Category Archives: Blog in english

Empty beaches, challenging roads and old and new friends in Myanmar

February 2017

So there we were, at the same point were we had been roughly five weeks earlier. This time with the plan to head south to see some beaches and rarely visited areas. At first we would have to cycle to Kawkareik again though. This time we took the old road over the mountain which was a beauty to cycle.

With a nice and steady gradient of about 6% we climbed to the top easily and even if the road got a lot worse coming down on the other side – the lack of traffic was completely worth it.

In Kawkareik we met up with our friend SuSu, a local warmshowers member, and Kevin from the border crossing group. SuSu showed us a local temple and we were lucky to witness a beautiful sunset.

Later she took us to see two local noodle factories and the ladies absolutely loved Torsten’s longhi.

Apart from that it was fascinating to see how the noodles we eat a lot are made. It is hard labour, believe me!

On the next day we wanted to take a shortcut to Mawlamyine and found a few of the worst roads we have ever cycled on. I was not a happy camper but fortunately it didn’t last too long.

We arrived in Mawlamyine rather late and as the search for a guest house took some time we decided to stay for an extra day. And when we met not two but four other cycle travelers staying in the same guest house we opted to stay one more day. Thus we would be able to cycle together to the south.

When we cycled out of Mawlamyine Torsten went ahead while I chatted to Victor and Heleen, two Belgian cyclists. Suddenly I heard him shouting from a small road side cafe and only then I noticed the other touring bike. And that’s how we reunited with Jan, another member of our border crossing group!

The next two days we cycled to Ye, sometimes in our group of five, sometimes we split up for a short while. I found it really nice to have company while Torsten did have some difficulties adjusting to the slower group pace.

We found beautiful small roads through salt fields and many villages.

We did stop much more frequently than usual in order to satisfy all the different needs of the five of us. Some bicycle problems had to be attended to and of course there was food to be eaten, coffee to be had and fried bananas to be found.

Arriving in Ye we unfortunately didn’t quite see eye to eye on how to haggle for a room which ended on a bit of a sour note. Maybe this as well as Torsten’s growing impatience with the slower pace (we still hadn’t left at 11am on a scorching hot day planning to cycle up a mountain) made our group split up for a while. So Torsten and I cycled on alone again towards Dawei.

The main road was in surprisingly good condition and only in a few places left to be resurfaced. The small amount of traffic left us to enjoy our cycling days and the surrounding scenery helped immensely.

Apart from that we were gifted water that cured Yellow Urine disease – how awesome is that? 🙂

In between we found a small monastery to stay. The head monk invited us without problem and gave us Sprite and canned fruit. We left a donation the next day including some food. With the increasing number of cycle tourists coming to Myanmar I think that’s only fair.

Just before Dawei we had a funny encounter with a person who out of nowhere started to massage Torsten enthusiastically. I must say I did enjoy that a lot :D.

Dawei was a nice place to walk around for a bit especially for the beautiful partly wooden houses. Funnily enough we also managed to run into two friends we had previously met in Laos and shared some beers.

Afterwards we were beach bound again, maybe the last time for a while? The hilly cycle to Maumangan was short but rather exhausting in the heat but when we arrived at the beach we found our friends we had cycled with a few days ago and decided to stay with them at a camp site. We had a very relaxed afternoon and a nice joint dinner in one of the many seaside restaurants.

The following day we continued along the beach towards Panit. Torsten was set on staying on a different, more remote beach. I must say that I had a hard time convincing myself to go there before and during. Before, because it was scorching hot and I actually liked the beach in Maumangan, too. And during, because… look at these roads!! Sandy and incredibly steep – not my favourite combination.

As we only arrived in the evening after an exhausting cycle we decided to stay another day.

And it was perfect. There was no one around except for the occasional locals going somewhere on a motorcycle. But only three girls talked to us for a while. For the rest of the day we indulged in lots of glorious doing nothing, some reading, lots of napping and enjoying the view.

And some shots of Torsten pretending to work :).

From Panit we planned on cycling towards the Htee Kee border and then to Bangkok for our flight to Kolkata.

After we joined a river we enjoyed some beautiful roads and found a place to sleep in school for Buddhism that was still under construction. The person in charge actually went to get the police to ask for permission to let us stay. The police guy was very friendly though and except from jotting down our passport details on a peace of paper also invited us to stay with them at their station.

Unfortunately the road deteriorated a lot the next day: The tarmac vanished and we cycled / pushed up and down on steep gradients. After doing not much more than 15k in one and a half hours we threw in the towel. It was still about 75k to the border and we did not have enough provisions to stay overnight. That would be necessary with our slow pace though. A truck carrying empty fruit and vegetable crates took pity on us and within minutes we bumped along towards Thailand.

