Friday, April 3, 2009

..The end of Bike 'n rice?

*It's already been a month. I'm back in Montreal, after 4 months and 7500km on the bike. I did not write before as I just did not feel as I was totally back. I still often feel like an outsider at home; I guess it's normal, considering I've certainly changed a bit over the last months. 


The night bus ride was, again, a phenomenon. We don't have sleeper buses at home but to give you an idea, it's like bunk beds in a bus. It's actually very comfortable and looks like you could have the nicest, deepest sleep and make the "night bus" experience a beauty sleep experience. Yeah right!

They had the brilliant idea to put a TV and play some good Vietnamese karaoke success songs in there until midnight! And they started it all again at 5h45, just before arriving in Hanoi. We were amazed!

We spent the next few days doing the museum marathon. The best was certainly the ethnology museum and don't miss it if you visit the Vietnamese capital. If most of the museums we visited in China, Laos and Cambodia offered not much but propaganda, the museums in Vietnam seemed more well taken care of. Of course, when you visit the Ho Chi Minh museum, it's another story but considering he spent his whole life trying to reunite his country and has a near-God status in the heart of Vietnamese people, I could understand.

We rode towards Haiphong, the third largest city in Vietnam and the main harbor of the country. Leaving a capital city for another very big city, zipped through industrial compounds for 125km.. That evening, we met Jean and Genevieve, a Québécois couple on a South-East Asia bike ride for 6 months. We took the boat together for Cat Ba island, which was very quiet and enjoyed the best seafood hotpot ever!

We then took a 2 days boat trip that took us around the islands of Cat Ba National Parc and then in the famous Ha Long bay. We shared the boat with Jean+Geneviève and Françoise Journe, a French photographer. Being on the sea with such a stunning scenery was very relaxing. We would have to take the plane back home in about a week and I just couldn't believe it...

The boat stopped for the night on a floating village with dogs (!). There was a karaoke machine, a few fishermen/sailors and rice wine.. so we ended up signing "My Heart will go on", feeling very connected with Celine, indeed. Karaoke is very serious in Asia and, strangely, seems to be mostly enjoyed by men. We even had the option to sing O Canada ( the national anthem) but figured all the fish trapped underneath the floating houses would probably die if we did. 
Sleeping in a nice quiet place, away from the city lights and sounds was good.

The next 2 days, we rode to the Chinese border, where we would have to catch a bus to Zhuhai. Being back in China was strange; it was a lot more quiet than Vietnam. The streets were large, the motorcycles almost completely disappeared and traffic was just more organized.
We arrived two hours before the bus was leaving and took another sleeper bus with Karaoke music videos (!) and some Kung Fu films (!!). We were in Zhuhai it was 6h AM and enjoyed a good cantonese Congee on the street. I was feeling all weird; we were 1km away from Macau, where our bike journey started. We were completely lost the first time we arrived here, I was now feeling almost completely at home here..

The next day, we phoned up Zealot Choi ( one of the Macanese cyclists we met on our first riding day). He is 25 years old and works in an Intensive Care Unit of Macau, as a nurse. And he likes his bikes. We had spoken to each other, maybe 5 minutes, 4 months ago. And yet, he had already arranged to find cardboard boxes at a bikeshop for us and, even if he was working night shifts, managed to take us around Macau for 3 days. This guy is a superhuman.

I look like a total wreck after a night of work.
He took us to a series of local restaurants and we rode around the streets of Macau with him.
We even did a casino tour with him! Macau is THE place for money laundering around China...

We really enjoyed our Macanese visit. Zealot, be assured you'll get a royal treatment if you visit Montreal one day! Cyclists are great. Or maybe nurses are great?

Zealot took us to the ferry terminal with our boxes with his mini van.Time to say googbye...

We took a boat directly to HKG international airport. Then we found out our tickets had been upgraded to business class; for our 15 hour flight to Toronto.

I did not sleep much during the ride back home. I was still stunned by the generosity of our Macanese friend, the beauty of Asia, the contrasts between the cities and countryside, the perfect pace of traveling on a bike, all the people we met, all the faces we saw for the first and the last time. I truly enjoyed life on the bike and having my dad with me for 4 months, I think we learnt a lot from each other.

Arriving in Toronto was a slap in the face.
I hated it. Seeing how the city spreads endlessly, how people were loud, fat, white, rude.
I was tempted to get the credit card out of my pocket and pick another place to go.

