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November 4, 2014 by David

South Thailand Round Up

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I now sit aboard a flight bound for Colombo, from where I intend to set out once again looking over possibilities for a new PaintedRoads cycling tour in Sri Lanka.
The airport I have just watched disappear below wispy white clouds is Phuket, where a very pleasant month of Thailand tours drew to a timely conclusion. I have already rambled on about the success of our inaugural North Thailand tour, and so will trouble you no more with tales of just how much fun riding through the beautiful countryside that borders Burma and Lao is. Instead I would like to quickly say just how much fun the beachside riding in the south has been. As is the norm in Thailand these days the weather was a mix of clear sky and cloudy days, with lots of those big fluffy clouds that look so beautiful from the ground but cause your wine to spill over your britches if your airline pilot doesn’t notice them in time.

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New for this tour was a foray deeper into the Kao Sok Park than usual. We have always visit the beautiful lake created by Ratchaprhapa Dam, but passing the park without going further in has been niggling away at me for a while, and with a wonderful jungle resort built on the side of a natural amphitheatre not so far off of our route I finally decided to see how it would work as part of the tour – “absolutely stunning, do you think we can have two nights here please?” Was how Marry from near Oxford summed it up. So that’s that decide then, an extra night incorporated into a tour that is constantly evolving and improving; as Natt and I discussed, this tour had never been the same twice. What’s new for next time? A rather stunning new resort and, for February only, a special offer for those wishing to join both the North and the South tours, more of which soon. For now, Sri Lanka time.

Cheerio for now

D

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October 19, 2014 by David

Cycling North Thailand – a splendid inaugural tour

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Following the Burmese border en-route to the Lao border

A Brand New Tour – Northern Thailand

There has been much interest in PaintedRoads’ brand-new tour through Northern Thailand. It is a beautiful tour that was lots of fun to put together, but as always with a first tour it is not until a group of keen cyclists have tried the ride out and given feedback that a proper appraisal can be made. For this first ride the the experience ranged from Carol and Pete from West Coast USA to PaintedRoads very own cycling lab-rat Kevin, from the home town of the Venerable Bard of Avon, Stratford.

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One of the finest cycling roads in Thailand gently undulates along a beautiful ridge loosing a thousand metres of altitude over forty kilometres, a fun road was the verdictt.

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The climb to Pu Chi Fa offers some stunning views and is an official transfer on the ride, when you see the gradients you will understand why.

The tour according to the US adventurers:

Carol, who for three years was president of America’s Adventure Cycling Asociation, and her husband Pete know me from a Tibet tour a few years since.  Now retired they generally spend the autumn, or fall as they like to term it, on a cycling expedition somewhere in the world. This year they plumped for a multi nation exploration of SE Asia, and I am honoured to say that they chose PaintedRoads to organise the first three legs of their epic foray through the region that has become my adopted home. As veterans of Tibet and Patagonia I was left wondering if they would find the ride challenging enough. As it turned out there was no need for concern as they lapped up the beauty of the scenery, the diversity of cultures, the mixture of cycling terrain, the delicious Thai food and the ever present chuckles when Natt and I took a wrong turn.

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Pete and Carol exploring the byways of North Thailand

The tour according to our very own lab-rat:

I first met Kevin a few years back when he joined a brand new tour I had created between Bangkok and Phuket. He must have enjoyed the experience as he keeps coming back for more and has now done more firsts with me than anyone else – first South Thailand, first South Vietnam, and now first Northern Thailand – a list of firsts that earns the dear and jovial fellow the coveted moniker of Lab-rat. Now Kevin knows a lot of PaintedRoads regulars and so, when people asked ‘how is the tour?’ I replied, best we wait for the word according to Kevin. And so it was that Kevin became, for a while, as important to bicycle tours asThe Man From Del Monte was to tinned fruit, and come tour’s end, the Man From Stratford, he said ‘YES!’

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Kevin, The Man From Stratford, he says “yes!” Cheers Kevin

Is it for you?

For anyone familiar with PaintedRoads’ cycling tours of Southern Thailand and Southern Vietnam the general opinion is that the physical demand of the North Thailand tour is similar, assuming of course that you take the transfers for the mind bogglingly daft ascents to Mai Salong and Pu Chi Fa. That is to say it is a fun ride offering some fine days cycling without the demands of the protracted climbs found in North Vietnam, Lao, and China’s Yunnan Province.

