Archive for ‘Cambodia’

The Best and Worst Awards

The best and worst awards for our motorcycle expedition across Africa, Europe and Asia.

Whilst the two of us are in agreement, we realize that many may disagree and so we welcome any comments.

MOST ENJOYABLE COUNTRY AWARD

AFRICA – TANZANIA

Tanzania just eclipses Kenya, Namibia and South Africa as our favourite country in Africa. Good infrastructure, decent roads, amazing scenery, friendly people, and abundant wildlife.  

The highlights:

  • the snow capped peaks of Kilimanjaro;
  • the glorious plains and wildlife of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater;
  • spicy and exotic Zanzibar;
  • our second favourite African city, Dar Es Salaam (Cape Town being our first);
  • a thoroughly enjoyable stay in Tanga on the east coast;
  • and our all time favourite camping spot on our whole trip, Lake Charla.

Riding towards Ngorogoro Crater

Snow peaked mountains in Tanzania

Lake Charla … elephants at the water hole

Lake Charla

Taking a ride on a Dhow in Zanzibar

Lake Charla with foothills of Kilimajaro in the background…

 

EUROPE – SCOTLAND (to be more precise West Scotland on a sunny day)

Many people are already aware of the amazing places to see in Turkey, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Greece etc…and we were privileged to do the European grand tour and take in many of the sights.

Italy was absolutely fascinating, superb architecture, rich history, good food and wine,  but not the easiest place to motorcycle in due to local driving conditions. . Good, but not great.

France was our biggest surprise. It is Britain’s next door neighbour and often maligned by Americans for being, well French, and by the English for old rivalries and wars over the centuries. However, we found it to be a stunning country and a motorcycling heaven. The Alps, Provence, the Southern coast, Loire valley, the wine-lands of Burgundy, pretty Brittany, the battle fields of Normandy and the many charming villages and towns we rode through. So much to see and we were treated very well by everyone we met… even by the Gendarmes.

However, taking the best motorcycling country in Europe award is Scotland…. especially western Scotland (see UK revisited chapter).

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

Pretty Scottish villages on west coast. An incredibly beautiful part of the world

 

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn't always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

Due to the Gulf Stream that course up the west of the British Isles some parts of northern Scotland that are not far from the Arctic Circle are quite mild. It is, however, safe to say that the weather isn’t always as glorious and when I was there and can be decidedly wet and blowy.

 

Its gets even more like Tibet ... mountains and big hairy things in the road.

Its gets even more like Tibet … mountains and big hairy things in the road.

 

WORST COUNTRY AWARD 

There were no countries we did not enjoy to one degree or another.

Ethiopia,  undoubtedly rich in history and resplendent in natural beauty is a bit of a tragedy on the human side.

The country, especially the cities seems to have been left to rot and stagnate.  Ethiopians, a handsome lot as people go, appeared to be incredibly needy and nearly always had their hand out stretched begging for money. They often leaped out at us or grabbed our arms whilst shouting… ‘You, You, You…Money, Money, Money’.

It was tiresome, annoying and ever so slightly sad.

Meeting fellow bikers heading south at Ethiopian/ Sudan border

The former and now derelict train station in Addis Ababa

Cute little things .. but they always had their hand outstretched begging for money

Fanny surrounded by little friends in north west Ethiopia

Having been robbed blind by FTI Consulting,  I need to earn a crust somehow… so when in Ethiopia do as the Ethiopians do…

 

 

CHINA is a country on a continental scale and by far the most varied and diverse country we went to.

There were impressive and well planned super cities like Chengdu, Nanchang, Beijing and Shanghai, and prettier tourist towns like Lijiang, Yangshuo and Dali. We also rode through some of the most charming and idyllic countryside I have ever seen. Some rural areas have remained as they have been for centuries, despite the rapid pace of development going on around them.

But in China there are also some of the worst and most polluted places I have ever seen. Environmental plunder, architectural vandalism, motoring misery and pitiful squalour on an unprecedented scale. Quite a shock.

Some of the second and third tier Chinese cities were absolute shockers. Polluted and crowded beyond belief, bad roads and atrocious traffic jams, ridiculously bad urban planning and blighted by hideous buildings as far as the eye could see. Hong Kong and China seem to have a fatal attraction with adorning the outsides of their ugly concrete boxes with cheap toilet tiles.

