background

the

Painted Roads Blog

Site design by mikesimagination.net

August 8, 2014 by David

Cycling Sri Lanka – a small island of amazing contrast

bicycle tour sri lanka

.

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.

novice monk sri lanka

.

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.

tea plantations around ella sri lanka

.

wild elephant sri lanka cycling tour

.

salsa vaya bicycle touring sri lanka

.

black and white stupa sri lanka

.

sun rise tangalla beach sri lanka

.

  •   •   •   •   •
July 30, 2014 by David

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

bicycle touring though Sri Lanka

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.

Sri lanka monk in tooth temple

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.

sri lanka cycling local boys on red road

Cycling company from some local lads

Hotel on horton plains sri lanka

Horton Plains rest stop

black and white trees horton plains sri lanka

Dramatic scenes on Horton Plains

  •   •   •   •   •
July 25, 2014 by David

Sri Lanka – A New Tour Is Brewing

wpid-P7220283-2014-07-25-15-58.jpg

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.

wpid-P7210196-2014-07-25-15-58.jpg

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

wpid-P7200142-2014-07-25-15-58.jpg

Anuradaphura in the Cultural Triangle is a fitting stat point for a tour of Sri lanka
wpid-P7200161-Version2-2014-07-25-15-58.jpg

Our friendly tuk-tuk driver who showed us around town

wpid-P7220249-2014-07-25-15-58.jpg

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

wpid-P7220225-2014-07-25-15-58.jpg

Red roads, reminds me of Thailand

  •   •   •   •   •
June 16, 2014 by David

From Saigon

atmospheric, sky, mekong, black and wite

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.

tourists, wooden jetty, mekong river

Awaiting one of many first cross Mekong ferries…

All aboard The Skylark

cyclists. small trails, southern Vietnam, tour

The tour is full of rural trails such as this

cyclists, touring, mekong delta, empty roads

out in the wilderness where tourists seldom tread

bicycle, touring, southern vietnam

Ah, the jubilance of crossing a bridge

cool, cyclist, vietnam

Waiting for the boat

Vietnames cyclist

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!

Australian, cyclists, group, tour, Vietnam, south

The group, cheers all!

  •   •   •   •   •
May 30, 2014 by David

a few more pics from Yunnan

Bicycle tour Yunnan China Shangri-la to Dali

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

Bicycle tour yunnan china street photography sunrise star burst

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

cycling tour yunnan china shangri-la dali

One of China’s multitude of stunning bridges

old man street photography china rural

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

cycling tour yunnan china shangrila dali

There are plenty of wonderful rural roads in Yunnan

yunnan dali china bicycle tour

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

yunnan girl cafe breakfast street photography

Echo organising breakfast…

spicy breakfast

noodle soup…

yunnan china breakfast

steamed buns stuffed with meat and tea boiled eggs…

China yunnan street portrait sunlight shadow face

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

Yunnan china cycling tour bicycle tiger leaping gorge

A clear sky and the open road

western cyclist er hai lake dali group photo

some of the group, waiting for a boat

  •   •   •   •   •
May 25, 2014 by David

A few images from Yunnan

Cycling-bicycle-tour-shangrila-yunnan-china

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.

Cycling-bicycle-tour-shangrila-yunnan-china

As we cross the pass the sky begins to clear…

Cycling-bicycle-tour-shangrila-yunnan-china

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…

bicycle-touring-yunnan-china-tiger-leaping-gorge

bicycle-tour-yunnan-china

bicycle-tour-china-yunnan

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

 

 

 

 

  •   •   •   •   •
May 13, 2014 by David

The Phoenix Is Awakening

cycling, Yunnan, China, Shangri-la, fire, images

.

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.

cycling, Yunnan, Shangri-la / Zhongdian fire images

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

cycling, Yunnan, China, Shangri-la / Zhongdian fire images

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

Shangri-la / Zhongdian fire images

.

Shangri-la / Zhongdian fire images

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

Shangri-la / Zhongdian fire images

Fortunately some old building have survived

Shangri-la / Zhongdian fire images

A Tibetan surveys the destruction of his home town from above

  •   •   •   •   •
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

 

 

  •   •   •   •   •
May 1, 2014 by David

My Last Words On Cambodia – For Now

wpid-P4070128-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

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.

wpid-P4070131-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

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!

wpid-P4090205-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

The streets of Battambang…

wpid-P4100262-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

wpid-P4100271-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

wpid-P4150363-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

And on to Siem Reap…

wpid-P4150382-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

In time for Khmer New Year celebrations…

wpid-P4150386-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

where everyone has a drink…

wpid-P4150410-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

in Pub Street of course…

wpid-P4150395-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

Braveheart England apparently…

wpid-P4150417-2014-04-28-17-23.jpg

There were some mesmerising sights.

  •   •   •   •   •
April 18, 2014 by David

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

l1030744-2010-08-8-12-371.jpg

“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.

l1030769-2010-08-8-12-371.jpg

l1030776-2010-08-8-12-371.jpg

l1030778-2010-08-8-12-371.jpg

l1030786-2010-08-8-12-371.jpg

l1030795-2010-08-8-12-371.jpg

  •   •   •   •   •