If you are interested in a great winter escape PaintedRoads’ next North Thailand Tour is during the first two weeks on February 2015, and if you have the time to stay on in Asia why not maximise your time and join the South Thailand tour directly afterwards and get twice the fun from your long haul flight? For further details please email me.

As always Natt takes care of the tour with a constant smile, merriment and good will

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Swapping the bikes for an elephant we visit a Karen village…

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and then back on the bikes ’till the road runs out, at which point we take to the river for the final hour of the day’s journey

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We manage to find some roads along the way that are rather light of traffic

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October 3, 2014 by David

A Wonderful Tour of Northeast Vietnam

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“Wow, you have really understated the beauty and drama of this region, this is stunning” was just one of many comments that I was very happy to hear on what was an absolutely marvellous tour of Northeast Vietnam last month. The new section of the tour that takes us up onto a high plateau close very close to the Chinese border was, as is always the case with introducing a new element to a tour, something about which I was a little apprehensive. So when David, a very experienced traveler who has cycled all over the world said to me “this is the best days cycling I have had” I was as pleased as Punch.

The whole tour was such a pleasure, with a wonderful group of nine people who gelled wonderfully were a delight to be with and I am very much looking forward to seeing again.

For now a final few words those who were there and a few pics from the tour:

Jan from Oz:

NE Vietnam is a very special place,  and I can’t imagine doing it any other way than on a bicycle – with Painted Roads of course.  I was so sorry it was over. Could have done it all over again! So thank you for making it such a memorable trip.  Great organisation,  great fun,  but also great care and concern when some of us were wilting in the extreme heat. And thanks to Phong,  Mr Thang and Mr Chung. What a team. Looking forward to the next one!”

Phil from London:

“A wonderful trip and a fantastic way to get a glimpse into the lives of the local peoples whilst enjoying great cycling amongst the most stunning scenery imaginable. Expertly run by David whose inexhaustible supply of good humour, energy and beer, in conjunction with Phong and his local team, meant even the toughest days were superb fun. And, astonishingly, Mr Tang’s chips lived up to the hype”.

Cycling Tam Son North Vietnam

Cycling across the rice fields

Valley near Don Vang

Winding through valleys, over passes and across plateaus, it’s all beautiful cycling

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A final climb then it’s down hill all the way to a well deserved beer.

cycling the final 9 kilometre climb before our mammoth 27 KM downhill

A misty start to the final day’s cycling as Typhoon Kalmaegi passes by a little way off. The sun was out though for the 27 kilometre down hill that follows this little climb

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A lone cyclist waves as he passes through this deep valley that is home to the Hmong people

Looking out over the high plateau bordering China

“The best day’s cycling ever” was just one of the very positive comments delivered with an ear to ear smile about the new section used for the first time this tour.

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Mr Phong resplendent in his bright new cycling hat

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The group rehydrates, cheers all!

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August 8, 2014 by David

Cycling Sri Lanka – a small island of amazing contrast

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The sun, still low in the early morning sky flashes through the gaps in the hedgerows as with a song on my lips and a childish joy in my soul I sweep effortlessly through the smooth curves of this most beautiful of descents. I stop and removed my gilet, as with each kilometre of downhill and every minute into the new day the air warms. I check my watch, I have lost 900 metres in a little over 20KMS. The green of the tea plantations is now replaced by the the even more vivid green of rice fields. I ride on, now crossing the undulations of a wide straight road leading south. I enjoy being able to stretch my legs cycling on a smooth rolling highway, and in what seems like just a few moments another twenty kilometres is behind me. I turn west on a small bumpy byway and friendly folks wave from their porches and from the dirt trails leading across parched savannah.

A group of young monks play in the grounds of their temple and I pull over the great them Excited by the arrival of an adventurous stranger on touring on a bicycle they leave their play and grab for their monastic robes so as to be properly dressed to great me. As the monks gown up the robes below in the wind and the bright sun, now high in the sky, lights up the bright orange cloth adding beautiful dashes of colour to the lovely monastery grounds.

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Moving along I skirt around the National Park where this new Painted Roads cycling tour will over night in a safari camp. As I cruise along the bank of the lake a wild elephant wanders to the boundary fence, eyeing the passing stranger’s bicycle with the same fascination that this rider admires this huge beast.