I was beyond relief not being forced to cycle that road and thus ended our last two weeks in Myanmar. We had an amazing time getting to know many people but also finding small roads to cycle through different natural environments.

While I am writing this several news stories about the Rohingya people and their militant suppression through the Myanmar army come to my mind. I won’t attempt a summary here but I want to at least invite you to read about that, too. While we met so many friendly and incredibly generous people, the police and army were ever present, too. This was mildly inconvenient for us but imposes a much greater inconvenience and even risk of life to people living in Myanmar.

With that in mind let’s have a look at how we treat refugees all over the world and do better. Everyone has a right to a dignified life after all.

 

The Myanmar – India border crossing permit debacle

February 2016

After exciting Myanmar because of our group permit to cross into India we spent an enjoyable week of rest in Mae Sot, Thailand. The small border town and especially the Green Guest House was a perfect place to be to relax, do some errands and write and work. We met with Susan and Nat, two photographers living in Mae Sot for 6 months a year.

And slowly slowly the guest house filled up with more cyclists as more and more members of our group showed up. We had fun getting to know everyone and exchanging plans and future routes.

That was it for our group though. Early next morning we cycled to the border, ever optimistic if not quite sure what would happen next. Our agency Burma Senses had left us with more than vague instructions what to do at the border. So we were not really sure if we should be upfront about our plans to cross into India as an individual  unaccompanied group or just be vague about it. We were processed quickly and got our entry stamps. As the agency had stated before that our entering as a group with the permit was very important we thought we should at least get the border staff to acknowledge the permit and showed it to them. Long story short – it all went downhill from there. We then spent the whole day at the border, discussing with various officials, talking to our contact at Burma Senses over the phone and later trying to reach said contact who would not pick up the phone any longer.

The border staff was not impressed with our permit and got increasingly angry at the agency for having us set up with the document. In the end they would not even let us enter Myanmar on our still valid tourist visas. After more discussions we could agree on returning to Thailand that evening and coming back to Myanmar the following day as six individuals. We would then be allowed to enter but not to cross into India. I guess this was a case of ‘saving face’ – we were somehow punished for trying to enter with the invalid permit but on the next day we could just be treated as normal tourists and everything would be forgotten.

Burma Senses eventually reacted to our emails complaining about their lack of support, saying that it wasn’t their fault and they did everything they could. They agreed to pay us back our money immediately and did just that. We still weren’t happy with them just stopping to respond to our calls when it got difficult and were left wondering if this happened due to differences in communication. Torsten and I grew up with solving problems directly and talking about them and maybe our contact did not. Talking to many people all over SE Asia we learned that it is not very common to talk openly about problems. Of course this is nothing more than an assumption based on what happened.

(For a longer version of the events see below.)

The upsides to that day was the group of people we shared it with: Our group of 6 was – except for one person – very relaxed and we managed to make that day full of surprises kind of fun.

In any way, some decisions had to be made. We had spent so much time trying to organize the Myanmar – India border crossing and after all of that it still didn’t work out. We talked, decided that we had really enjoyed Myanmar and still wanted to see more of it. Flights out of there to India were really expensive though and that’s why we planned on flying from Bangkok. In regards to that it didn’t really make sense to cycle up north to see all the sights like Bagan and Inle Lake and then take buses back south to make it for our visa deadline. After all the buses to get to Myanmar we really just wanted to  cycle. So we opted to go south straight away and then to exit Myanmar through the Htee Kee border crossing to Thailand. From there we would cycle to Bangkok, see our fantastic friend Toom again and then fly to India. More on that next week!

A change of plans but that just comes with the territory of overland travel, doesn’t it?

 

 

And for those interested – here is the slightly longer version of our permit troubles, first published on the Thorntree Forum:

So, we were going to cross from Thailand (Myawady) to Tamu/Moreh with bicycles. Found one agency (Burma Senses / Asia Senses) who offered to organize the permits without need for a guide. All others we contacted said this was not possible at all. Managed to get a group of 6 cyclists together as was cheaper with more people.

They changed rules/options a few times, apparently both in Tamu and Myawady staff has changed recently and the current ones are extremely diligent/bureaucratic. We were told that Tamu would only let you leave after checking with Myawady that we entered already in a group, with correct permit, on the prescribed date.

