my bike a rest after a horrific flight experience where somehow her frame got bent and both my wheels got wrapped. Amongst lovely people - Peter from Ontario, Lisa and Ian from Texas, and our awesome local guide Tam we explored Vietnam's history and culture, enjoying lots of good food and a few fancy hotels too ;)
That was a delicious meal!
Pilgrimage Village in Hue
Dariya completed her own mountain challenge coming to meet up with me in Dalat! She rode up the 1,500m pass to meet me in the city of flowers, berries and avocados... that girl :)

After much needed catching up with Dariya the next day I found a 71yr old brilliant bike mechanic, who I could communicate with without words, our language was one of love for bikes.
Ghuaw is this man's name .. his name means Peace.
We took another day in Dalat to ride higher up the mountains to the surrounding tea plantations. I got to test out my bikes' repairs and we got chance to buy some first grade Oolong tea at a very low price.
Then we dropped to the coast for a little vacation on the beaches of Mui Ne. Or as the locals call it now, little Moscow!
There is nothing more lovely on the rode than being with a familiar face and someone who you don't have to paint your whole life history for again. Dariya and I were happy to have met up and had a chance to check in with each other in person .. but we both knew now after a month apart that our styles of travel by bike is very different and we cannot continue together. So we wished each other farewell once more, celebrated with one last cup of vietnamese coffee and some fancy chocolate... then I continued South along the coast and she caught a train North to go see the rest of Vietnam.
Safe journey, Dariya joon!

The coast continued to be mostly taken over by resorts and I caught myself greeting more people in Russian than in Vietnamese or English. When sea wasn't hidden behind resorts, it indeed was beautiful.
ah, yes.. coast line.

I spent a lovely evening with a generous local family in La Gi. Only my second home-stay invitation in all of SE Asia.
Kim is an English teacher at the local school :) She "picked me up" on her scooter when I arrived in town.

I took on a little adventure again and found a converted fishing boat to take across the bay South of Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) and avoid the big city sprawl this way.
You can always find a boat to take you across the water in Asia.
But the sprawl had spilled over onto the Mekong Delta. I was expecting little villages and a Vietnam unexploited by the tourist. I found mostly the opposite. Big roads with lots of traffic and still I was quoted everything at double the price and every little transaction was a struggle.
The Vietnamese love to honk.. they have modified car horns and proud to show it off .. so my normal day through the Mekong Delta was 60-70kms of pedaling to tunes of de-escalating car horns and ear piercing scooter honks... and 20-30kms of little gem roads to give me a relief between these big busy roads. and all of this in the heat of the sun, all the day long.... there is no shade on the roads in this part of the world.
Beautiful cafe along the hwy in Mekong Delta!
Vietnam also had the dirtiest guesthouses of amongst the 4 countries I've been to in this region. The rooms are often used hourly and sheets not changed.. so many times I would check in and find one of my pillows smells like perfume, the other like cigarettes and I would cringe to imagine what went on in the room I'm calling home for the night. Often I would have to negotiate not only for the hope to get a more fair price on the rooms, but also beg to get clean sheets! And don't even get me started on the bathrooms .. I learned to laugh it off and put on a filter on my eyes, nose and ears to survive the budget accommodations in this country.

And one last straw broke this camels back when I spent over 2 hours trying to leave Vietnam because their border officials were more busy playing backgammon and picking at their noses than assisting me in getting an exit stamp and through to Cambodia.
I have no desire to ever go back to Vietnam.

My ride through Cambodia was quick. I was mainly back here to visit Angkor at Siem Reap. I love this country - where you see more buffalos in a day than cars, where the locals are straight with you and appreciative of your efforts to visit their country and learn about their culture.
Of course a visit to Cambodia would not be complete without some exploration through unpaved roads :) so I had a good couple of days of adventure on bumpy and sandy roads, missing turns and having to negotiate make shift arrangements for food and shelter with locals.

Angkor was amazing. I normally don't like touristic stuff, but these ruins were amazing to walk through.
I decided to turn back to the highway after these locals gestured that I would choke/die/get killed if I continue on this road!!!!! I wish I knew what they were really trying to tell me! :)

oh Cambodia, I love you.

I also had a lot of good reflections during my time in Cambodia. A few more self realizations, a bit more familiar with my own strengths and limitations. My greatest breakthroughs were noticing that I am very impatient! and admitting I am afraid of dying alone. We can philosophize all this another time...

When I started seeing mirages of other cycle tourists on the highway (silhouette of a loaded scooter from afar very closely resembles a cycle tourist!), I knew it was time to either stop, or actively seek joining other cyclists traveling in this region.
I thought I was trying to hook up with Greg - a friend of Michel and Karin (the lovely Belgian couple I rode with last time in Cambodia). But a random unrelated check-in with Jean-Baptist of the World-Bike-Trippers, lead to me hopping on a train to Bangkok to join them on a bike ride through Burma!
The man sitting across the isle from me on the train was a professor of graphics and animation .. and he animated my graphic sleeping strategy on the train seat :)
So here I am.. I have spent the past 4 days in Bangkok biking to every corner of the city with my new friends, gathering equipment (or attempting to!) to get ready for a whole lot of unknown for a visit to this newly open to tourism country - Myanmar/Burma. We fly to Mandalay tomorrow :)
Once again, I'm excited and anxious all in one (and impatient to find out how it all unfolds! hehe)

long faces after a failed attempt to exchange money

A big thanks to my generous host Christer (a friend of Christopher - my dear friend from Vancouver) for welcoming me into his lovely home here in Bangkok.
mmm. Japanese food!
I will likely have no internet while in Burma. So I will read and answer your emails and messages when I'm back!

Chok Dee Kaa!.. see you after this final challenge ;)


  1. Burma . Wow - that'll be a trip. Here's lodging for one night::

    May your days and nights be filled with friendship and companionship.

  2. Ainaz, SO good to read your latest blog and to know you are doing well and on a new adventure. I can't wait to read the next chapter. Happy safe trails.