Updated: Nov 12, 2018
We’re done! Over 5,000 Km over some pretty dubious roads with some equally dubious traffic. (The flight distance from Auckland to Bangkok is only 9,567 Km!) You can see here the rough route we took.
Compare it to our rough plan on Day 1:
Nearly 3,500 images which I managed to keep up with thanks to my first use of LightRoom mobile on my iPad. (Not proving so easy to transfer the main file storage to my desktop & upload the much smaller smart previews, though!) 22 days and just as many Rants. I don’t actually know how many litres of fuel as I didn’t keep track, but not nearly as many as you might imagine. Only 1 marginally upset stomach & quite a number of ice creams! Many, many thanks to my friend and travelling companion, Simon who heartily & generously contributed to the trip as an early 60th birthday present for me. Since I’m nowhere near 60 I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or flattered! Either way, it would certainly not have been possible without him, and nowhere near as entertaining! Only 4 unresolved arguments that I can count, but then I’m notoriously bad at counting! :)
The most useful piece of equipment? A folded bent piece of wire that I found in a hardware store for next to nothing that at last allowed me to open my iPhone SIM port & swap out the SIMs as we changed countries. The most useless piece of equipment? A full blown mosquito net to cover a double bed. Never even thought of using it as there were hardly any mosquitos in most places.
The most frustrating moment? Undoubtedly when we were turned away from our first border crossing attempt into Cambodia. Naive & ripped off by “helpers” on the Cambodian side, I simply wasn’t prepared for it. The most rewarding moment? Getting into Cambodia on the third attempt! After that, we became old hands at crossing borders. The best meal? Well, this is a tough one as it’s between one of our most expensive at a flashy French restaurant in Phnom Penh & one of our cheapest on the street in Siem Reap. I’m going to plump for the street food because you can’t really argue with two great plates of food and beer for less than $5 each, can you? (And, the beer was nearly $3 each!)
For me, the main driver for the trip was to revisit Angkor Wat that I was last at 50 years ago (that's me and my sister with my mother in the top picture). Job done. Some disappointments, yes; mainly due to the passage of time, war and tourism, but it has the same old spirit, the same ability to enthrall & impress. It really should have been one of the seven wonders of the world, had they known about it when the list was compiled! It was also wonderful to visit a new country, Laos, albeit briefly. If anyone reading this was ever to contemplate having a similar adventure, I would advise this. Do not plan too tightly & expect delays and diversions; accept being sidetracked & be patient. Don’t overblow your medicine purchases, which all the travel doctors will advise (as, like insurance, they try to cover all eventualities). Don’t take many clothes, you can buy lots there. Use Picaridin not DEET as your main mosquito repellent. It is just as good & does not melt plastic or smell or leave a nasty residue. Above all, be flexible & take your time to absorb the local culture.
Flying Thai Airways direct to Bangkok was definitely the right call. All other flights went via Australia, adding many hours. I was disappointed with the ‘new’ (to me, since I was last there) international airport in Bangkok - Suvarnabhumi Airport. Not with the building, which is a massive, impressive, beautiful climate controlled shed, but with the retail & serving staff & the attitudes. Duty free shopping is the same price as Bangkok, minus VAT, plus a bit. So essentially it’s more expensive. Most of the shops are designer brands & they’ve got rid of all the small, useful shops. For example, I wanted a new case for my phone - not possible. Food and drink are extortionate, even for international standards. Spending $25 for two shots of gin & no tonic is, I’m sorry, daylight robbery. A simple plate of local food that we were used to paying $5 or $6 for in a restaurant & $2 on the street suddenly became $20-$24. Either the airport authority is taking the p*** out of the retailers, or the retailers have simply decided to milk the tourist market. Not good for the future of Thailand & tourism...
We spent months researching before we started properly planning & the one area we were most careful about was hiring the bikes. Knowing we were hiring from a reliable source was important since we were going to remote places for extended periods of time. Would I recommend www.bigbikerentalbangkok.com? Well, Bernd is undoubtedly a nice guy with his heart in the right place (here he is engrossed in my blog) & he’s a biker. Unfortunately, he’s not a touring biker & we are a bit of a different breed. Speed is not our main criteria. He has obviously spied a gap in the market & is happy making money out of it, but he’s equally obviously not committed to it. His main business (or perhaps it’s just another gap he’s spotted) is a design company that he was busy outfitting while we were there. His failure to understand that he had to actually own the bike he was giving us permission to take across the border was indicative. Until the Thai authorities started being awkward (and it is my opinion that most of the issues are coming from their side of the border) he could have easily got away with that, but not any more & he should have been aware. Supplying Simon with a pure road bike to attach panniers to & carry luggage & ride many thousands of Kms on was simply absurd. It changed the course of our holiday & caused Simon far more discomfort than was necessary. So, would I recommend him? Well, yes, if you understand he is a young entrepreneurial guy who needs very strict instructions & direction to get what you want...
My only real regret of the trip was that I missed the birth of Koda James, whose arrival I was due to photograph, having recorded his gorgeous mum throughout her pregnancy. He arrived a few weeks early. :( (another blog, I think!) But I truly loved my adventure & can’t wait to do something similar again. I will however have to find a way to make it pay for itself next time! Any ideas?
You’ll find all the images from my Rovings here:
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