4 Londoners 3 Bikes

We arrived early into Ljublana and luckily were allowed into the apartment we had rented for the night at 11 in the morning. This was good as Annie had some job applications to do (hence some slackness on the blogging recently!) and we got to unpack and shower in preparation for the arrival of our good friends Andy and Rachel from London who would spend a week cycling with us.

With Annie tucked up in the appartment I went to explore Ljublana. I took a walk up to the old castle and looped around by the river which was packed with people drinking and eating icecreams in the sun. It is a small but very pleasant city and I found an interesting free photography exhibition in the old town hall. That night we had dinner in the appartment and waited up until 11pm for the guys to arrive.

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All set to tour!

The next morning Andy n Rach went and got their bikes and panniers and we loaded up. It was very exciting to have our friends along on the tour! We set off northwards out of town using the extensive and excellent cycle lane system that is prevelant throughout Slovenia. Usually we spurn cycle lanes: they tend to have a poor surface, pedestrians, parked cars and almost always end abruptly leaving you up on a curb somewhere. But these were excellent and made the cycle out of town very easy.

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Winding up a valley on day one. Lovely to have some friends along.

Our planned route was to head north to Skofja Loka, then hit Tolmin and loop aoround to Kranjska Gora ending up in Bled. We were extremely lucky with the weather as the guys seem to have brought the start of summer with them, we have cloudy mornings typically but the sun is now so strong it burns these off in the afternoons.

First stop was for a big shop in Hofer, (Aldi under a different brand). We load up on provisions and resume cycling which becomes very pleasant as we weave down country lanes, past pristene gardens and huge piles of wood. We get to chat to Andy n Rach and they seem to enjoy the cycling so far! We stop for lunch in a field and roll out our standard spread for the guys… all going very well until a farmer pulls up with a lorry load of slurry to dump right where we are sitting… lots of smiles and we decide to move on.

We got to Skofjka Loka in the afternoon and did a bit of back and forward cycling deciding which fork in the road would be quiter. We ended up going the northern road which was NOT a two lane motorway. This gave us a look around the medieval old town which was worth a visit.

In the late afternoon we stop to introduce the guys to our ‘well deserved beers’ tradition. It goes well and we decide to wild camp that night in a meadow off the road.


The following morning we pack up slowly in order to dry out the tents from a heavy dew, a pattern for the week. We cover a much shorter distance this day with many photo stops, particularly past Tolmin where we link up with the Socca river. During a downhill section we do some bike swapping with some interesting results…I spend some time on the back on the tandem with Andy driving which is terrifying! Annie loves the single bike but needs a fatherly push start to get it going. Maybe we will do some single bike touring in the future but we are all happier back in our chosen steeds for now.
That night we head to a campsite right on the river, I go for a paddle and discover the water is icy cold: not good for swimming but good for chilling beer.

After another slow morning and a good breakfast and we find ourselve cycling up the Socca valley and the scenery just gets better and better as the day goes on. The river is busy with canoes and fly fishermen. We stop at the Kozjak waterfall along the way which is pretty impressive.

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Beautiful Socca valley

We enjoy cycling with two single bikes, but like other time we have done this we find some differences in speeds. Uphill Rach n Andy glide past the lumbering tandem, but on the flat and downhill we can power through. This means some stopping and waiting for people and during one stop we meet some very unfriendly policemen. Apparently we weren’t off the road enough and we got the full death stare and oir detail written in a little book. We have met a lot of police and military people on the road and these two were easily the most unfriendly, maybe they were having a bad day or missed the class in manners at the police academy.

After our minor altercation I decide we should navigate off the main road and over a little bridge on my map which will take us to a camp site for the evening… Annie calls this a typical ‘Paddy navigation’ expedition as we end up pushing the bikes though narrow forest paths and over two extremely wobbly suspension bridges. We make it to the campsite and that night the guys generously buy us a hearty dinner of Schnitzel and chips! We are close to austria now and German tourists are common here and we ofter are greeted in Deutch.


We know the following day we have our big climb over the Vrisik pass so we get and early night. An early start the next day and we pedal up the Socca valley the scenery really is stunning, as good as anything we have seen on the trip and a nice smooth road to cycle on. The valley starts to kick up and the cycling is slower, we find the last shop before the climb and stock up food including our staples of fruit and chocolate spread but not the local cheese despite the hard sell from the friendly shopkeeper.