Whether fascinating or depressing; ugly or stunningly beautiful; our experience riding over 13,000 kilometers through China was hugely rewarding and something we will never forget.

 

BIGGEST SURPRISE AWARD – SUDAN.

Sudan was our biggest surprise and we thoroughly recommend visiting.

It was a complete re-write of everything I had previously thought about its people and their culture. The kindness, politeness and gentleness of many of the people we met was incredible and we are very grateful to the hospitality extended to Fanny and I by many of the people we encountered.

That said, a cold beer in the scorching heat would be nice, as would a bacon sarnie with HP sauce, but I guess you can’t have everything. Treat it as a liver detox!

Kindness and hospitality given to Fanny and I in the middle of the Nubian desert in Sudan. Its strange that those with so little always offered us so much … and the converse!

Long sand roads .. and scorching heat in Sudan

Very friendly people

Replacing the starter relay in the middle of the Nubian desert in 50+ degrees heat.

Our kind host Mohammed and his children on banks of the River Nile in Sudan

Fanny with the guys who helped us repair her bike

Yes… there are pyramids in Sudan too

 

 

 

 

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Pyramids in Sudan

 

 

WORST EXPERIENCES 

We never really had any very bad experiences.

We managed to cross Africa without being eaten by wild animals, without having to pay a bribe, without being infected by deadly diseases, nor kidnapped by pirates or Jihadi nutters.

Our KTM 990 Adventure motorcycles have been superb, a joy to ride and very reliable.

The vast majority of people we encountered on the expedition have been wonderful and treated us very well…  the only exception being a few excitable types in Ethiopia who threw stones at us or lashed out as we were riding by with whips and sticks. Most of the border crossings and tourist locations attracted annoying touts, “shiftas” and fraudsters who were keen to relieve us of the few possessions we had. They were all unsuccessful.

A particular low was early on in the expedition when Fanny lost control of her motorcycle in the Namib Desert and came off at speed.

Fortunately, Fanny and her KTM motorcycle are a tough team and in no time were back together charging through the desert, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises.

In Europe our experience in Switzerland was not great, Fanny got arrested for involvement in an accident that wasn’t her fault, everything always seemed to be closed, everything was expensive, and we could hardly describe the Swiss as the friendliest people we met on our 53,800 kilometer ride around the world.

That said Switzerland is a very pretty country and we enjoyed riding through the Alps and up and down the many meandering passes.

In China/Asia I think the worst experience was just outside Chongqing City when a traffic official threw a traffic cone at Fanny while she was riding on the highway and knocked her off her bike. Anywhere else in the world this would be considered a serious criminal offence and front page news, but in China abuse of power by the authorities is common place and the “people” can’t do much about it. Fanny was injured slightly and very upset by the incident, but she managed to get back on her motorcycle and carry on.

Not being allowed to ride in certain Chinese cities and on most of the Chinese highway network is also pretty annoying and downright unnecessary in modern China on a modern motorcycle.

Apart from these incidents, and of course me getting stopped by the police at every single road block in Tibet, we had a really great adventure in China and had the chance to see places that very few people even know about, let alone visit.

USA?  Its a continent sized and a very well developed country that most non-Americans will know well enough through the ubiquitous TV shows and movies. Big, amazing wilderness, beautiful scenery,  wealthy,  but with a dark and sinister underbelly, especially in the inner cities.

To to be honest we still have a lot of riding to be done and places to see in the USA.

So far we have explored Washington, Oregon, Montana, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado in the west, and New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Ohio in the east. The south and the center remains to be explored.

From what I’ve seen of the rest of world, America sits in the middle ground. Its easy to get around, everything is super convenient, there is not a great deal of culture or history, the roads are far too straight and dull, and its not as “great” as Americans think it is. Nothing really interesting, and nothing really bad, except the food which is on the whole….a mixture of sugar and lard with a sprig of rocket.

I am afraid to so that Fanny doesn’t like America, but then she is a pinko commie!

South America?   That remains an adventure for the future.

