All posts by Ben Antony

A review: South-east Asia on two wheels

Wow what a ride, around 4400 km in 90 days, which makes more than 1000 km per month.
Could I have done more?  YES, but
Was it enough? YES

I am happy with what I have achieved, I learned a lot about me, other people, nature, stuff, life, …

I choose the bike because:

  • it’s quicker then walking.
  • you have more time to see the landscape than on a motorbike or in a car, where one just rush through everything.
  • On can (nearly) go wherever one wants to go, not like with bus or train.
  • It’s healthy

Did I hate it that I chose the bike? Yes, but the moments where I was happy about my choice are even more important and rememberable, which makes it a great choice.

Travelling “alone” (not with a fix partner who travels same route with you) was a not so good decision. In the beginning I was lucky to have met Tomaz and we kind of travelled along the same route for several days till somewhere after Pokhara. We rarely cycled next to each other, but we always meet up in the evenings.

I review a little bit by country and show my track of each country (more less) on a map below the text. Between Cambodia and Vietnam I made the cut where I took the bus to get to Phnom Penh and then down to the beach. Although there is no line of a trek in Phnom Penh, this doesn’t mean, that I wasn’t there.

My first actual country I visited was Nepal. Not really, because the country I started in was India, but that was just a way to get to Nepal, but I will not report in India, because, the part I saw, isn’t really representative and it was never a destination of my trip.  So Nepal: I like mountains, a part of  Nepal is in the Himalaya mountain area, which leads to me liking Nepal.

A more detailed view on my track in Nepal can be found here.

Cambodia was the country I knew nothing about. People just told me: lots of temples and Ankor Wat (which is also a temple but a great one). As Cambodia is mostly flat (at least the road I took), I didn’t enjoy riding it that much, but it has some nice beautiful landscapes. I also was able to jump into the ocean (for Christmas), which was great.

A more detailed view on my track in Cambodia can be found here.

My favourite country, is Vietnam. It has great landscape and nature with mountains and I haven’t been yet to the norther mountains. I will definitely  go back to that country. On the one side, I will visit the remaining parts in the north, I haven’t visit yet. On the other hand, I want to revisit the parts I already went to, as I missed some places because I was on the bike and didn’t want to take the detour or I simply didn’t knew about them. Also I have made really interesting friends there who I am looking forward to meet again. Also the food, it is amazing, it is not just rice, but it is rice in all kind of different forms and mixed with everything and other stuff to eat.

A more detailed view on my track in Vietnam can be found here.

This is a really short summary. I once tried to show some pictures of my journey to some friends and it took me about 1,5 hours to tell them just a summary of a subset of the stories with some pictures.

I also wanted to write this blog post a long time ago, but I always found an excuse not to write it, but now it is here.

Day 93: Home without luggage

no cycling, there is no bike

So my flight from Hanoi to Istanbul was delayed even more. I think in the end it was something more than 3 hours. We got a free lunch at the airport. From the menu provided to us, there were just 3 meals left to order: spaghetti, rice or sandwich. I was happy with rice.

With the normal duration of the flight to Istanbul and the delay, I would have missed my flight to Frankfurt from Istanbul. Luckily they manage to fly the planes quicker when they are delayed. I arrived just in time to get off my plane, run (quick walking) through security again and over the whole airport to get to the gate of my flight to Frankfurt, which was already on last call… Really not a lot of time…

So my flight to Frankfurt was empty, I simply could run around and choose a random seat, I even could get 4 seats in a row to lie down and sleep, but I choose two seats next to a window 😀

When going down in Frankfurt the multimedia system stopped working and it began to “snow”.

Arrived at the luggage claims my worries became reality… I was able to get from one plain to the next in Istanbul, my luggage wasn’t… Yes, my bike an panniers are stranded somewhere between Istanbul and Frankfurt. The guy at the luggage lost desk couldn’t explain to me, why my luggage wasn’t there, so I explained him everything with the delay. Now they will send me my luggage as soon as they have it. Luxair (a Luxembourgish airline they work together with Turkish Airlines, with whom I was flying today) called me this evening, but I missed the call and the hotline just tells me to call them back during working hours. They called me not during their working hours but later… My luggage will arrive eventually (hopefully).

My father arrived just in time at the airport to pick me up, just 3 minutes before I arrived (without my luggage). We drove back to Luxembourg.

Arrived at home, all the stuff from the last 3 month were waiting in my room. Some bills, a Christmas present and my box I send from Nepal:D

Will this be my last post of this travel? No, there is still a big draft waiting to be published about how to blog while traveling, there is still some stuff missing or not well written. And at least one other post about the whole trip, what I liked, what I disliked, what I learned and lots more, but not today, probably in some days 😀

Day 92: I’m coming home

no cycling

Today is the day. I am coming home,but it’s a long journey of in total 18:46 hours.