At this stop I casually check what the incline for the climb to Vrisik pass will be. I am shocked and need to double check… the incline is 9% average over 9km. Translated to: extremely, extremely steep! Oops! I secretly worry that we all might struggle to get up since we typically consider anything over 6% very hard and we are fully loaded up! After a quick lunch we approach the climb and I tell Annie about the challenge ahead. ‘Lets just see how we go’. ‘OK’.

As we start the ascent we all settle into some kind of rythem in order to deal with the challenge. Andy ‘Chris Froome’ Bailey has no problems zipping up as fast as he likes, he is lightly loaded on a good touring bike. The real hero is Rachel ‘Nairo Quintana’ Jones who is on a ‘womens tourer’ style bike which is heavey and lacks anything like suitable gears for a climb like this. Rach does 3-4 minute bursts pumping the pedals around out of the saddle, then stopping to catch her breath. She is still a lot faster than the lumbering tandem as we grind it out doing about 4.5km/hr and stopping every 20 minutes. This all continues on and off for aboit 3 hours – the joys of cycle touring!

Andy and Rach get a taste for what we have experienced for the past year as half way up we meet a group of american tourists shocked at our ‘madness’ of climbing such a pass. It is not madness, just one km at a time! But the rewards of such big climbs are evident in the spectacular views and sense of achievement. We are all on a big high at the top and enjoy a stunning decent into Kranjska Gora.

We attempt a wild camping spot that night, but eventually decide a fine from the police is not worth the risk (we are still in the national park), so we proceed down the valley to ‘Camp Spik’. The next day is a slow start since it is just 30km to Bled from here. After a long slow morning we follow a gorgeois route down to Bled (except for one punishing and unexpect climb). We go straight to camp Bled and Andy heads off to buy beers and wine for a celebratory eveing with sausage casserole. The next morning we dine on pancakes which might become a new staple for us on the camping stove.

For our final day in Bled we have a B&B booked which we go straight to after the guys drop off their bikes. We go for a weaving hike up above the lake and that evening feel very sleepy and decide to go get some pizza and beer in Bled. On a little walk down to a cash machine Annie and I spot a big stage by the lake a band doing a sound check….hmmm. This turns out to be a top notch Beatles tribute band which we sing along to all night against the stunning lakeside setting. A perfect ending to a great week with the guys.

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The fab four(s)

 

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LifeStraw Mission gravity water filter (2 stars) V SteriPEN UV water filter (4 stars) REVIEW 

Most cyclists take a water filter system away with them and the choice of which one to get depends on the kind of cycle tourer you are. Do you want to be completely self sufficient in terms of your water consumption or are you looking for something that you will only use in an absolute emergency? How much bottled water are you willing to buy? How fussy are you drinking straight from mountain springs? How far into secluded areas are you likely to go?

We became a lot less fussy as our trip progressed and with this our ability to fight off some bugs and bacteria has probably increased too. (Although we really probably should purify every time!)

Before we left we decided to buy a LifeStraw Mission ($119.15) which works by filling a 5L dry bag with water, attaching it to a special microfilter (gets rid of all viruses and bacteria) via a long tube, hanging it off a tree and letting gravity do its work.


The idea behind this purchase was that we would be able to filter a large amount of water which we could use for drinking and cooking without having to suck or pump the water clean ourselves (as many other filters require). Simple! Once you get the system going you’re left to get on with other things; no further effort required apart from swapping the bottles every so often.

At first the filter worked really well (it improves after a few uses too) but to be honest, we rarely had to use it in South East Asia as we were always buying bottled water. There were a couple of days in Cambodia and Thailand (where we were getting through 8-9L a day) when we found ourselves off the beaten track and needed to filter from a lake or river.

We used it slightly more in China when we were more adventurous in terms of our route and were making a conscious effort to reduce our plastic consumption. But we were often so high and so remote that we simply collected and drank water straight from the mountain streams.

Most of the time the water we were collecting was either very clear or had gone through some kind of pre filter to at least get rid of debris and dirt (e.g. In village wells and water collection points) but wasn’t necessarily treated against nasty bacteria and other waterborne infections. 