A fussy unfocused picture of one of the officials. My hands were shaking with rage.

A fuzzy unfocused picture of one of the officials who threw a traffic cone at Fanny and knocked her off her motorcycle. My hands were shaking with rage but I resisted the urge to administer some summary justice and so we got back on our motorcycles and carried on.

 

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind... in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

These police in Hubei were very friendly and kind… in fact with a couple of exceptions that we write about in the diary, the authorities in China treated us well.

 

 

BEST CITY AWARD

AFRICA – DAR ES SALAAM 

When riding a motorcycle through Africa the last places you really want to see are the cities. The joy of riding through Africa is the beautiful countryside, meeting its people, and enjoying the amazing African flora and fauna. However, if pressed to pick an African city I would say Dar Es Salaam because it is a very interesting and lively city, friendly people, good food,  and one of the few cities in Africa I could live in outside South Africa. Traffic is quite bad though, but nothing two bikers from Shanghai can’t handle.

A dhow in Zanzibar

Having a coffee in a street in Zanzibar

Dar es Salem from the ferry

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EUROPE – Istanbul

It is a difficult call to decide on the best city award for Europe. We enjoyed many. Lucca, Rome, Florence and Pompei in Italy;  Saint Lo in France; St. Sebastian in the Basque Country; Barcelona in Spain; Saltzburg and Vienna in Austria; and Old Town Rhodes in Greece. We thoroughly enjoyed them all.

However, if we are pushed to choose one then Istanbul takes the award. Its got it all… great food, wonderful art, kind friendly people, fascinating history, amazing architecture, the east meets west straits between Black Sea and Marmara Sea, and yet its very much a first world city, things work and it feels very welcoming and exciting to be there.

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Fanny wandering along the streets of Taksin in Istanbul… a super city.

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Enjoying the cafes of Istanbul

 

 

 

ASIA/China – LHASA (followed by CHENGDU) 

I am not even going to consult Fanny because she will say Shanghai. It’s like asking a panda what its favourite food is.  I thought our ride through China was absolutely fascinating. There are hundreds of cities in China with populations over a million people… many are over 20 million and therefore bigger than many countries in the world.

Each city is diverse with the richest and poorest, ugliest and prettiest and tastiest and revolting all in one place. Cities to mention are Beijing where I went to university and have a special fondness for, colourful and spicy Chengdu in Sichuan (and prettiest women!), exotic Dali in Yunnan, the amazing “Red City” of  Nanchang in Jiangxi, so called because its the home of the “red” revolution.

However, our ride through Tibet is probably one of the highlights and so therefore Lhasa, its provincial capital stands out as the best city to see in respect to scenery, architecture, history and “never seen before” general interest.

I lost my trainers and so I klomped about Lhasa in my riding boots... which got looks of admiring looks and comments from the Tibetans.

Me outside the most sacred temple in Lhasa

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Fanny and I high up on the Tibet/Qinghai Plateau… the world’s highest.

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Just outside Lhasa in Tibet

 

An interesting picture on many levels

Fanny and Si Ba (a Lama friend we made on the road) walking down the high street in Lhasa

WORST CITY

Africa – Addis Ababa  … 

We were looking forward to Addis Ababa, a name that conjured up exotic images formed from school days for me. However, when we got there we found it to be a complete karsi. The decrepit and forlorn looking train station from a bygone era pretty much sums up Addis Ababa ‘s decline into squalour and poverty.

Bus station in Addis Ababa

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Again corruption and inability to use a condom are to blame. Aggressive touts, annoying kids, unfriendly and hostile looking soldiers and policeman, and crumbling and decaying infrastructure. Its a big disappointment.

Fortunately we found refuge in a little oasis in the middle of this complete dog nest called “Wim’s Holland House”. Not the greatest backpackers in Africa, but the Dutch owner, Wim runs a decent hostel that serves more than the Ethiopian staple dish of  Tibis and sour pancakes and has a well stocked English pub-like bar that serves draft St.George’s beer.

ASIA – CHINA 

China is basically a large continent and currently going through the biggest phase of development any country has been through…ever,  and so some of its second and third tier cities (or lower) can easily qualify for worst, ugliest, most polluted, most corrupt, most congested, unhealthiest city anywhere on the planet.

