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Journal

Blog and other stuff

This is our online journal with news, photos, tours and all sorts of interesting stuff... We like to post from the roads we cycle  throughout Asia to help give you a little insight into our cycling holidays so you may read words from the road in Vietnam, the mountains in China, the beaches in Thailand, a village in Laos, a bar in Taiwan, or the stunning hills of Sri Lanka.

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Thailand's Premier Gravel Tour

03 February 20

It is difficult to gauge just how good a route is when riding it alone. Solitary riding is always a different experience, tending to be harder, faster and more tiring. The consequence is that it's never easy to gauge how well a tour will be received when first presented to a discerning group. 

gravel cyclist on cycling organised tour in Thailand
Living close to the start of the Thailand Gravel tour I had plenty of time to put what we believe to be Thailand's first-ever long-distance gravel tour together. It's a concept I have harboured for some years now, and from inspecting the initial course to settling on the route for the inaugural tour took three years.
I rode the entire route several times, and inevitably each time it changed. I would wonder 'what's along that lane, what's down that path, how far does that red gravel road go', and I would look. Sometimes I would find improvements, and sometimes I would not. Sections closer to home I rode more regularly and changed more often, and the section that traces a seventy kilometres arc around my humble abode I re-rode and pondered and altered and worried over until Echo said, 'maybe you shouldn't ride it again before the tour runs', and she was, of course, right'. 

Fortunately, the five gravel riders who rode out of town with me on a mid-January morning were easy going laid back folks with a mind to have fun whenever possible - and fun we had. Ten days and a thousand kilometres later we rolled into a quiet guesthouse in Ayuthaya, the former capital of Siam, sharing the opinion that the tour had been as described, a 50/50 mix of gravel roads and deserted byways, a ratio we all felt was an ideal mix of exhilarating riding, relaxed cruising, and the opportunity to see a side of Thailand rarely seen, let alone experienced by most tourists.

gravel bikes passing through rubber plantation during Thailand tour

gravel cyclists photographing view in Thailand

gravel cyclists lost in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

passing an ancient stupa whilst on gravel cycling tour in Thailand

gravel cyclists passing old temple in Thailand black and white image

black and white image of gravel cyclists resting by a lake during Thailand bike packing ride

gravel cyclist pushing her bike on tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on tour in Thailand

gravel bikes on cycling tour in Thailand

gravel cyclist in Thailand

If you would like a unique and exhilarating gravel cycling adventure whilst experiencing Thailand in a way most foreigners never will, we have two dates for next year. A Christmas getaway, and a mid-Jan start date. Please click here for full details.

South Thiland Christmas Tour

10 January 20

Christmas Day.

Yuletide 2019 was a splendid time for PaintedRoads. Eight jolly folks, all wishing to escape winter's gloom, joined Echo and me, Thai guide Natt and support crew P Gor and Thon, for a tropical beachside ride from Bangkok to Phuket. 

PaintedRoads original tour, South Thailand was conceived as a winter escape, mixing balmy weather, quiet roads and beaches, super cycling, delicious food, and plenty of cold beers. During its eight-years, it has never failed to fulfil people's expectations, and I feel confident in saying Christmas 2019 is no exception. 
Many thanks to Jo, Mike & Berta, Gill, Debbie, Last Minute Paul, and Brian & Sil for coming along and being such good fun folks. I will leave the images below to tell the tale. 

Koh Yao Noi.

As with all PaintedRoads tours, South Thailand is always in a state of flux as the route evolves and improves. This year we made a change of route that has long been on my mind, a change that will become a feature of the tour - at least until the next change.

What happens when the tour leader takes a wrong turn.

Temples are always a good spot for a picnic lunch.

Friend and guide, Natt,

Visiting a Buddha cave.

Post-ride relaxation.

The road less travelled.

Tip-top support is guaranteed from our regular driver P Gor, with back up from Thon.

LabRat Run 2019 - Mongolia Altai Mountains.

02 August 19

"We suffer so you don't have too" was deemed one afternoon, over a respectable quantity of refreshments, to be the motto of the LabRats. Truth be told, spirits of the 'Rats were high as a kite that day as we bathed 'neath the sun at our lakeside rest-day campsite, high as the collective spirits were all of the time - perhaps excepting the time of the incident of the mosquito swamp, less said about that the better though. High spirits are, after all, an essential quality when exploring a remote wilderness by bicycle.