With this in mind we bought a handheld UV Sterilisation Pen (SteriPEN Ultra $99.99) and had it shipped to Chengdu. 

We’re currently carrying both the LifeStraw and the SteriPEN…

Why did we only give the LifeStraw a 2 star review?


  1. It’s not very robust. One morning I pulled out the filter and found that the dirty water (red) tap was completely twisted until it was torn and thus completely useless. No idea how this happened but it made us realise how fragile the filter is – not ideal for two travellers covering 80km a day…Due to its simple design, the filter still worked without the red tap but only when one of us sat there holding our finger over the hole. A week later Paddy whittled a simple bung from a stick, not ideal but it works ok and we can again leave the system filtering while we set up camp or relax.
  2. The filter is fairly bulky (measuring over a foot in length even when packed) and isn’t necessarily built to be kept in a bulging pannier, however careful you are when packing it.
  3. There isn’t always a suitable place to hang the bag which means one of you needs to hold the bag up on your shoulder – this gets tiring as a 1.5L of water takes around 4-5mins to filter! 
  4. It’s hard to rid the filter completely of water even if you hang it out overnight or blow air through the system while the red tap is open; This leads firstly, to water leaking into your pannier and secondly, to limescale building up on the inside of the feed tube. I don’t think this necessarily affects the filter too much but can’t be too good for it either?! 
  5. LifeStraw customer service is terrible and it seems it’s impossible to buy more pre-filters. At the bottom of the water bag is a pre-filter which stops all the larger debris before the water feeds through the micro-filter. After a number of uses you must clean and then finally replace your pre-filter. The system comes with a number of spares but it’s common to lose things when travelling, and ours disappeared somewhere near the Tibetan border. After 3 emails (which were ignored) and trawling their website as well as the internet in general we’ve concluded that it is impossible to buy more spare pre-filters…. We even contacted a number of LifeStraw UK distributors none of whom were able to help us. 

In conclusion, The LifeStraw Mission would be a good product for people who are camped somewhere fairly permanently, or at least not packing, unpacking and packing again multiple times a day like we are. It would also work better for people who have more storage space such as a camper-van or car.

It really is great to be able to leave the filter working while you set up camp and have something that works without any kind of power supply but you really need to have the time and space to pack the system away properly and unfortunately this means it just isn’t right for cycle tourers. We still use ours and we make it work but we wouldn’t buy it again. 

The SteriPEN on the other hand is brilliant and we use it FAR more than we have ever used the LifeStraw. Some cyclists have complained about the pen needing to be re-charged but we’ve always been in a position to be able to re-charge it when needed. It’s probably not completely waterproof no but as with all our other electrical gadgets, we protect it by keeping it a waterproof pannier. 

Other cyclists online have complained about their steriPEN braking but ours has been fine.

Of course some would say that the downside of a UV filter is that you can’t be sure you’ve decontaminated the ‘rim’ of the bottle… But if you think that most of the time you’ll be able to get clear water and just need a filter to kill the nasties then consider getting a UV pen instead. They are lightweight, compact, long-lasting and very quick. Just make sure you have a permanent water bottle with a wide enough top to use it correctly.

Litang to Ganzi: Great scenery, great camping and great company

We gave ourselves 4 days to cover the 260km from Litang to Ganzi. We would be cycling with Romain and Emelie who were not feeling 100% having caught a cold a few days before, and the four of us had unreliable info about the state of the road. 

It turns out we managed it in three days. Romain and Emelie are troupers and we liked camping next to them (in our identical tents!) and enjoyed their company very much. They have been travelling for over a year on their bicycles and were good at getting us up in the morning! 

The good thing about travelling with other tourers is that you pick up other ways of doing things. Emelie and Romain taught us many things, the best being boiling our eggs before leaving for a few days cycle… The easiest way to do this is in your hotel room kettle…


Here is an overview of our ride together.

Day 1: 101.3km

Road:
excellent for around 80km where we then hit major road works and had to follow a bumpy, dusty road for the final 20km… there is a long tunnel (3km) just outside Litang which helps a lot.