Take your pick.

However the human inhabitants have no consideration or care for the environment, and like much of China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, outside their homes and anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing.

Many people in China and Taiwan throw rubbish and pollutants into the rivers, streams, or just outside their homes ….anywhere except a rubbish bin. Its extremely depressing and disturbing. Hidden industrial pollution is off the scale.

Urban off roading

As with other parts of China, the average worker busts his hump and toils away seven days a week for hours on end for very little compensation. Throughout all of China we saw the poverty and the day to day struggle by many people just to survive and make a living. Putting up with conditions no one in the west would ever put up with.

A lot of China looks like this… a dusty, muddy, grey construction site on the cheap.

Really.... just unlucky ... could happen to anyone

An articulated lorry on its side in a dusty China street… quite normal

 

EUROPE – LUTON Picking a worst city in Europe is a difficult one.

Athens promised so much and delivered so little. We did wander around to see the sights of Ancient Greece, but the modern day city was depressing and the economic gloom palpable.

The city of my birth, London, is a mixed bag. A disappointment on many levels, can no longer be considered “English”,  but still an iconic and interesting city if you focus on the positives such as history, art and culture.

However, if I have to pick a candidate for worst city in Europe then I am going to say Luton or Slough in the United Kingdom.

Sorry Luton and Slough…… someone has to come last …..and you made no effort not to. 

 

WORST FLEAS, TICKS & LICEETHIOPIA

The mangey cats and dogs throughout Ethiopia are covered in them, as are most of the carpets, furniture and bedding. The lush grassland, especially after the rainy season is also home to ticks. As we were camping we had to remove quite a few of these little blood suckers that somehow found their way into various nooks and “fannys”.

“No” Best Flea Award….unsurprisingly!

 

BEST DRIVING STANDARD AWARDS –

Africa …South Africa (Western Cape)

Europe … Germany

China … umm?  Let’s say Hong Kong  … the standard is so incredibly poor.

Asia …  Japan

 

WORST DRIVING AWARDS –

Africa ….Egypt

Europe …. Italy

The World …. everywhere in China, followed very closely by Egypt and Bangkok in Thailand which is dangerous on a bike.

 

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Sri Lanka … driving standard is also pretty ropey … but at least its slow.

Tanzanian bus and truck drivers could take some kind of bad driving award judging by how many we saw overtaking dangerously or wrecked by the side of the road, but Egypt takes the “worst driving” award in Africa by a mile.

They are absolute shockers. Maybe  its because everyone is too busy shouting into their mobile phones all the time, or perhaps because everyone employs millimetre collision avoidance techniques, sometimes with success and sometimes without.  I saw a taxi mount a curb as the driver attempted to tackle a roundabout with one arm twisted around the wheel and the other holding a phone to his ear.

Rather than put his mobile phone down and use both arms to turn the wheel he preferred to carry on talking, veer off the road and mow down some pedestrians.

Me and my KTM at the Great Pyramids

 

Tahrir Square with the building we have to get our visas from at the top left hand side

Tahrir Square, in cairo with the government building we had to go to in order to extend our visas at the top left hand side. The Spring revolution was in full swing when we arrived in Cairo and so it was an interesting time.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION –

Africa …..Namibia/Tanzania

We have a difference of opinion due to our different levels of riding experience. Fanny goes for Tanzania for the same reasons (above) as for best country and I go for Namibia, to my mind the most awesome motorcycling country… anywhere.

Challenging, technical in parts, mind blowing scenery and importantly very few people and other vehicles. Its got sand, gravel, rocks, hills, deserts, salt pans, seascape, bush, wild animals, birds and fresh air…. AND no road blocks, no speed bumps, no police and no speed cameras.  I also really liked the Nubian deserts of Sudan. Clean, beautiful and spectacular.

Fanny cruising along the gravel roads in the Namib desert

 

left or right?

Left or right?  Freedom to do whatever.

