Monday 22 May 2017

Circumnavigating Indochina on a Honda Win 110cc. 11/11/15 - 23/03/17

Friday, 18 November 2016


So, it's been a while! Things change and don't always go to plan, but I am now back on the road again and currently in Vietnam. I arrived in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) around a week ago and plan to travel around the SE Asian region until next spring. Besides everything else it was a pleasure to leave the English November snow behind and arrive in the balmy warmth of the tropics - my hair's still wet from swimming in the warm South China sea as I write this!

I left the chaos of Saigon two days ago. I was bed-ridden with pharyngitis just before I was due to get on the sixteen hour plane journey here - which wasn't the best situation to be in! And I found the seven hour time difference ridiculous to get used to. I usually don't sleep before 02:00 am, and when that's nine in the morning here it meant that I barely slept for three days. Yet Valium cures all. Lovely pharmacies.

Still, it was shockingly easy to find a bike out here during my four days in Saigon. Below is my little beauty; a 'Honda Win'. I'm pretty certain that the chassis is the only remaining Honda part of the bike, but it's more or less impossible to find a manual bike like this with an original Honda engine. Although it does have a Lifan 110cc, and for those in the know these have a pretty good reputation as far as Chinese engines go - and so far it's shaping up to be pretty good! After literally three quarters of a day haggling I managed to pick it up for around £250.

The little Win loaded up, sans tank-bag. 

Some typical views of Saigon.

It seems that it's pretty popular for Westerners to come here and buy bikes to travel the length of Vietnam (we can blame Top Gear) and literally the day after I bought my bike I managed to find five other guys who are heading the same way.

My map on the table as everyone checks the route out on their phones.

My map wins!

The gang about to leave Saigon. A German, a German, a German, an Israeli, a Frenchman (who's also a doctor) and one English. Only myself and Sean (the other blonde guy) have any motorcycle experience, so the last two days on the road has been 'interesting'. Still, if you're a Vietnamese girl riding a bicycle in the rain and you get run into by a foreigner on a motorcycle then it's for the best that he's a doctor. Onwards!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Vietnam Sand Dunes

Did you know there are sand dunes in Vietnam? I had no idea until I came to Mui Ne. It's a shame that quad bikes have somehow managed to rid the place of its tranquility. It's very much worth a visit regardless  if you're in the region.

I had planned to ride up north to Dalat with my friends today, but I got ushered into a card game last night with a few beers, and then some more beers, which then turned into still being awake as everyone rose and got ready to depart. It happens! Still, it was well worth watching the sunrise this morning.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Riding two-up through the Vietnamese highlands.

So as with most things that happen for the good in life, they occur in random moments. On the evening that I was due to depart Mui Ne for Dalat with the group of six of us I met in Saigon, I was ready to go to bed at ten to be fresh for the morning ride. Yet after an evening game of pool I was called over to play a game of cards with the small group of people left in the hostel who's idea of a pub crawl isn't their thing. This then turned into more beers, and then more beers until we realised it was 04:30 in the morning. And in the over-optimism of alcohol as we watched the sun rise over the South China sea, knowing that I couldn't ride for Dalat that day I decided to invite Lauren on the back of my bike to hit the mountains of lower-Vietnam the next day.

So the following day after going to bed at 09:00 am and waking at 16:00 I was a little pensive with my sober thoughts about the practicalities of riding a Chinese 110cc bike with two people and their two sets of back-packs into the mountains. But those uncertainties were soon squashed. It's true that the bike felt a little heavy, but it never missed a beat or put in any form of protest. And riding on the weaving potholed roads or sometimes just rocks and gravel, really reminded me of riding through the Congo, and I felt at home on the bike, liberated and free. It's also very nice to be able to have a conversation whilst riding. I've been turned on to the prospect of riding double from now on.

The mountains of Vietnam are beautiful.

We developed a different kind of travelling during our three day ride to where we are now; 'restaurant camping'. It was remarkably easy to find a place an hour before the sun was due to set to pitch our tent. Miming a tent was not so. A triangle over our heads was pretty baffling for most people, so learning the Vietnamese for tent, 'Leu' was invaluable. Still, I have to say that if you are planning to do your own trip around SE Asia with your own set of wheels, then a tent is a must. Many travel blogs say it's not necessary to bring a tent to this region as accommodation is cheap and plentiful, but I disagree. It gives you such freedom to be able to decide where you spend the night, and opens up possibilities for truly Vietnamese and unique experiences.

The most notable night was when we stayed with Houng and his family in a little mountain cafe. They were very eager and happy for us to stay, and simply just moved their tables for us to be able to pitch our tent. It works for both parties; we have a place to sleep and they have our custom for dinner, breakfast and all the beer we wish to drink, for a pittance of what we would spend in an isolated room in a guesthouse.

We were the third tourists who had stayed with them in the twenty years that they've owned the restaurant, and Houng was adamant about celebrating this, and produced his 'happy water' - a home brewed spirit made from rice. I'm really not into taking shots, and was shocked when we stopped for lunch earlier that day and some members of the police sat at a table offered me some vodka when I was in my full motorcycle attire, but it turned out that night I had to drink A LOT of them. One litre between three people. It makes you blind drunk, not actually blind, thankfully. 

Our morning restaurant camp.

A beautiful view to wake up to.

Some isolated mountain road where we nearly ran over a snake.

A floating market that we found whilst crossing a bridge.

The views of dreams.

Our plan was to head for a tiny speck of water on my map called lake Lak, and Lauren was amazed at my optimism when I assured here there would be a resort there, that they'd let us camp on the grass, there'd be a nice restaurant with wifi and we can drink over the view of the lake. I didn't know anything about the place, but it turned out it was all true. Talk about me being psychic has been floating about, but the truth is that this country just works. I love Vietnam, and I'm certain that the following months are going to be great.

Lauren has to head home to the states in the next few days so I think I'll be riding to join my friends I met in Saigon who affectionately nicknamed our 'motorcycle gang' the 'Chicken Gang' after a man in a back street bar jokingly threatened us with with a fighting cock he had under his jumper. Onwards!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Marooned in Hoi An by a typhoon.

So for the last five days we've being marooned in a hostel in Hoi An due to a typhoon arriving on the coast. It was a great ride here from Lake Lak and I had planned a write-up since arriving, but a sort of Stockholm syndrome has taken effect between everyone here and the result has been lots of booze.

I've met up with Marc and Sean again and today we are riding to Dangang just 30km north to try and slowly escape the pouring rain. I think I can make the write up once we arrive in Hue as we've decided to extend our visas for another month. Just one month is not enough to see this country on a bike!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

From Hoi An to Hue, via Da Nang, Marble Mountain and the Hai Van pass.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Fresh fish, driftwood fires, exploding sinks and stitches.

So it's been quite a busy week and I have been quite rubbish at updating this site this time around, but thankfully Marc has captured the most significant event in a short film he's made down below.

The synopsis is; it was a great day visiting an isolated beach, buying fish from sea fishermen and cooking them on driftwood fires. Then we went to a free hotel and whilst I was in the bathroom the sink fell off the wall and exploded on the floor, opening a gash in the top of my foot to the point where I could see the fat inside. It was definitely one of those moments when you think 'did that just actually happen?' where one second everything's fine then the next there's a deafening echo in the room, blood pouring out of me and a canon jet of water bursting out of the wall.

The guys at the hotel were very nice though and took me to hospital as it needed stitches, and insisted on paying for it too. The bed side was that the lady who did the stitches didn't know how to inject me with anesthetic properly (it should be injected into a nerve near the ankle so it can disperse into the other nerves around the foot - not directly beside the wound) and I literally felt everything. The part of the video where I'm laughing manically is where iodine is being poured into it, but unfortunately Marc's camera died when the stitches were being put in. I always wondered what it was like to have stitches without pain relief, and now I know. 

It was just bad luck and bad timing as it was my birthday two days later and we were in a mountain town with the largest cave systems in the world, and as I couldn't walk properly I just spent the day eating all the food, drinking all the whisky and trying to find all the codeine in the town, which was depressingly little.

The foot is healing up now though, despite one of the stitches bursting after only two days. I decided to stay behind in the town for an extra couple of days as something inside was telling me to keep it easy for a while. Plus I find this easier dealing with this on my own as I can ride the way I want, stop when I want and don't have to get as angry as I'm the only one who controls how long I keep my boot on for. I'm on route to meet up with the gang in a few days though in a town called Ninh Binh. In just five weeks I've managed to make it from the south to the north.   

*Please check my video tab

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Off-road riding, bullets, land mines, war tunnels and bats.

We're in Ninh Binh now, and I THINK we have finally escaped the rain *clothes are in the launderette getting the mold washed off them*. My foot is slowly healing. Not sure if the stitches are the type that absorb or not. They're definitely not made out of wire and are quite flimsy so I will try and take them out within the next few days anyway. Our passports have now safely arrived in the post with the visa extensions too, so it's onwards and upwards from here.

There's been a lot of stories over the past weeks, but seeing how I'm backlogged with this blog, here is another video that Marc made of our off-road escapades (before the injured foot), finding old war relics and exploring underground tunnels made by the Vietnamese to escape the American bombs. Marc has a very manly reaction to a bat. Enjoy!