Because we’re on a tandem we have more momentum than a single bike so we tended to lose Emelie and Romain on the down and flat sections of the ride. We passed some beautiful scenery on the way including the most amazing valley, peppered with yurts and mountain top stupas.



At the top of the climb we are invited into one of the tents for tea. As we come back out to get back on the bike we see E&R coming up the hill. Perfect timing as its nearly lunch time!

We all enjoy the long down hill section and it’s incredible how warm it is at the bottom of the valley. 

There is some pretty crazy bits of the road which are just collapsing into the to river though.
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Mobbed by interested children when we stop to fill up our water bottles!
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Later in the day we find the perfect camping spot near the river but have to cross this rather precarious bridge to get there.

Day 2: 90.14km

Road: very nice. Take the tunnels where possible.

We wake up early to another clear, beautiful morning.

We follow the river and pass some big Tibetan temples and monasteries.


What a place to live huh?!

After lunch we have to navigate all three bikes through some serious inner-town road works…

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We agree we will stop and find a camping spot at 4.30pm. The weather threatens rain and sure enough by 5pm there is a big thunder storm. Luckily we find an abandoned shack which is big enough for both our tents so we shelter here for the night.

Day 3: 77.2km

Road: very up and down but road surface is generally good.

The weather luckily clears and we set off hoping to complete the final 75km to Ganzi by late afternoon.

Snow capped mountains come into view as we climb up.

We have a final lunch together before completing the final 30km to Ganzi.

We reach Ganzi and manage to find a reasonable hotel to stay in. There is a power cut half way through our hot showers though…

Romain and Emelie are still feeling pretty ill so we venture out of our dark cold hotel and find a great cafe where we gorge on Tibetan yak pie and rich butter milk tea before turning in.

Up, Up and Away: 7 days, 440km, and 6500+m

No wifi access, a series of epic climbs, rural Tibetan villages, dirt track roads and lots of camping – here is an overview of our solid seven day cycle between Shangri-la in Yunnan to Lithang in Sichuan, China.


Day 1: Back on the road out of Shangri-la

Distance: 72km / Ride time: 4:08 / Average Speed: 17.5km/h

Today passed without too much drama. It was the first proper rainy day we had had cycling so we got rain geared up. Here is Paddy in his bright yellow shoe covers.


We passed through some nice valleys and a weird semi-abandoned village called Gezan which was mainly made up of buildings which were falling down – we wondered whether they were the remains after the earthquake which I know hit western Sichuan 4-5 years ago…

We eventually found a camping spot near a river just before the next big climb. We pitched the tent quickly and cooked up dinner in the vestibule. Twin Peaks is keeping us occupied before going to sleep!

Day 2: We meet JK and discover that there are still places in the world where the air is so clean lichen hangs like giant cobwebs from the trees

Distance: 39.4km / Ride Time: 2:58 / Average Speed: 13.2km/h

With the knowledge that tomorrow would be a very long and hard day in the saddle we planned a relatively short day today.

In fact, we didn’t get out of the tent until 10am as it was still raining… We cooked breakfast and enjoyed a lie in with coffee in our double down sleeping bag.

With the rain clearing we pack up and are about to set off when I spot another cycle tourer puffing his way towards us.

JK from South Korea had pitched his tent 10km back down the road and was heading in the same direction as us. It would be nice to have some company so we set off up the climb together.

We plough up the valley, pine forests as far as they eye can see. 

The rain clears and the three of us marvel at the amount of lichen hanging from the trees. It looks like spooky green cobwebs and we fill our lungs with the amazingly clean air.

We reach the top at around 4ish. Great views at 3900m!

Then enjoy the decent and drop back down to 3000m.

We stop for dinner and then cycle 5km up the valley until we find a basic guesthouse. We have our standard ‘shower’ round the back of the house with a bowl of hot water.

Day 3: Snow, crossing the border into Sichuan and discovering our love of tarmac 

Distance: 61.9 / Ride Time: 6:26 / Average Speed: 9.6km/h

A stunning and perfect day for cycling up the mountain!

We leave the Tarmac road behind but the dirt track really isn’t too bad and there is barely any traffic.


We pass a collection of prayer wheels all being continually spun by a small stream below each of the ‘temple huts’.


