After spending over a week in Kyoto, it was time to pack up and say goodbye. The weather was completely the opposite to when we rode in from Osaka. Beautiful, sunny and perfect for long rides and camping, which we were looking forward to. For the next few days we would end up on three cycling trails, long and short, that made the next few rides pretty spectacular.
Being able to visit so many iconic cities, and countries, whose culture and popularity are hugely well-known, was one of the incredible pinch-me advantages of this trip. We would see the landscape change from countryside, to small towns, to creeping urban sprawl right into the belly of the built up central district. The excitement that we’ve hit another “bucket-list” marker builds and builds until we yell-repeat to each other “I can’t believe we’re doing this! I can’t believe we’re here!”.
After our early morning onsen dip and castle sight-sightseeing, productivity was at an all-time low. Our muscles had been soaked in delicious 40°C stone indoor/outdoor baths, steamed in different herbal saunas and scrubbed with every complimentary soap and shampoo on offer. Our cycling enthusiasm had been reduced to thinly veiled non-committal indifference. All we wanted was to nap and snooze.
Our blog left us right in the middle of our last country, Japan, finishing the end of the Shimanami Kaido Cycle Route in Imabari. And there our digital selves stayed, while our real selves spent two more months chasing the cherry blossom season up through Japan, cycling on up to Tokyo, where we hopped on a plane home to be welcomed with open arms from our friends and family.
We left our luxurious ryokan straight after breakfast by 8am, quite late but the weather was still crisp and frosty. We could see our breath every time we exhaled and no wonder, we passed a sign that recorded the temperature as -3°C! All those hills we had cycled up the day before paid off. For the next 40km it was pretty much straight downhill, following Highway #187. One of the easiest and most beautiful mornings we had ever had, with spectacular riding following the rivers and smaller towns.
“Do you think we’ll see snow?” I said as we rode side by side. We had seen tiny flakes lightly falling in the evenings, but it would melt as soon as they hit the pavement, and the skies would be clear by morning. Our friends had been up in Hakuba, one of Japan’s popular ski areas, excitedly sending through pictures of skiing and snowboarding in white fluffy landscapes. I was hoping we would see at least some ground coverage.
Two of the easiest countries for cycle touring would have to be Malaysia and Thailand. The people are incredibly friendly, the terrain along the coastlines is mostly flat with excellent roads, and the variety food options make it easy to take a break from cycling – especially when meals occupy a large portion of your thoughts. Accommodation is very affordable, making these two countries some of the cheapest to cycle through.
We spent a little under two months in Thailand, riding over 1,200km, which was stretched over 20 riding days, and quite a lot of downtime. Our daily distances ranged from 122km at our highest, down to a mere 7km on our lowest (us skirting into Bangkok). We travelled north from the border of Malaysia to the capital of Bangkok, hitting the following towns:
So our ultimate beach town deserves an entire post all to itself, and it’s going to be a big one. So settle in, get comfy, and let us show you around!
Crystal blue water. Squeaky soft sand. Tropical islands covered in jungle. This is the picture of Thailand that is commonly lusted after by holiday makers and planners. However with over 29 million visitors a year, is it difficult to find a patch of paradise that’s not covered in crowds all vying for the same bit of sand. Finding a beach outside of the tourist areas is off-putting if you don’t know where to go. Also the garbage situation is horrendous; much of the coastline is incredibly dirty, full of trash spat out from the rivers from villages, or washed up by the tide, derelict buildings and shrimp farming operations running drains to and from the water.
Our plan was to ride up the east coast of Thailand, starting from Padang Besar on the border, and finishing in hustle of Bangkok. Crossing the border from Malaysia to Thailand was nothing but us following the motorcycle lane again, right up to the check points. It was surprisingly easy, with guards barely blinking at us.
We were on our last section of Malaysia, incorporating two of Malaysia’s most well-known islands: Penang and LangKawi, as well as looking forward to a week-long Christmas break.
Usually thought of as a quick stop between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Ipoh is quietly coming up the ranks as a tourist destination in its own right. Little laneways with historic shophouses, classic Malay dishes with serious reputations to uphold and tiny vintage cafes popping up, Ipoh is steadily establishing a firm foothold in charisma and confidence. Of course Malaysians and Chinese tourists have long known about the regional specialities of Malaysia’s 19th century tin mining town, but it will be hard to keep this a local secret for long.
One of the things we wanted to see were monkeys up close and personal. We had actually seen the most common type, the macaques, quite a few times as we had been riding along, but they would disappear as soon as we stopped. We wanted to see them closer to their jungle environment, not the crazy hostile ones chasing screaming Chinese tourists on the steps of the Batu Caves.
We spent a few nights in Melaka (or Melacca). Melaka has a fascinating centuries-old history that swamps its actual dimensions. A tiny port city; its position was central to bustling trade with Indonesia, India, and the Middle East in the 14th century.