But the day didn’t start with going to the airport as the flight was planed to leave at 21:55. So we started the day with a massage at the only place in Vietnam where massage therapists are trained😀 with sauna,  jacuzzi and a very good massage.

In the afternoon I then started packing my stuff and relaxed a little bit more.

At 6 we then took the taxi. My boxed bicycle, luggage, Charel,  Gemma and me😀

Again lots of spare time in case of trouble with Hanoi traffic or checking in my bicycle. Traffic wasn’t as bad as expected. Sadly in the taxi then came the bad news: my flight has 70 minutes delay…

Me in the waiting line for check-in

Of course Turkish Airlines doesn’t take my bicycle for free…  they wanted 91€ from me… But as we are in Vietnam,  I had to pay in Vietnamese Dong. The calculation from € to Dong was professional: guy checked the current rates on his phone via google search and clicked on the first link he found… I checked it myself too,  just to be sure.

Now I am waiting in the airport until my delayed flight starts at 23:50, because the delay got bigger.

The delay is no problem for me,  this plane only brings me to Istanbul,  where I would have had 3 hours waiting time for the next flight,  so as long as the delay doesn’t go over 3 hours,  everything is okay. But soon I can start looking for getting money back for delay from turkish airlines 😀

Day 84 – 91: Some days in the capital

no cycling

I did a post for multiple days, as I didn’t want to spend every evening with writing this blog, as my daily routine changed a little bit. There is no cycling anymore, from which I want to rest in the evening, while this resting I always wrote my blog. We (My brother Charel, his girlfriend Gemma and me) always did stuff together with friends in the city, and we arrive late at Gemma’s parent’s home and went to bed, to get up in the morning, so I didn’t have the time and enthusiasm to write my blog every day. Instead I wrote all the time a little bit and it ended up in this post and another post about how to blog while traveling, which will be published later.

Hanoi is a wonderful city, lots of nice places, lots of tourists and so on. I especially like all the different kind of foods. They do amazing different things with rice, and it always tastes different. Also different kind of meats. I am amazed 😀 You get this food on every corner and even sometimes there are places where you must have a local, as otherwise you will not find these places to eat. There was one place with (we called it that way) grilled banana leave meat, where there are people from the restaurant on the street stopping you to get to eat at their restaurant, funny part was, they only stopped Vietnamese people, no foreigners (as far as my/our observations went).

Hanoi is also the home of President Ho Chi Minh. One can see his dead body in the mausoleum here and visit the place where he lived in his last years. The museum about him looked nice, but I was not that amazed by it.

As Hanoi was often used as capital, there were multiple citadels build on top of each other. Funny story: When they wanted to build the new parliament few years back, they found remaining of the old citadels, so they started an archeology expedition and moved the construction site of the parliament a little bit down the street.

While I was in Hanoi there was also tet happened. Tet is the Vietnamese new year, which follows the moon calendar. We celebrated it with the family of Gemma by having meals with the family and exchanging red envelopes. On new year you give red envelopes with money in it to loved ones, who are younger than you. (I liked that concept while being one of the youngest :D). I expected a big firework, but private firecrackers and firework is forbidden and the one by the city was small out of respect for the people who suffered in the floods in October and December in the country and to donate the money to that areas.

As I take my bicycle again with me back home, I had to find a carton box again. It ended up in a funny story. The first shop had already cleaned up the shop for new year, so no single box left… Then we called a shop and they had one. The next day, we went there, bought the box for 110.000 Vietnamese dong (5 $). That one we stored at Gemma’s aunt’s house as it was far to get to Gemma’s parent’s house. We stored it outside next to a street shop the aunt knows. I trusted them. In the evening the shop and the box was gone. Probably the trash collectors took it, as it looked like trash. A little bit of panic by the other people, I was just like “calm down, there is still plenty of time to find one tomorrow”. We postponed the search to the next day and went eating something with a friend of Gemma. Gemma told the story of the box. The friend happened to know  a guy owning a bicycle shop and he organised us the same evening another box. That guy then was so happy to help us, so he gave it to me for free 😀 And of course we transported the box Vietnamese style: on the motorbike (sadly I don’t have a picture of that…).

My time here in Hanoi ended with a 2 day trip to Halong Bay. It is a Bay close by Hanoi. One has to take a boat to visit certain spots there. The closest one to the harbour is a cave and a little beach with a temple, so there are so many boats.