*Please check my video tab

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Drunken nights, glowing plankton, motorcycle crashes and Christmas.

Okay, so on this Christmas day it will probably be best if I just start off listing the numerous injuries I've managed to inflict upon myself...  for the Christmas cheer and all that!

So Sean took my stitches out for me a few days ago, which went really smooth. It's nice travelling with a paramedic. And now I think the injury has got to the point where I don't have to bandage it anymore. In cellarbration, or just getting into the full swing of the night, I, along with everyone else in our group got blind drunk once we met up on the island of Cat Ba, located in Ha Long bay. One thing led to another and we decided to ride our bikes *shakes head* to the port (it was a deserted island road, so kind of better) where we snuck onto a ferry boat and lay dangling our hands over the edge into the water. This was the first time I've ever seen phosphorescent plankton (the kind that glow when they are disturbed) so I jumped into the water and dived around as the water sparkled around me. I loved every second but I managed to tear my hands up pretty badly as I climbed back out of the sea to the shore on some razor sharp rocks. Sans one bandage on the foot and now one on the right hand!

Last night took the crown though on the most stupid thing I've ever managed to do on a motorcycle. There's no point in sugar coating it, so to tell it like it is; I managed to ride head-on into a concrete bollard on the top of a mountain... This is without a doubt the most idiotic, painful and mechanically 
damaging accident I've ever done. As far as the bike goes; the front wheel is buckled, the tyre has ruptured from the mud guard as it smacked into the engine, both front forks are bent, cracked suspension, indicators smashed, handlebars bent and something dodgy has happened to the throttle.
 As far as I'm concerned... I was basically dragged over the bike as I went flying over, and it's quite comforting to know that the only parts that are injured are the parts that wasn't protected from my motorcycle gear. Both my thighs are really badly bruised, as is my left arm, a part of my stomach, a patch of skin on my inner groin has been torn away (two inches to the left and it would have been very, very, VERY bad), and together with both hands cut up and a foot that's just had stitches taken out, well... merry Christmas! I was injured in 'Nam...

Everything is fine though. There's very little I would change. I would have maybe climbed out of the sea at a different place and would have definitely not have been such a fool and driven into a bollard. But these things happen. It will only cost me around £50 to fix everything on the bike, which isn't anything to cry about. The thing I am bothered about is the fact that I let that happen. I'll be calling myself an idiot for a long time coming.
 But to keep with the Christmas cheer, I am loving Vietnam, despite the woes. When I was riding around the island yesterday I had a thought 'I didn't think it was possible to love Vietnam anymore, but always there is something else that manages to top everything.' And it's true. It's a fantastic place. The people I'm with too, are brilliant. It feels like I'm travelling I'm travelling with a family. There's never a dull moment. Gaby commented yesterday that on the way back down the mountain in the dark when the track started going uphill again, Sean and Marc rode at each side of me and pushed me up the hill with my bumpy front tyre, and despite all the problems she smiled at the bonds of friendship that were there.

So there we go. Despite the broken body and bike, I'm still smiling this Christmas and I wouldn't wish to be anywhere else. Merry Christmas to all you guys at home. Keep smiling, whatever happens something is always okay. That's all the Christmas cheer I'm willing to give. Just no more injuries, Liam, for fucks sake...

Here are some nice photo's from over the pat few weeks.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Ha Long bay, Hanoi, engine seizure and a new year.

Well, that's another engine that's crapped itself. I didn't think I'd let another engine seize up again (I think this is now the sixth engine that's broken on me) but at least I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong with it. The beginnings of its downfall was when I had my accident on the mountain in Cat Ba island. I don't think the wheel and mudguard smashing into the top of the engine would have caused any significant damage, but I think that the way the bike lay, sort of half smashed and half propped up against the concrete post did. When I went over the top of the bike my lower body dragged against the handle bars, bending them and pulling the throttle cable to the point that the bike was on maximum revs, and as it lay on its side as I was buckled up in pain on the floor I don't think the oil could have splashed around the engine properly, and I assume the over-revving had damaged the piston rings.

Before this accident I was really pleased with the engine. The oil took around 500 miles before it became discoloured, and it burnt very little. I filled it up around 250 miles away from Cat  Ba, and when I checked the level before I set off for Hanoi it was fine. This was the first long distance day I'd done since the accident though, and something had definitely gone wrong.

I broke down 8km away from the hostel I was aiming for in Hanoi, which was quite lucky. At first I thought that I had run out of petrol as it sounded like it was starving, and seeing how I was riding alone due to two earlier punctures I asked a local to get me some fuel. This didn't have any effect though, and as we tweaked the carb I looked back at the exhaust and saw plumes of white smoke
pouring out. And as I thought 'fuck, that really isn't good', the engine locked up.

At least with this time though, there wasn't any sinking stomach feelings of dread, and I just had to laugh at it happening again. Que sera sera. Whatever will be, will be.
 This was yesterday evening. And from riding all day all I wanted to do was to leave my bike by the side of the road, go to my hostel, and worry about it the following day. A very nice random stranger on the street walked by though, and with good English asked what the problem was. And after I explained and stated that I was just going to leave for the evening he insisted on taking my bike to a mechanic for me, saying that he just wanted to help. It felt strange handing over my keys to a complete stranger, but I decided to trust him. He's spent the day finding me the best mechanic and getting the work done for a local price. Swings and roundabouts. I absolutely love Vietnam.

Seriously, it's amazing here. I'm not a big city kind of person, but Hanoi is excellent. I'm considering moving here at the start of the next decade after I've finished my plans for the next few years. On the boat from Cat Ba to the mainland yesterday a man who is overseeing the construction of a new port there offered me a job teaching his niece English for $30 an hour. This could actually become a reality within the next few years.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful Ha Long bay.

And here's one of me after multiple injuries, a motorcycle accident and a broken bike, still being able to climb a mountain and piss off the top of the world. Happy new year!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Mountains, mountains, mountains and preparing to leave Vietnam.

So I have sadly reached the end of my time in Vietnam. Although after spending double the time in the country than I'd originally planned, I am excited to be crossing into another nation. But what a send off this past week has been, especially the past few days. Vietnam should be proud of its northern mountain ranges.
 I'm currently in a town called Sapa, situated on the top of a mountain, literally above the clouds, just a few kilometers away from the southern Chinese border.

It took me three days to ride the 200 miles here from Hanoi. I left a day earlier than Sean and Marc as I wanted to take it easy with a new piston and various other new components that were lost in translation. The bike is raring to go though, and I really want to give my thanks to Nguyen Minh Loc - a man who was just a complete stranger I met on the side of road when my bike broke down and he literally took care of all the problems for me, and even rode it back to my hostel. What a great guy. Humbled.

I met a friend on my second day of the ride here; Michelle, a girl from the Netherlands who had rode a bike she'd just bought from Hanoi that day - her first ever motorcycle experience, with the aim of riding it to Saigon on her own. Love it.
 We found a small village with a guesthouse that evening and rode on my bike to find a place to eat, which was basically a road side shack which had a sow with lots of tiny piglets suckling on it at the back next to the squat toilet - all lit up by the embers of a fire with a cauldron sitting on top.
 The people of the northern mountains of Vietnam are ethnically different from the rest of the country, 
and it's evident in not just the way they look, but the way the behave and the houses they live in, which are usually two story dwellings made of wood on the sloping hills. Rice paddies have been carved out of the hills and people are tilling fields with buffalo and wooden carts. I saw one young boy riding on the back of a giant buffalo as it trudged up the mountain, having the time of his life. I was jealous of his childhood. In short, it's a beautiful place with beautiful people.
 On the way back from eating with the pigs we decided to try and find somewhere to drink, and in a village that we assumed was the same as our guesthouse we found a place serving booze and was immediately invited to the table by a group to drink with them. And then the pouring of the 'happy water' came. Endless pouring...

After a confusing journey home and a drunken sleep I was awoken by bangs on the door. It was the owner the the guesthouse who was worried I'd had my bike stolen. I had to explain through his son on the phone that I'd left it just 'around the corner' as I was too drunk to ride. He offered to drive me there but I honestly believed it was in the village. So 9 am saw me walking along the road, up a mountain away from the village, still wobbly, vision blurred and still a little happy, trying to find my bike. A man stopped on an old, beaten up cub and gestured if I wanted a lift. I nodded, he rubbed his fingers to indicate cash, I nodded and got on his bike. Three villages later I found the place with the bar. The owner had put it in his living room, and didn't bat an eyelid about the drops of engine oil on his floor. Best way.
 The guy who'd ridden me there asked for 20,000 Dong (about 60p) for the lift. I opened my wallet (already knowing that I was really low) and found 19,000. He just took 10. Nice guy. He then saw me wheeling the bike out of the owners house, and as he was toking on a tobacco-like substance with a bamboo pipe I mimed that I had to leave it here as I was too drunk to ride it home. He called me over, gave me back the 10,000 dong, shook my hand and laughed. Nice guy. Don't pity the foreigner...
 I had a little bit of shame. Although I think the most shame I've ever had from being hungover was just a few weeks ago when we took the overnight boat to Ha Long bay. There was a keg of free beer for the night. Well, technically from 7-10. We all cleared the first keg by 9:30 and got a fresh keg for the final half hour before the 'tour guide' took away the tap. Myself and Mateusz, a Polish guy I met on boat realised that we could prize out cupfuls of highly carbonated beer with a screwdriver, and we spent the remainder of the night doing that. Now, I didn't feel too drunk when I went to bed. My friend Gaby even said that I seemed normal, but the following morning I felt absolutely horrendous. The worst hangover I've had in years. It really wasn't my intention.
 That day we had to board a small boat which a family lived on for the remainder of the tour. And as Sean, Marc and Gaby went kayaking, I was still hiding in pain on the floor underneath a bench. The mother of the family came over, felt my forehead, tutted and went to get a local remedy for the flu she thought I had. I didn't have the energy to explain that I was just hungover, so I just let her rub tiger balm on my temples, wrists and ankles as she sang for ten minutes. Then I felt a lot of shame. Shame.

