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.
The last time I was in Kyoto was 2007 where I spent a year teaching English and was living in an apartment not much bigger than our tent. I was excited to return to see if the beautiful city remained as picture perfect as it did in my memory and to show it off to Suyin, who was just as excited as I was.
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.
The sound of early morning dog walkers signalled us to get out of bed and leave our palatial setup. We had stopped in Ichinomya Koen Nai Camping Ground, a beachside park/campground, but it being a Thursday in early March, no one else was there. We had the pick of every single camp space. But it had been raining all day for the past few days, so instead of a muddy spot in the open air, we had instead set up under one of the BBQ pavilions.
“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.
We sat drowsy and disoriented from our night in the clouds, with a commotion unfolding a few seats down. An elderly Japanese man intent on getting his luggage first was trying to barge past a couple, repeatedly hitting the wife with his briefcase. The yelling had escalated but the old guy was refusing to register any delay to his plan.
After riding over 1,200km from the bottom of Thailand, Bangkok was only 60kms away. But with all the overladen speeding tucks flying past our elbow the distance became irrelevant. We had cycled as far as we could but the roads, (expressways) were just becoming too dangerous to ride. Our chosen road, Number 35, had been a two-lane road, but then kept widening, adding more and more extra lanes as we inched closer to the city. A friendly traffic policeman stopped us at one intersection and kindly reached into the open signal box next to him, pausing all the lights so we could cross before the traffic.
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:
Marking roughly the halfway point of our Malaysia ride we veered inland towards the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Most major cities are a pain to navigate into; traffic jams, highways and a billion pedestrians but this was one of the easiest rides we had.
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.
From November through February the Malaysian monsoon season is full swing. With roughs seas and endless rain the east coast and its nearby islands are virtually shut down. The west coast also gets it’s fair share of rain but it is said to be a little less hostile, so we decided to take the west coast roads to end at the very top of Malaysia.
Twenty kilometres were all it took to cycle from one side of Singapore to the other. The roads were busy but there were plenty of shared paths for us to jump on. It was hard to pull away from the amazing hospitality from Suyin’s family and the daily food comas but we had a flight booked in Bangkok and needed to ride up the coasts of both Malaysia and Thailand to get there.
As we are spending a year bike touring, we will have flown with our bikes as baggage six times, which means we would have set them up and broken them down twelve times as follows:
Ever since France we had been cycling just ahead of the leaves changing colour. The last few Spanish towns had only one or two trees changing, glimpses of yellow and red, but this was the first real sighting of the full Autumn spectacle.