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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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The Rural Cycling of a Chinese Mega City

31 May 17

The image most hold in their mind’s eye when Chinese cities are mentioned is of densely populated high-rise sprawls, a mass of humanity, blaring horns and pollution. And whilst not always a huge distance from accuracy, there is so much more than this to twenty-first century Sino urban living.

Our friends and colleagues Cathy and Lee live in Yunnan Province’s capital, Kunming. With its location just north of the Tropic of Cancer and an elevation of around 1800 metres, the town boasts a wonderful year-round climate giving it the rightfully deserved moniker of the Eternal Spring City. 

Amongst the surprises to greet the visitor to this city of six million inhabitants is the dry warm and mild atmosphere, the relative lack of pollution, and the proliferation of the gas guzzling Porsche Cayenne. But for the cyclist lucky enough to have a chum with local knowledge the greatest surprise of all is the quality of the cycling. 

From Lee’s abode on the western side of the city, a quick nip through narrow winding lanes of small shops, market stalls, and street hawkers takes us to the edge of West Mountain. The initial climb is on bitumen where heart pumping and lungs searching for some extra oxygen at this slightly depleted altitude we quickly gain 500 metres.   

The scenery up here at 2300 metres is absolutely beautiful - jagged grey rock, pine trees, meadows of flowers, are all negotiated on fantastic red dirt tracks. The views vary dramatically as we circumnavigate the hills - here wilderness as far the eye can see, there a city landscape sprawling to the distance, at times countryside with rural hamlets, all pastoral and romantic looking in the classic sense, and elsewhere modern communities of high rise apartments sprout amongst the trees adorning the hills and valleys.

Lee and his cycling chums have led me on numerous accessions through the environs of his home city, the rides are always different, on occasion we stick to rural byways of tarmac, but mostly our rides take us on a variety of surfaces, gravel, concrete, dirt and tar, which my ever accompanying titanium gravel machine tackles with graceful aplomb, and not once has the cycling been anything less than wonderful.

Think you have an idea of a Chinese megacity? Bring a bike, have a look, and think again.

Just above Kunming are meadows...

and grassy trails

Great trails in the hills above Cathy and Lee's home

The hills north of Kunming have some interesting brick roads

Lee and Lao Fu

Closed trail, never mind, plenty of alternative routes

More brick roads...

and dirt trails

Rehydration stop

Rocky road

Lee in a mulberry bush


Heading back down to town

Inaugural Taiwan Tour

05 May 17

My first shock upon arriving in Taiwan a year ago, with the intention of crafting a tour for the less physically inclined, was the discovery that it is, in essence, one big mountain. 

An island a tad larger than Belgium, Taiwan rises almost immediately from the ocean and rears up to a lofty level above the briny of 3250 metres. As I had travelled to this island looking for a less demanding tour two things quickly became apparent, A: I was very poor at advanced research, and B: I had my work cut out. Fortunately, #B turned out to be incorrect, for Taiwan is an island paradise for the cyclist and offers much forgiveness for the bumbling tour researcher. 

And so it was in the middle of April this year, armed with a tour I had toted as being of a level of physical demand suitable for those who are happy riding our Northern and Southern Thailand tours, I arrived  In Taipei with the usual apprehension of a first tour and a merry band of PaintedRoads’ finest lab rats.

Taipei is, in my experience, the most developed and orderly capital in Asia. That is not to say that there are not even more orderly capitals, for there may well be, but if there are I have yet to visit one. Everything I experienced is orderly and organised (except for the machine at immigration that scans visitors fingerprints, that is the sort of rubbish Microsoft would be happy to sell). For example the colourful lights found decorating road junctions in most Asian capitals are also abundant in Taipei, but rather than simply brightening up gloomy days during the monsoon season, in Taipei they appear to indicate to road vehicles when to proceed and when to halt, and the whole nation, with few exceptions, seems to have accepted, and even, perhaps, embraced this concept.

Leaving Taipei, a city with a population of nigh on three million is an absolute delight as we cyclists follow the Tamsui river north along a network of dedicated bicycle paths bereft of both traffic and hills.

