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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…

spicy breakfast

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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May 10, 2014 by David

After The Fire

Aftermath of the Shangri-la / Zhongdien fire. Black and white images

The centre of Shangri-la Old Town

Anyone who has joined me on the beautiful PaintedRoads tour of China’s Yunnan Province will harbour fond memories of the lovely old town of Shangri-la. It is in this wonderful old Tibetan town with its cobbled streets and timber and stone buildings that the group meet and spend the first few days of the tour acclimatising to the altitude and exploring the narrow streets.

I was well aware that a fire had ripped through the town during the depths of winter, but my imagination had failed to prepare me for just how devastating the fire had been. Arriving in a rather damp Shangri-la this afternoon I dropped my bike and bag in the hotel room and headed out to see how much damage the fire had caused, and how the restoration project was coming along. The sight that awaited me was shocking. A huge swathe of the old town has been destroyed beyond recognition and looks like the victim of an air raid. On several occasion I was bewildered as to where I was, and as for the restoration project, I can well imagine that it’s going to be some time before it even begins.

The weather was fittingly drab grey and damp as I wandered around with my camera. Over the next couple of days I hope to get some more images of the old town, of the destruction and perhaps more importantly of the areas that escaped unscathed. For now though a few pics from this evening.

Aftermath of the Shangri-la / Zhongdien fire. Black and white images
Of an evening locals would gather on this square and dance the night away – alas no more

 

Aftermath of the Shangri-la / Zhongdien fire. Black and white images

Some shops miraculously survived unscathed

Aftermath of the Shangri-la / Zhongdien fire. Black and white images

The street that last August ran through lovely old cafes and shops leading down to the dance square.

Aftermath of the Shangri-la / Zhongdien fire. Black and white images

The pile of rubble on left served a fine local beer brewed in a micro brewery, one of the finest beers in China. So odd to see it gone

 

 

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May 1, 2014 by David

My Last Words On Cambodia – For Now

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The sort of roads I enjoyed whilst exploring Cambodia. Often though the sand was soft prompting thoughts of a fat-bike

So what has happened to Cambodia seems to be the question. The answer is that Cambodia is absolutely fine thank you very much, alas our time together did not work out as I had hoped, and therefore it is with a tinge of sadness that I must report that for the time being at least there will be no PaintedRoads Cambodia tour.I have received many emails recently expressing concern and worry and about my well being – well, when I say many I am of course flattering myself, there was actually one, but it’s nice to think that a lot of people are concerned about me when I go off the radar.

Regular readers – and I understand there are a couple, may well recall my trip to Burma last year on quest of a tour. Although I had been visiting Burma for 15 years and enjoying my time there very much I just couldn’t quite get myself excited about the idea of a Burma tour. There were many reasons that I explained at the time, and for me they were, and still are, very valid. And alas the same is true of Cambodia at present.

I think that Cambodia is a country populated by lovely people, and for sure it has some great attractions. It is a country with a wonderful network of unsealed tracks trails and roads that would make a wonderful destination for a more adventurous tour, perhaps even on fat-bikes. But for the sort of tour I went looking for it just didn’t work out, it didn’t take me by the heart – and if I cannot lead a tour with passion then I would rather not lead it, and I lead all PaintedRoads tours, so, for now, I have to say cheerio to Cambodia.

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Typical main street of a rural town

So?

So what next? Well I have to say that one country has been seducing me to run a tour for a couple of years now. It has been tempting me with great memories of times past both motorcycling and cycling. With stunning scenery in the tea plantations of the hill country, ancient architecture in the dry zone, beaches, and absolutely wonderful old colonial towns the home of Buddhism’s Pali Canon is a fantastic cycling destination. And so it is that my next exploration for a tour will be in Sri Lanka.

For now though I am in China. On May 11 PaintedRoads’ second tour of Yunnan Province will begin. This a beautiful mountain tour and like last August’s tour it sold out months before it ran.

Pics from China soon, for now though, time to sample the local brew; cheers!

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The streets of Battambang…

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And on to Siem Reap…

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In time for Khmer New Year celebrations…

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where everyone has a drink…

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in Pub Street of course…

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Braveheart England apparently…

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There were some mesmerising sights.