I've been taking it easy for the past few days and trying to live up to my new years resolutions; eat more, sleep more, drink less, as I wait for Sean and Marc to arrive. The roads up here are excellent to ride on. Excellent in terms of fun, not so if you want to make distance. It's like riding on the dirt tracks of the Congo again, although this time it's mountainous and extremely muddy.
 Our visas run out on the 11th so we ride for Laos tomorrow, and hopefully ride in time to be fresh for the inevitable negotiations of trying to get our bikes across the border. I think we will. One way or another.

So this is the final write up in Vietnam. Unfortunately my camera battery died on the way up here so I wasn't able to get any photo's on my DSLR. I took a few with my little point and shoot, and even a video, but I don't have the correct size usb to be able to transfer the photo's at the moment. Silly me. So here are a few I pulled off the internet for good measure. I'll take some one's with my own eyes today and on the way back down and upload them to a 'best of Vietnam' photo journal once I'm in Laos.

See you on the other side!

Friday, 13 January 2017


We have managed to make it into Laos with our bikes! It's been a pretty rough five days since we left Sapa and we're all quite exhausted. Thankful now though that it seems that we have escaped the rain. I'll write a proper post about the border crossing in good time when I've recovered a bit.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

I'm in a town in the far east of Laos, very close to the Vietnamese border which, out of the various translations from Laoatian is called Sam Nuea.
 I've recently been struck down with some sort of sickness - an infected gum coupled with flu like symptoms and vomiting. Sounds nice doesn't it. On the bright side at least is that I'm actually in a town where I can buy most things and with cash machines that actually work.
 It's very evident that Laos is the poorest nation in south east Asia, and it has come with its challenges; most notably money. We arrived here on the 11th and in this town is only the second cash machine that has worked with my card. Sean has managed to find two also, whereas Marc hasn't been able to draw out money once. It's has been nice getting back to basics again though. Sleeping outside, eating noodles in small shops and generally scarping by. When we reached the town we literally had £1.80 between the three of us. Still, Laos certainly does have its charm and I'm looking forward to getting back on the road again tomorrow. Destination - Vang Vieng. I'll write some proper stories and upload some pictures while I'm there. It does take a while to get anywhere in this northern region due to the constant undulating mountains, but seeing as I'm on my own (don't want to be the sick burden that delays anyone) I should make good time with buckling down and committing.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Laotian menu.

I was meant to arrive in Vang Vieng yesterday but my back tyre exploded whilst I was going over gravelly ground. Kind of like being on a bouncy castle but instead of bouncing on happy inflatable rubber you're going over on 100's of tiny rocks at 30 mph. My balance prevailed though!

Now I'm in Vang Vieng, and in this sometimes wonderful planet that we all live on, this is a genuine page in a menu of a restaurant...

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A collection of my favourite photographs from the wonderful land of Vietnam

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Boating with the bikes down the Nam Ou River

Upon arriving in Laos we had been riding in torrential rain for three days, and our 'welcoming' first night in a Chinese hotel was rather a let down i.e. damp, drabby, expensive, lacking food and a little rude. So when we (myself only) actually managed to find a cash machine that worked we found a nice little place overlooking a river, and after a few beers later we decided to take a boat to the next town rather than riding the two day journey there it would have otherwise taken.

Bridges and wooden backpacks 

Beers and decisions.

There was so much commotion getting the bikes onto the cramped boat that I didn't have chance to take a photo, but three motorcycles and around nine people on a boat that resembled a dug out canoe with a roof and you get the idea. 

Stunning views of the limestone mountains!

Laos has been a bit of a challenge compared to Vietnam, but I'm staying put for a few days now whilst I sort out some logistics for getting into Thailand with the bike, so some more updates will follow soon.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Wild camping in Laos.

It was obvious from the first day that Laos was vastly different from Vietnam. Not just in the terms of what you would normally expect; language, religion, customs etc, but I think the defining factor which made the impact more prominent was the economy. Laos is the poorest country in the region and currently ranks as 58th in the worlds wealth index.
This effects not just the infrastructure such as poor roads, plumbing, lacking electricity supplies and public services but understandably, the people. Most of the population are subsistence farmers and it's sadly common to see children working fields and harvesting crops from the surrounding mountain forests, instead of attending school. And the normal difficulties of language barriers aside, it has again become quite hard to commune with people, find solutions to problems and generally get things working, and it brought back quite a lot of frustrating memories of travelling through some African nations. The ultimate realisation of this is that having an education is the most valuable addition a human can have, and without, it's a great disability, especially when it comes to the majority of a nation.

This being said, Laos does have its charms albeit its difficulties. The people are polite, quiet, warm and generally kind and caring. The form of Buddhism that they've adopted has permeated their mannerisms in a charming way, and the vibrant colours people wear are the perfect match to the sleepy wooden villages in the mountains. It's an absolute pleasure to ride in this country, and the dirt tracks are even a bonus - a good memory of travelling through Africa.  

Another difference to Vietnam, and a positive one for those who wild camp is the population. Vietnam has a population of near 92,000,000 and Laos has a population of just under 7,000,000. It was near impossible to find anywhere to wild camp in Vietnam as nearly every bit of land has been used for some need, whereas finding a free space of land in Laos is relatively easy.

The first night we camped was literally on top of a mountain on a shrub and tree cleared plateau overlooking a landscape of undulating mountains. I came to south east Asia prepared with a tent but Sean and Marc only had hammocks, without any blankets or sleeping bags. During the day the temperature can soar with this elevation but as soon as night descends the temperature drops as fast as the sun. 
It was a nice clear night to begin with, with excellent views of the stars and moon, but by morning an actual cloud floated into us. Water was literally visible in the air and everything became soaked, especially the freezing Sean and Marc.

Marc's final solution to the watery air. Not the best introduction to wild camping! 

The following night we managed to find one of the most perfect camping places we could have imagined; by the side of a river in a forest with a nice flat bank punctuated with a few trees for the hammocks. We set up our camp and collected a massive pile of wood for the campfire to cook our meal on, and just as we were about to light it a torch shined down on us followed by Laotian shouting. Four men by a pick-up truck were standing on the mud road above our camp. Most were wearing normal clothes but one guy had a police cap on. It took around half an hour to realise that they were all actual police officers and depressingly, under no circumstances were we allowed to camp, even though we tried to pay them. After a long day riding, using our evening energy getting the camp ready and about to make the beginnings of our much needed evening meal, having to take the camp down and move felt like one of the worst things that could happen.

We'd had some bad experiences previously which could have either been massive failures of communication or a brutal scam, and coupled with the general difficulties of things not working - getting food, water, general communication or finding a cash machine that actually worked, this was another nail in the head which made Laos a bit of a pain in the arse.

Thankfully though, Laos is an absolutely visually stunning country, and the next day we found a place to camp far better than our previous one. 

This is the type of camping spot I imagine when idyllically thinking about wild camping when travelling.

The view from my bedroom ceiling.

Sean and Marc's hammocks. Note the make-shift waterproof cover.

Sean had a bit of a funny turn though whilst Marc and I were collecting firewood. We found him quietly crying to himself  as he stood by the river. The lack of female tourists we'd encountered had obviously gotten to him.

After a while though he calmed down and consoled himself silently with beer and cigarettes.

But then he finally snapped when he found a double jointed banana. At least he was smiling, but it was quite loud in the hammock that night. Bless him.