Back in Montreal, Alexis and Pascale (his adorable girlfriend) picked us up. I was glad to see them. And I was glad to see all of my friends and family. It was strange to be back in my apartment and thinking I would sleep there every night!

I'm now back in my ER scrubs, as a full time employee.
I keep on riding my bikes. I also pay frequent visits to Montreal's chinatown.
I guess it's my way to avoid the unpleasant withdrawal from endorphins and MSG!

So is it the end of Bike 'n Rice?
Of course not.

I've tasted a way of traveling that is very intense and addictive.
Just get out there with your bicycle and see for yourself. 
You won't see the world from behind a window.
You'll feel the wind in your back or in your face. 
The sun hammering your head and the cold biting your toes.
Most of all you'll meet people that you'll never forget..

See you on the road!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cafe Sua Da!

Wow, it's hot in Vietnam!

Since we left Dalat, the temperatures seem to rise everyday, even if we are heading towards the North of the country. But we are not complaining..we know what March is like in Quebec! We even had some wind (Victoriaville-style *for Alx and Jerome, who certainly know what I'm talking about) and nice salty waves to cool us down..

We reached Nha Trang, one of Vietnam's most popular beach, and enjoyed a day of reading under a palm tree and playing in the water, giving a real show with our cyclist suntans! appart from in Hong Kong, Jean did not remember the last time he had a swim in the sea. I had been looking forward to a day by the sea and was not disapointed; the scenery is gorgeous and we indulged in fresh seafood during our 2 days of rest.

We then took a bus (no choice, the clock is ticking now..) to Hoi An, a city with colonial French buildings as well as japanese and chinese architecture. If you ignore the souvenir shops, it is truly amazing to see. Located on the coast, in the middle of the country, it once was an important place for trade. We took our bikes to get to Hue and had to climb a mountain pass (instead of taking the 7km tunnel!) and Jean said it looked quite like the West Coast. The road was quiet, pure bliss.

From Hue, we are taking another night bus to Hanoi. Having to depend on a bus is a real pain in the neck but, again, we have no choice. This trip is comming to an end in only 2 weeks and we have to get back to Hong Kong with something faster than our powerful legs! A French tourist even made this comment to Jean: "Vous avez des jambes de Tour de France, vous etes un vrai cycliste, ca se voit!". I did not have such nice comments for mine but there's till hope, I have good genetics for cyclist legs..
*hmmm, good egg with the foetus inside! I still prefer the avocado shake..

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vietnam, cycling on the 1A during Tet, caodai...and it's about time you meet Matt Blake!

Hi everyone!
We left Cambodia more than a week ago now and both felt sad to leave such a lovely country.. We hid in Phnom Penh during the Lunar New Year, or Tet, or the Chinese new Year, which is the big thing over here, in South East Asia (26th of January this year). It lasts for 2 weeks and a lot of shops and schools are closed during the first week. A lot of people travel in the few days before/after and the last place you'd want to be is on the road, in the middle of the sea of motorcycles. And obviously, we were there, riding our bikes in the middle of total chaos!

Most of the traffic had calmed down by the time we cycled into Vietnam, and that was a very good thing. Still, the small road we used to enter Vietnam was packed. Seriously packed!The bicycles seem to have vanished from this country, very sad indeed. So we navigated in the middle of some serious motorbike traffic, plus the buses, trucks and the usual farming tractors. At some point, Jean and I stopped on the side of the road to drink sweet coffee, just to get away from the constant noise. You get Cafe places every 100m or so, very handy.

In the Mekong delta, we crossed many bridges, saw a lot of floating villages and even had to take a ferry to cross the Mekong as it was very large and the bridge was under construction. It is a densely populated and also very lively part of Vietnam. I enjoyed it, Jean not so much..We took the main highway (1A) to get to Ho Chi Minh City and we had a decent shoulder to ride on the side of the road.

An interesting thing about Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam is that when a road accident happens, they draw a little "crime scene" on the pavement. Often, you see the shapes of motorbikes or cars drawn on the tarmac. In vietnam, you see this every 1km..hmm. I scratched my head, thinking the trauma emergencies must be packed, just like at home!

Unlike Montreal, people here drive more slowly and, when fighting for your place on the pavement, you can exchange smiles or evil looks with motorbike drivers.. Car drivers at home are very happy to stay anonymous in their metal bunkers, doing whatever they want.