But for what Halong Bay is known for are these mountains. As we wanted to visit more further points, with less tourists, we spend one night on a cruise ship.

In the evening, the crew showed us how to make spring rolls. The guy showing it to us (not the cook but the guy right next to me), challenged me in speed rolling. It started normally.

But then HE got physical and tried to push me away and failed. I pushed successfully back, so that he couldn’t reach his spring roll anymore. (Just for the record, he started the fight not me!)

But still we managed to finish at the same time, with me having a very modern, not normal looking spring roll.

We shake hands afterwards and everybody is all right 😀

Where there a hills and water there are also caves. The next morning we got to a place, where we got to rowing boats and explored the area by them. As it was a little bit further away, there were just 3 curse boats, so less tourists 😀

The day ended with us chilling a little bit on the deck. The weather wasn’t sunny or hot, but still okay to lie there.

After a 4 hour ride back to Hanoi, we arrived back in Hanoi and relaxed a little bit more.

Tonight we will go out one last time and I will finish my packing because tomorrow evening I will board a plane to get me home 😀

Day 83: It’s the final countdown

Distance: 91,50 km Time: 3:56 Total distance: 4431 km  Average Speed: 23,23 km/h

The final day of cycling. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t sleep last night. I always tried, but ended up watching stuff on YouTube until I fell asleep at 5 in the morning. I ignored the alarm at 7 o’clock and overslept until 8. From then on, everything went quick, as I had already prepared everything yesterday evening, my luggage and my cloth. Just grabbed everything went down and returned they key, placed my luggage on my bicycle and took of for breakfast.

It were only around 90 km, so easily doable. As always people try to warn me of the traffic in bigger cities, so I planned to arrive at around 16:00. But I was good on the way, no so much wind, no rain, a little bit of sun, so that I  already reached 60 km for lunchtime.

As I was so quick on the road, I told my brother that I would arrive earlier in about 1,5 hours. I was giving everything and took up more speed. This speed resulted in an even more high average speed than some days ago.

The expected traffic never came, it was fluid traffic, which had the same speed as me, so perfect. At traffic lights I always sneaked my way through the front of the line and I didn’t have any problems. As the traffic was a little bit loud, I placed my speaker on my handlebar to listen to music. People found it very amusing as I sometimes danced a little bit (depending on the music on) when I had to stop at a traffic light.

I found the place where my brother and his girlfriend (called Gemma) are staying and I quickly took a hot shower. I packed out all my panniers to check stuff to clean and what I have and can use.

As promised they brought me some chocolate.

In the evening we took the motorbikes and went into the ancient city of Hanoi.

My brother (Charel) and his girlfriend (Gemma)

some good desert we had: Some fruits, with jelly and coconut milk.

Today I took again 0 pictures with my camera… all the pictures above are taken by Charel.

For the next few days, I will stay with the both of them, visiting Hanoi, perhaps some other places around (we don’t know yet), celebrating Vietnamese new year and of course preparing my bicycle for the flight, which will be in the evening of 2. February from Hanoi to Frankfurt over Istanbul.

As I have finished cycling here, I will probably not make a post every day, I don’t know yet. What is for sure that there will be some more posts about this travel. A little review on the trip itself, my equipment, my experience and about Hanoi itself. When will I do that? I don’t know.  I currently have the laptop of my brother, so I don’t have to write on my phone anymore, which will lead into quicker writing, but as I am hanging out with them, I have less time to write… You will hear from me eventually.

Day 82: Some rowing through caves

no cycling

After a more or less longer evening playing cards,  we got up a little bit later than planned,  but got on the road quick. With we, I mean Sinéade from Ireland and me on a motorbike.

Our first stop was Trang An. There we had breakfast as we didn’t find a place on the road,  it was just 6 km. From there we took a rowing boat to explore caves,  lots of caves. Our rower woman gave us paddles and we could paddle too😂 Through the caves we got into different valleys with our boat. We also visited some temples on the way through the valleys.

Yes this is the entrance to a cave,  we all had to put our head down to not hit the roof, just the Vietnamese kid on our boat was amazed with the hands up in the air😂

closer to the entrance

Sadly I was unable to take a good picture inside the cave due to less light,  this is everything I got,  one light.

The caves weren’t that long,  after 100 to 300 meters we always reached an exit.

It was a round trip,  so we never took the same cave again,  we also exited the caves at a different opening than we entered.

Our rower,  really strong,  she was rowing the whole time. we,  the passengers, took lots of breaks.