The next blog post will explain Laos' depressing history of Americas crippling and horrific bombing campaign on the country during the 'secret war', so here's a laugh whilst there's a chance.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

I'm currently racing towards 4000 islands; a place which shares its border with Cambodia along the Mekong River. My visa for Laos expires on the 11th, and from Vang Vieng to 4000 islands is around 940 km, and by far the greatest distance in the shortest amount of time that I've travelled, on this trip anyway. I then have to get my bike over into Cambodia, one way or another (it will definitely have to be 'the other' - I'll explain in my next post.
 The temperature now that I am in the lower lands is the hottest that I've ridden my bike whilst I've been on this trip, and factored with the distance I need to cover, I really have to keep my mind on the temperature of the engine. I found some really good oil today, but it still started to overheat after riding smoothly for two hours after the change - so I'm going to have to change my riding schedule; mornings and evenings.
 I have a really nice idea for a blog post that's been skirting through my head for the past two days, one that I'm surprised that I haven't written before. Although certain events have thrust all the idea's into light (I am now riding alone), so this new schedule may prove fruitful in actually getting that written, as after a days ride, my mind is finished with thinking. Yet taking a break and drinking coffee through the hot mid-day hours will give me the advantage of having time when my brain's still in gear.
 Either way, you'll probably hear from me once I'm at 4000 islands. Two days... hopefully.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

4000 Islands.

I've managed to make it to 4000 Islands. My bike has done me proud. It's a very beautiful place here, and was surprisingly easy to find a boat to take me from the mainland to Don Det. I have the pesky fact that my Laotian visa expires in three days, and maybe being on an island isn't the best place to sort that out, but I'm sure it will all be fine in the end and tomorrow is the day for thinking about it - today is for relaxing.
 Here are some photo's from the longest stretch in the shortest time on this trip; Vang Vieng to 4000 Islands - 950 km in 4.5 days.

The roads I've ridden on over the past five days really are identical to many in West Africa; Buddhist temples aside.

 Two lizards kissing as my bike and I took refuge in some roadside shack.

A view from one of the guesthouses en route.

The standard mess I inflict upon every room I stay in.

Whilst I was taking a break under a tree I realised that a hive of ants had literally took it over. Here they are dragging a massive insect up the trunk. It wasn't long before they started to crawl up my legs.

Another great view by the bed. Laos seems to have a charming habit of providing these.

I couldn't wish for a better spark plug. Since Hanoi this bike has worked perfectly (electrics aside). Long may it continue!

Shade, toilet break and a chance for the engine to cool. Didn't want to waste water, but it felt a little disrespecting to the engine, if you know what I mean...

Little boat to 4000 Islands; two pirogues with a row of planks holding them together.  

Last photo with the guys in Vang Vieng. I wish you all the best in whatever happens in each of your lives.

Thursday, 9 February 2017


I've just found out the my 'secret wallet' in the 'secret pocket' of my bag contains none of the $140 I had in there of emergency cash, aside from a few one dollar bills (not worth it, aye?) £15 of English notes were also taken... I'm not devastated by this; it isn't going to effect my trip or my life in any way. And when it comes decisions about spending money, I always think 'well, there's always more money to be earn't'. And this is the case. I'm not a rich man by any means, and this is more of a hindrance than anything. That was my border money and emergency cash if something went wrong. I do see it as a violation though. I am sure this happened in Vang Vieng, it had to of done, and Vang Vieng is a junkie and meth heads paradise, and imagining their Gollum-like hands going through my stuff is a pretty uncomfortable thought. At least they didn't steal my i-pod; having my music stolen would have been agonising. And they didn't take my laptop or camera either, as having my photo's stolen would have been devastating. It seems they were just after money; probably to spend on drugs. I hope they buy them with my money and overdose - not to die or be harmed in any serious way, just enough for them to be put down for a while and make them take a long, hard look at their life.
 I really wasn't impressed by Vang Vieng, at all really. I've been writing a lot since I've been back on the road alone, and this is part of a piece about Vang Vieng from a 4000 word-ish article I've been working on about long term travel and mental health...

   ...Vang Vieng in itself though, was a place that I loathed in many ways; a place in which Western hedonism is sold at a price, and the greatest price beyond Laotian Kip is that of the abandonment of Laotian culture, values and the ultimate respect of the people.
 The place does make sense in a business point of view. Laos is poor and corrupt (the police can be bought to turn a blind eye), and young Westerners like to get fucked up, and therein lies the market. I must admit, I did like the novelty of walking into a bar and seeing a back page of a menu listing numerous narcotics and the many ways in which they can be consumed. And I’m going to be honest here as I value transparency; I am partial to a bit of opium, as are a lot of Laotian people who live in the mountains. It’s part of their culture, and I find drinking a few opium teas, going back to the hostel, laying on a futon by a veranda that overlooked the mountains in the starry night, cuddling up and finding deeper levels of appreciation of music, life and people until the sun started to come up, doesn’t insult the people of Laos. Hanging out of a tuk tuk, pissed out of your face, probably on meth and mindlessly chanting as you finally get to show of your hard-worked biceps, does. As does walking around scantily clad in a bikini, advertising your body like a flame to stumbling men. Come morning piles of vomit can be seen on the pavement by the side of temples as young monks are spending their childhood learning the ways of Buddhism and praying.

Laos has had a very sad recent history. It’s, by far, the most bombed country in the world. The US did this for nine years (five of which were kept from the knowledge of American citizens) during the Vietnam War to stop supplies from the northern Vietnamese army to the south through the east of Laos. This resulted in more bombs being dropped on the country than were dropped in Germany and Japan combined throughout the entirety of World War Two. To put the onslaught into perspective, two and a half tonnes of explosives were dropped for every single person that lived in the country, of which only around 30% exploded. Aside from the displacement of thousands of people and the ensuing chaos of war, this has left a tragic legacy. To this day, at least one person, usually children, are killed daily from unexploded ordinance that still litter the countryside. The total cost the US spent on this carnage equates to $44 billion. This entire mess has held Laos back dramatically in its development. Imagine if a snippet of that money was spent in improving the country’s infrastructure instead. If children could go to school instead of working the fields the country would bloom within a few generations, instead of being in the poverty trap that it is in now. And it’s this desperation that allows Vang Vieng to be in existence. Those piles of vomit are a vile embodiment of a heartrending history and the following struggle for the existence existence of a very polite, warm, generous, conservative and respectable people, whose religious beliefs has formed their mannerisms (once you’re out of tourist towns). I’m not opposed to places like Vang Vieng existing in the world, I just wish they could exist in the West where there wouldn’t be such a detrimental impact to the people of another culture. In 2012 the government was forced to crack down as around twenty tourists per year were dying of meth and cocaine overdoses, as well as accidents in the river, which were probably drug and alcohol related. It wouldn’t sadden me if another crackdown happened again soon. 
 One early morning I was woken by an American girl, skyping and loudly banging on in her high pitched, drawn out accent (I probably wouldn’t be so judgmental if she hadn’t of offended me so much) about how amazing it’s to be in a place where you can just walk into a bar and buy meth and get “totally fucked up! You can just do anything here maaan!” No, it’s not amazing, a novelty maybe, but it’s depressing. As is meeting people who arrived there as tourists and who have become trapped, working in bars and hostels to be paid with food, accommodation and drugs for months on end. The morning I was due to leave I was woken up to the very graphic sounds (I could clearly hear the workings of anatomy) of people having sex in a room beyond the corridor of my room (the place was crudely, yet charmingly built out of wood with holes between the planks of the walls and floors). To be honest though, there was no better way to wake up in order to go outside and have vexed, self- loathing cigarette with a black coffee as I waited for the sun to come up. Some workers from the hostel were still awake - dilated pupils, involuntary jaw movements, with one on a three day bender on yabba; the infamous Southeast Asian amphetamine based ‘death-pill’. I don’t think you can stop whenever you want to if you’ve been doing it every day for four months, love. I was glad to leave. Maybe if I was ten years younger I would have run at it all head first, and I shouldn’t judge too harshly, but I would like to think that I would have still had my moralist reservations about the place.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Smuggling my bike into Cambodia down the Mekong River.

