6 graphs to represent our cycle in 2016

Back in February we took the decision that a bike computer would be a useful addition to our set up as we were having a hard time guessing how fast we were going and thus how long it would take to get somewhere. At one point we were pacing ourselves with passing mopeds and asking the drivers what speed they were going. The computer would also allow us to record our distances covered, average speeds etc and Annie took a very diligent record of that.

Here are some of the, we think, interesting results:

(Since we only got the bike computer in February Vietnam and half of Cambodia, about 4 weeks and 1000km, are missing)

 

 

Distance statistics v2 - distances - jpeg

First up is our an overall chart showing the distance we cycled every day for the entire year. It varies a lot, but the average is just below 65km. We got our top day in the flat deserts of Turkmenistan when we needed to get across the country in 5 days.

Northern Iran and Armenia were pretty mountainous and we were not in a particular hurry during that leg of the trip so we were taking our time there. The spread of days is interesting and the biggest factor it shows up the terrain and road surface quality of the countries.

 

 

Distance statistics v2- ride time - jpeg

Next is the actual time we spent in the saddle each day. This came out surprisingly low, but we had quite a few short days and also we tend to stop and look around a lot…I think other cyclists, particularly solo cyclists, will spend longer in the saddle. But we tend to stop regularly. Lunch can also drag on a bit, sitting in our comfy chairs drinking tea and staring at the ants processing our crumbs.

Towards the end of our trip we had time to kill in Armenia and Turkey so that shows up here.

What I did think was that it is unsustainable to do 5hr + days for more than 3/4 days without one of us running our of steam and needing a long break. It is a lot of energy to burn up and a lot of food and sleep is needed to keep sustaining that level of effort for a longer period. I am sure it is possible, but we were also out to enjoy the scenery! By the end of the trip we used time on the bike to measure the ‘toughness’ of a day.

 

 

Distance statistics v2 - AvgSpd - jpeg

Everyone always asks how fast we go. Well here is our answer: 16km/hr.

We can tip along at 22/23km/hr on the flat and that is what the tandem is made to do – a slight downhill or flat with a tail wind and we can really get the momentum going. However going up hills at 4km/hr is not unheard of.

The other question we get asked it whether it is easier or harder on the tandem. We don’t know for sure since we haven’t done anything similar on two bikes, but we suspect the tandem is easier.

Top speed of the trip was 69km/hr. Vrooom!

 

 

Distance statistics v2- distcovered - jpeg

Above is a graph of the distance covered in each country.

The information speaks for itself and is really a factor of how long we spent in each place and how long we could get on our visas. A rule of thumb often used is that to cycle tour 1000km will take approximately one month and that is pretty much true for us. We can do more for example in China we just couldn’t get enough of it and we covered 2600km in two months, but in Iran we spent a lot of time looking at stuff and meeting people so we did just 800km in a month.

 

 

Distance statistics v2- days cycled - jpeg

The days cycled in each country – this speaks for itself. The only country where we cycled every day on our visa was our mad dash across Turkmenistan. We planned our trip to cycle 4 out of 7 days each week and that roughly worked out to be what we did.

 

 

Distance statistics v2 - ride time by country - jpeg

Lastly the ride time in each country. Our wheels saw a lot of China, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan and that was where the big mountains, big scenery and remote cultures were – no coincidence there! We realised early on we loved climbing big mountains and now that is what we go looking for on the map. Roll on the Alps!

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Navigation

There are many options for navigation. Paper maps are touted as the pure way to go, GPS units are common. We have gone for using apps on our phones and we are very happy.

The apps can eat the battery but we can charge with the battery pack if needed and typically we  just use the phone to check we are on the right road, check the distance to the next turn and then switch it off. The bike computer tells us our distance travelled and therefore when to switch the phone back on.

I do like the idea of paper and a compass but there is enough other challenges we face and I also think we get the most from the country by using the app to choose the best routes. For example we often see a nature reserve/river/waterfall/hotel/temple on the map and divert.

We primarily use OSMplus on the HTC phone. The app was around £2 and the maps are open source. You download country by country and store on the inserted micro 64GB SD card. The files are big and Wikipedia entries, contour lines and hill shading are downloaded separately as big files.