The following two days contained short but significant sections to which I had given much consideration since first riding them. The main concerns I had were a couple of short but hilly sections that I considered suitable for the tour, but having toted the tour as suitable for those of a certain physical disposition it was clear to me that only when those people had ridden these undulations could I be sure that my appraisal was correct. Fortunately, a combination of providence and knowledge of my guests proved the choice of route to be a success, and even a little push or two on a couple of steeper sections were deemed an acceptable trade-off for a beautiful and tranquil route. And so, with that, I relaxed. 

Midway through the tour, we rode the wonderful East Rift Valley. I love this road, it is a two-wheel paradise, with gentle climbs and descents on a rural road that winds through emerald fields of rice, plantations of betel nut palm, and orchards of fruit. As an added attraction we also crossed the Tropic of Cancer before lunch, and we finished the day at a hot spring resort. Before setting out on the bikes that morning the group suggested that perhaps my description of the day’s ride made too much of what a great day lay ahead and that I should perhaps have lowered expectations in a bid to lessen the chance of disappointment. As it turned out, I had it right and the group concurred, it is a beautiful day to be on a bike. 

The final day’s cycling begins with the longest climb of the tour which sees us gain 450 metres over 10KMS. Its a satisfying sort of a climb that leads us via an equal satisfying descent to the south coast and some truly outstanding scenery. As we round the southernmost tip of the island the end of a wonderful tour through a cycling haven is rounded off with a crescendo of cliffs and downs, and a sparkling ocean of most vivid turquoise and blue.  

The ride draws to a conclusion in the thoroughly popular coastal resort town of Kenting Street, that with its selection of restaurants serving pizza, burgers, and steak, and Thai to name but a few much-embraced delicacies was the icing on the cake for a group of Western cyclists.

This is but brief highlights of a wonderful tour which is encompasses highway, byway, rail and wonderful cycle paths that together constitute a national network of bicycle routes. 

With this inaugural tour being a resounding success I will now make a few detail improvements and before the passing of much more time announce the dates for the next tour of Formosa.

Many thanks to Rod, Mark, Peter & Anne, JP & Alison, Priyen, Kevin, and Mike coming along, providing the fun, and helping to make the tour a great success, looking forward to seeing you all again, hopefully before too long.

Riding through the betel nut palms gives the journey an altogether exotic feel 

Narrow lanes light of traffic are a cyclist's delight

Ah, yes, someone led the group along a little lane to a gate that was locked - well, you can't always get it right, can you?

An old suspension bridge as we near our rest day venue in the little surfer's town of Dulan

An old harbour wall and cloudy sky lends a somewhat Cornish atmosphere 

Peter and Rod rest after a long and hot climb

A brief pause as we cross the Tropic of Cancer - that it was less than 20º at sea level was a little odd.

Rice fields and jungle

At one stage we managed to become muddled up in one of Taiwan's major iron man events...

and so we released our stallion - he soon showed them all a thing or two

 

A Gravel Road Tour In The Offing.

17 February 17

A Thailand gravel tour has long been on my mind. Slowly, for longer than a decade I have been dipping a metaphorical toe into what I thought was a meandering stream of unsealed tracks dotted around this nation that offers so much to the adventurous cyclist, but as time goes by it has become apparent that the babbling brook is, in fact, teaming torrent. 

Finding routes here has long been a somewhat hit and miss affair. The paper maps available have always been, and I am searching deeply but with little success for a kind way to say this, absolute tat. They showed what any half-wit could easily imagine, major roads between towns. So whilst finding a route suitable for a tour was a satisfying activity that left one with a glowing feeling of success, it was nevertheless a trifle trying. And then came Google. In the early days Google Maps were not all that great for exploring, and having to drag a MacBook out of a pannier was far from convenient, but by golly have we not come a long way since then? 
Now the world is mapped and mapped so bloody well that it leaves me wondering, and worrying a little, about how it's done. Algorithms I am sure the I.T. Savvy are crying out, but what does that mean? Orwell plonked a huge imposing TV screen in the corner of every home to watch our every activity, I expect that the concept of the spy being carried freely in our pockets, and voluntarily, even with enthusiasm, sending all manner of info regarding our every movement and ponder back to Big Brother was even beyond the vision of even the great visionary back in 1948 - but I digress, more than a tad. 

So Google and Garmin (which niggles me greatly but seems to have no viable completion), have come together to make route finding for the gravel loving bicycle itinerant a joy to behold. 