This lovely couple stop and give us fruit and sticky honey rice cake.

We say goodbye to JK after sharing lunch as he decides he will only go on a bit further and set up camp. We push on wanting to get over the second climb so we can drop down before finding a camping spot.


We had climbed for 4.5 hours – around 35 km – and reached the top which sits at 4400m. This marks the gateway into Sichuan. There is a lot of snow and it’s very cold!


The weather really starts to close in and we’re keen to get down as far as possible before setting up camp. The road on this side of the mountain is REALLY TERRIBLE! Please please give us back some tarmac!

It’s a bumpy ride and we still have another small climb before we can really lose some height and get down to under 4000m.

We’re glad to see a makeshift building in the valley and there is smoke rising from its chimney! 

The guy lets us in and we get warm by his big fire. We don’t have much in the way of food but he sells us 4 noodle pots which we add some boiled rice to. Not a great meal considering how far we’ve climbed but at least it’s something.

We pitch our tent on the gravel lay-by opposite the hut. The pigs attack our loose rice bag but otherwise we sleep pretty well. We hope JK is ok and that he’s not too cold in the snow.


Day 4: A bumpy descent

Distance: 80.5km / Ride Time: 5:05 / Average Speed: 15.8km/h

Another great day weather wise but the bumpy road continues for a long time and we have a small climb to complete before a very uncomfortable decent all the way down to below 3000m where we find ourselves in a green lush valley. 


Tarmac! Sweet sweet Tarmac! 

All the houses are built and painted in the same Tibetan style, this time with flat roof so. I think they are beautiful!


We stop in Qung Mai Xiang for lunch where we gorge on a big feed. It’s good not to be eating instant noodle soup again.

We keep climbing back up to 3000m where we stop at a small village directly above a large hydroelectric damn. This marks a good place to stop as it is directly before the start of the big climb tomorrow. We find an hotel of sorts (former digs of all the workers who obviously built the damn.) There’s a warm shower which is sublime!

We spend the evening with the family next door and the kids practise their English on us.


Day 5: The big one – 4718m!

Distance: 62.4km / Ride Time: 6:19 / Average Speed: 10.2km/h

Another stunning day – we have been so lucky with the weather!

A big big climb today so we start early.


We climb steeply for about 4.5 hours and then stop for lunch. The road remains blissfully paved.

We then continue up through a beautiful valley – Spring is really in the air.


We reach about 4400m and we both begin to feel a little light headed from the altitude. We just take it slow with plenty of stops

Considering the height it’s really quite warm. Paddy is still in his shorts and cycle top when we reach the summit.


To put this in perspective, you could easily fit Ben Nevis (the tallest mountain in the UK) 3 times under us with plenty of room to spare.

So back down we go towards Sangdui where we will stop for the evening.

From far above Sangdui looks like the dullest, ugliest town we’ve ever seen but as we get closer we see that actually all the houses are incredible fortress like buildings, with beautiful turrets, gates and doorways.


They are like mini castles – I guess you need houses like this to keep out the bitter weather up here.


We find our own cosy haven and I sleep very soundly.



Day 6: New breakpads, groundhogs, glacier valleys and tooth ache

Distance: 71.1km / Ride Time: 4:08 / Average Speed: 17.1km/h

We have a late start as we needed to fit new breakpads – all those hills have been tough on the ol’ disc break!

We get going and follow the Haizishan Rock Glacier up 45km to another high point. To our right are all the spherical rocks deposited by the glacier.

The high plateau at the top boasts a huge colony of four legged, sandy coloured mammals (the size of a small badger) but we have no idea what they are? They ran too fast for me to snap them on the camera.

At the top it starts to snow!


We drop back down and cook lunch before the last climb of the day. Here is Paddy dutifully collecting water.


At the top of the last climb some Chinese ladies all in pink give us red bull and apples. We also have a celebratory swig of rice wine.


Then the long decent down – great incline through another spectacular glacial valley and at one point we reached 66km/ph (!) – through the protection of my down hood under my helmet I can hear Paddy’s intermittent, gleeful cries of ‘this is cool’ and ‘weeee’. 

Once we reached the bottom the road openes out to the most spectacular plain surrounded by mountains. 


