Chumphon, Thailand to Perth, Australia. (Via Gili Air Island, Indonesia)
22.12.2015 - 24.04.2016
After spending a few days in Chumphon I crossed over to Thailand’s West coast for a slightly more relaxed ride. At this point I met a fellow cyclist, who became my new cycling companion for the next 4 days.
His name was Matthew, an energetic Frenchman, and he had left France in previous February and since then had cycled all the way through Europe and Asia. When he first told me this I have to admit I felt a twinge of disappointment with myself for missing out the section between Austria and Vietnam and for not having the confidence and determination to carry on cycling through Eastern Europe and central Asia.
As we cycled on together we exchanged stories from our different trips. I am always interested in the different motivations for why people leave home and head off cycling the world. Matthew was a self-employed carpenter and had been on a few trips before. During the time we cycled together, which included a visa run in and out of Myanmar, I learnt a few new things. One of them being a recipe for rice boiled in milk with brown sugar. It’s simple and very good energy food for long hours on the bike.
After 4 days with Matthews company we parted ways and, after a period of indecisiveness, I decided to ride in the direction of Phuket. Cycling into Phuket was more tiring than I could possibly imagine. The traffic was really busy and I was force to deal with many rolling hills. Not big ones but hard and frequent. It was made harder as well due to the fairly flat landscape so far in Asia, I hadn’t had to ride up any big hills in the last few months.
Finding WIFI in a local café I decided to book into the first hostel I found on my trusty Booking.com app. The place I chose, the Beehive hostel, was a little difficult to find but tidy and efficiently run. Exactly what I needed to sort out my head (and legs!) for a couple of days. I needed to get a haircut and clean my laundry amongst other things. I stayed 4 nights exploring Phuket, which I deemed wasn’t that interesting, and decided to move on to another (cheaper) hostel, which was £3 a night! I stayed here for a few more days before leaving to heading towards the coast to a place called called Krabi. Little did I know that Krabi wasn’t actually by the beach but about 20km from it. The real spot I wanted was Ao Nang.
I ended up staying in Krabi and taking the 20km bus ride into Ao Nang each day for 35 baht (75p). It is about a 30 minute journey and works out cheaper staying in Krabi and taking the bus than staying in Ao Nang.
Ao Nang is quite developed with western style bars all the way along the beach and, apart from the odd night having a nice meal with some new friends I had met, I found that I didn’t really enjoy it. However, with these new friends, I had a great time exploring other places nearby, such as Railey beach, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta. These are places I don’t think I would have ventured to had I not met these guys. I had a blast speeding around on scooters and relaxing on the surrounding beaches. I found Ko Lanta to be the more relaxed of the islands and Ko Phi Phi not so much so. Only by getting a second boat taxi to the East side of the island could I relax, because when you enter the main Harbor on Ko Phi Phi its full to the brim with locals advertising their services and tourists who are trying to find their way. It felt like ‘survival of the fittest’.
Getting back on my trusty bike a few days later I left Krabi and Ao Nang and headed towards a place called Satun on the Thai/Malaysian border. I reckoned a few days cycling would get me there at best. It was at this stretch of heading down to Satun that I started asking people if I could camp on their land. A little late I know! I had a message translated earlier in the trip and thought I’d try it out on some of the locals. This resulted in very unexpected but very welcoming introductions with the locals, being fed and showered and staying the night in various different types of accommodation from renovated huts to camping in restaurants!
Once I reached the border I went through a rather efficient, if not a little confusing, crossing and I had now entered my 10th new country since leaving home in October. I had an itinerary of the places I wanted to visit during my time in Malaysia but generally I would follow the west coast down towards Singapore.
The scenery was excellent, with lush green palm trees, beautiful roads, big blue skies and a gentle breeze. I started to think about getting to Kuala Lumpur as fast as possible and I was thinking 5 days would probably do it. I planned on stopping at Alor, Setar, George Town on Penang Island and Ipoh before Kuala Lumpur and then, afterwards, I would head towards Malacca before stopping in Singapore.
I reached Kuala Lumpur 5 days after entering Malaysia. It was the same as I experienced in Bangkok. It was a tiring experience cycling past cars, in and out of traffic. The bicycle shop I thought was at the same location as the hostel wasn’t and I ended up going back up a hill I previously had come down. The bike shop had one of the few Rohloff mechanics around and they gave my bike thorough check, finding a few problems but nothing major
As I entered the hostel I looked at what must have been 5 touring bicycles. The people inside were from all over the world, from places such as Australia, Belgium, France, Poland and Germany. The conversations were as you could imagine, all about bicycles and travelling. I found out some people had come through Europe, some through China, while others had come all the way from Australia. Many of us had similar experiences to share but some of us had some rather different ones as well, which was interesting to hear. I extended my stay here, staying a total of 5 days, as my energy levels were quite low after the fast trip here from the border and I needed to recharge.