My plan for the past week was not to create a tour suitable to add to the PaintedRoads website this year, rather give me an insight, knowledge, and confidence necessary to ensure that my long hoped for Gravel Tour of Thailand could soon be a reality. And in this respect, it has been an outstandingly productive week, as well as a lot of fun. 

A Thailand gravel tour has long been on my mind. Slowly, for longer than a decade I have been dipping a metaphorical toe into what I thought was a meandering stream of unsealed tracks dotted around this nation that offers so much to the adventurous cyclist, but as time goes by it has become apparent that the babbling brook is, in fact, teaming torrent. 

Finding routes here has long been a somewhat hit and miss affair. The paper maps available have always been, and I am searching deeply but with little success for a kind way to say this, absolute tat. They showed what any half-wit could easily imagine, major roads between towns. So whilst finding a route suitable for a tour was a satisfying activity that left one with a glowing feeling of success, it was nevertheless a trifle trying. And then came Google. In the early days Google Maps were not all that great for exploring, and having to drag a MacBook out of a pannier was far from convenient, but by golly have we not come a long way since then? 
Now the world is mapped and mapped so bloody well that it leaves me wondering, and worrying a little, about how it's done. Algorithms I am sure the I.T. Savvy are crying out, but what does that mean? Orwell plonked a huge imposing TV screen in the corner of every home to watch our every activity, I expect that the concept of the spy being carried freely in our pockets, and voluntarily, even with enthusiasm, sending all manner of info regarding our every movement and ponder back to Big Brother was even beyond the vision of even the great visionary back in 1948 - but I digress, more than a tad. 

So Google and Garmin (which niggles me greatly but seems to have no viable completion), have come together to make route finding for the gravel loving bicycle itinerant a joy to behold. 

My plan for the past week was not to create a tour suitable to add to the PaintedRoads website this year, rather give me an insight, knowledge, and confidence necessary to ensure that my long hoped for Gravel Tour of Thailand could soon be a reality. And in this respect, it has been an outstandingly productive week, as well as a lot of fun. 

I would venture to say with some confidence that I now have 50% of a brilliant route ready for a group to ride. Even better than that I have the knowledge and understanding of the lay of the land, and the working of the necessary apparatus, to finalise a tour with just another two weeks on the road. 

And be assured that this will be a most beautiful tour. I have traversed mountain paths, riverside trails, cattle tracks and rice paddy gravel roads, and byways free of traffic enough to be able to create a wonderful and varied route. 

More than ten years ago I cycled the length of Thailand for the first time and saw the country afresh, a land not awash with backpacker's and tourist, but the real Thailand, a land I quickly developed a great passion for. And now, all these years later I have cycled half the length of the land on roads most will never know exist, and my love for this country is refreshed anew. 
Should a gravel adventure through Thailand tickle yer fancy then please either sign up for the PaintedRoads newsletter, "like" PaintedRoads on Facebook or better still drop me a line and I will keep you up to speed. 

Oh, and one last thing, fancy an adventure in Mongolia this summer? If so, please email me, I have a little something brewing. 

 

The Kinesis ATR shod with Clement MSO tubeless tyres is the perfect machine for this sort of riding. Averaging 150KMS a day with a mix of gravel, dirt tracks and sealed roads the mantra Fast Far, as coined by the ATR's designer Dom Mason, is most apt. Having converted to tubeless tyres last summer I feel that the 30 to 35 psi pressure I was able to run without fear of punctures was ideal both on and off-road. Way to go, dude, as I believe the young say these days.

 

 

Gravel riding in North Thailand's Wonderful Winter Weather

25 January 17

 Winter weather in north Thailand is as close to perfect as one can hope for. Think of a perfect summers day in the UK and you’ve got it, warm days and cool evening that may, or may not, require a light jacket over a tee-shirt - oh, and it’s 95% certain to be dry each and every day. 

And for the cyclist, it just gets better with a wonderful web of secluded byways weaving through the rice fields, across mountains and along the wide fertile valleys of the region. And as if all of this is not enough, if you happen to have a bit of a passion for gravel bikes the unsealed roads tracks and trails that spread like groping tentacles through the hills and valleys that are home to the north’s hill tribe people are a gravel bike utopia. 