We pitch our tent in one of these ruins and build a huge fire to stay warm.


Day 7: Final 50km to Litang

Distance: 50.1km / Ride Time: 2:50 / Average Speed: 17.6km/h

It ended up being a very cool night and we woke to find icicles on the inside of our tent.

Paddy had a bad night due to very sore cold tooth ache.

It is the most beautiful morning, and once the sun gets going we soon warm up.


The night before a teenage girl had turned up to give us some tinned food. One of the tins contained SPAM. This next picture is for you Katy Sheen.


After a champion breakfast of potatos, scrambled egg and fried spam (the first time either of us had tried this) we cycle through some spectacular countryside and complete the 50k to Lijang by 2pm.

Phew! Looking forward to a couple of rest days but it has been a great week of remote cycling!

Heading back to the tourist trail – Ying Pan to Shaxi

We have really enjoyed our route through the mountains over the past five days and couldn’t be more glad to get away from the main highway and miss out the tourist trap of Dali. 

We have had to really get to grips with the Chinese language as the people we’ve met have barely spoken any English. We both find the language fascinating – it is so different from any western language either of us have learnt – and  we have been using a combination of apps to learn words and phrases. 

We downloaded memrise which has been good as it allows you to download different courses and it’s good for helping you recognise the Chinese characters. Paddy also downloaded the dictionary Hanping which has been very useful as you can use it offline (we still haven’t been able to get a SIM card) and I have Chinese Skill too which is good for learning the structure of sentences. 

Learning the different characters is highly addictive especially when you start to be able to combine them to make new words. For example, ‘to eat’ is a combination of ‘mouth’ and ‘to beg’…

We have yet to see another foreigner since crossing the border with Ruili and our cycle through rural Yunnan has felt very special and personalised. It’s good to mix things up though and it will be nice to have a coupe of days in a more touristy place where we can maybe meet some other travellers and enjoy a well needed rest day! 

We will be heading towards Shaxi which will definitely see us back on the tourist trail. It is the first place since Ruili that has an entry in the Lonely Planet guidebook. The ride will take us 3 days to get there from our current position in Ying Pan.

Day 1: 51km

We woke up to a grey, miserable and very wet morning in Ying Pan. It has rained pretty much every night in China but this was the first morning the rain was still beating down. We contemplated having a rest day but agreed we should keep going so we packed up and donned our rain gear. 

Today will see us complete another climb – 1300m to 3090m (the highest we’ve been so far). Mist is clinging to the mountains so we linger a bit longer to see if the weather clears a bit and warm up with two helpings of steaming dumplings.
  
By the time we set off the rain has turned to just a gentle drizzle. The first section takes us along a little river through a small valley (well comparatively small for China). We both agree it feels like we could be cycling somewhere in Wales, maybe the Brecon Beacons?

There are some very steep climbs here so we play a round of 20 questions which takes our mind off things. 

The sensation of being somewhere in the UK quickly ends when we cycle up to this very Chinese looking bridge. 
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This marks the beginnings of a beautiful old town called Lajing which clings to the valley on either side. All the houses are still built from wood and compact earth with very quintessential grey tiled roofs. 

We keep climbing and reach the the more modern part of town. With the colder weather comes hearty food and we stop for a steaming beef stew. We, and the tandem, spark quite an interest in the town and a big group of locals waves us goodbye from the square.
 

Giggling girls
 
We keep climbing, it’s still very cold!!! Again, the views are pretty spectacular though. 

  
 

Ascending into the mist
 

Finally we reach the top and snake our way down the other side to a town we think is called Hualian… It’s the first big town you come to anyway!

We cook up a vegetable broth in our hotel room, have a nosey around town and then snuggle down into bed our breath creating clouds of mist above the bed!

Day 2: 76km

Not much to report on this day as it was cold, grey and a pretty boring cycle on the main road. A medium climb and then downhill for 15km.

Two lovely things did happen though:

We hadn’t passed a place to eat for a good couple of hours and when we stopped to ask a family where the next town was we were told we had a 35km cycle ahead of us before we could properly eat again. All we had was cake, peanuts and oranges in our panniers.

I, in particular, was very cold, tired and hungry at this point and the look on my face obviously showed it… The lovely family invited us into their house, gave us tea, fed us and let us warm up next to their fire. They refused to take anything from us in return.