Whilst in Vang Vieng I was faced with a conundrum which had been going through my mind for the past three months - where do I go with my bike from Laos? The two obvious choices were either Thailand or Cambodia. But then, that total pain in the arse of border controls comes into play which turns what should be a straightforward decision into a minefield of custom regulations, import permits and fluctuating rules into a logistical nightmare. 
For Thailand, I would have had to have the ownership of my bike in my name. It's not, my name isn't Sung Seo Pao. To change it legally, I would have needed to live in Vietnam and show residence permits etc. I considered for a time to forge my ownership card - it wouldn't be the first time I had done something like that, and it seemed relatively straight forward. But as things go, the Thai authorities had recently changed the rules of bringing your own vehicle into the country, mainly due to the amount of Chinese tourists causing accidents. This means that even if a European or the like had ridden from their home and had all the correct papers, they still may be refused entry in Thailand, or at the least, be made to hire a guide at a huge expense to escort them through the country. My feeling is, is that this regulation will change in the near future as Thailand will lose a lot of money from motorcycle tourists who just want to visit their country. But as it stands now, this is the case. I did go past some very remote borders (the ones you usually have the most luck with) on my way down south through Laos, but I ultimately decided against it.
This left Cambodia. Now, Cambodia only shares one border with Laos, and the customs officials there have taken full advantage of this fact, and for motorcycle tourists, this border has become somewhat infamous. Their are numerous threads documenting the corrupt activities there on the
Horizons Unlimited Hubb, and on more localised Southeast Asian travel sites. The basic deal seems to be; you rock up at the border, they stamp you out of Laos and into Cambodia, then turn around and say it's impossible for you to take your bike through. Then a 'friendly local' will magically appear and offer to buy your bike for around $30 in a take it or leave it situation. Some people have managed to get through by paying exuberant amounts of money, or an occasional lucky few have managed to get through after waiting for many hours. But the definite result of all this, is that the Cambodian officials are making a killing out of taking tourists bikes off them and selling them on, and the unanimous advice is to stay clear of the Laos-Cambodia border if you wish to take your own vehicle through.
This left me two options; backtrack (something I really don't like doing) and ride to Vietnam (this would take some days, and my visa had already expired by this point and I was acquiring fines daily due to this) then ride south on a road I'd already ridden and then enter Cambodia. All Vietnam - Cambodia borders are fine. This would have taken maybe a week. The second option being - find another way for my bike to get into Cambodia!
I found just one comment on a Southeast Asian travel thread about a guy named 'Mo' who lives on Don Det island in the 4000 Islands region who will take your bike down the Mekong River and leave it in a relatives house for you to pick up in the nearest town after the border, Sung Treng. The directions to find this guy were 'once you get onto Don Det, walk up the main street until you come to a fork in the road, turn left and you'll see a nice restaurant in about ten meters. That's where you'll find Mo'. 
I must say, that in the five day dash from Vang Vieng to 4000 Island with this being my sole plan on getting into Cambodia, it really did put a smile on my face. It seemed ridiculous.
Yet, here I am, in Cambodia, and with my bike. It has been quite a stressful few days as Mo is absolutely terrible at letting you know what was going on. Thankfully, another guy who randomly appeared as I was making the deal with Mo turned up, and we decided to ship the bikes together in order to save costs. He stayed behind on Don Det whilst I left for Sung Treng, and if it wasn't for him giving me feedback about delays due to police etc, this whole thing would have been a mountain of anxiety. But hey, at the end of the day it's worked. And I did enjoy crossing the border with middle fingers beaming out of my being to the customs officials. Corrupt officials really do rile me. I have little respect for them. I'll worry about not having an import permit later. Again, this won't be the first time, and it always turns out okay in the end.

My Bike in Cambodia!

My first impression of Cambodia have been really... nice. 'Nice' is the best way I can describe it. The moto taxi man who took me to my guesthouse insisted on holding my hand until we could see the guesthouse as we couldn't ride further due to road works. And today, as I was getting my chain tightened and lubricated, a local said he would pay for me, seeing as I've come such a long way on the bike. 
I'm really looking forward to riding to Siem Reap, the place which holds the world famous Ankor Wat temples. And after this ordeal, I'm looking forward to finding a hostel letting loose for a while once I get there. I really got back to basics travelling through Laos, and I don't think I got inebriated off alcohol once, and now I've got a bit of a calling to do so after these stressful days. It's a two day ride to get there. I feel there's going to be some fun ahead!

A full moon on my first night in Cambodia.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Rammed by a cow as I biked down a lonely Cambodian road.

The continuing trials and tribulations of my left foot.

Well, I certainly didn't think that this would ever happen. It was my first day riding in Cambodia. Late afternoon, spirits were high, and I had decided I was going to camp wild due to the lack of guesthouses between Stung Treng and Siem Reap.
 I was cruising along, casually as I made my way to the next village to pick up supplies for the night, and I happened upon a herd of cows; a common, daily occurrence. They were on the left side of the road as I was on the right; I slowed a little, kept right, and then a young bull, presumingly, turned and bolted towards me. That and the following impact seemed to happen within a split second. There was no time to react - all that was in me was to just try and keep the bike upright, which I thankfully managed.
 The cow had smashed into my left side, and I was in an immediate state of shock as my bike rolled down the road with my clutch pulled in. My leg and foot was numb, but there was also pain. A lot of 
pain. And my mind couldn't even focus on putting on the brakes. I just rolled to a stop with the agonising numbness coursing through my leg as I breathed heavily through my teeth. When I finally came to a standstill I was shaking, still breathing heavily. The numbed pain reminded me of when I broke my arm, falling off a scooter I was stupidly riding around a field when I was fourteen, and I thought that this time, I had been seriously injured.
 I looked down to my left leg; the gear lever, the kind you find on semi-auto bikes had been completely sheared off from the impact. The metal had just snapped. My foot peg was also bent, to the point where the rubber grip had turned fully upside down. My foot had been smashed around in the middle of all this.
 A man on a motorcycle who had seen it happen came riding back. We couldn't speak any of each others language, but he helped me off the bike, sat me on the floor and began taking my boot off. Somehow, despite wearing thick, heavy boots, a fair amount of skin had shredded from my heal, and I had a gash in the centre of it. I don't know if the man was a doctor or not, but he pulled out a medicine box and cleaned the wound with an alcohol wipe. I then found that I could actually move my toes without too much pain, and thankfully, I was able to stand, as long as I didn't put any pressure on my heal. No broken bones.

The state of my boot afterward. There had already been a small tear around the area just from the pressures of walking (and a wee machete accident), but now the hole is four times the size.

 This was on a deserted road though. There were no homes of any kind to be seen; just dry forests and scrub land. The man on the motorcycle indicated that he was travelling in the opposite direction to me, but he flagged down another road user, riding a homemade pick-up, motorcycle thing (I have no idea what to call it). He talked with this man and he agreed to tow me to the next mechanic down road as my bike was unrideable, and then said goodbye with an extremely honest and warm handshake.

The small bit of string in the bottom right corner was what was used to tow me around five miles.

It didn't take long to find a mechanic, and after some more thanks and a handshake my bike was being fixed. A new gear lever, a packet of smokes for the stress and a small bottle of tiger balm that a young lad rubbed on my foot cost me $3.50. I think they felt sorry for me from the obvious amount of pin I was in and didn't want to overcharge me. And within 30 minutes after the accident my bike was rideable again.

*I have a question here to any mechanics that may be reading this that are better than I regarding gearboxes. Would an impact like this on the gear lever cause any serious damage to the gearbox? I know next to nothing about gearboxes. I've never even seen one open in an engine. I pulled the clutch in, I would say, in around a second after impact. It's hard to tell. The following 163 km to Siem Reap the next day was fine though. It even has the same knack of trying to find neutral that it did before, so it seems that nothing has changed. I'm just wondering though.*

After swallowing a small handful of tramadol I rode to a clinic, where I was told I apparently have internal bruising, and possible ligament and tendon damage from a quite severe sprained ankle. I've just taken off the bandage now and areas around my heal and foot are blue. As are parts of my shin, which were protected with my armor in my motorcycle trousers.

 Here's a word of advice to any of the countless Westerners who may be reading this who I've seen riding around in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops. Don't be a fool! If this happened whilst you're wearing things like that, your trip would be over. Some sort of surgery would have to be a result. If metal can be snapped clean in two, imagine how your ankle would fare... It doesn't bare thinking about. Buy protection. It's available in the big cities where you buy your Honda Win's. It's foolish not to.

To end on a lighter note (sort of), I'm kind of amused about the amount of abuse my left foot has had over the years. Daniel Day Lewis starred and won an oscar for his role in a film called 'My Left Foot'. I've never seen it, but I'd wager mine has seen its fair share of excitement to match.
 I have no nail on my big toe. I cyst started to grow underneath it and I had to have an operation to have them both removed. Then when the nail was half way into growing back, the cyst started to, too. The surgeons then decided to remove them both and the root as well, so I'll never have a nail on that toe again. Sometimes I miss it.
 When I was travelling in the Congo, I had to operate on one of the toes on my left foot myself, whilst I was in the jungle - something I never thought I would ever have to do. Although the masochistic side of me is kind of glad that I experienced it. Afterwards, of course. Here's and exert from my still, unfinished book about that;
As I was preparing my bed I was alarmed by what I saw through the light of my head torch. The end of my second smallest toe on my left foot had turned green. I inspected it in the isolation of my tent. The skin above the sickening green hue floating beneath had become hardened, was rough to the touch and the top half of my nail had turned dark in colour and had started to ripple. I knew a decision to come to some sort of solution had to be made soon. When I was twenty one I had a cyst that grew underneath the nail of my great toe. Two months before the date of the operation to have it removed it punctured the skin under the nail, causing an infection and turning the outer skin of my toe green. This was accompanied with a tremendous amount of pain, and a fast dose of extremely potent antibiotics and painkillers had to be administrated. I had no such medication with me. I estimated that, in one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world, I was over a week’s ride away from any substantial form of medical facilities. I made up my mind quickly as I sat alone in my tent, that although there was no evident pain as yet, the green flesh needed to be gone. I rummaged in my bag to find pain killers - Tramadol and Dihydrocodeine, and then went to fetch my knife. This was the only knife I had, and I would only use it for chopping food and eating, but the small, pointed and slightly dulled blade had to do. I sterilised it under the flame from my lighter, wiped it and my hands clean with an antiseptic cloth and went to work on my toe. I prodded the hard skin with the knife point, trying to find some indication of sensation, but none was to be found. This was both comforting and worrying. I pressed in at an angle, pierced a small amount of dry skin and then hooked underneath and pulled. A large crack split the top of my toe apart. I left it there and went to the other side, piercing and separating the hardened green skin away from the normal, soft skin that still had feeling. When the deep incision had been made in circumference, I began to lift the entirety of it away. A large portion of the inside of my toe had died. And as I pulled and lifted my flesh away, a long series of white strings stretching around seven millimetres clung onto the back of the rough, green pad of skin pierced with my knife. I put the globule of dead flesh to one side and peered inside my toe. A chasm with sides of comforting, painful pink flesh and uncomforting white, dead flesh remained. My knife was too big to probe further, so I unfolded a paperclip and scraped out the remaining dead flesh until all that was left was the raw, agonising, healthy, pink. The hole buried down beyond the bottom half of my nail, and I noticed that the remaining top half had started to liquefy; becoming spongy to the touch. I sawed at it with my knife until I could feel more reassuring, agonising pain. When I finished sawing, my toe looked like a gaping, hungry mouth, and I fed it with squirts of iodine as I bit into my arm, trying in vain not to close my eyes as they flooded with tears to answer to the pain. The job of operating on my toe was finished. I wrapped it in clean bandages and made a note to change them, clean it with purified water each night and to boil my socks to try my upmost to keep infection at bay. I then inspected the mass of dead, string-like flesh, and found a tiny, spherical black spot buried within. I had no reservations in assuming that something had probably laid an egg inside my toe, and cursed my stupidly for walking around the jungle in my flip flops on my last night in Cameroon. 