With our Chinese tour partners, Lee and Cathy visiting, Lee and I have been making the most of things and having a blast, shredding out in them there hills.

Gravel roads abound in Northern Thailand...

and unsealed jeep tracks...

a few river crossing

this image fails to tell the full story, this hill is just shy of 30% gradient.

Jungle trails...

and tea plantations.

The bike Lee was riding in the photos is my old Salsa Vaya with a twist, a 27.5" x 2.1 wheel and tyre combo I happened to have kicking around on an old bike - Lee's verdict? Fantastic. More of this later.

 

 

Sunday Inspiration - escape the winter with a sunny seaside cycling tour this February

08 January 17

Six weeks from today I and a group of PaintedRoads regulars will be setting off on PaintedRoads’ annual Winter Escape tour as we cycle beachside from Bangkok to Phuket. 

Also dubbed the PaintedRoads triathlon - Bike Beach Beer, this two-week trip is arguably the perfect antidote to the seemingly endless ravages of the northern winter.

If cycling in the sunshine next month appeals to you please get in touch, the hardest decision you will have to make on this tour is whether to have your post-ride dip in the ocean or the resort’s beachside pool.

Heading for Thung Wua Laen

Morning coffee sunrise outside the room at Hat Lam Sai

Quiet rural cycling

One of my favourite South Thailand photos taken along a long deserted beach after Ban Krut

After lunch

This beautiful temple is just before the little seaside town of Ban Krut where we overnight early on in the tour

A beautiful bicycle for a beautiful tour

The view from our private longtail boat as we head for Yao Noi Island

Despite Andy's polka dot jersey, this is a fairly flat tour

Morning sunrise outside the room on the little island of Kho Yao Noi

Beautiful temples such as this abound - at this one we take a lunch break

Visiting the Buddha caves - Day 8

Meeting the monkeys at Prachuap Khiri Khan airbase

Sunset at Nai Yang Beach on Phuket

We have plenty of beaches to rest on along the way on this tour

A little exploration of country trails early on in the tour

 

 

 

PaintedRoads 2016 - A Year In Review

31 December 16

January - Thailand

The year began, as it looks highly likely to end, in our residence of choice, the wonderful cycling playground of North Thailand.

February - Thailand North

February was a great month as we remained in Thailand, firstly taking a group of friends, both old and new, to have a look around the finest scenery that the Lao and Burma border region has to offer. What do I think of Northern Thailand? I chose to make it my home - enough said I think.

Thailand South

It was then a quick dash south to meet a new group with whom I was to spend a splendid fortnight cycling south along the lanes and byways that track the secluded beaches of Thailand”s south-east coast. We veered west as we reached Surat Thani and left the mass tourists to the delights of party island of Kho Samui and Koh Pangan, as we continued along the path less travelled, moving via bike and boat to our tour’s end on Phuket.

March - Vietnam

Echo and I celebrated my 50th birthday in the beautiful little town of Hoi An prior to running the inaugural Ho Chi Minh Trail tour through the tranquil mountains of Central Vietnam. It was a small group, all PaintedRoads regulars, and despite this tour not attracting a great deal of attention (a bewildering situation), the tour was declared “perhaps the best tour ever” by one very experienced worldly cyclist. 

Crossing the famed 17th Parallel

Echo's first ever 130-kilometre day, she followed this up with two more such days in a row

A lovely lady met along the way

April - Taiwan

In April my chum Stephan and I loaded our bikes and set out to explore Taiwan. To say that what we discovered pleased us would be a woeful understatement, for it delighted us greatly - the little visited destination of Taiwan really deserves to be a world Mecca for cyclists. It is a stunning place to ride - beautiful, friendly, orderly, and organised, and to top it all off the cycling infrastructure is absolutely splendid. I look forward to next April and our very first tour group there.

May - China Yunnan

It was back to China for May, and what is, at present, my most favourite tour. 

I cut my adventure cycling teeth in Yunnan many years since, and whether it is for this reason, or simply because of the natural beauty, the great roads, the fine company, and the fantastic food I do not know, but I simply love this tour. This is rather fortunate as it turns out to be our most popular tour, and the competition is not mild.