In just a few short hours of cycling I have passed from the cool fertile green hills of the high country, with its beautiful colonial architecture and aged tea factories, to the heat and arid land of the low country. Another 60KMS will see me on the coast with its rugged rocky coves and long sandy beaches. Sri Lanka is proving to be every bit as wonderful a cycling destination as I had hoped. Now to polish the route and finalise the tour and we should be good to go next summer.

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July 30, 2014 by David

Wheeling Through The Tea Country – a ride through Sri Lanka’s hills

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Through the forest – descending from Horton Plains

Sitting on my balcony drinking stout from a pint glass filled me with a cozy sense of familiarity. That the air was chilly and I was watching the mist roll over the hills and the town below left me with the nostalgic feeling of sojourning in the English Lake District of a summer. At nearly 2000 metres above sea level Nuwera Eliya was a favourite haunt for the colonial British escaping the heat of the plains, and with such an English feel to the climate it comes as little surprise. A boating lake and race course, the smell of vegetable gardens, country clubs and lost in time hotels from the days of the Raj all combine to provide a wonderful flavour of a time gone by.

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Even monks need a phone, direct line to nirvana perhaps

Leaving Nuwera Eliya I drop through the mist into glorious sunshine through a series of sweeping corners on a pristine road surface. Turing off I am soon cycling along a narrow lane with a surface of colonial vintage that leads through fragrant tea plantations up and up through the sweet sent of pine trees. At small lost in time railway stations no one huries or bustles as people wait lazily for a slowly chugging train that will arrive, eventual, and leave when it is good and ready. Friesian cows graze and in small hamlets that have grown up around the station’s friendly shop keepers smile as they greet me with a friendly wave or a cheery “good morning sir”. I wheel on to Horton Plains where, at nearly 2200 metres, there is the eerie silence that always accompanies rolling mist. A tailwind takes hold of me and blows my machine and me swiftly across the moor, and when the mist parts I am treated to flashes of sunlight on the hills far below. And then to the descent – I drop down on a single lane byway below the mist, and thought the eucalyptus trees are glimpses of the plains far far below, bathing in sunshine and stretching off to the south coast.

My days cycling through Sri Lanka’s Hill Country have been rather wonderful, now to the plains and on to the coast.

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Cycling company from some local lads

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Horton Plains rest stop

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Dramatic scenes on Horton Plains

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July 25, 2014 by David

Sri Lanka – A New Tour Is Brewing

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Knuckles Range, at 1100 metres my fist foray into the hills

The Land of Smiles, a moniker oft used to describe Thailand, but if every there was a land of smiles it must surly be here in Sri Lanka. Wherever I go I am never far from a beaming smile and an oh so polite “good morning sir”. And there is another beauty of this land, the language – English is very widely spoken meaning that getting an insight into the culture is far easier and more direct than in many other Asian Countries, a positive boon for sure.

It was April 2011 when last I cycled in Sri Lanka and I knew then it was a beautiful country for a cycling tour, only I did not have a medium through which to offer such a tour to the many people I know very well will enjoy wheeling thought this beautiful little island on a bicycle. So as soon as PaintedRoads was conceived Sri Lanka was very high on my list of tour destinations, and now, with a little time spare before my summer sojourn in England I am on my first of two visits to Ceylon, this time to get an overview, next time to finalise tour details. For now a few pics from the road – more to come soon.

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Quite what possessed my when I packed the Salsa Vaya this time I can’t being to wonder, but I ma carrying far more than needed for a trip through such a compact island

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Anuradaphura in the Cultural Triangle is a fitting stat point for a tour of Sri lanka
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Our friendly tuk-tuk driver who showed us around town

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This canal side trail was a wonderful way to amble across Sri Lanka’s lowlands

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Red roads, reminds me of Thailand

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June 16, 2014 by David

From Saigon

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The Mekong River, it’s rather large you know

It’s been a busy month here at PaintedRoads. We’ve had two tours in the past five weeks sharing great journeys with 23 guests through two Asian nations.

Last month’s tour of Yunnan Province was a runaway success, well received and thoroughly enjoyed by all on board.

The first half of June saw Phong and I supported by our regular driver Sa and new top trump crew member Lee take a group os Aussies out of Saigon to explore the maze of inland waterways that make up Vietnam’s fascinating Mekong Delta Region.

Many of those on this tour had previously cycled the Southern Thailand tour with me so it was interesting to hear their thoughts on this Vietnamese tour that was inspired by our Thailand classic. The general consensus of opinion was that yes, it is fairly similar to the Thai tour physically, but the overall atmosphere of this tour is more about the culture and the people whereas Thailand is more about riding through beautiful countryside – as one veteran of both tours put it, the two tours complement to each other, if they were too alike it would be dull, the differences are what makes it well worth doing both tours; a comment that made my day.

