Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The real heroes of cycling

This ad by Giant bicycles Australia truly strikes a chord in me. The media and sponsorships are focused too much on the Lance Armstrong et al types. In my books, the real heroes are ordinary people who use their bikes daily for enhancing their life. Students commuting daily, the milk delivery man on his bicycle, the NYC Messenger, the postman, moms on a school run and so many more examples.

Don't you think?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Go Pro-ing Mandurah

It is always a real treat to ride the beautiful paths of Mandurah. We do this 50km cycle every alternate week in winter, spring, summer or fall and it never fails to take my breath away. Our route takes us southwards pass Dawsville Cut for another 6-7km, stopping for our morning tea before heading back.

If a picture paints a thousand words, a Go Pro video expresses a little bit more than that.

The ride is hilly at times and can be hard work but you can always count on the downhills for some adrenaline pumping fun.

The Dawsville Bridge is the highest bridge in WA and the views from it are indeed stunning.

You need to come ride this part of the world and experience it for yourself!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sure sign cycling is picking up world-wide

The marketing research folks at MNCs are really sharp at spotting the latest trends and developing innovative products for new segments constantly. Innovation is the key for their survival and success. Levis Straus, the jeans company is an excellent example.

When they start making cycling specific jeans, its the surest sign that cycling as a form of transport is growing globally.

Now where can I buy this?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Getting that cycling "visa"

This is an absolutely hilarious video shared in my cycling community on FB. For those of us family guys and gals, getting time off for our cycling can sometimes be a real challenge. Its about balancing our home responsibilities and maintaining strong relationships with our spouses.

One way that works is to get your spouse and kids involved in your cycling tours somehow, even though they may not want to cycle. They could even meet you at the end of the tour for a family holiday.

All said and done, its about trust and love in our relationships. Whatever it is, don't follow this couple in exchanging insults with one another. Vulgarities are not helpful as well. That is a sure way to get a permanent visa for cycling!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Winded in Phuket

Our flight from Udon Thani to Phuket was an easy 1.5 hrs as we travelled from the Mekong River of NE Thailand to the Andaman Sea, SW of the country. It was wonderful to meet Cil at Phuket airport. Our luggage now comprised of 8 bags with 16 wheels altogether, and we needed the extra large trolley to move our stuff out of the airport.

It was another miracle for our chartered van to swallow all of us in it. No doubt the latest model of Toyota's Hiace van is bigger but we had one more person plus BF Tikit in a case. Travelling with foldies is truly the way to go.

Instead of hanging around the beach areas, we booked ourselves into the heart of Chinatown in old Phuket Town at the newish Chinotel.

They were quite bike friendly and didn't mind us. To be precise, they didn't know what were in those cases! We enjoyed a lavish dinner at a fancy Seafood restaurant which came to double the price of what we were used to in Isaan. It was interesting to be served very well and delicately by a "waitress", who was more feminine than usual.

We spend the first morning free and easy. KC and TW took a bus to Patong Beach while I went for a walk to check out the wonderful old quarters of Phuket. This part of town share many similarities with Penang and Malacca, and to my surprise, had a Peranakan or Straits Born population.

Think old-style bungalows of the rich Chinese Towkays of yesteryear, British style five foot way shophouses, antique and curios shops, Chinese temples and you get the feel of the rich history of this most "un-Thai" town.

We started our ride proper after lunch and wanted to cycle to Cape Panwa via Patong Beach to see the sunset. Little did we know how steep and impossible the hills were. Mid way to Patong, the road started to really get serious. A truck which overtook us stalled in the middle of an incline, and its load of bricks fell all over the centre of the road. It was a good thing we were on the left side! It was like an ominous sign of what was to come.

Almost all of us started pushing our bikes up what felt like Everest, and it was only with the help of my BF Expedition very low granny gear that I just managed to ride up. It nearly burst my lungs doing so.

While catching my breath and waiting for others, I noticed Uncle Ken and TW missing. Dr Mike and I quickly walked down the steep hill only to find Ken sitting at the side of the road breathless and face red as a watermelon. He had severe over-heating and immediately, we cooled him down and gave him lots of drinks. It was a blessing that nothing else went wrong but we didn't risk it and flagged a tuk tuk to take him to Patong Beach. The rest of us finished the gruelling 16km and decided to watch the sunset there.

Patong is always a hive of activity especially at night when the bars, massage parlours and all sorts of night creatures come alive. But in the evening, it was surprisingly quite pleasant with cool breezy winds.

Celia got a surprise treat from Rod and Ken in the form of a Para-sailing flight. It was very generous of them and she enjoyed a wonderful bird's eye view, 100m in the air!

Dinner that night was probably the most enjoyable one we had in our entire trip. We walked past the trendy SeaU restaurant at Ranong Road and the elegant maitre d' invited us in saying, "If you don't like our food, we won't charge!" It helped too that Tacha had the brightest smile. Her food and especially service was better than flying Singapore Airlines First Class! Needless to say, we went back again.

We spend the whole of next day doing something very different - from land to water. We went kayaking with John Gray Adventures. It was the most expensive event we spent on our whole Mekong trip at US$120 per person but it really was worth it.

Transported door to door, served great meals and unlimited drinks, given professional guides and experienced breath-taking views that money cannot buy.

The guides spoke good english and steered our kayaks skillfully. I had one that was extremely knowledgeable about the eco-system of the amazing limestone caves and the rich wildlife. It helped that he was a joker as well!

We also had opportunities to swim in the warm sea and that was so good. It was a little scary going through the caves as we had to lie down and the top of the cave barely cleared our noses. Kudos to our guides.

