First published 8th September, 2009
My name's Anderson, and I'm about to bicycle across Southeast Asia with my wife and three friends. Over four months, we're going to roll across Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, with no schedule to interfere with the fun. No schedule that is except for my writing a story for Travelfish every Wednesday telling you all how the trip is going. Sounds exciting, exhilarating, and perhaps just a little bit crazy, right? Well, that's what I think, at least. But with a minimum of planning, a pretty tight budget (under US$5,000 per person), and the gumption to give it a go, we'll all be convening in Bangkok this week to begin our odyssey.
Fortunately, having already spent a year travelling in India and Nepal, as well as 16 months teaching ESL in Busan, South Korea -- both with my wife Liz -- I'm assuming (uh-oh) that I'm reasonably well prepared for the oft-maddening hardships that low-budget travel often leads to. Thankfully, your job's the easy part -- you've just got to read about it to find out what happens.
My upcoming series of articles intends to chronicle the adventure of cycling, the energy of Southeast Asia's numerous amazing places, and the opportunities provided by slow-paced travel. If you want day-to-day updates -- PG-rated for our families -- you'll have to read along on my blog. But if you want intriguing stories on modern travel, highlighting spectacular locations and unique people, with a dedication to keeping it real, then "Back To Bangkok -- An Asian Bicycle Adventure" is going to be perfectly suited for you.
OK, that sounds great and all, but who am I?
I'm a 28-year-old American with a classics and philosophy degree, and I'm an aspiring writer. Yikes, sounds nerdy, I know. Don't worry... I'm also a hippie who loves camping and the outdoors, a live music lover, a DJ when I'm actually living somewhere, and a global traveller. Yikes, sounds dirty, I know.
In addition to me, a dirty nerd apparently, here's a brief rundown of the remainder of "the crew:"
Liz, my wife of almost five years, is 27, American, and amazing at keeping our two-person family living life to its fullest. She completes me, and can somehow put up with me -- what more do you want in a life-partner?
Luke is 27, American, drummer for a band -- Hunab -- that's on indefinite hiatus, man-about-town in Iowa City, Iowa, and the key motivator for us having gone to India -- it was all he could talk about for months after he spent a semester studying in Mysore.
Christine is 25, American, a just-retired elementary school math teacher who warmed up for our trip by relaxing in El Salvador for the last month -- we'll see if her Spanish skills ever come in handy.
Blaise is 22, Canadian, a temporarily-retired ESL teacher (we worked together in Korea), and the youngest and most daring -- he'll keep us elderly folk on our toes!
We're planning on beginning bicycling around August 6; however, we'll be in Thailand for about two weeks before. While waiting for everyone to arrive, we hope to adjust to the weather, and then we'll travel a bit around the not-so-bike-friendly north, before heading due east towards Cambodia. We're estimating about a month per country, ending up back in Bangkok, though our only true deadline is flying home for Christmas.
If you're curious about what gear, besides cojones, is needed for a Southeast Asian bike trip, then the list to the right is just what you'll want to read.
Now, that leaves us with just one unanswered question: why?
Well, the main reason for travelling in the region is pretty simple. The original plan (hatched over three years ago) was to have travelled to Southeast Asia from India on our first global trip. However, between tight finances and the desire to spend more than a few short months in the subcontinent, further travel had to be postponed. My wife and I decided, despite our often love-hate relationship with India, that it was best for us to continue exploring the part of the world that we were in as completely as we could, rather than just travelling onwards simply for the sake of travel. After all, the hard part of developing world travel is just getting there in the first place, the day-to-day expenses aren't really a big deal by Western standards, and the day-to-day headaches are minute compared to the fantastic experiences you can enjoy. In a way then, we are just merely wrapping up what we originally started out to do, though bringing a few friends along is hopefully going to change the daily dynamic quite a bit.
But what about the bicycles? Well, all five of us, to varying degrees, are casual cycling enthusiasts. The joy of riding, for me, is simply something spectacular, and often effortlessly efficient. At "home" we ride for fun, transportation, as well as to go drunken two-wheel road-sailing after the bars close. None of us own fancy road bikes, and while we do mostly have Treks, they are low-level and we've had them for a while -- I actually still ride the same bike that my parents bought for me when I was in 8th grade!
We really like the idea of a slower pace of travel -- we rode buses and trains throughout all of India & Nepal -- because it allows us to see how life really is on the ground level, rather than just speeding past the countryside en route to yet another tourist destination and its accompanying ghetto. We always enjoyed meeting real people on our journeys, and they are what we remember more than all the monuments and temples. Some of my best travel moments happened in the most rural of places, when Liz and I got off the tourist trail as much as we possibly could. After all, we, and everyone I hope, travel to truly experience a country as much as a foreigner can, and tour guides, set itineraries, air conditioning and the like don't exactly enable that to happen.
In Busan, while biking along a nearby river to rehabilitate my torn PCL, we started to dream of a bike trip somewhere -- and being far from home we of course immediately began thinking of riding through a part of America. The top two contenders were the West Coast and the South East, both because we'd never really explored them as adults. Unfortunately, the grim economic reality of long-term American eating and camping, combined with the fact that no one we knew was really interested, left us uncertain about whether a long-term bike ride would be in our near future.
Our future travel plans, then, were all up in the air, until the pieces started to come together quickly, as my old college roommate told us he would be in Thailand sometime this summer after finishing his stint in the Peace Corps. Brian has ended up not riding with us, but that got us very motivated to make the trip work, and as we talked more and more with both Luke and Blaise, they quickly got on board for a long-term bike ride, but in Asia not America. We crunched numbers based on our India experiences and general Thailand advice, and gradually put together our current vague route, while also researching what equipment would be required to actually do a trip like this. Of course we looked at other people's travel biking blogs, most notably Travelling Two, and the more we just talked and thought about the trip, the more real it became.
Truly, you've just got to believe in it yourself, and the journey will manifest itself quite easily. It may not happen overnight, as we've been planning this to some extent for over a year, but it is impressive how everything manages to work out when you want it to!
Thus begins our journey into the unknown, and as I sit in the Beijing airport awaiting my flight to Bangkok, it is finally starting to feel completely real. I hope you enjoy reading my articles at least as much as I do writing them -- we both know the experiences themselves will be much more exciting!
An edited version of this story first appeared on Holiday Fu -- Like Kung Fu for holidays. We'll be running a new entry from Anderson and the team every Wednesday for the duration of their trip across Asia. We hope you find it an interesting view into what another's journey through Asia can be like. There's a delay of a few weeks between where they are and the story appearing on Travelfish, so if you want to know where they are right now, be sure to check out their blog. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Story by Anderson Muth
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