So we got the permits from the agency, however when entering in Myawady staff insisted despite what the permit said we could only go with pilot car, guide and officer of Ministry of Hotel and Tourism with us all the time(!!) (ruling out any “cheating”, too). Apparently they called lots of senior Ministry staff and decided that the permit could not be honored any more. Everybody was friendly and we had the impression they really just wanted/had to to follow the rules from high up/not make any mistakes, bribes were never suggested! Ministry of Hotels and Tourism and Immigration are quite separate and we gathered that Ministry staff were the “problem” in our case. Eventually our agency told us they saw no way to make it work and literally abandoned us at the border – not OK! A few more hours of discussion got us to at least keep our visas – we had to return to Thailand for the night, but were allowed in as “regular” tourists only the following day.

The agency did refund all our money right away, so lost quite a bit on this, too. Not sure if they were just too optimistic or naive, had overestimated their contacts, …

I spent a lot of time trying to organize this and am pretty sure for the time being crossing Myanmar to India overland is currently impossible. Have not heard of anyone just showing up at the border and getting through, but did hear of people showing up and not getting through.

Options you have now seem to be Exotic Myanmar – but only if you want to go India to Thailand. They can do individual permits to enter from and leave to India for 2x$80, people can usually leave to Thailand even though they are not supposed to. Must be applied for before entering Myanmar. Thai to India this does not work, they said clients who tried where not allowed to leave at Tamu.

We heard rumors the situation may go back to normal maybe in April ($80 permits, no same border rule), if you have time maybe you get lucky.

Last, you can go on an organized tour. This has always been possible and will set you back about $500/person for 4 days if you are several people. It is not possible to join another group once in the country and say, just go for a day from Mandalay. Four days rushing through the country makes only sense for overlanders by motorbike or car, where flying isn’t really an alternative, in my opinion …

We really enjoyed our almost six weeks in Myanmar nevertheless, don’t let this keep you from going! We have now cycled back to Bangkok via Dawei and are flying to Kolkata on Thursday 🙁

It was still great to meet so many interesting people due thanks this – staying so cool and calm all 10 hours stuck at Myawady it was almost fun!

Currently (August 2017) the border seems to be closed for individual travelers in both directions. Permits cannot be obtained. But as the situation changes rapidly and frequently, check here for updates.

Falling in love with cycling in Myanmar

January 2017

We spent the whole month of January cycling in Myanmar. Our route took us from Ngwe Saung Beach back to Panthein and the hills weren’t even that bad this time.

Monks were a part of daily life here in Myanmar. They would usually get up early and walk around the monastery. The locals would then donate food to them which is seen as a good deed in Buddhism.

On our arrival in Panthein I was once again reminded why vegetarianism is the right choice for me. Mistreatment of animals seems to be common all over the world.

We did find excellent vegetarian food though. It’s almost funny that so many people always question the feasibility of cycle touring without eating meat. Many times we get asked what in the world we eat when everyone around seems to be eating meat only. In over one year of cycle touring we only had very few problems though. On the contrary being a vegetarian makes us learn the language better and discover more food quickly. Of course it doesn’t always work out but mostly it is really not a big deal.

In Myanmar it was exceptionally easy. Once we had gotten the hang of pronouncing a few words we could easily explain what we wanted and mostly we were just offered a myriad of delicious dishes. In this case the owner of a road side restaurant kept bringing us more and more food until we were so stuffed that we could hardly move.

Temples and pagodas were another part of daily life and we saw many golden buildings by the side of the road.

We also saw many people collecting money for temples. Talking to locals it seems that a lot of energy (money and otherwise) goes into monasteries.

On our way north we stopped at road side stalls for sugar cane juice, we found nice and quiet roads and beautiful sunsets.

Locals were always curious to talk to us and occasionally we met someone who spoke really good English. That is always a good opportunity for us to get a deeper insight into a place.

Finding places to sleep along the road was actually much easier than we had thought. Usually we could find accommodation between 5 and 8 Dollars for a room, only sometimes a little more than that. The prices seem to have gone down a lot since 2013. Also it seems that it has gotten easier for guest houses to get a license to host foreigners.

It still happened eventually that a place turned us away but not nearly as often as we had expected.

On the few occasions when we couldn’t find anything we camped or asked to sleep at a monastery which was never a problem.

After a while we crossed the mighty Irrawaddy river into Pyay. After a quick search for a guest house we settled in for a few days of rest. We both enjoyed Pyay a lot. The small town has a lot of charm and the night market offers delicious food once again.