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April 18, 2014 by David

CAMBODIA FROM THE ARCHIVES: a blog post from a few years since…

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“Hello Sir, why are you in my country on a bicycle?” The girl sitting before me asking the question was young, slim, and beautiful. Her lips were unmistakably Khmer, the same unusual sensual curves as those carved a thousand years ago on the temple complexes scattered around the country, the most famous of which is Angkor Wat. “You speak very good English” I tell her. “Thank you sir, I go to school every evening at five PM to study”. The same story I have heard half a dozed times already as young Cambodians seeing the opportunities before them reach out to seize the day. I have stopped for a bite to eat and a rest in the market of a little town on the banks of the Mekong River, typical of the small towns that are rarely visited by any foreigners other than cyclists.
I have been riding through Cambodia as preparation for my first tour of the season. Cambodia is a new tour for and, although I have been here twice before that was many years ago and I feel like a new comer to the land. So to familiarise myself with the country, it’s people and the route I will be following seemed like a fine plan.
The ride itself is physically easy, ideal for less experienced cyclists with its flat terrain and generally good roads. There are some unsealed stretches but they are smooth, and as a rule fairly quiet traffic wise with far more ox carts that cars.
The people of Cambodia are quite lovely. Smart, friendly, honest and beautiful they are a big part of what makes the country such an attractive destination.
To we Westerners cycling through exotic lands seems wonderfully adventurous, but how to explain it to the smart hard working girl asking why I am doing it. Cycling is after all the transport of the poor, working is the sun is for peasants. She works all day in a market to earn the money to attend English classes every evening. She, like so many others, sees the potential to rise up above the poor background she comes from and is doing all she can to achieve this. And yet here before her is a European; a man from the Land of Milk and Honey with enough money to fly across the world and swan around doing as he wishes, and what doe he choose to do, cycle in the sun. Poor girl, she probably wonders why she is bothering.

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April 16, 2014 by David

A few recent images from my ride around Cambodia

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City centre traffic, Battambang

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typical Cambodian rural riding…

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and plenty of these fantastic red gravel roads

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and sometimes the going can get a tad bumpy

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there are plenty of beautiful colourful wooden houses in rural Cambodia

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a fellow cyclist

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I rode into the grounds of a rural temple to find the local lads have a boxing ring set up

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April 13, 2014 by David

Of lonesome trails and weddings

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One of the attractions of the countryside for most people is it’s silence and solitude, and so it is here in Cambodia. Just a few days ago it became so quiet that my mind began to wander and play games with me. I began to wonder if there were lions, or big bears with long pointy teeth and nasty claws, or any such other similarly unpleasant beasts roaming around. And of course the more I wondered the more my imagination played a merry dance with me, until I found myself somewhat anxious. Then in the middle of nowhere, from between two bushes wandered two young girls of the age where girls spend a lot of time arm in arm, and head to head giggling a lot. And this is just what they were doing, totally obliviousness to lions or tigers or strange men on bicycle in the wilderness. They looked up, tugged on each other’s arms, giggle, shouted “hello barang” and burst into uncontrollable hysterics when I returned their greeting. I felt a bit of a twit wondering about lions.
The sound of silence is not all pervading in the countryside at this time of year though – oh no, for it seems to my observation that the wedding season is well and truly upon us. And the wedding season has a soundtrack, and I am sorry to say it is not alway a pretty sound, not to my ears at least – and it’s loud
There seem to be several stages to the wedding music. Interestingly my initial evaluation proved to be all topsy-turvy. There is particular form of, erm, music, that at first I believed to be the Khemer equivalent of closing the bar and switching the lights off. It can best be described as having all the qualities of the residents of a lunatic asylum let loose in the orchestra pit when the musicians have all nipped off to the loo. As I said I thought it was intended to send stragglers home, but looking closer suggests that this is the initial stage of the proceedings conducted as the venue – inevitably a large colourful awning, is being constructed. following further observation and consideration I concluded its intention must be to ward off evil spirtits. I suspect it enjoys considerable success. Next seems to come the plinka-plonka strage. This is played out on an instrument I have never seen but imagine must be akin to a glockenspiel, which makes a far less offensive but ultimately niggling, well, plinka-plonka sort of a sound.
The chanting is Buddhist, conducted my monks, and one assumes its place at a wedding is to bless the happy couple and their future. I am familiar with Buddhist chanting and personally I like it, it is meditative and helps bring peace.
Finally comes party time, this can apparently be whatever the assembly fancies, anything from romantic smooches to the sort of rapular music favoured by angry looking black men with big motorcars, shiny jewellery and raunchy ladies, if videos I have seen on television from time to time are anything to judge by.