There were 14 of us, including Echo and me. That is to say 14 PaintedRoads LabRat cyclists, plus our Mongolian cycling guides Batbayar and Tool, along with four ever-cheerful local truck drivers, and our passionate chef and his bright and enthusiastic assistant. 

As far as we are aware - and Batbayar is aware of just about everything cycling related in Mongolia, we were the first group of cyclists to ever follow such a route through Mongolia's far western Altai region. The route we followed was a combination of trekking trails and horse riding routes, picked and pieced together using Batbayar's extensive knowledge of the region, and now being tested as a cycling adventure tour by The LabRats.

The LabRat tradition has quickly grown from a hazy notion for testing a new tour, to a much-loved institution. LabRats are chosen for the attributes necessary for a first tour, easy-going, laid-back, good-humoured, tolerant, understanding, and fun. Being a good cyclist helps tremendously, and a passion for post-ride beers is seen as a positive boon. 

That is not to say that a LabRat Run is a total unknown, quite the contrary, either I or my in-country partner will know the route, and one of us will have inspected it in general, if not always in intricate detail. This may mean one of us has cycled the route, or driven it, ridden it on a motorcycle, or in the case of the Altai, on a horse. 

The Mongolia Altai ride was a truly wonderful adventure. A pure wilderness with little sign of electricity or motorcars, leave alone such modern wonders as the internet. The route was for the most part on unsealed roads, rideable on a gravel bike but on many occasions preferable on a mountain-bike. River crossings were a frequent occurrence, and soon hopping off the bike and getting we feet became second nature. Some of the climbs were stiff, to say the least, and saw most everyone off their machines huffing and puffing as they pushed to the summit. Overall though the riding was wonderful, car-free, carefree, fun gravel through a stunning wilderness of fresh air, eagles, yaks, nomads and the huge blue sky that Mongolia is renowned for.

The Altai region is too remote and far from Ulaanbaatar to become a regular annual PaintedRoads tour. Our existing Mongolia Kanghai tour ticks all the boxes for a beautiful wilderness ride, but is logistically far more accessible as well as being at a more favourable price point. However, maybe from time to time, we will throw the Altai into the mix.

And the LabRats - well, that not one person, at any time, for any reason, showed anything other than good nature, good humour, and humility says a huge amount for the spirit in which this adventure was approached, executed, and appreciated. The crew were all equally wonderful. To Mongolians, it seems that nothing is really an issue, and life is but a bundle of fun. 

Many Thanks to all who took part, and here's to the next LabRat Run - 'not so much a holiday as an experiment!' Cheers 'Rats!

One of the most beautiful valleys I have yet to encounter

Even super-fit folk were at times left gasping, such were the Alti Mountain gradients

Life's realities are never far away in Mongolia - certainly never wrapped in plastic and stacked high on the supermarket shelves

Grassy meadows, rocky summits, barren valleys, desert where camels roam - the Altai can provide it all in just one day. 

Our rest-day location

Bleak Skies never lasted long

LabRat

At just 75 years old there's simply no reason to slow down yet

The view from our tents for our rest-day

Our camp chef was nothing less than a culinary genius 

Russian built UAZ busses, like a VW Camper on steroids our support vehicles can go anywhere and everywhere...

however, they do insist on more than a little loving attention from their drivers, ace driver Gambol had a busy rest day...

as did the rest of the driver's, who's social life would seem to revolve around truck maintenance.

This morning was one of seemingly endless smooth gravel descent

Nigel - a senior LabRat

Echo crosses the aptly  names White River

Phil take his rehydration very seriously

Breaking camp

Our aptly named mechanic Mr Tool

Paul tackles one of many river crossings 

Hum - at the highest point on the tour Echo and Phil manage to procure some traditional dress

The Tavan Bogd massif bordering Russia, China, and Mongolia

All goods in the Altai Tavan Bogd are carried by horse and camel - the bicycle is as mechanical as transport gets in this area

Inspect ancient petroglyphs 

The ever jolly and jovial Munkhe

It's just not a LabRat Run without at least one photo of a knackered looking Keith

One of the few small 'settlements' we passed. The few simple houses were far outnumbered by piles of dry yak dung that serves as fuel for cooking and heating

Another river crossing

Lunch breaks are always a civilised affair with a cooked meal

PaintedRoads mascot Frodo send his emissary along for this trip

The LabRats regroup on a high pass 

Pitching camp

Ain't no mountain steep enough, ain't no river deep enough - quiet and never too far away, there was seemingly nowhere that Tool could not ride a bike

Claire & Emma "where's lunch"

Crucial supplies

First pass conquered 

Sunrise

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