Apart from enjoying city life and meeting other travelers we also spent lots of time with a rather bureaucratic issue. As some of you might know the border crossing between Myanmar and India has been a complicated one for a while. It used to be closed then opened up but you still had to get a permit to cross as an individual traveler. At the time of January 2016 all but one agency had stopped issuing permits though. Thus began our lengthy discussions with Burma Senses, the only agency that was still considering getting a permit for us. It was more expensive than before though and we were therefore trying to find a group of cyclists to share the cost. Not an easy task, bringing 5 and more people together, each with different dates in mind and not so much willingness to compromise on routes and dates.

It was all slowly coming together though and thus we spent some time taking pictures of our bikes for the permit and organizing our future route through Myanmar. For the joint crossing we actually had to exit Myanmar once more and enter together with the group.

So we planned on cycling to Taungoo where our friend Barbara who had previously hosted us in Borneo, Malaysia, was working at the moment. Afterwards we wanted to cycle back through Hpa An and to Mae Sot. On our second time in Myanmar we planned to see some of the big sights like Bagan and Mandalay further north.

From Pyay we headed east on a beautiful small road that went through a few villages and then lots of forest.

This is the place where we camped for the first time.

We absolutely loved this road. It was really exhausting as it went up and down on steep climbs all the time but the lack of traffic and the relatively new asphalt made for three perfect cycling days.

We camped once more before the end and this time we didn’t get much sleep. As we couldn’t find a real hidden area we set up behind some trees next to a pathway when it was already dark. After we were already asleep we suddenly woke up to someone shining a torch on our tent. Shit, we thought, now they are going to get the police and we will have to move during the night.

Our solution to all of this was to keep really quiet and hope for the best. After a while we heard more voices and thought that would be the police now. But… nothing happened. All night. Except for us being awake until 3am and listening to each and every small sound. Of course after a while everything sounds suspicious…

Arriving in Taungoo we met this lovely lady again who seems to attract cats everywhere she goes :). We could sleep in a vacant teacher accommodation and enjoyed a few days off. As always we focused on eating instead of sightseeing but this time we were also invited to give a talk at Barbara’s school.

It was awesome to talk to the teachers about our travels and experiences.

From Taungoo we turned south once again. We actually tried to cycle east towards the border in order to find a quieter road going south. But alas it was not going to be. After about 15k the police found us and without further explanation made us turn back. We tried discussing with them but there was just no point at all.

The police was a bit of a constant in all our time through Myanmar as well. Sometimes when people talked to us we just got a feeling that it wasn’t just out of curiosity. And more often than not we were than asked for our passport. Sometimes they followed us for a bit but never really for long.

Mostly we just met really nice locals though. This guy for example was originally from India and had been transferred here a long time ago. There was a big Indian population in this area which was especially apparent in the food choices.

A few times we slept in monasteries as well. This one was really interesting as it functioned as a social hub for the whole village (in the middle of nowhere). They had a TV and at night everyone (well, the men) gathered around to watch sports and chew Betel.

On the next day we chose an off road route to Hpa An as the Highway riding was getting on our nerves. It started with hard packed dirt which was nice enough. The locals that we asked about the route seemed to be rather concerned and not really sure if it would go through.

The path led through thick forest and bamboo and eventually became more of a single trail.

We met more concerned locals and even someone who – without words – asked for paper and started drawing a map out of this forest for us. We were humbled by this incredible kindness and showed him our map on the phone. Without the GPS we would have been seriously lost though. There were so many turns and not a lot of people to ask where to go.

After a while we came across some rubber plantations…

… and thankfully even here there was fresh water to be found.

Fresh pepper drying:

And then the perfect cycle path to Hpa An:

Once in Hpa An we spent a couple of days to relax and even did some sightseeing. We cycled to the Bat Cave to watch thousands of bats fly out at sunset… together with 30 other tourists all cramped at the viewing point at the top. Somehow I find sightseeing more and more boring the longer I travel. I can’t seem to muster the excitement for something that I already know to much about. I rather have the unknown and am surprised by what I find on the side of the road instead of reading guide books about what I will find.

Still a nice sunset though :).

We also caught up with fellow cycle travelers Guy and Camilla and in this picture Terry. We met her coincidentally for breakfast and in a few weeks would coincidentally see her again further south.

All in all it had been a wonderful month of cycling and relaxing in Myanmar and we were already happy to spend some more time here!

Into Myanmar: a warm welcome and a New Year at the beach

December 2016 / January 2017

Although we wanted to reach the West Coast of Myanmar rather sooner than later we still chose to cycle at least a little bit before taking buses. Cycling just lets you see very different sides of places and get a good feeling for them.