Thanks to Angela, Michael, Sue, Paul and Paul, and The Fat Boys; Terry, Ken, Mike and Peter – hope to see you all again before too long.

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Awaiting one of many first cross Mekong ferries…

All aboard The Skylark

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The tour is full of rural trails such as this

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out in the wilderness where tourists seldom tread

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Ah, the jubilance of crossing a bridge

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Waiting for the boat

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Our new Mechanic Lee turned out to be worth far more than his weight in gold. Medic, mechanic, masseur, carer and all round brilliant bloke, Lee is a top team member.

Somehow I just can’t shake of this fellow. Cheers Space Man!

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The group, cheers all!

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May 30, 2014 by David

a few more pics from Yunnan

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Crossing a high plateau before the long descent through stunning scenery and fragrant pine forests to Baishuaitai

I have been asked by several people just recently for some more images from China, and why not? It is after all a very beautiful tour. But rather than check out the small images on this blog I think it time to introduce the little gallery of tours that I am slowly working on. it is still a work in progress but should you wish to have a look at more images of PaintedRoads rather beautiful tour destinations please check out the PaintedRoads Images gallery. For further images of Yunnan I recommend a quick click here.

Next tour is Vietnam’s Mekong Delta a lovely tour where I will be travelling plenty of old riding friends and a few new. Hopefully there will be time to post a few words and pics from that tour very soon.

Cheerio for now

D

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The small streets of the hillside town of Shigu are a wonderful venue for a per breakfast stroll

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One of China’s multitude of stunning bridges

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This old fellow found me highly amusing and was quite convinced I was lost – what no one seemed to realise is that I was

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There are plenty of wonderful rural roads in Yunnan

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The ride from Baishuaitai to Dali is a splendid way to start the day

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Echo organising breakfast…

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noodle soup…

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steamed buns stuffed with meat and tea boiled eggs…

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A bewildered Chinaman observing a group of eccentric strangers and their and their odd breakfast ritual

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A clear sky and the open road

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some of the group, waiting for a boat

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May 25, 2014 by David

A few images from Yunnan

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Leaving Shangri-la behind we climb under a cloudy sky to our first pass at 3700 metres

Painted Roads second tour of China’s beautiful and diverse Yunnan Province has just drawn to an end. Fourteen cyclists, some old friends and some new joined us for this most dramatic of tours and, with beautiful spring like weather and great company the tour was most splendid. For now a few pics from along the way.

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As we cross the pass the sky begins to clear…

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Heading towards Tiger Leaping Gorge the clouds part and the spring like weather is all set for the rest of the tour…

Admiring a fine view of The Yangsi River as it carves a deep crevasse across an open plane before winding through one of the world’s deepest and most dramatic gorges.

After twenty two kilometres of cruising effortlessly down hill we reach the Yangsi River at the bottom of this deep ravine…

and then onwards into the stunning Tiger leaping Gorge…

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The merry group, from as far afield as Australia, The UK, Israel, China and Holland, a global bunch

 

 

 

 

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May 13, 2014 by David

The Phoenix Is Awakening

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It’s time to leave Shangri-la now and head out for the beautiful ride south to Dali via the the stunning high mountains of Yunnan, the dramatic Tiger leaping Gorge, historic Shaxi, and the lovely old tea trading town of Shugu, to name but a few of the great attractions of the ride.

Since I have been here work has commenced on the reconstruction of the old town that was badly damaged by fire just after Christmas. Shangri-la still maintains and air of charm, and in a morbid sort of a way the ruins have proved interesting. Now though I am looking forward to seeing the phoenix of the reconstruction rise from the ashes of destruction. There are still some characterful cafes and restaurants open for business, and on the periphery of the fire new businesses are opening and buildings are being restored, now I look forward to seeing the progress in the centre of the old town when I return for our next tour of Yunnan.

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The irony is that now Shangri-la has been reduced to rubble by a blazing inferno fire hydrants are visible throughout the ruins

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Trucks and workers are now moving in to begin the reconstruction work

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This street leading back to the new town used to be a winding cobbled alley running between wood characterful stone and wooden houses

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Fortunately some old building have survived

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A Tibetan surveys the destruction of his home town from above

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