In HCMC, we took 3 days of rest from the bikes and took a tour (!) to visit the caodai temple and Cu Chi Tunnels, which were not on our cycling way. The Caodai religion is this very strange mix of taoism, buddhism and catholicism. There are 3 saints in this religion; Sun Yat Sen, a Vietnamese which I can't remember the name now and Victor Hugo.. We attended their weird ritual and were off to the tunnels after. Yes, they are the tiny underground tunnels they had to enlarge for the fat tourists..


Matt Blake...we met him in Vang Vieng, Laos (remember that drunken touristic place?) and kept him just for us ever since. We met a few cyclist on the way but he is our special one.

He is an English cyclist who left home to cycle around the world. He was 21 when he left (when I think of the 21 years old around me...not many are that brave!). He cycled across so many countries I could not name them all in the right order. We kind of chased him or was he chasing us (?) on the bike since that place in Laos.

With his curly hair, english sense of humor and bright blue eyes, we quickly got along and he did fit in well with Jean and I. I will not go in great details about his trip because it is all nicely written on his blog and on his website, which I both strongly suggest. He is also raising money to build a school in Africa (the last continent he will visit before going home) in partnership with SOS children village. It's his way to give back, to say thanks to all the smiling and generous people he met on his journey. Education, it's certainly a nice gift for the generations to come, especially in Africa.

I think his project certainly deserves a chunk of your next paycheck and if you have as much fun as I have, reading his epic tales, then don't be shy and splash some money for a very good cause. The MGH (Montreal General Hospital) ER will proudly sponsor you, Matt, when I start working again!*By the way, Matt absolutely refuses to visit Montreal, even if I can cook a Shepherd's pie and make icecream. I know, even if he is 22 now, he is still a silly young man!

We left Matt in Phnom Penh, after 3 weeks of hide and seek on a bicycle in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. It was a pleasure to be part (even if only for a short time) of your trip and we sincerely wish you all the best (tail winds, nice downhill rides on smooth roads, nice weather, nice people and a nice scenery, the usual cyclist heaven)...

Talking about work, I met an ex-colleague of mine in the streets of Saigon the other day. Nancy Carreireo with her beautiful smile and curly hair! She resigned from the ER 2 weeks before me, leaving for SE Asia and work in Australia afterwards. I couldn't believe it! It goes to show that this Emergency department has spread its tentacules everywhere..

We are in Dalat right now, enjoying the cool breeze of this city, 1500m above sea level. And then we will ride downhill to hit the coast (and the beach!), sipping down a delicious avocado shake!

One last thing. My little brother Gabriel, is going to be a cyclist as well! He is leaving soon for Mexico and I just wanted to say that I am very proud of you Gabitibi, and I wish you all the best!

That's it! See you next time!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Le Cambodge, capitale mondiale du monde en pyjama..

Ah bonjour a vous tous,

Nous sommes a Phnom Penh, la capitale du Cambodge et on va bien. Le soleil tape fort ici et si le bronzage de cycliste se maintient, je vais faire serieusement rire de moi dans quelques jours, lorsque je vais aller m'amuser dans l'eau sur la cote Vietnamienne. On est presque rendus a 6000km maintenant c'est difficile d'arreter plus que 3 jours de suite parce que notre systeme est completement a besoin de sa ration quotidienne de coups de pedale. Je sais pas ce que je vais faire dans la sloch Montrealaise en revenant mais c'est le dernier de mes soucis pour l'instant.

Notre croisiere de 8 heures sur le Tonle Sap (un gros lac dans lequel le Mekong et une autre riviere se jettent) nous a fait decouvrir un autre monde; les villages flottants. Et c'est comique de voir la vie s'activer sur l'eau. Les ecoliers ont des petits canots pour se rendre a l'ecole, il y a meme une coure de recreation grillagee et les petits cambodgiens jouent au soccer comme des deschaines sans que le ballon se retrouve dans l'eau. Il y a aussi l'hopital flottant, la station service, le magasin, la porcherie (!!) flottante, c'est vraiment incroyable. L'eau est pleine de poissons, c'est ici que le pays puise 80% de son apport en proteines. J'en boirait pas une tasse part contre; lorsqu'on s'est arrete pour une pause-toilette dans le resto flottant, heu bien pas besoin de vous faire de dessin ou le pipi dore va..Desolee de detruire vos illusions de champ d'epuration elabore! Et les gens boivent l'eau du lac, evidemment. Il y a beaucoup de vegetation autour et sur le lac et on a vu des beaux oiseaux. Rendus de l'autre cote du lac, on a repris nos becanes apres une bonne nuit de sommeil pour se diriger vers Phnom Penh. On boit du jus de canne a sucre presse sur le bord de la route, un vrai drink de cycliste, pas mal meilleur que du Gatorade vert.