And as soon as we had reached Kawkareik we didn’t regret that one bit. When we were settling into our guest house SuSu found us and gave us a perfect Welcome to Myanmar. SuSu is one of the few members on Warmshowers, the cyclist’s hospitality platform, in Myanmar. The government still doesn’t allow locals to host foreigners though, so we met up, talked over dinner and went to see a big festival for the Karen New Year.

The next morning SuSu invited us for breakfast and told us more about her ideas for the small town she lives in. She wants to educate people about the increasing trash problem, starting with talking about plastic bags.

She is an amazing person and we are so grateful for that perfect introduction to Myanmar.

Not so early the next morning we got on on our bicycles and pedaled towards Hpa An. We took a small road that started out with perfect asphalt and led over rolling hills ever closer to our destination.

On this first full day of cycling we found out that getting water wouldn’t ever be a problem. In more or less regular intervals you can find clay water pots by the side of the road. They get refilled by locals from nearby wells etc. and are an amazing thing for the passing traveler. The water in the pots even stays relatively cold as the clay cools it down.

The road eventually deteriorated into a dirt track of the rather bad kind which I’m still don’t enjoy riding fully loaded. Oh well, at least there was almost no traffic…

When we got to the outskirts of Hpa An we made a rather spontaneous decision of asking for buses to Yangon, found one and took it immediately. Sweaty and dirty we settled into the overnight bus, together with a few other people and lots of wares. Comfortable? Not so much.

When we arrived in Yangon in the middle of the night we – again spontaneously – decided on a night ride to the other side of the city and took another bus to Panthein.

On the breakfast break we had some 3 in 1 coffee and watched locals plant rice in the warm morning light.

Once in Panthein we cycled around for a bit and found one of the nicest accommodations. Simple and affordable, quiet and with this view:

All we were looking for! Panthein also ticked a lot of other boxes. We really liked the lively but relaxed small town and decided to spend a day of rest after our not so relaxed night spent in buses.

Lots of walking around town, a few errands and a bit of doing nothing did wonders for us after the constant moving of the last weeks.

The small night market was a particular enjoyable experience for us: Lots of delicious food to try and many curious locals wanting to talk to us. We met one vendor who told us about the difficulties of earning money here and his work on big freight ships. Not easy on his family but at least a possibility for work in his eyes.

And then the day was here, the 31st of December and the day were we would celebrate New Year’s together with my sister and her husband! We had planned on cycling the last 50k towards Ngwe Saung Beach in a leisurely manner and then relax for a few days together.

Well, as always, you shouldn’t plan too much… The first 20k were really nice, flat enough and we made distance fast.

But then the hills started. Oh well, some hills you might think. Shouldn’t be that hard, right? Well it was the kind of hills that rise up so steep that you almost want to push but somehow you make it standing up in your saddle. To be followed by an equally steep downhill. And then up again. And… You get the picture.

The scenery around us was stunningly beautiful but I reached my limit quite soon. My mental limit actually. Yes it was exhausting but that’s nothing new. But I just wanted to be done with cycling for the day. I wanted to get to the beach already, to be done with the stress of having to be somewhere in time. And most of all to hug my sister and celebrate a New Year together.

Of course we eventually did get there. Not without a little freakout from my side but what can you do.

The sun set was all the more beautiful and the fireworks at the beach really nice as well.

The next week we spent relaxing at the beach. Between the fancy honeymoon resort and our more humble tent, the nice food, the language lessons at our guest house…

… the walks / cycles along the beach and foremost time with Vroni and Alex we couldn’t have had a better start to the New Year. Thanks you two and may this one be a good one!

Racing through Northern Laos and Thailand

December 2016

Coming back to Laos and Thailand was really beautiful. This time around the temperatures were much better than last year in April and May and so we thoroughly enjoyed our cycle through the hills of Northern Laos.

We would have loved to spend more time if only to enjoy nice guest houses like this one. But we had a date for New Year’s with my newly wedded sister and her husband in Myanmar that we didn’t want to miss. So we ate some more noodle soup, enjoyed the night market in Luang Namtha and then hitched a lift for about 200k to the Thai border.

We weren’t allowed to cycle over the friendship bridge and instead had to take a bus. Save for the waste of money it was all easy enough though and we soon cycled into Chiang Khong and the cycling paradise that is Thailand.

I will always cherish Thailand as one of the most convenient places for cycle touring. Everything is just so easy somehow: Nice small roads with not much traffic, the availability of good food almost everywhere, iced coffee stands and for everything else you’ve got your 7-11. Oh and the night markets, what a beautiful thing! After the sun has gone down and the air gets cooler, everyone gathers at the market area and the focus lies on all the delicacies you can imagine.