  
I was still feeling very tired and pretty grumpy, I let myself get cold and then couldn’t get warm again. Never let yourself get cold!!! Paddy basically pulled us through. 

Later in the day a guy stopped us on the road and passed us two yoghurts through the window. Perhaps we were giving off a ‘we’re struggling today’ vibe… People are wonderful.

It gets gradually warmer as the day goes on and at 5.30pm we stop in Madeng for dinner. 

We cycle out of town and find a great camping spot in the hills above the town.
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We set up camp amongst the cover of a forest of pine trees and at dusk decide it’s safe to light a campfire which makes us both very happy.

Day 3: 67km

It rains all night and although all our stuff stays dry and our Hubba Hubba tent holds up well we both don’t sleep well… We also leave our shoes too near the edge of the vestibule and each wake up to a soggy left foot… 

We cook breakfast in the rain but thankfully it subsides and beautiful blue skies appear in time for us to take the tent down. 

We had decided to take this yellow road route to Shaxi which takes you south and then north rather than following the main road around and down.

We get going and enjoy a wonderful 20km cycle downstream through a beautiful valley, acres of farmland on either side. We make good progress with an average of 24km/ph.

Then we come to a turn in the road and are faced with a cobbled road… It’s very, very, very bumpy and there are a couple of minor landslides. We definitely wouldn’t advise this route in the wet season… It’s hard going on Paddy who can’t really look up from the road to enjoy the views. The cobbles continue for 22km (!) until we reach the next major village and turn north and upstream towards Shaxi.

If you do decide to take this route be sure to bring plenty of stuff for lunch as there isn’t really anywhere you can get a good meal between Madeng and Shaxi. We ended up eating a horrible quick noodle pot at a shop… 

Tired and very hungry we reach Shaxi which is very pretty and filled with lots of Chinese tourists. Do not try and push your loaded bike around the cobbled, twisty streets while you find a guesthouse! 

We’re staying in a lovely place just up from the main square. It’s probably the nicest place we’ve stayed in the whole entire trip but is only 60Y. 

We are looking forward to a lie in and a day moseying around this sleepy town.

The climb to Kao Yai

Having explored some of rural Thailand for a few days we were ready to hit the big hills and head towards Kao Yai national Nature reserve. 

We had both been looking forward to this for a long while. One of the things we’ve both enjoyed most about the trip so far has been the amount of time we’ve spent outdoors. The nature reserve is a UNESCO site and boasts some spectacular scenery, wild elephants, gibbons, guars and in the more remote areas, tigers apparently.

We knew it would be a tough day of continual climbing to reach the campsite situated at the top of the reserve. It was also Paddy’s birthday but he said he was very happy to spend it waking up in a Buddhist temple and climbing a huge mountain! 🙂

We had an early start thanks to the temple schedule (4am prayers and 6am breakfast!) and with our bellies full we headed north out of Prachin Buri towards the south entrance of the park.

Thanks to Paddy’s navigation app we made good headway for the first 15km and took the scenic route across a huge reservoir, the nature reserve dominating the skyline beyond.

We soon found ourselves in a tricky spot when the ‘road’ on the map turned into more like a dried up stream. We ended getting off and pushing/lifting the bike down this bumpy track.

Back on the road we rip up a few more miles just as the sun really starts to break through the morning mist. We both automatically reach for our cycling glasses but with horror realise we have lost them somewhere along the bumpy track (groan). We retrace our steps along the road and while I hold the bike (that kick stand can’t come soon enough!) Paddy runs up to see if he can find them. 20 minutes later he scampers back down looking triumphant. 

  
The glasses mission lost us an hour and by the time we reach the entrance it’s already 10.30, but anyone who knows us will know we’re used to losing our possessions like this.

At the gate we meet a friendly Thai cyclist who is out for a Sunday morning cycle from Prachin Buri. We explain we’re heading for the top while jealously eyeing up his unloaded lightweight road bike. 

We grudgingly pay our 400 baht each to enter the park (locals only pay 40!) and start the 35km climb.

It’s tough going, some of these inclines are 11/12% and our legs soon become aware of the 34kg of luggage we are dragging up with us (that’s not to mention the weight of the bike and ourselves!)