In Vietnam too, there was that unfortunate accident with the sink. I was just freshening up underneath a tap coming out of the wall when the sink just randomly fell off the wall and onto the floor. One second everything was fine, the next; a loud bang, vitreous china smashed to pieces on the floor, water spurting like canon fire out of the wall, and blood spurting out of my foot. I had to have stitches for that, without anesthetic too - something I never thought I'd experience. Again the masochistic side of me is quite glad that I experienced it. Afterwards, of course...

I still don't believe in bad luck... although sometimes I do wonder! There's a running joke with some of my friends about the bad luck I seem encounter on my travels, and not just with injuries. I have an answer for that now, and it rhymes too... "I've stopped giving a fuck".

So tomorrow I'm going to go out and see the cultural sights of Siem Reap, and not be held up in my hostel bed, resting, bored out of my mind and writing extremely long blog posts! As ever, we'll see what happens... 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Back on the road again.

I'm back on the road again. After spending a week in Siem Reap - pretty much the first half of that was in bed, and the second half was temples - I feel fit enough to head out alone and tackle anything that may come my way. Since yesterday I can now put a little pressure on my heel, and can more or less walk normally barefoot. With flip-flops I have to modify the way I use my left foot, but it's fine. I can even run for brief periods, and exploring the temples of Angkor on three consecutive days showed no bother (although it is nice not having to get up before dawn again in order to avoid masses of Chinese tourists). In my boots tough, I still have to walk like I've crapped my pants. But I can ride with them with no bother.
 I really wouldn't have stayed so long in Siem Reap if it wasn't for the injury. The place has been taken over by tourists and feels like a Western parody of Cambodia. But for someone who is tending a broken part of their body, all the familiar choices and comforts available to me were very welcome; nachos for breakfast, steak to pay back to cows etc...
 The temples though. My, they have to be seen if you have the chance to. Put in the effort to save, and if you have the luxury of freedom I'd highly recommend coming to Cambodia for these temples alone.I was in total awe for the full three days. I've never had an experience like it. I took 1101 photographs over the course of three days. It's going to take a while to edit and sort them, but I'll upload my favourites when the time comes. Here's one to show you now, so you can get a glimmer of what I mean.

 I'm heading South now, to a hostel called 'Be There Dragons' in Battambang. The weather here is
getting blisteringly hot. It feels like it's the hottest weather I've experienced, and then I question travelling through West Africa. I suppose reality feels purer than memory. It's still bloody hot though! Glad I managed to find some 20W50 oil and I'm taking frequent breaks. But it makes for slow going. Although, sadly there's not many miles for me to cover by bike until my trip finishes. I'm heading to the southern islands where I'm hoping to find some phosphorescent plankton. I'll store my bike there as I head to Bangkok by bus to see a very good friend at the beginning of March, and then once I've taken the bus back, it's from the southern island and back to where my journey began, and will finish - Ho Chi Minh City. It's been a wonderful time. And it's time to make the most of this last month!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A collection of my favourite photo's from riding through Laos.

Laos wasn't my favourite country in the world to travel in, but for natural landscapes and anything nature-orientated, it's quite high up there with some of the best.

 A room with a view of the river we would take as a short cut the next day.

 Working-homes on the river.

Tenting in a cabin to keep the mosquito's at bay.

The first night of wild camping was a bit of a failure if you're sleeping on the top of a mountain in a hammock and then a cloud passes through your camp. Wet air = wet everything.

 The third attempt at wild camping worked beautifully. Our second attempt was interrupted by police and we were made to move on - just after we set everything up, gathered wood for a fire and was about to cook our food... Very soul destroying. Cheers Laotian police.

 Heating water for noodles. Fills the stomach.

 Packing up the morning after is always a chore.

 Marc and cows. At least these ones didn't head-but him!

 Entering tiger country.

 Laotians believe that they live alongside spirits, and this rock is where the elder spirit 'lives', and is responsible to the protection of the people in the village, allegedly.

 Houses made of wood and straw roofs, but satellite dishes can be seen in abundance around the village.

 Drying reeds to make brooms out of. Sometimes they line both sides of the road in different colours due to the drying process, and I feel like I'm riding through a Van Gogh painting.

 Taking a boat ride upstream...

 Fixing the propeller. They're elongated and pivotable to avoid the rocks in the shallow water. But I get the feeling that they're used to making repairs on the fly.

 A tour guide who can actually speak English. This was quite hard to find in Vietnam. His name directly translates in English to 'Mr. Fat'.

 Clearing a rocky passageway through the water.

A cute little turtle, lucky to be living in a nature reserve.

Our room for the night. A beautiful place to sleep.

Sat round the fire at night, attempting to drink their home-made Laotian whisky. It's brutally rank.

Marc and his inconspicuous jacket.

These guys are masters at spotting animals at night as we floated downriver in the dark. They used to be poachers, but now they work for the nature reserve, preserving the wildlife.

The Rangers sleeping quarters.

Beer cans shaped like stars... possibly to ward off evil spirits. I'm so glad to be an atheist.

Getting a new tyre put on after my previous exploded on me...

Hmm, cows that didn't ram me...

Laos really can be a magical place to be in sometimes.

A sturdy bridge.

In this part of the world, the crescent moon smiles, rather than looking like a thin, arching face.


Opium bar in Vang Vieng.

The pretty lady on the left has been taking meth daily for four months. The effects of this are still yet to show, visibly. 

The last photo with the guys before we all headed out on our own paths after nearly travelling together for three months. It was an emotional goodbye.

Roads like West Africa, sans Buddhist temples.

Two lizards kissing in a roadside shack as my bike and I took refuge from the heat.

A view from a guesthouse window.

Typical mess I inflict on any room I stay in.

Ants. Ants that had taken over an entire tree!

Another stunning view from a guesthouse.

Taking in more shade and a chance for the engine to cool. I've taken to pissing on it to aid cooling. It just fizzes away initially, but within half an hour I can touch it without it scolding my hand.  

On a boat to 4000 Islands; my last destination in Laos, where my hope was to find this illusive smuggler who could get my bike into Cambodia. It all worked out.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Setting off to Cambodia's southern islands with a new friend.

I really didn't do what I had planned whilst in Battambang; getting on the bamboo train, seeing the bat caves etc. Instead I chose the days idling away listening to music, reading and generally having quality 'me time'. It had been a stressful few weeks, what with the smuggling and the cow incident, and I regret nothing just spending time relaxing.
 I did make a new friend though who will accompany me on the back of the bike to the southern isles. I only have one month left, exactly, of this trip, and sadly, only around 500-600 miles left of riding before I make it back to Ho Chi Minh - so I'm going to get the most out of this bike journey! Tomorrow we leave in the blistering heat in search of glowing plankton...

Friday, 3 March 2017

From Battambang to Cambodia's southern coast.

I had a dream in Siem Reap whilst I was resting my ankle from the 'cow attack' about swimming in phosphorescent plankton... and I hadn't been able to get it out of my mind since! I really don't have many days left on this trip before I have to leave - which I am ready to do, but I need to stick to strict itinerary if I'm going to get everything done that I want to do in time... and riding to the southern coast to swim with this plankton is one of those things.

I left Battambang with 'Norah the explorer', and gave her a lift south until she had to go her own way by bus. I like ferrying people around on my bike... especially with how ridiculous it looks with so much weight piled onto a little 110cc bike. It's nice to be able to have a chat in the evening too, in all the obscure places you find in between the tourist towns. Not to say locals aren't good company... they are on many occasions - except when they try and take you into brothels...

Hmm, cow signs...

It's easy to know where you're going from reading the road signs here.

We stumbled upon a fishing village by a lake which held some pretty impressive mountain scenery around its outskirts.

Resident frog in the guesthouse.

I feel the general happiness of Cambodians, which is impressively lovely, starts quite early on...

Temples, temples, temples by the road side.

There seems to be quite an obsession with burning many parts of the landscape here - a common practice in many developing, rural nations.

Taking yet another break for the engines sake. Poor thing.