Ah les beautes de l'Asie..

Le Cambodge a quand meme sa particularite compare aux autres pays qu'on a visite; les femmes et les enfants (pas tous, mais quand meme une bonne gagne) se promenent en pyjama n'importe quand n'importe ou!Desfois avec des talons!??

On a rencontre encore plus de cyclistes, dont 2 quebecois qui avaient une ferme bio et qui ont tout vendu pour partir en tandem a travers le monde. Ils ont une fille qui me ressemble.

Demain on part en direction du Vietnam, on va s'amuser dans le delta du Mekong.
A bientot.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Laos-Cambodia (and a shortcut through Thailand)!

The beauty of this trip resides in the freedom of riding a bicycle and being able to change plans when we feel like it. First of all, we were convinced we would not have enough time to come to Cambodia and second, the idea of paying a little visit to the Thais had not even crossed our minds before. But here we are, in Siem Reap Cambodia, very happy about our decision...

We had a rest from the hills in Southern Laos, it was flat but also windy. The road we took followed the mighty Mekong but we were, for most of the time, always a few kilometers away from the river and saw more dry rice fields than anything. Vientiane was fun place to stop; we visited the war museum and met up again with some other cyclists we had met in the North of the country. For those of you who think we are away for a long time, we were the poor ones with the shortest trip and all the others had the pleasure to cycle from 6 months to 5 years!They are a great bunch and I find it's always a pleasure to listen to their stories. More travel ideas for the years to come! We also came very close to participate in a cycling event in Vientiane, a bicycle race with mountain, road and timetrial categories. And for both men and women! I would have tried my best but we were out of time on our visa so we did not participate.There is an interesting building in the city called Patouxay, which is inspired by the Arc de Triomphe, and it is made with concrete that was originally donated by the USA to build a runway for the airport(!). It's the place where the cycling race started\ended. It's funny to see all those very strange colonial references.

We had a good time in Laos; the people are just very friendly and the countryside offers superb scenery. We crossed over to Thailand as our visa was running out and with a day where we got lost ( yes, we did manage to do that in a country that has just about a handful of roads!) we decided to take a shortcut to reach Siem Reap, in the North west of Cambodia.

We only spent 2 nights in Thailand, but that was just enough to have a taste of the country's world class roads and of the delicious Thai food. I'll have to go back there one day.

The day we crossed to Cambodia was very strange. There is a filthy rich casino resort on the Cambodian side and then a few hundred meters of pavement and BANG, dirt roads! Mentally prepared for the famously destroyed cambodian road network, we went through the first 120km of dirt road without much trouble other than being covered with dust at the end of the day. Then we reached one of the country's main road to reach Siem Reap and that was more of a cowboy experience. A good section of it was just very bumpy and dusty roadwork. It seemed to have been like this for a good while; the government perhaps just does not have the money or is too corrupted to finish the roads properly. So I arrived in Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor temples, just covered with a thick layer of dust that accumulated over my layers of sunscreen.I was surprised the guesthouse accepted us, we were just so dirty.

The countryside in Cambodia is beautiful but also very heavily mined (land mines) .. The old people also speak French very well, we spoke french 4 times in the first 2 days in some very remote places, that was odd!

Jean bought an hard boiled egg with a foetus inside, even if he was very hungry he did not eat it..

We'll take a boat tomorrow to cross the Tonle Sap, a huge lake full of fish, birds and crocodiles!
A la prochaine
Have a good minus 30 degrees!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Northern Laos to Vientiane

Happy New Year everyone!
We are writing from Vientiane, the first capital city we have visited so far...

From Luang Namtha, we cycled through very nice mountains and managed to climb devilish hills. The gradient of the road here is not as gentle as in China and we had our share of 20 % climbs. Laos is not very populous, nor particularly rich, we did not come across many guesthouses or restaurants in the 500km loop we did in the mountains. So we sometimes had to cycle long days in a hilly terrain and carry enough food to keep going throughout the day. We ate sticky rice by the kilo! That was the best cyclist food we could get a hold on. I have to admit that this region of the world is a real paradise for cyclists who like serious climbs and mindblowing descents, in a fantastic scenery without much cars. The people are also very enthusiastic about seeing cyclist falangs (strangers) and children rush towards us shouting "sabai di" as we cycle through their villages, often a handful of bamboo huts with farm animals running around.