The app does route planning, and will do spoken navigation but we tend to pick our own roads. Lately I have been exporting a planned route and trying to upload it to an app called GPS visualiser to see elevation/distance plots like in the ‘tour de france’. Having a profile of your next 7-10 days is really handy for planning when and how you will tackle those climbs. 

We back this up with MotionX-GPS app for the iPhone. It uses the same map source but we’re limited by storage on the phone and it has slightly less functionality. I’ve been looking for better iPhone apps but the storage problem really restricts things.

Quite often we find the maps will not include some roads but there have also been times when it turns up some gems. It is an open source project (Open Street Map) and relies on user input so if there are unvisited areas it can be weak. I do plan to track our route and upload it when we go ‘where there are no roads.’

We also use Google Maps, especially satellite view to check potential camping spots sometimes and get a feel for the countryside. But that needs data which we usually don’t have.

Finally we do try to carry a paper map for the country we are in. It has been most useful for showing people where we’ve been! It’s nice to be able to swap maps with cycle tourers going the other way when we can. We carry a compass just in case too but have never needed to use it.

Applying for your Chinese Visa in Bangkok

The application process for a Chinese visa is a lot more time consuming than any other Asian country we have been to. 

We considered applying via an agent but in the end decided to fly solo with it all. 

We felt we just needed to get organised with prolonged access to a computer and printer.

 While we waited for the Myanmar visas we made our way north to the Chinese Embassy to pick up the forms.

  

First things first, the visa application centre is NOT in the Chinese embassy like it is in every other consulate. You need to go to New Pretchaburi Road to Level 5 in Thanapoom Tower (10 min walk). 

  
Going to the embassy first did prove quite useful in the end because they showed us examples of some of the supporting documents we would need to submit.

 It seems that the Embassy, no doubt because the application process is so onerous, has subcontracted the management of the first phase of the application procedure out to a private company. http://www.visaforchina.org

This company offers advice, information and runs a first stage tick box exercise on your application before its sent to the Embassy for final approval.

In a way it’s sort of good because they give your application a thorough once going over before you handover and wait for the outcome… Also unlike other consulates you pay on collection.

They are open 9:00am to 15:00 Mon-Fri. But if you want the 2 day express service you need to drop off before 11am.

We were told it was only possible to apply for a 1 month tourist visa in Bangkok, although we have heard of others successfully applying for three months in other cities… (we hope to extend ours at least once when we’re there).

The form is very detailed and requires supporting flight bookings (!), accommodation bookings (!), a detailed day by day itinerary, bank statements and a ‘Letter of Certificatin of myself’ which details your intent of travel, employment status etc. Having a bank statement was important, especially if you are currently unemployed.

  
Everything has to be done on a computer and printed off. You also need photocopies of your current immigration exit stamp (Thai in our case) and passport page.

We had also read that including other supporting documents like our travel insurance document was a good idea, but these weren’t needed in the end.

The detailed itinerary itself took a long time to write out and then there were flights and accommodation bookings to organise.

If you want more information on any of the above and how we went about it please leave a comment and we can try and answer your query.

Anyway, everything was good and efficient and we submitted on Tuesday and collected on Friday morning paying 3200 baht total.

Visas

Please note that this information was posted in 2016.

The only planning in terms of route we have done before setting off is to look into the visa and border situation for these countries:

Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey

We obtained visas for all these countries. 

Yes! That’s right, me a British citizen cycling got a visa for Iran!! If you want more info on this please read this here and then leave a comment and your email and we’ll contact you.  

It’s a good idea to ensure that you have at least 6 months validity on your passport when applying for all visas.

Take a stack of passport photos with you for your visa applications and always keep your departure forms safe. Women need some passport photos with their head (no hair showing) covered for Iran.

If you are quitting your job before leaving its also a really good idea to steal some company headed paper (preferably stamped at the bottom if your company has  an official stamp). Visa applications may need proof of employment so having some company paper to print onto is a good idea. 

If you’re not taking a laptop we would advise mocking up some simple documents such as a basic letter and cv formats which you can edit easily. 

Flying into Vietnam

Visa required before travel.

On 22 June 2015, the Embassy received the formal notification that the Government of Viet Nam decided to exempt visa for British, German, French, Spanish and Italian citizens travelling to Viet Nam (for all purposes) for a period of up to 15 days, and on the basis of meeting all conditions prescribed by Vietnamese laws.

Applying for a loose leaf visa which doesn’t require sending your passports in is possible.

