Beyond the Bike
As Deng Xiapeng and Mao Ze Dong both said 'One country, two systems'. Although they were talking about Macau/Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland, we saw this to be true in so many different ways. It is quite fitting that our final African country was one of huge (probably more well known) contrasts; geographic, ethnic and economic. Our final Asian country and of the entire journey (or the small part of the enormous country we have seen) really is also one of startling contrasts. Our first month was spent in the South of this huge country, travelling through the provinces of Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong en route to Hong Kong.
We rushed through Laos (covering the entire country from southernmost to northenmost border in three weeks, cycling around 800km and 'cheating' on two buses. Despite our speedy journey, the affectionate version of PDR (People's Democratic Republic) was ever so true as we found out very quickly (if that is not a paradox!). In fact, we were told the same joke we had been told in several African countries - 'In the west you have the watches but in Laos (or Africa) we have the time.' Laos is one of the most relaxed countries we have visited with plenty of cyclists. Despite its hilliness (sometimes 20% climbs), we really enjoyed our time there - on a few of its 4000 southern islands, in the Mekongside villages and in its two main cities. The only time it was totally crazy was during Pi Mai or New Year.
We saw three different sides to the smallest country in our Asian odyssey (except Singapore). Firstly, the incredible ruins of the powerful Angkorian Empire that dominated the region 1000 years ago. Secondly, the memorials and stories of the terrible Pol Pot regime only 40 years ago. Finally, a country trying to rebuild itself, trying to escape its recent past and its more powerful neighbours. Our group ride with United World Schools (UWS) really demonstrated how Cambodia is being rebuilt, slowly but surely. Our week with UWS yet again humbled us and made us realise how lucky we are and how important the work they and Beyond Ourselves (in Zambia) is doing.
Our own endurance challenge has opened our eyes to the importance of sustainability in bikes, phones, chocolate, clothes, dragon fruit, toilets… as well as the wider ubiquitous and all important issues of deforestation and drought.
Temples, dogs, rice, more kind drivers (except in Bangkok), finally some cycle tourists, perfect beaches, Tsunami rememberance, cock fighting, funerals and inspiring stories. Our month in Thailand was beautiful and eventful...
Wonderful people, careful drivers, and very few hills: after over a month of ‘holiday’ where we cycled only about 200km we needed to make up some miles and Malaysia was the perfect place to do this. We chose the west coast as it was a shorter distance, better weather and less touristy. In fact, between Malacca and Penang we didn’t see another westerner...