We soaked all that up once more, especially on Christmas Eve in Chiang Rai where we had one of the most relaxing and beautiful guest houses. Once more we would have loved to stay just a little longer but there was only one week left to get to the beach in Myanmar. Not a bad thing to hurry for.

Cycling Yunnan: a challenging (re)start

December 2016

After that cold spell in Siberia and Mongolia I was pretty happy to arrive in Kunming again. With our planned route through Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and India warmer temperatures awaited us and that seemed pretty damn good at that point.

With our hosts Anne and Olaf we couldn’t have found a better starting point for the second point of our cycling trip. We spent a few days relaxing, eating good food, talking and organizing our gear.  I did even clean my bags which in hindsight didn’t make much sense but more on that later.

And then it was time to get going once more. I was excited to start cycling again – something I hadn’t thought possible just 5 months ago.

We had a beautiful first day with a relaxed cycle out of Kunming.

As the temperatures were moderate we had our hearts set on camping and thus began our search for a piece of uncultivated land. Not an easy task in China I tell you. It seems that on every peace of flatish land there are either houses or agriculture. Even on the few square meters between train tracks. Eventually we did find an abandoned house with a bit of greenery and pitched our tent.

Looking forward to a warm dinner, that’s when we noticed that our stove was leaking petrol. Not exactly something you want, especially not on the first day of touring after a long break. Oh well, cold dinner then.

We stopped early the next day as I wasn’t feeling well and even this amazing spread from a fast food restaurant in Yuxi wouldn’t do anything for me.

It was all better the next day though and we started our way south from Yuxi to the border with Laos.

What we didn’t know at that point was that the bigger part of the secondary road was under construction at the time. It could have been a fantastic road with nice scenery and moderate temperatures perfect for cycling. But back then it was just horrible most of the time.

Loose big gravel interchanged with sandy patches with broken asphalt in between.

As the road went up and down the big construction trucks used water to cool their brakes when going downhill. What would have been fine on asphalt resulted in a big muddy mess more often than not.

Two days after leaving Anne and Olaf’s nice and clean apartment we were already dirty all over. Having spent all that time cleaning my panniers didn’t make a whole lot of sense in hindsight as well.

When it wasn’t muddy any car or truck that passed us created big clouds of dust which stuck to us same as the mud.

Eventually it did get better though. The road construction was finished at some point and we got to enjoy the views from newly laid tarmac. Cycling back down to the Red River felt a bit like coming home as this was almost were we had left off 5 month back.

Even more so with coming back to the Mekong, the mighty river we had first met in Cambodia back in May 2016.

I loved this part of cycling along the river. The temperatures were rising again but still comfortable.

Cycling through small villages we knew that we were back in the tropics again and made the most of it.

Anne and Olaf had told us that in their experience most Chinese didn’t really care about people camping. So as temperatures were favourable this time around we were a lot less careful and mostly camped in plain sight. This worked out well for us and on the last day before crossing into Laos we had an especially nice camping space on a small lake close to a village.

 The border crossing went off without a hitch and we cycled into Laos towards Luang Namtha. Suddenly it was all a bit greener, the forest became denser and we enjoyed all the butterflies around us. There was much more nature and forest left here which made for a few nice cycling days.

overland asia bound: spring is near

December 2016

After leaving Russia we made a quick dash for Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital. Arriving early in the morning we had a bit of trouble finding anything open. We needed to finalize a few documents to apply for our Chinese Visa and to make it a bit more exciting we had left that for the last possible moment. Well that’s the story we’re going with anyhow. In the end we found a coffee shop with WiFi and finished the itinerary for our Chinese Visa applications together with all the necessary hotel bookings. Having done that we found a print shop to print all the documents and then made it to the embassy just in time for opening hour. Smooth! We submitted everything and were told to come back in four days.

Afterwards we had some food, bought a Simcard and after some searching, found the way to the absolutely luxurious flat of our host Amarsanaa. This was the view:

In the following days we relaxed, found some fantastic Mongolian food in a vegan restaurant and walked around to get a feel for the city.

My favourite part of the week was when our host took us on a hike to a nearby mountain with the local Rotaract club.

The wintery atmosphere was absolutely stunning and it was even better to finally get out of the smog clogged city and breathe in fresh air.

On top we played some games to stay warm which we appreciated a lot in now -20 degrees Celsius.