A boat going into a cave

Arrived at a temple we got off the boat and walked around a little bit

Back at the station where we started. They have enough boats there to ship a whole army😂 The are lots of boats at the other side of the lake (as one can see) and that it continued like that😂

It was a long boat ride,  we arrived for lunch and wanted to visit two more places on our map. On the way to an ancient capital of Vietnam,  we didn’t knew the way and we found a tourist with a Vietnamese friend on their motorbike and they were looking for the third place on our map,  the biggest pagoda of asia or south-east asia (I don’t know, it is big). So we decided to follow them as they could always could ask for the way😁 We decided to visit the ancient capital later.

The pagoda was not the only thing to see there. There were also big statues. To get to the big pagoda we had to walk up some stairs. But the statues were great,  there were different once at different levels. The higher we got the bigger the statues got or the more there were. The second last one was big and on the last level there were 3 of the big once from the level before.

They had a really big bell there

The first impressive statue.

The big pagoda (no we didn’t climb to the top,  I don’t even know if that is possible).

The next big statue.

One hall where the statues are inside

Inside that hall (the biggest one on top), were three big statues like this one.

This is Sinéda with me😀

Returned to the bike we went to the ancient capital. I was not really impressed by it and I didn’t took any pictures. But I don’t say that it wasn’t nice.

For the way back,  Sinéda wanted to ride as I was riding the whole day. So she was riding for the first time in a long time. She was pretty good,  expect sometimes in the curves,  but I am not the easiest one as passenger because of my height and weight😂

Arrived back at Ninh Bình we had dinner and then she took the night bus to get to Dong Hoi to visit Phong Nha caves,  which I did some days ago😂

Tomorrow I will do my final kilometers till Hà Nội😀

Day 81: Train, train, train,… 🚂

Distance: 131,62 km Time: 6:29 Total distance: 4339 km

So today the same stuff as yesterday, flat, boring roads. At the beginning it was foggy.

They kind of look funny with this tiny head for these big arms.

The rain got exchanged with wind facing the opposite direction of my driving. At the end there was a really, really small hill of 50 meters of climbing,  I enjoyed that one😂

To the left of the picture there was a car and from the right of the picture there was a car,  so don’t think that the roads are empty here,  they are getting more crowded as I get closer to Hà Nội.

For the rest it was mentally really hard to continue… But I managed to arrive in Ninh Bình, as it weren’t my muscles who didn’t want anymore but my mind. Putting on the right music and skipping the bad one helped.

Actually I often saw the rails from the train, but rarely the train or it was behind buildings. As the road and the rails were running in parallel with nothing in between, I got myself a challenge: taking a picture of the train here,  as I like trains and I know some people back at home who like trains😀 The first train was going into the same direction,  so the moment until I had my camera out,  I could just get the back of the train…

Shortly before Ninh Bình I got to a closed rail crossing,  so I stopped and placed myself with the camera to catch the train. It was a little bit quick…

Arrived in Ninh Bình I checked online for a good hostel,  as I didn’t have any clue what to visit here and with a good hostel,  you get english speaking stuff. I found a good one,  ironically it is the old train station😂

After a shower I talked to my roommate and I ended up going to dinner with some more people and now we are hanging around.

Yes I managed to take more pictures today😀 Probably because it didn’t rain anymore.

With my roommate I will visit some places on a motorbike we will rent.

The day after tomorrow I will do my final cycling to Hà Nội where I am going to meet my brother and his girlfriend.

Day 80: getting closer to Hà Nội

Distance: 125,57 km Time: 6:03 Total distance: 4207 km

The problem with having friends in the same timezone,  they write sometimes in the morning. That’s the reason why I got on the road a little bit later than I expected. It was raining outside…

After half an hour on the road,  a local was riding next to me on his motorbike and started talking to me. He invited me in for a coffee ☕. He is a seaman on a 100 meter long ship.

As I started late and had early first break,  I had to hit the pedals now, but it started to rain heavily again… Here is a video of the rain when it got less fir lunch break. Some people told me that one that one can hear birds in the background😂

For lunch I took everything off, shoes, socks,  hat, buff, jacket and pressed the water out… Yeah even my shoes got wet from inside as the rain was so heavy and the water gets into it by the socks…

I did another break in the afternoon and had a coffee. Here is how you get a Vietnamese coffee.

As I just want to continue to get closer to Hà Nội,  I decided to continue as long as my legs would not hurt too much,  but as the sun light went away and there was more traffic,  I haven’t felt save anymore so I took the next hotel I found,  which is in Yên Phú.

I went for dinner in the restaurant next to my hotel and had a small discussion with the girl there via Google Translate.

I didn’t even take a single picture with my camera today,  all the pictures were done with my smart phone.