Paddy attempts to give me a boost by quoting motivational phrases at me which he apparently picked up in Scotland while doing a rowing race. ‘Pain is simply weakness leaving the body’ he tells me… I reply by telling him to ‘simply sod off’.

Despite our legs regularly screaming in pain and our painstakingly slow ascent (6km/h up one incline) we do make good headway. The route is obviously a popular one for road cyclists and we pass big groups of them streaming the other way. It’s nice to receive their supportive and empathetic cheers as they zoom past us.

We stop for lunch at a waterfall having done a third of the distance but two thirds of the overall climb. As long as the road doesn’t have too many down sections it should be easier from now on.

We fuel up on rice and meat and take half an hour out to walk to the waterfall. 

  
Back on the bike we continue to climb, we see lots and lots of elephant dung but unfortunately no actual elephants. 😦

There is lots of up and down sections, the road is CRAZY! We climb a steep hill and to our dismay are met instantly by a downward stretch… However, we finally reach the campsites (there are 2 to choose from) and settle on the second. As we drive into the entrance a Dutch couple are sat waiting with their two bikes. It’s always nice to meet other cycle tourers and we exchange stories for a while before we pick out a spot to pitch up. 

We choose the liveliest section- although it’s Sunday evening the site is full of lots of Thais – one group can be herd singing along to a guitar. It’s just like being in a festival back home! Perfect!

  
Once set up we realise that it’s not possible to get our hands on any beer. Alcohol is technically prohibited in the reserve, but all the Thai groups have brought their own and are happily sipping away at ice cold beverages. Damn, we should have done our research!

  

Once showered we enjoy watching the wild deer roaming the campsite and while taking a few photos we get chatting to the friendly group with the guitars who, on closer inspection, are all wearing t-shirts saying ‘Gang Zu Club’ on them. 

They have a great camping set up and are SO FRiENDLY! We love chatting to them and they invite us over so we take up the offer but in exchange, insist they have to teach us some Thai. 

We end up having a terrific night with the ‘Gang Zu Club’ who are here for the bank holiday (it turns out it is a Buddhist holiday in Thailand). We eat steak, drink beer :-), and share songs. Hilariously the first song they choose to play to us is Zombie by The Cranberries!

They teach us Thai and in exchange we teach them the dice game 5000. 

It was the perfect evening for Paddy’s birthday and we sleep soundly looking forward to a good jungle hike the next day! 

  

Hail the Helinox – the almighty lightweight camping chair

Right, let’s not beat around the bush. We are both basically in love with our Helinox camping chairs.image

To many touring cyclists they are an unessesary luxury, contributing to the weight on our back wheel and putting us in the ‘glamping’ category of tourers.

But we don’t care, because after 8 hours in the saddle and completing 100km, relaxing back in our chairs, away from the dirt, insects and damp ground is quite simply; sublime. Let’s face it, camping can suck a bit sometimes so you need to make things as easy as possible for yourself.

  
Weighing just under 900 grams each, they are hardly heavy, and they pack down into a lightweight durable bag (roughly 14x4x5 inches). We permanently hang ours off the handles of our ortlieb rack bag with cable ties so they don’t take up space in our panniers. Our 1.5L water bottles sit very nicely on top.

  
Paddy and I enjoy having ‘chair set up’ races. They practically fit together themselves and our best record so far is just over 40s.

They are SUPER comfy (you can property lie back) and the mesh material ensures you don’t get too hot. The only improvement we might suggest is that they add a couple of mesh pockets to the sides…image

They are not only useful for sitting in too. They come in handy when keeping food away from ants (by placing each leg in a dish of water at night) and they acted as a brilliant ‘scare shield’ when we needed to shoo away some vicious monkeys while having lunch one day. We also used them as deck chairs while enjoying a day on the beach.

  
We’re 5 weeks in so we’ll see how they hold up after 6 months on the road. 

If you are a cycle tourer reading this, think again about investing in one of these… Granted, they are pricey (£75 each) but they have genuinely improved our camping experience and we probably camp more with them, saving us money along the way.

You deserve some comfort, so sit back and enjoy the view after a long hard day in the saddle.