20140413-155652.jpga friendly bride no doubt happy the plinka-plonka music stage is over

Well, so much for the festivities, what about the riding? Well once again it has all been rather pleasant. I woke in the morning with an idea of where I needed to be to find a bed and food for the night and punched the destination into my iPad. Google Maps thought for a while and threw up three suggestions, I told it I wished to take the most remote looking option and the wonders of Apple and Google combined in a magical unity and send me on my merry, and rather rural way.
As is always the case the world over the ever helpful locals did all they could to send me back to the main road. Locals travel by bus, and when you ask them the way they look you up and down, eye your bicycle suspiciously, and suggest that by far the best option is to go the way they would go; by bus. And so those with a flicker of adventure in their soul must smile politely, thank their advisor very much, and head off in the opposite direction to that suggested.
I spent the morning doing this, I would meet men loading logs onto a large battered trucks, I would meet farmers and retired ladies of leisure snoozing idly in hammocks. They would all great me and ask where I am going, I would tell them, they would point me in a direction to which I would smile, thank them, and, feeling rather awkward, immediately turn the other way. And then the people petered out to nothing, as did my food.
My legs were empty and moving on was becoming a struggle, my narrow tyres sank into the sand and I stopped, I checked my watch, five hours since breakfast – need food. The sand was white, the sun was strong and bounced straight back up from the glittering surface. I checked the temperature and my watch assured me it was 39 degrees. I had water and a small packet of Jelly Babies, I love Jelly Babies, these things are carbohydrate bombs and should never, under any circumstances, be given to children.
The route was becoming wild, dried up stream beds and rutted cart tracks proved a challenge to my narrow cyclo-cross tyres. Then I climbed onto a raised surface that felt firm with a fine dusting of sand. There was hard packed single track and smooth cart tracks across savanna, these were great, and then, at last, there was a perfect red gravel highway, and food. A lunch of noodle soups and lashings of cola, delightful.
The day finished in a similar vain, red gravel, cart tracks, single track, and eventually, just as the day was coming to an end, a spot of hard black highway for novelty value. The ride is a splendid one, but by god it’s getting hot.

20140413-160236.jpgThis great single track is marked as a road on Google Maps, I kid you not….

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20140413-160840.jpgIt’s not always lonesome, my fellow travellers.

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April 9, 2014 by David

Cambodia

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I sat amidst the dust and fumes of the urban carnage cause by the motorcar and considered the track I was looking at. I was in the middle of Phnom Phen and eager to begin my journey as I hoped it would continues, with solitude and a little adventure – a tall order perhaps in the midst of a capital city. I have of late taken to using Google Maps walking routes for navigation, at worst they give a good suggestion to a route, at best, and this is so often the case, they come up with a stunningly good route for the adventure cyclist.
The track I was looking at was just that, a track, I stabbed a sweaty finger at the iPad, looked up and down the road and back at the narrow path that rolled merrily off alongside the railway line. I slipped the iPad back into its pocket and with a sigh of resignation set out out on what must be oddest route upon which I have ever cycled out of the heart of a capital city.
It was great, nothing like leaving Bangkok in its haze of fumes and high speed vehicles, here in the middle of Phnom Penh I was greater with nods and smiles from locals aboard little motorcycles and bicycles, and within a short time I was out of town and into a wide open countryside bereft of Tarmac.

PaintedRoads tours are never created under pressure, I try to avoid pressure, I have seen it’s affect on others and do not envy them. I have no desperate need to fill my website with tours – indeed as I run all tours personally I need to be careful not to over do it, and besides, I started this to share what I enjoy doing with like minded souls, so my enjoyment is somewhat important to a useable tour. So the mission for now is simple, have a ride through parts of the country I have not seen, enjoy the ride, enjoy taking pictures and see how thing unfold.

More soon, but for now a few pics from the first day on the road, or should that be track?

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A SOMEWHAT TRANQUIL ROUTE FROM A CAPITAL…..

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WITH PIOUSE COMPANY

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THE ROUTE SOON BECAME A TAD RURAL….

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HAD TO TREAD WITH CARE AT TIMES…

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THE ROAD BECOMES A PATH…

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UNTIL EVENTUALLY THE, ERM, HIGHWAY REAPEARS

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