Leaving Kuala Lumpur 5 days later I made my way further down the country, via Malacca, towards Singapore. The surprise highlight of the trip up to this point had to be Malacca. It was vibrant, interesting and not the same as other cities. The main reason was there were lots of colourful buildings and, if you walked down the famous Joker street, you see many interesting little food shops and cafes. At the end of Joker street you reach a canal lined on both sides by more beautiful and colourful buildings. My words don’t do it justice, but I should’ve spent more time there.
The rest of the journey towards Singapore was scenic but uneventful and, after a bit of confusion understanding the signs directing me towards passport control, I eventually found the slip road that led up to the border. You enter Singapore from a place called Johor Bahru. It was at this city just before finding border control that I bumped into another bicycle tourist who I had previously met in Hanoi 3 months and 5 countries ago! It still amazes me how small the world is when things like this happen!
Once I crossed into Singapore I went looking for an old friend Andrew who lives in the city. He found me wandering around aimlessly trying to find his apartment around 9pm that evening. Andrew is someone who I knew from secondary school and he lives with his girlfriend Logan. They were both excellent hosts, letting me stay so I could sort out further travel, rest and look around Singapore. Even though expensive (paying $5 just for a small coffee) I still really enjoy Singapore (this is my third time here!). It’s very clean, with efficient transport systems and while here I explored a couple of the cycle routes the city had to offer.
One evening I cycled with Andrew and Logan, stopping halfway at one of the hawker center food courts. It’s a great way to see the city as you can escape the noise of the traffic, get to other areas you couldn’t normally access by car and get different views of the city. One recommendation I have is to take the subway to the Marina bay financial center and visited level 33. Level 33 is the world’s highest urban craft brewery and having a beer while taking in the view of the Marina bay is awesome. Looking out over Singapore I started to reflect on the journey so far. I couldn’t believe I had got here by bicycle all the way from Vietnam! I am still confused about how I feel bicycle touring and I am still adapting to life on two wheels even after all this time.
I left Singapore on 27th February and headed to Gill Air Island in Indonesia where I had enrolled in a dive master internship with 7 Seas dive center. The internship involved completing an EFR emergency first response course, rescue diver course and the dive master course (if you can pass the final snorkel test!).
The dive master course is the first professional level in recreational diving, at this level you can assist on courses, guide customers at dive sites and earn money from diving. The courses involved studying theory on a range of subjects and then completing other aspects of the course on dives in the sea or the swimming pool. You also practice briefings and guiding with other students acting as customers, organize a beach cleanup on a Saturday morning before the meeting and a cleanup dive on a Wednesday late afternoon. Generally, life at the dive center was very relaxed. You have your morning meeting, where you find out what your doing for the day. Taking customers out if your qualified, completing courses if you’re training or just generally going for a fun dive. Once everyone knows what there doing you continue assembling equipment if it hasn’t been done already.
I did the dive master to give my mind a break from cycling and have a different focus. It was a much-needed break and life on the island was relaxed and very cheap. I rented a small apartment for 3 of the four months I was here and enjoyed going to local restaurants for mie gorang (fried noodles) or nasi campur (mixed rice), having a beer at the many bars along the sea front and enjoying good company. It’s a nice island with one main road going all the way around.
During my time on Gili Air Island I also spent some time visiting the neighbouring island of Lombok, where with a group of people from the dive school. While there I went to Gunung Rinjani National Park and spent some time hiking and camping in the region. While there I hiking to the summit of Mount Rinjani, which is the third highest mountain in all of Indonesia (3,726m high!)
Now after 4 months spent here on Gili Air, 3 months doing diving courses and a further 1 month working as a newly qualified dive master, I’ve begin to get itchy feet and I am look forward to flying to Perth on the 24th June to commence with my bike journey again.
Once I reach Perth I will retrieve my bike and check it over to make sure it is still ‘roadworthy’! I will then need to work out my route and buy any provisions that I will need for the next stage of my journey, 2,000 km (1250 miles) due East, through Western Australia, towards my first major stop at Caduna, South Australia.
Wish me luck!