This is the 3rd episode of the recumbent tandem adventure : an Azub Twin around the world, now in South East Asia.
I am writing to you in a gloomy bedroom of an hotel from the deep old town of Hanoï (Vietnam). I think it is time for a short summary of what we have been doing since our departure, 6 months ago:
We travelled 22 300km in total (Parental disclaimer: don’t try this at home, professionals on the road, on professional riding machine). I can imagine your wide-eyed face, already seen in some chineese market.
– Riding the Azub Twin: around 6 100km (that figure is subject to caution because we drown our speedometer in a tyhoon a while ago, Santa Claus should provide a new one soon).
– by train : 12 100km (Saint Petersbourg – Moscow / Moscow – Vladivostok / Toyooka – Kyoto / Tokyo – Osaka / Shanghai – Guangzhou)
– by boat : 4 100km (Lubeck – Malmö / Stockholm – Aland – Turku / Vladivostok – Donghae – Sakaiminato / Osaka – Shanghai / Xuwen – Haikou / Haikou – Beihai).
– by plane : 0 km (yep, we did not take any flight up to now and are super proud of that). That is not always simple, but it feels good to get at the other side of the planet taking your time.
On top of that: 0 puncture, 0 problem with the Azub Twin, millions of smiles on the road, hundreds of nice people met, and many stories for the long winter evenings by the fireplace for our grandchildren (in a few years time).
But let’s start where we left you. We left you 2 months ago in Tokyo while when we were planning to exit Japan toward China & South East Asia.
End of Japan:
From the Japanese capital, we had to reach the city of Osaka to get to our boat to China. We did not feel like riding back the way we came on the south coast of Japan. The only option to get there in a reasonable timing was the train (Shinkansen: the high speed train crossing Japan). We did get on one of those duck faced high speed train after once again dismantled the Azub Twin into pieces in the middle of the Tokyo train station.
We started to travel with only 4 panniers making it « super » easy to carry everything together to get to platforms even with a dismantled bike. The controller seeing the bike in one piece declared that there was no way that it would fit in the train. After 30min of unscrewing, and packing, he was quite amazed and let us through to the train.
After a few days of visit in Osaka, we hop on the boat to China, and arrived 3 days after in the megalopolis of Shanghai.
China’s development is really amazing. None of he buildings below where there 10 years ago. The island where there were built now sink at the speed of 1,5cm every year due to the weight of those construction.
We took a few days to visit on foot the city and get a first feeling of China. Chinese are able to do anything with really few. Here they just add a new floor to a house in the middle an electrical wiring puzzle.
After a new hair cut for 1€ sharp (result not guaranteed…) we did head to the train station from Shanghai to Guangzhou to take our last train for the next months.Taking a train in China is complex. Add a 3.50m long bike in the deal and it starts to be very interesting. Picture a 100m long hall full of very noisy Chinese. When the train is announced, everybody start to run to the platform with their arms full of package of all sizes (same kind of scenery that the opening of the black Friday sales). In the middle of the flow, you have to navigate trying to stay standing. Once in the coach, you have your own bunk that is booked so you start to wonder why the running? Typical Chinese behavior: be the first… or die trying to.
No time to get any picture there. Once in Guangzhou, we did have to rebuilt the bike in front of a crowd of 45 persons. We discovered that to make them flee, the best is to try to get out the camera!!!
After 2 months of transition spending more time in trains and boat, than indeed riding our bike, we hit the road for real. And that is where the fun starts… Riding in China is quite easy: just follow the flow, never ever dare to brake under any circumstances and try to avoid the other vehicles… And on top of that, keep your eyes wide open, there would be surprises at any corners.
In the first place, Chinese logistics is really fun. Whatever you think is impossible to carry on a truck would be transported on a motorcycle. Whatever you think is hardly fitting in a car would be carried away on bikes.
That is the type of cage where usually you would find around 40 ducks or even some pigs.
There is also one rule: if you arrive safe and sound at destination, it means that you did not load enough your trucks. Those ones just lost half their loading (so they did a good job!).For South East Asia, we don’t have camping gears any more. It is too difficult to find a spot to camp, and the accommodation is quite cheap. So we always end up in hotel. When there is no space in the lobby, we could always get the bike in the room… Chinese were so surprise and happy seeing the Azub Twin that they make a special ceremony when exiting one of the hotel (or maybe, that was for the wedding on going…).
But when the traffic is busy, she prefers to concentrate of getting you pictures of the crowd. The motorriders were so surprised of our bike that they started a traffic jam behind us letting us as much space as we need to ride comfortably. We did took a last boat and had to discuss for 30 minutes with the crew to get the Twin safely tighten (everyone had a different opinion on the way to do it properly / I remind you their packaging skills to let you decide of the relevance of their advises…).What is maybe stranger than the Chinese logistics could be their market stales. Sometime, it is very difficult to guess what it could have been before being inside out…
But you have to remember that one way or another, it will end up in your plate … It does not make Stéphane feeling bad. Manue has sometimes more trouble …After a month riding the south road of China, we got to the Vietnamese border in the city of Dongxing – Mong Cai.
No surprise in Vietnam, there is the same kind of logistics than in China:
In Vietnam, on contrary of China, the landscape turned to have beautiful scenery. We were also able to see the blue sky for the first time in a month (Chinese smog is really thick and awful). We headed south to the famous Halong Bay. On the way, we stopped in a less touristic place : Bai Tu Long bay. We did found a quite nice beach and improvised a shooting session:
A few days after, we were on the road to Cat Ba island, one of the spots to visit the Halong Bay. A fantastic day. We skipped the super touristic junk boat to get onto a super rusty car ferry.
In the mean time, we were crossing the superb scenery of the Halong bay. I cannot be sure, but I guess that a very few recumbent tandems got to this spot. The road on Cat Ba island is breathtaking. By far, it is our #1 riding day of the trip (even if a good portion is climbing at + 10%).
We took some time to find a new stand for the Twin, but it appeared to be to big to take it with us. We left the island under the rain to get to get to the equivalent of the Belgium canal sightseeing of Vietnam.
To rest from our biggest stage so far (115km), we switched our bike to a very regular scooter. Manue became Power Ranger Green.
Motorized as we were, we visited the surrounding of Ninh Binh. First, a journey on a small rowing boat. Not only for the picture, the boatman is rowing on a recumbent mode… Pretty impressive. And our captain is not the only one. From 7 to 77 years, boat captains row in a recumbent mode.
Another short trek led us to some temple at the top of a very stiff hill. Days without riding are not that resting after all.
The view would have for sure quite impressive if only the fog would have let us some rest. After 4 days sticking around Ninh Binh, we head off to Hanoï. Sun was back for that 100km day.
On the way to Hanoï we met the regular very astonishing Vietnamese piece of life:
– a duck motorbike
– a broom motorbike,
– a fish seller bike …
Once we arrived in the suburbia of Hanoï, circulation intensified a lot. It went a lot worse inside the city ! But still, having our tandem made things easy because motobike riders paid attention to us and were extra careful.
We are staying in Hanoï for the next few days preparing for the next part of the trip. And that will not be piece of cake : 600km to cross to Lao through mountains, and mountains and mountains … Then, we will follow the Mekong river to cambodia, and eventually head to bangkok that we have to reach for the 8th of february to meet Stéphane’s dad before going south to … somewhere not decided yet…
Write to you soon,
Stéphane & Manue, world recumbent tandem riders.