Length of Visa: 30-90 days, single and multi-entry both possible

Extension Possible: 30 days or 90 days depending on the type of visa

Vietnam to Cambodia

Suggested Route Based on Macmillan Cycle Tour

Visa on arrival at border. No prior registration required. Payment must be made in USD (we paid $35). e-visa also possible: www.evisa.gov.kh / help@mfaic.gov.kh

Length of Visa: 30 days

Extension Possible: 30 days extra

Bavet, Kaam Samnor and Phnom Den crossings are open to foreign travellers and issue Cambodian visas.

The other border crossings at Trapeang Phlong, Prek Chak, O Yadaw and Trapeang Srer are reported to be open to foreign travellers and in some cases issue Cambodian visas.

We have also read about a $25 departure tax from Cambodia…

Cambodia to Thailand

You would think that Thailand would be the simplest visa situation but the rules regarding border crossings and visa exemptions make it more complicated for cycle tourers and we have the added complications of needing a multi-entry visa for Thailand.

Thai Tourist Visa Exemption

Passport holders from 41 countries and 1 special administrative region – Hong Kong SAR – are not required to obtain a visa when entering Thailand for tourism purposes and will be permitted to stay in Thailand for a period not exceeding 30 days on each visit.

If such foreigners enter Thailand at immigration checkpoints which border neighbouring countries (overland crossing), they will be allowed to stay for 15 days each time.

Since 20 December 2013, Nationals of (G7) the following countries who enter via a land crossing or enter via an airport will be entitled to a 30 day visa exemption, UK, U.S.A, Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan, France.

Foreigners who enter Thailand under the Tourist Visa Exemption category and would like to leave and re-enter may only stay for a cumulative duration which does not exceed 90 days and is within a 6-month period from the date of first entry.

Foreigners entering Thailand by any means under the Tourist Visa Exemption category are required at the port of entry to have proof of onward travel (confirmed air, train, bus or boat tickets) to leave Thailand within 30 days of the arrival date (otherwise a tourist visa must be obtained).

If we need to stay longer than 15 days we need to apply and pay for a Tourist Visa for Paddy – we won’t have proof of onward travel either – which probably means applying for a Tourist Visa before we reach the border.

Extension Possible: yes for both types but need to be applied for at the Immigration Bureau located in Bangkok. 

Applying for a Thai Tourist Visa

It is possible to apply for tourist visas for Thailand (circa $40 for a 60 day double-entry) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This takes 3 days.

Siem Reap looks like it is possible via an agent who has connections with the embassy in PP but would require us to send our passports to PP. Might be safer to do it when cycling through PP.

  • Single entry tourist visa will be valid for 3 months (you must enter Thailand within the validity of visa from the date of issue)
  • Double/triple entry will be valid for 6 months (you must enter Thailand on your final visit before expiry date)

Thailand to Myanmar

Arriving and departing across land is definitely possible.
When travelling over land to Myanmar, you must always obtain your visa beforehand; it is not currently possible to get Myanmar visas at the border and e-visas are not valid for border crossings.

Bangkok visa address:

132, Sathorn Nua Road, BANGKOK 10500

(662) 234-4698, 233-7250, 234-0320,  637-9406

Nearest Train Station – Surasak

  • The Visa Section is now open for applications only from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Noon.
  • Afternoons 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM are only for pickup.
  • Bring your passport, a photocopy of your passport, 2 passport photos and an address of where you will be staying in Myanmar.

Apparently 4 official crossings are now open:

Screen shot 2015-08-20 at 13.00.01

Myanmar to China

Blog on getting to china on bicycles.

Reply on forum re Chinese Visa

Our experience of applying for a Chinese visa in Bangkok.

Our experience of crossing the border between Myanmar and China (Muse) – check out the comments from other cyclists at the bottom too.

Will require bank statement and other proof documents. You apply in in Bangkok via the Embassy and the Bank of China. Takes at least 4 days. Need proof of $100 for each day of your visa.

Central Asia (check out Carvanistan forum pages for latest info)

Kyrgyzstan – free 60 day visa on arrival! 

Tajikistan including GBAO permit – one day $55 in Bishkek – easy!

Uzbekistan – see our blog here re applying in Bishkek 

Turkmenistansee our blog here re applying in Bishkek and experience with the e-code.