This was a wonderful way to end our Mekong adventure. The 8 of us began the journey 8 days ago as strangers but ended up the trip as firm friends. We had slept together, ate together, got drenched together, suffered together, flew together and most of all, laughed and enjoyed priceless time on our foldies together.

As we said a sad goodbye upon arriving at Changi Airport in Singapore, we knew somehow this would be the start of many more delightful trips in the future.


*My special thanks and deepest appreciation go out to Brother Taiwoon for taking most of the lovely photos here and for being the best sweeper ever. He made sure no one was left behind and did a brilliant job on his Brommie!

Poodling NK in the morning

Our flight to Phuket was not till the evening so we had the whole morning and a bit to enjoy the wonderful gateway city of Nong Khai. Mike and Ken welcomed the morning practising Tai Chi with full views of the Mekong.

Tiger prepared a local Isaan noodle breakfast and we appreciated the usual first class personalised service.

We were determined to make full use of the time we had left and raced off immediately along the beautiful riverside esplanade that was developed a few years ago. It makes for a scenic and refreshing walk and attracts many tourists.

Being on our bikes, it was much easier than walking, covering the 2-3km easily. Lots of photographs were taken and everyone was jovial and cracking jokes.

Our first destination was the White Pagoda, which marked the end of the riverside ride. While making our way there, I was overtaken by an elderly man riding an old Raleigh-style bicycle and that got me most curious and I tailed him. This Thai gentleman must have been cycling all his life which explains his incredible fitness and gumption. (Apologies for the shakes in the video.)

After the obligatory photo shoot at the White Pagoda, we continued on to Sala Keoku or Buddha Park.

Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a straight forward 3km ride ended up me leading my sheep astray. It was a combination of using a map in English to deciper Thai road signs, and that obviously didn't work. Trying to get directions from the local Tuk Tuk was also not easy with language barriers.

Once again, my fellow riders were so gracious to me and I felt thoroughly embarrassed. This short excursion however led us to see the beautiful country roads and we even passed through a peaceful fishing pond before finally reaching Sala Keoku.

The Buddha Park was developed in 1978 by a religious leader who was born in Nong Khai. He had build a similar park across the Mekong in Laos earlier in 1958. It consists of huge statures and sculptures from the Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. Too may tourists were there and we went to a quiet spot to feed the fishes.

Lunch was at the Danish Bakery before we headed back to Sofa Gallery. It was to be a welcome change from Thai fare which we had for the last few days. However, the food was very average and we should gone Thai!

Putting the foldies back into their suitcases and boxes seemed easier than assembling them and this was done in no time. TW's Brompton proved fastest here as it was merely a case of folding and putting it into the suitcase.

A quick shower and we were ready to be whisked to the airport by two Isuzu pick-ups for our next destination, Phuket. But not before saying goodbye to our new friend Tiger and his able assistant Max, who took excellent care of us at Sofa Gallery. This is certainly the best place to stay if you are ever in Nong Khai, and we cannot recommend it enough.

It was hard to say goodbye to this beautiful part of Thailand and I think all of us left our hearts here!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Van-ning back to Nong Khai

Miracle Van contact, "Bird" - CK to NK

When the old Toyota van showed up at 8am punctually at our bungalow, I was still in prayer mode. Can 7 folding bikes, luggage and 8 adults actually fit inside the smallish 11 seater van? It had too, by hook or Brooks. It was great that the rear most seat was removed as instructed. We piled the foldies gingerly on top of each other, making sure scratches were minimised.

Everyone held their breath and we rejoiced gratefully when everything managed to magically squeeze into the Hiace! On that morning, our respect for our foldies went up several notches and TW blogged about this too.

It was sad to bid farewell to Christoph and family and we had our last meal together at a local Thai eatery. They were driving back to Bangkok. By this time, Milli their young daughter, had warmed up to Uncle Mike and insisted that she sat with him. I could not help but feel a tinge of jealousy at the attention he gets from girls of all ages!

The ride back was like watching a video in play back mode where we recognised all the hills and curves we overcome a few days ago.

The beauty of the Mekong River was also mesmerising as we drove alongside for 210 beautiful km.

I was told not to miss a most interesting temple 25km out of town, where two rocks "uniquely shaped" are worshipped and we had had to stop there for pictures. Rod was highly amused at his namesake; displayed prominently for all to see.

Dr Mike insisted that we did our lunch stop at Sri Chiang Mai once more for the delicious Pad Thai and when it comes to food, no one dare argue with this purveyor of delectable delights.

Our driver Bird, a young man in his 20s, drove us safely to Sofa Gallery at Nong Khai in record time. All that time in the van got everyone restless. We unloaded our gear, checked in and then we gathered again for a ride into town.

It was nice to be back on the saddle again, and we rode to the riverside near Mut Mee Guesthouse, hoping to take the evening cruise. Unfortunately, the engine of the boat had some trouble and we were left wondering what we to do. Suddenly out of nowhere, dark clouds rolled in and we could see a huge storm approaching. It was every man for himself as we jumped on our bikes lightning quick to ride for shelter. We ended up outside a Thai massage place and all hell broke loose. It was the fiercest storm ever! If we were to be out on the river, things would be rather wet and dangerous even. Thank God for engine trouble! His grace exhibited clearly to us again.

Dinner that night was at a local eatery highly recommended by our friend Chris Wee, and it did not disappoint. As usual, we over ordered! The sumptous meal of 10 dishes including stewed duck only costs 950B (US$30) for 7 of us.

No wonder Thailand remains a favourite cycling destination for so many as the food is simply "marvel-licious" and priced out of this world! We walked out of the restaurant feeling rather bloated and our bikes groaned and creaked as we cycled slowly back 3km to Sofa Gallery in the darkness of the night.