After successfully getting our double entry Visa we boarded a train to Beijing. As we were gradually moving south the snow slowly started to disappear. When we arrived at our host’s flat, the ever present smog thickened with the hours passing and we were quite awestruck by this view:

On the next day it was a whole different story though. There was a lovely wind blowing fresh air into the city and we could really feel the difference. So we enjoyed walking around for a bit under the clear blue sky.

Funnily (to me) you can find a lot of these open public toilets in Beijing. Yep, privacy is a whole different story here. Once you get to a touristy part, there will be separating walls in between though :).

After having a nice dinner with Surin we boarded our first Chinese sleeper train towards Kunming, the so called Spring City. Spring was near and also the second part of our cycling adventure!

overland asia bound: finding winter in siberia

November 2016

After many a good conversation with family and friends, after way too many loaves of bread and pieces of cake and after just enough hikes in the German alps it was time to get going again. So follow us on this photographic journey into wintery Siberia!

In Krakow we stopped for a couple of days to finally meet our online friends Wendy and Jurek from dropthetension.com. We had first stumbled upon their blog when researching crossing from Australia to East Timor via boat.

It was awesome meeting you guys, joining you for the networking breakfast and even getting a small tour through beautiful Krakow.

With little breaks we traveled east through Lviv and Kiev to Moscow again. This time around we would have a couple of days to explore more.

We went to a big market / flea market without buying anything. Still nice to see the things on display.

We spent about 20 minutes in this shop talking to the owner about the special techniques they use to dye the jugs. They are all handmade and the techniques were developed by their family over a long time.

When we saw these, we had to take some pictures especially for our friends Annika and Roberto :).

After coming back from the market we joined our fantastic host Lisa and her friends for a hot drinks party. Awesome idea! In case you hadn’t noticed on the pictures… it was starting to get cold!

After a walk through the outskirts of Moscow on the next day we set off towards the train station once more…

… and found this! A station to clean and refill your milk bottles! How awesome is that?! No trash and you don’t even have to clean the bottles yourself :).

After a rather short ride on the Transsiberian we stopped for a day in Tiumen.

Unfortunately I got sick so we opted to stay in a hostel instead of accepting the invitation from Helen, a fellow couchsurfer.

We did meet up on the next day and she showed us around in her lunch break. I loved chatting to her and discovering all the fantastic wooden houses!

After stopping in Novosibirsk for a few hours to change trains we boarded our train to Irkutsk. A town deep in Siberia with temperatures plummeting to under -30 degrees Celsius in winter.

Fortunately we had just missed a cold spell and it was only around -10 degrees. One hat was still enough most of the time.

We spent a day walking around Irkutsk and marveling at all the uniquely beautiful houses…

After warming up in a cafe for an hour we were ready for the second part of the walk, this time along the river.

Funnily enough, when we walked into the central market area, we saw a couple with an ortlieb bag. We were wondering for a while if they were cycling here? In Siberia? In Winter?? Well, there is only one way to find out. So that’s how we met Anabelle and Loris, two French cyclists who were surprised by an early winter in the Baltik countries and then decided to put their bicycles on the train to China. It was awesome to meet them and so we invited them to hike along the Baikal lake the following day.

After seeing some more beautiful houses we were off into the woods and scrambled up the snowy path to get a bit of a view over lake Baikal.

Three hats! Yep, it was seriously cold at this point, so stopping for long leisurely breaks was out of the question.

The view was nice enough but even with downing several cups of hot tea we were soon frozen and chose to hike back quickly.

After one more stop in Ulan Ude where we talked about whether to stay longer we ultimately decided to continue to Mongolia. Wintery Siberia was beautiful to look at, especially with the sun out. But walking around for hours on end to discover hidden places in towns as we usually like to do is just not that much fun in -15 degrees Celsius.

So we took one more train to Nauschky, a small town on the Russian – Mongolian border. We had some time to spare, as the cross border train was due to wait for 4 hours at the border.

We will definitely come back one day, just not in November. Either in summer, to cycle the Altai region into Siberia or in February / March when the Baikal lake is actually frozen and supposedly stunningly beautiful. Next time :).

Holiday at home

September / October 2016

I cannot begin to describe how much our break at home meant to me. After two years of continuous travels I just needed to be in one place for a while. And so, after staying with Torsten’s family in Berlin for a few days, I finally boarded that last train that would bring me to my family.

With what words should I even begin to describe that welcome… Let’s just say, I loved seeing everyone again and for the first days we could not stop talking.

I had anticipated that I would need a lot of time to myself after being with people almost all the time for the past two years. Instead I was delighted to spend as much time with my family as I possibly could. For the first month my parents had a lot of free time as well, so we would enjoy long breakfasts and share our lives once more. So much had happened and we could never catch up entirely but we sure did try.