Hmm, cows...

My initial plan was to find a cargo ship to take my bike and I over to Kho Rong island from the mainland.

And this was it... It's far away from all the tourist speed ferries that ship people to an fro from the island. It only would have been $2.50 for my bike and $5 to add myself to the cargo, but then when I glanced at the gradient of that thin gang plank I'd had to get my bike up - it did bring back some quite uncomfortable memories from the Congo River... Plus, I thought, I have limited time here, and my main plan is to find phosphorescent plankton; something that I didn't need to spend the best part of a day each way on a boat to get to an island to find. I could find it anywhere along the coast. So I took the advice from a friend who'd been there before and headed to the coastal beach of Otres instead.

Otres beach is beautiful... but the best part of it all (for me at least) is the phosphorescent plankton. There's only so much enjoyment I can get from the comforts of what is essentially a beach resort, but swimming within that plankton is nothing short of amazing. Once night descends all you have to do is walk into the water and then it just starts sparkling around you. Moving your arms in the water is like creating galaxies full of starts within your hands. It's hard to put into words how happy it made me feel, and it's definitely hard to get bored of. Swimming within it has been one of the definite highlights of the entire trip for me. A life goal accomplished. I think I spent three hours swimming alone in the 'dark sea' the first night I was here.

I am leaving Cambodia tomorrow though, and for the first time will be taking public transport to Bangkok. The logistics and time and hand have ruled out taking my bike into the Thailand, but I am very much looking forward to seeing a good friend again. For those of you who followed my blog whilst I was travelling through Africa at that time when my passport was stolen from the Benin embassy in Accra (yes, really!), I'll be seeing Will again, a man who kindly took me into his home for three whole months whilst all that mess eventually became sorted out. I'm sure he is having much more fun living in Bangkok now, rather than the past two years he's spent working at the US embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan...

Tuesday, 7 March 2017


I arrived in Bangkok two days ago, but yesterday definitely had to be a rest day as it took a total of 26 hours to get from my hostel at Otres Beach to Will's place in downtown Bangkok, a distance of what should have been just over 400 miles. I assumed (assumption being the mother of all fuck ups) that we'd be taking the direct way to Thailand, following the coast line. And at the time of buying the ticket I got all the "yes, yes, Mr. Parkin" about the route. But no! We had to stop in nearly every effing place in Cambodia, which took a bafflingly long time on a cramped bus with no toilet "yes, yes Mr. Parkin, it has a toilet" with some of the shittest tour operators who's desire for lack of communication seemed to be their one and only gift on the way to one of Thailand's busiest land borders. It took two hours of waiting in a zig-zagging queue to get our passports stamped. Apparently only four people are adequate to do this for the hundreds of people waiting in line. It wasn't the best introduction to bus travel in Southeast Asia. I'm so glad I've been travelling on my own set of wheels! Although, everybody - actually everybody I spoke to on that journey said it was the worst coach ride they had been on, so maybe it was beginners luck and all that.
 I seemed to have picked up a weird sort of stomach bug at Otres too. I ate a lot of seafood there; mainly barbecued barracuda, but I can't feel what gave me it. I felt sick for literally one minute or so, and then I had just a complete loss of appetite; which was quite handy for the bus ride here as there really wasn't many chances to grab something to eat. Yesterday was the first time I'd eaten for 48 hours, which is I think the longest time I've ever gone without food in my life. I praise probiotic drinkable yoghurts though! I used to detest them back in England, but in Asia I've become quite addicted!
 But all is well now. It's great seeing Will again. It's quite a strange feeling meeting up with a friend you made thousands of miles away from home, and then seeing them again thousands of miles away from both respective abodes. I've never done that before. There's also a strange sense of deja vu being here. It's quite similar to his place in Accra; same trinkets on the shelves, same books, and same photo's and paintings on the walls. It's also very luxurious. It's a world away from sleeping on the floor of a barn with three other farm workers and shitting in holes in the ground; but I like these extremes. It's good to experience everything, mostly. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Bribing our way out of Vietnam - with some secret filming...

Sorry this is coming in a bit late. It has taken a while for Marc to get this video to me. The road can be busy! Here is all the footage that Marc shot of us getting through the most Northern border of Vietnam and into Laos. It was our last day, visa-wise, that we could be in the country, so we didn't have much choice, regardless of all the bad stories we'd heard about foreigners with motorcycles being refused to cross. $30 seems to be the going rate at this one. It was all well rehearsed on their part. Corruption can sometimes work in your favour... afterall, we're travelling on bikes not registered in our names and with no insurance. So paying a bit to get through can be acceptable. Sometimes corruption doesn't work in your favour though; that's why this is the only border crossing my bike has gone through out of the three countries I've travelled through with it, tee hee!

(Please excuse the spelling mistakes also. Through the many months I was travelling with the Germans I was teaching them English, but there wasn't many opportunities for written lessons... also, that Homo Sapien joke was my idea.. just saying!)

*Please check my video tab

Tomorrow I'll be travelling to Koh Samui with Will. I'm sure an internal Thai flight will be a lot smoother than the 26 hour, Cambodian-organised one here. I'm looking forward to a bit of island life... just before the three-country mad dash with my bike back to Saigon, Vietnam where I'll sell it and fly home, with what I truly believe to be a small fracture in my ankle. The pain isn't leaving, and from past experience it felt like a break as soon as the cow hit me. Got thirteen days to get all that done from the day I land back in Bangkok. I'm kind of excited!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Koh Samui

After a taxi, a plane, a coach and a boat, I finally managed to make it to Koh Samui. Will met me at the port; I think he was unsure about sharing a flight with me due to my 'misadventurous' tendencies.  

Koh Samui is a beautiful island, so here is a short photo journal from over the past two days here.

During dinner on our first night, a family set up a 'fire show' on the beach. It was really impressive... I was quite jealous actually. I might have to give it a go one day...

Breakfast at the resort, with views straight out of a brochure. I'm not used to this life!

The giant, golden Buddha. Most impressive.

If you ring the bell you supposedly get 'good luck', so I punched it...

As someone who would refer to themselves as an explicit atheist; I still really do appreciate the craftsmanship and aesthetic qualities of all things made out of devotion to religion. 

When countries boom quickly, it seems that there isn't time to build underground power cables...

This couple were teaching their cats to swim... It's not uncommon to see people with cats on leads here, and the cat really didn't seem to mind. I suppose when you live on an island that is prone to flooding, getting you cats comfortable with water is for their best interests.

A very Asian sight.

The night market of the fisherman's village...

Monday, 13 March 2017

Commencing the Mad Dash.

Well this has come about fast, especially since I got a couple of dates wrong... I fly home in nine days time and everything has to be wrapped up nice and tight before then. Tomorrow I leave Will's and fly to Cambodia's capital; Phnom Penh from Bangkok. From there I'll catch a bus to the southern coast and be re-united with my bike. I'll change the sprockets and chain to minimise risk of being stuck during the ride (they have needed to be changed for a while) and then cross the border back into good, old Vietnam (with no import permit) and then ride back to Ho Chi Minh city. I'll sell the bike there and then fly home... It has all gone quite fast. It's going to be a busy last stretch!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Back on the road, amid a self-imposed delay and an arrest...

The way back from Bangkok was a lot more fun than the 26 hour coach journey there. It involved a taxi to the airport, then obviously a plane (with a very nice Indian lunch) then a tuk tuk ride to a 'coach station' where I got into a van with a manic driver with some inner need for high speed overtakes around blind corners to Sinhoukville, and then finally, riding on the back of a bike to Otres Beach. It all took 11 hours.
 I really had a smile once I saw my bike which I left at the hostel, I'm going to miss that thing. Although some tramp stole my mirrors. Cheers. They're only $2 for the pair! There was no room at the inn though so I trudged to the next hostel where I found a very chilled out bar. It was 9:30 pm by this time and to the sorrow of my empty stomach the kitchen had closed. But it was 50 cents a beer that evening, and after a long day of intense travel there's nothing better than to saturate the mind with a few beers and let all the tiredness float away. And so we enter the game of 'I'll go to bed after this beer.' 'I'll go to bed after this beer.' and so on. I wouldn't even say I was drunk, but at the age of thirty one, going to bed on an empty stomach full of beer is not a good thing, and I awoke feeling dire. It was one of those hangovers which comes with an existential crisis where I question everything I've done with my life, accompanied with a lot of fear... I spent most of the following day eating, in between drowning my face into my hands. But all is well come morning!
 I set off kind of early. It's good to know the bike is still working perfect after been left for around two weeks. Yet once I got to the main roundabout in Sinhoukville I heard that ever-pleasant blow of a whistle from a policeman. Usually when they try and stop me I'm already going at quite some speed and I pretend that I hadn't seen them. But seeing that I was stationary it would have been ridiculous if I just drove away. They took me into their back office and was convinced that I had weed on me. I haven't smoked that shit for years and years. Although I did have a massive box of opiate based pain killers - I'm certain I have a fracture somewhere within my ankle. It's been five weeks since I was rammed by the cow and all external injuries have healed, yet deep inside the heel there is still pain. I can't put pressure on it, I'm still limping, and in the morning when all the pain killers have worn off it's aching from the inside like a bitch. It needs rest, but no can do on the road... Maybe when I get home I can go see my old work colleagues in A&E.
 "So what happened?"