"Um" Cathy and Echo wonder where the group went

Hong Kong

Following the Yunnan tour Echo and I headed across the border to Hong Kong to tie the knot

June - Vietnam's Mekong Delta

This year’s Mekong Delta Tour in Vietnam’s far south was most delightful. Phong and I enjoyed the company of six PaintedRoads newcomers, along with friends from years gone by and PaintedRoads most loyal guest, Arthur.

PaintedRoads newcomers Deb & Jan, see you in Yunnan ladies

"What, on bicycles, yer must be bonkers?"

Arthur and the lottery lady

and on to - Ho Chi Minh Trail Exploration

Following the tour, Phong declared that we should look to continue the exploration of our Ho Chi Minh Trail tour. Our present route takes us half the length of the country, and the intention is to extend our path all the way from Hanoi to Saigon. I said I would be delighted to have his company for another two weeks, he said “tough luck fish face, I’m going home”*, before handing me a route scrawled on an old road map, a scribbled list of Vietnamese dishes he thought I might find ‘interesting’, and wishing me ‘heartfelt good luck and godspeed’. It was a fab couple of weeks of adventure, discovery, and happy memory making, albeit alone (*Phong can be harsh of tongue).

July & August - UK Summer Hols.

July saw Echo and I board a plane Blighty bound as we headed to my ancestral home. Whilst there the new PaintedRoads website was designed and created by the great Mike of Mikes Imagination. Not only does fellow adventure cyclist Mike create a jolly fine website, but we also created PaintedRoads as an image and an entity, all things for which I am eternally grateful - cheers Mike!

Inevitably being back in the UK with Echo meant that my dear mother could not resist celebrating her new daughter-in-law joining the family, and so it was that we enjoyed a modest celebration of our nuptials on the lawn on a fine summer afternoon. 

September - China

September saw us back in China with time to do something I have been eager to pursue for some years, a new China tour. Guangxi and Guizhou are two fascinating provinces that sport not only dazzling nature but also lovely ancient architecture, as well as fascinating tribal minority groups. And so it was that Echo and I set out with friends and partners Cathy & Lee to explore a tour that has been on my mind for an age. And the beauty of it was that whilst Lee and I cycled the route Cathy and Echo drove ahead searching out restaurants and lodging, as well as ensuring that we always arrived at day’s end with a cold beer waiting for us.

Lee rides into our rest day town

Now that's the way to research a tour. Lee and I arrived each evening to find our wives with a hotel room and cold beer waiting - thank you ladies.

October - Tri-nations: Vietnam, Thailand & Lao

Come October it was time to run a tour that has been on my mind ever since I first became a tour leader. Three southeast Asian nations, two and a half languages, one religion, and total bewilderment about political systems and their meanings; Vietnam, Lao, and Thailand are as unlikely neighbours as they are likely (if that makes sense), and so this makes for a fascinating tour. 

It was to be a convivial group of just four old friends until Roman from Germany bumped into us purely by chance as we assemble our bikes in Sapa the day before cycling commenced. He said he would care to join us, and so we had a bike send up overnight from Hanoi and our group of four became an even more convivial five, and a bally good group and a jolly fine ride it was. As a bonus perhaps, the tour group highlight of the year for me was cycling newcomer Caroline’s epic conquering of a 20% gradient climb, even stopping halfway and restarting on the climb, that sure made the tour for me.

Vietnam's Black River

November - Thailand

The Tri-nations tour ended conveniently in Chiang Rai, and Chiang Rai is where Echo and I desire to reside. And so with the tour over we retired to our humble abode to relax for a while, and of course, explore the seemingly endless trails and tracks of the region.

Relaxing...

and exploring

December - Vietnam Northeast

The Northeast Vietnam tour holds a very special place in my heart, and with an especially fine group for company, this was a fitting tour with which to finish the year. December proved to be a perfect month to run the tour with ideal cycling weather, not too hot, and never too cold. We did have a day of rain, but it rains on that day of the tour whatever time of year we run it - it is, after all, The Rain Day.

The year for us draws to an end in Thailand with both Christmas and New Year's Eve in Chiang Rai. It has been a fine year, a year of great journeys with many friends both old and new, and now we look forward very much to the year ahead, and many more to come.

Not the usual Christmas dinner

Wishing everyone a wonder and adventure filled 2017.

Very best wishes

David & Echo

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