We also spent a lot of time preparing my sister’s wedding. Being able to help with that and not just hear about it on the phone was the best present for me. The wedding itself was utterly beautiful with all the family and friends being together and seeing so many people again for the first time in two years.

After the wedding my parents and Torsten and I went for a small hike…

… while my new brother in law slept it off :).

We also got to celebrate my father’s 60th birthday together. We hiked up to a hut and stayed there overnight.

What a fantastic way to celebrate a birthday and welcome a new year of life!

As my parents love being in nature we went hiking for a few more times…

After a month of enjoying the company of family I went back to Berlin and we applied for our Russian, Indian and Pakistani Visa. Here are some less than pretty passport pictures:

I also got to visit several of my friends in Bamberg and Rostock, unfortunately I was mostly to busy enjoying the company to take pictures. Here are some impressions from Rostock in autumn though:

As we stayed way longer than originally planned I also got to join my family for All Saints Day which made for a nice if slightly chilly day out with my grandfather.

A few hikes later and we found ourselves saying Goodbye again. I was and am so happy and grateful to have such a wonderful family and friends in my life. Which makes Goodbyes a sad and rather hard affair. One thing was different this time around though. While we didn’t really know how long we would be gone when we left for the first time, we now do have a time frame. We should be back in Germany in spring 2018. That should be halfway realistic considering mileage and seasons and also feels good to us. At some point we want to be closer to friends and family and also live in one place for a while.

going home overland: Ukraine, Poland, HOME

August / September 2016

Arriving in Kiev, Ukraine after a night train from Moscow we first purchased a Simcard to be able to contact our hosts and then sat down for a coffee. That’s when we started noticing that there are a lot of coffee places around. My kind of place!

After taking a few buses to Lana and Alex’ place we had a bit of trouble finding our way in the big apartment complex but made it eventually. Our fantastic hosts who had just come back from a holiday the day before welcomed us warmly into their flat and left us soon after as they had to go to work. That worked well for us as we could get some more sleep in after the night train.

A bit later we went to the nearby supermarket and were again fascinated with all the wonderful fruits and veggies available.

The next day we ventured out to the city and visited a vegan eatery recommended by Lana. Vegano Hooligano has fantastic food!

Afterwards we were content with wandering around, enjoying the sun and counting the millions of coffee places in the city. There sure is a coffee culture here!

Somehow this particular toilet paper was very big last year:

Coffee…

Memorial for victims of the Ukraine conflict:

Ukraine is another one of those countries I had never really considered going to before. But I am so glad we came here and got to experience late summer in this beautiful city.

On the next day, before leaving for Poland, we took a walk with Lana and she showed us some greenery close by.

We didn’t have our swim suits with us but couldn’t resist the water in this awesome summer weather. Oh well, the clothes will dry eventually :).

Later that day we once more boarded a train towards home. This particular one brought us to Kovel, a smaller city near the border to Poland.

We spent a few hours there, walking through a local market and buying honey and all kinds of tea, before boarding a bus to Warsaw.

I was beyond excited at this point. For one, we were almost in Poland and thus almost in Germany. Secondly, we would get to meet our dear friends Natalja and Piotr again. About one year ago we had all stayed at the Canfield’s house in Cairns, Australia, and for a few days we really felt at home with so many cycle tourers around. Sharing this common interest and a life style, we never ran out of stories to tell or activities to do together. Okay by that I mean eating. 😀 Just kidding, we also went for a hike. Anyway, Natalja and Piotr had finished their world tour a while ago and are now settled in Warsaw and we would get to see them again!

For a few days we were in heaven again. They welcomed us with absolutely tasty food and being in Poland we had some high spirited desserts :). We exchanged lots of stories about cycle touring and more importantly about life, about what’s important. We got to meet a group of their fantastic friends which I immediately felt very comfortable with.

We had some more delicious food and Piotr could not believe just how much coffee we can drink. He promised to buy some in bulk next time we are around :).

And we also went for a wee cycle. As N and P live on the outskirts of Warsaw it was really easy to get out of the city and we absolutely enjoyed being on bicycles again.

In the end we could have stayed and wanted to stay much much longer, but our families were waiting just across the border. And thus we boarded our last bus bringing us swiftly to Berlin. And yes, I did get a bit emotional arriving at Schönefeld airport. Suddenly, most people around me spoke German, everything was distinctly familiar and the people I missed the most were so very very close. More on that next time!