It is one of Asia's poorest country and children, especially, are not always healthy-looking, mostly from food deprivation. The mountains offer little space to grow anything and they can seldom rely on fishing for protein. Often, children would use slingshots to kill wild birds or wander around in the woods to grab anything crawling on the ground. Thay also have no toys, a couple of times, I made a distribution of colorful origami birds, it's easy to make and doesn't take much space in my luggage. And the children looked very pleased.

Laos has very interesting sights, the Plain of Jars being one of them. Located in Phonsavan, this site is very misterious, huge granite jars have been carved in the middle of nowhere and their use has not been quite understood yet. Some archeologists think they were used as burrial containers, some other believe it was used to make rice wine (!). Going down south towards Vientiane, we stopped in Vang Vieng, a very weird touristic place where young foreiners get hammered while drifting on the river on tubes. They also sip down marijuana shakes while watching numerous episodes of Friends, looking like brainwashed zoombies. It was a pityful sight.

The markets, on the other hand, were absolutely surprising, we saw things there that we never thought of eating.
-baby birds
-flying squirrels
-water rats
-dried rats
-white worms
-eggs with embryos
-cat stew

I was too effraid to get overweight so I did try any of them. My brother Alexis however, would certainly be delighted to try them all.

We are now half way through this whole bicycle adventure, here are some numbers:
4200km cycled
43 days of cycling

Tire punctures:

(with minor scratch and cuts)

Longest day: 140km in the mountains (8 hours on the saddle)
Shortest day: 32km (3 hours in rain and steep climbs, we called it a day)

We have decided to follow the mighty Mekong down to Cambodia and visit its southern Vietnamese delta before going back up north. So far, cycling has been a lot of good fun and we don't envy backpackers at all! I think we are now condemned to travel this way for the rest of our lives! Which feels great!

Speak to you next time!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Le Laos de chien (joke de Jean)

Sabai di,

Et oui, on a traverse la frontiere qui separe la Chine et le Laos hier.Tout s'est deroule de facon relax, on est au Laos apres tout. Nous vous ecrivons de Luang Namtha, une petite ville assez touristique du Nord du pays...

La fin de notre premier segment en Chine s'est deroule dans un decor tropical impressionnant. Les jardins botaniques que nous avons visite etaient remplis de palmiers, bambous, fleurs tropicales, arbres a latex, orchidees, banians, lianes...Le mercure se tient autour de 25 degres le jour. juste parfait. La route est belle et passe dans le parc du Xishuangbanna, une reserve naturelle qui compte un couvert forestier tropical intact, tres rare en Chine. Une journee complete sans voir aucun vehicule, ca aussi c'est tres rare en Chine! Nous avons pris l'ancienne route, beaucoup plus divertissante que le nouvel Highway, mais qui comptait 3 cols a gravir. Nous avons meme vu des singes dans les arbres et beaucoup d'oiseaux nous ont fait un beau concert.

La trame sonore chinoise de personnes qui crachent, crient, tracteurs chinois, motos, musique dance, klaxons, speakers de vendeurs ambulants est maintenant derriere nous. Le Laos est un pays ou regne le calme. Parmi nos decouvertes culinaires chinoises, on peut ajouter a notre liste la soupe de nouilles a l'estomac, les brochettes de chien (un delice), les oeufs cuits dans le the/bouillon, les pousses de pois mange-tout (oui, la plante) et les jeunes feuilles de concombre, la soupe de couenne de porc (la preferee de Jean, mon papa musulman). Rouler dans les plantations de divers fruits tropicaux a aussi de bons cotes, dans le sens de bouffe! S'arreter pour mordre dans une papaye, ananas, fruits de la passion, mangue..fraichement cueillis bien entendu, c'est vraiment plaisant.

Ca nous a fait de la peine de quitter la Chine, c'est un pays fou! Mais heureusement, on va y retourner vers la fin du voyage.

Le Laos! C'est un pays qu'on va decouvrir dans le prochain mois. A commencer par une boucle dans le Nord-Est, environ 500km dans les montagnes ( Oui, on aime les cotes, on en redemande) et ensuite nous ferons route vers le sud et Vientiane, la capitale.

Pour l'instant, on vous laisse aux preparations des fetes, on vous souhaite bonne dinde, nous on file manger du poulet grille (Ping Kai) et du riz collant.