"I was rammed by a cow in Cambodia whilst riding at thirty miles per hour six weeks ago, and my ankle still has deep pain. I've been high from Tramadol ever since, but I think it needs looking at properly... health care in those regions leaves much to be desired for". *stitches without anesthetic...*
 But anyway, they wasn't bothered about them, and after a futile look for some none present weed they went onto some other things to which I had 'broken the law'. Riding with no mirrors (thanks, tramp), riding with my light on... surely this can't be true! And then the nail in the head "Do you have an international driving licence..." I used to, but just before I came out here I was bed ridden with pharyngitis on the week I was going to get it... and thus, I don't have one. I'm not too sure whether or not Cambodia requires you to have an international driving licence. Usually I would challenge it, when I had more time than I did money. It's always amusing to become their burden when they're trying to get money from you. I had lots of these moments whilst going through Africa. But on this occasion, I don't have the time. $10 to make the whole situation end so I could be on my way seems a fair exchange. And that was that... The first bribe I have ever paid! I used to like laying on the floor refusing to speak until they told me to get out. But alas, not this time.
 But now, it feels great to be back on the road again for one final time. Just myself and my bike and the open road. I'm going to miss it, and yet, I'm looking forward to going home. I used to think I was one of these people who could travel the world for years on end, and after I returned from been away for a year through Africa, it took me sometime to realise that I am not one of those people. And that's fine. The odd journey for four months or so suits me well. It's a great escape, without the ploughing decent of homesickness. It's a nice amount of time.

All being well I should be back in Vietnam tomorrow, and from there it isn't really long until I'm back at district one in Ho Chi Minh city. All the repairs that I can see needed to be done on the bike have been done, and with any luckk, no nasty surprises should rear their heads on the way there. I'm quite looking forward to seeing what happens at the border with no import permit for the bike, especially as I have dwindling amounts of money in my wallet until I get to Vietnam. But it's a Vietnamese bike, and I'm taking it home. I don't think there will be a problem. Either way, I'm going to cross the border with it.

Cambodia has been great. It holds some of the friendliest people I've met in the region so far, and I'm going to miss it. It's a shame it's so hard to find a guesthouse when you're on the road, harder than anywhere else I've travelled through in this region... but that it the only little annoyance I can find. Vietnam is easy with finding somewhere decent to stay, and I'm glad to be going back there. Yep, it's all falling into place.

I'm going to miss this life... But it won't be long until one of my greatest friends and I circumnavigate Europe this summer once I'm back. It will be the first time I'll be leaving home with company. It'l be a refreshing change.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Last miles and all the last random things that come with it.

I'm only around 50 miles away from Ho Chi Minh City. I could have made it there today, but I wanted one last stop, to savour the random chances that travelling on a motorcycle brings, just for one last time. That random little town, the random hotel, and that last chance to see a beautiful sunset over somewhere I'll probably never be again.
 I'm in the Mekong Delta region now; a place where the Mekong river disperses into tiny estuaries before its last flow into the South China Sea. It has been a nice ride now that I'm back in Vietnam (I'll write up a full story of crossing the border when I'm less tired in Saigon, as it's pretty funny) despite the fact that there's literally ten times the amount of people here than Laos and Cambodia, which makes for busy and noisy roads. No more cruising down empty roads with music playing in my ears... Still, all the views of getting over these bodies of water are worth it. Whether that be by bridges or by boats, it's still fun.
 Tomorrow I will be at my final destination of this trip - the place where I started. I'm feeling very reflective about the past four and a half months. They have been great. And so have the people I've met. It's a strange feeling that someone else is going to be riding my bike once I sell it - I am quite attached to it, it's been good to me. But I suppose someone else has had these feelings about that bike before it came into my hands. Everything ends, and then begins again.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The last ride of the trip... With an impromptu adventure!

 The phone which I'd been using to navigate since Hoi An, after an Australian man gave me his spare one in exchange for a cigarette after I told him I'd gotten there from Mui Ne just using a map and a compass somehow went missing on my bus ride to Bangkok. I bought a new one there and have been using 'offline maps' since, and boy is it interesting. I opted to avoid the highways, as I don't like dicing with death too much among the speeding trucks, buses and vans amid the melee of motorcycles and their unpredictable behaviour - listening, rather than looking seems to be the norm here, and so pulling out without looking is something that happens all the damn time, and it's bloody scary... not to mention noisy if you're relying on horns instead of your own eyes. It's no mystery why there's so many deaths on the roads here!
 Anyway, this offline maps app decided to take me on a 'short cut' away from the major highways. A shortcut which consisted of footpaths trailing along rice paddies, trying to find my way around once existent bridges that are no more, and testing my nerve once again of taking my bike over water on a bridge which literally made my heart pound. I seemed to have acquired a few fears during my time travelling. A fear of sinks, cows, and taking my bike over water (Congo). 'Fear' might not be the best word. Cautious seems more fitting. But look at that bridge below and imagine pumping yourself up to ride your heavily laden bike over those rickety, flimsy planks, whereby if your balance was put at stake for any reason your foot would just go over the edge... Those children told me it was fine. As an old woman did who isn't in the picture. I did the crossing, as steady and as fast as I could, and to be honest, it felt great with adrenaline pumping through my body once again. Fuck, that was scary. And in one of the best ways possible with my soon to be departed bike.

 Yes, the road to Vietnam's biggest city...

To the biggest city.

Yes, the shortcut away from the highway...

The shortcut didn't work after a while. Offline maps seems to think that I can ride over bodies of water, through farm land and none-existent villages, and I ended up joining the highway. Still, I am very thankful that I had one more day of surprising excitement with my bike before I rode it back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was a pleasure. All of it.

I'm in Ho Chi Minh now. Got a hostel for the next four nights; a pod like structure. Never slept in one before but I quite like them. It was very, very strange, and kind of sad riding my bike back to where I started. I'm a pretty sentimental guy. But still, all things must change. I've written an advert for my bike to post it around the hostels in District 1, and tomorrow I shall have to give it a clean. It has four and a half months worth of travel etched into it. I think buyers would prefer a shiny bike.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Circumnavigating Indochina on a little Chinese 110cc bike.

So here we are. I'm back when I started. Around 8500 km's over four and a half months through three amazing countries. There's been lots of laughs, lots of realisations, a few scary moments, a few times which put life into perspective, and personally, a few physical scars. All I can say is that this trip has been amazing. It's my third long-distance travel experience, and it's unfair to compare them to each other as they're all so different, but this one has been fantastic.And I'm absolutely shocked about how well my bike has performed throughout the whole trip.

It was kind of weird and a little bit sad to ride my bike to where I began my journey - I am very sentimental. But I've passed it on to a nice guy and I'm excited for him about the journey he's going to do through Vietnam. It's sad to see the bike go. It's been very good to me and I feel attached to it. But all things must end. I've passed the baton. 

Anyhow, here is a gallery of my personal favourite photo's from the entire trip. I hope you enjoy them... I loved living them.

NB: That cow actually broke two bones in my ankle. Didn't find out until I got home and had it x-rayed. Also, getting my bike back into Vietnam from Cambodia was laughably easy... the whole border crossing took me 17 minutes!  

1 comment :

  1. Thank you for a brilliant write up of your travels!

    I've done, like many others, the classic SE Asia backpacking route, but I continued through Thailand into Malaysia and onto Indonesia.

    I started in Bali and hired a bike which I rode for 25 days around the Island. Distances were minor by comparison but I remember how much I enjoyed being away from the tourist areas as seeing the real people of the country. As a petrol head, when I got to Vietnam I wanted a bike so badly but I was travelling with my Girlfriend. In Bali we had one small bag that I put between my legs with my heals kicked in.

    The 110cc Honda step-through that we had in Bali was fine for there but having read into Vietnam I knew that such a bike wouldn't be suitable and given the distances, the only realistic option was to get a bike each. My girlfriend really wasn't capable of riding by herself (she can't even ride a pushbike well), and so we took the buses after we met a really nice lady in our hostel who sold tickets from her bag. Sounds like a scam, but she was cheaper than all the others despite the haggling. She said "This is how much I buy, this is my cost." That was it.

    The Vietnamese Buses were actually great, mostly at night too so saved a couple of bucks on hostels and you could pay to put your bikes in the storage compartments to speed up the journey. The Cambodia buses were much much worse, I remember hearing so many bad stories of the infamous Sihanoukville to BKK journey. Seems like it's a backpacker only route as no locals want to go that way and thus the operators take the biscuit.

    We chose to go back to Phomn Phen and then across to Sihanoukville and from there on via public buses. It was like being back in Bali, it was just us two and maybe a couple more westerners on the bus, the rest were Cambodians. Only two stops en-route.

    I remember reading about your C90 journey through Africa a few years ago and after finding that your original blog was not more (I google it and found "Liam and the C90 is no more"), I stumbled across this. Favorited! Keep up sharing your stories, it's certainly inspiring and it's given me the kick to get my plans together for the Summer and beyond (albeit on four wheels).