Tomorrow I will continue to Ninh Bình and probably stay there for one day,  as my brother will arrive in the evening of the day after tomorrow,  so I would arrive before him as he doesn’t know when his plan arrives in the evening due to delays.

Day 79: Day of achievements

Distance: 151,44 km Time: 6:48 Total distance: 4082 km 😁

Today the weather was great, nearly no rain,  expect for when I had lunch,  so perfect timing and there were just some short moments where there was strong wind against me, for the rest was it a slightly breeze against me. Also I was feeling good,  so I looked at the map and do a little bit more than I planed some days ago, because the quicker I am the quicker I get to Hà Nội and there is nothing to see on the road.

Again lots of rice fields around me with lots of little villages and towns. Some really little hills. The later it got in the day, the more fog came up. I arrived in Hà Tĩnh around 5 o’clock.

I took one picture with my camera on a bridge,  sadly I forgot to reset the settings from the caves,  that’s why the image is so dark. 

When I take a break at a café (sadly there are not that many cafés with hammocks anymore), I want to try out a new drink or a different brand. So I choose this drink,  which looked like lemon soda,  and I just saw the Vietnamese name like on this picture. 

I drank from it and thought: hmm there is salt inside. By turning the bottle I got the english name… I only drank half of the bottle😂

The first achievement of today was the milestone,  or more the kilometer stone I passed today: 4000 km of cycling on this trip😀

The next achievement is the maximum daily distance,  which is over 150 km😀 I have to stay,  when I arrived at the first hotel in Hà Tĩnh I looked at my road computer and was at 147 km. So I set this challenge to continue till 150 km.

An achievement I can’t prove because I never wrote down the daily average speed (I will calculate it at home),but I think today I had the highest average speed of 22,26 km/h.

Tomorrow again cycling as far as I come. Sadly the weather forecast tells again just rain…

Day 78: Into the caves

no cycling

The view from my room this morning.

This morning I remembered to take a picture of the baguettes they sell here. I had two,  as two are not even enough for me😂 There is some meat,  vegetables and sauces on it, sometimes also an egg.

At 7:45 exactly the van showed up in front of my hotel and picked me up for the tour. I was the first one. We picked up several more people so that the van was full to get to Phong Nha, the village from where one can discover different caves. Over half of the people in the bus were german speaking😂

Arrived in the village we went directly to the first of two caves to visit. The paradise cave. It is the “biggest” dry cave in the world. The quotes are because the word “big” can have many definitions😂 Like the longest, the widest, the highest,  the…  cave in the world. Let’s just say,  it was big and huge and beautiful. A dry cave means,  there is no Water like a river inside. But to get there we had to take electronic golf cars and then walk up 500 meters 😯 (To walk down again inside the cave 😂). As we were early there was nearly nobody inside the cave. The first kilometer is prepared with a walk with fence mad out of wood and everything is lit up by spots. And the end of the walk was how far we were allowed to go. By requesting an adventure tour I could have gone more inside,  but that would have cost more money and more time. Notice that the pictures are not always sharp and clear as the was not so much light and I had to play a little bit with the settings of my camera to get acceptable shutter time, as I don’t have a tripod on me (next time I will take a GorillaPod with me) and I used the fence to place my camera.

After exiting the cave through the same entrance we waited for everybody to come out and returned to the van.

We all had lunch together at a restaurant and I had some nice discussions with 3 germans,  one guy from Sweden and a woman from Japan living in Canada.

After lunch we went to the second cave. The Phong Nha Cave. This one is the “longest”  wet cave of Asia (I think). Again the word “longest” can have many interpretations. A wet cave is a cave with a river,  so we just took a boat and entered the cave with a boat. The boat took us one kilometer inside the cave and let us out there at a beautiful beach inside the cave. From there we walked again till the exit of the cave where the boat waited on us to take us back to the van. Again there was less light which makes a pictures not the greatest. 

The entrance

To show the size of that thing,  here I picture with a woman at the bottom

The exit,  which is the exit from inside😂

Arrived back in Dong Hoi, everybody got brought back to his hotel. I rested a little bit in my room,  went out for a walk and dinner and am now back in my room. I forgot to make a video about the colorful lighted bridge in Đà Nẵng,  so I did one here. It is not so amazing than the one in Đà Nẵng, but it’s still very nice.

After complaining everyday about the weather: Today the weather was nice,  a little bit of blue sky between lots of clouds and only a little bit of rain in the afternoon☺️ Hopefully it will stay like this till I am in Hà Nội. It will probably take me 4 to 5 days to get there,  depending on how fit I feel and so how far I can go oer day. This will be the only thing I will do the next few days, cycling, cycling, cycling. ☺️