 

BEST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION _ EUROPE …. Western Scotland (in the sun) followed by France

Scotland was a big surprise. In Jubilee year, 2012 when Fanny and I arrived in the UK we planned to ride to Scotland, but the weather was absolutely atrocious. A year later during what everyone was calling “The Summer of 2013”  the weather was absolutely glorious and western Scotland gave me some of the best riding I have ever experienced. Not to take anything away from Scotland, my KTM 990 Supermoto T I was riding was one of best motorcycles I have ever ridden. I have to say it was an awesome ride and Great Britain was truly “great”.

Now we are talking. The ride now moves up to a new quantum level of beautiful. Fanny and I have ridden around the world and been privileged to see the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Alps, Guilin, Rift Valley, Qinghai Cederberg, Atlas etc... but West Scotland on a good day is second to none.

West Scotland

 

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden... the

This is what motorcycling is all about. Peace, fresh air, beautiful scenery and in the seat of perhaps the best road bike I have ever ridden… the

 

ASIA …. Tibet and Cardomom mountains in Cambodia

Who, being given the chance, is not going to vote Tibet as one of the best motorcycling destinations on the planet?  Not me.

Also, Cardomom mountains in Cambodia are very interesting and enjoyable on a bike.

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Namib desert

"Yeah! - Go On... slap me on the arse and see what happens"

Yak 1000 Adventure

 USA – Valley of Gods, Utah

The best adventure motorcycling I have come across so far in the USA is probably the unearthly Valley of Gods in southern Utah. I have ridden all over the USA on various machines over the year, but there is still a lot for me to see and explore and so there may be better places, but the Valley of Gods, although quite small is a superb ride.

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Valley of Gods on Honda Africa Twin (BDR Utah)

 

WORST MOTORCYCLING LOCATION AWARDS

All African and Chinese inner cities (except Cape Town and Windhoek)

Riding through any of the African Capital cities was  tiresome, annoying, stressful and decidedly dangerous… in particular Cairo, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. It was no problem technically for either of us, we come from Shanghai after all where the traffic is atrocious and ride our bicycles everyday, but the appalling driving standards, poor urban planning and ever increasing traffic volume made riding less fun than it should be.

Whilst we rode on appalling roads and surfaces, such as the road from Marsabit to Moyale in north Kenya, they presented the  sort of challenges bikers relish and we confronted and overcame them with a huge sense of 成就感  and enjoyment.

Worst Motorcycling Experience in Europe … again the inner cities of Italy and England spring to mind…. but no where near as bad as China or Egypt.

In England the speed cameras ruin motorcycling and in Italy the narrow medieval roads through the towns, and aggressive and poor driving standard by Italians make riding a bit stressful, but not too bad.

In London, there are feral “non indigenous” teenagers who ride scooters, terrorize people, and steal with impunity because the police do nothing. These thugs also spray acid into people’s faces from squeezy bottles or attack people with hammers and angle grinders ….and get away with it because the ethnic majority have voted for treacherous politicians like Khan and Abbott who support these hooligans because they think the indigenous English deserve it.

The police, courts and authorities are stuck between a rock and a hard place and so they are largely impotent. They stick to arresting soft targets like 1970s DJs, non contentious traffic offences and local middle class people for Orwellian “thoughtcrimes”.

When I was a police officer in London in the 1980s it was urban chaos then, lots of race riots, inner city anomie, and quite dangerous. However, you did your job, your colleagues and bosses supported you, and you got promoted or advanced to more interesting jobs based on merit and ability. Now in politically correct and easily offended Britain its the opposite and so basically the police have given up and much of London is a “no go” ghetto.

By comparison, when we were riding in north Kenya, borders with Somalia, east Ethiopia, central and north Sinai and the western Sahara ISIS were just starting to take hold and there was a real possibility of running into a pickup truck of crazy Islamists. However, there were lots of armed police and army, local Bedouins were friendly and helpful, we were on fast powerful motorcycles, able and allowed to defend and look after ourselves, and so the odds were even.

Our advice is don’t ride into London. Ride around it, or park outside and take public transport into the tourist areas, see the changing of the guard, the museums, art galleries, theaters, cafes and shops and then get out as quick as possible.

In fact, best to avoid all English cities and head to the beautiful Cotswolds, Peak District, Devon and Cornwall, the Jurassic coast, the Fens, the Lake District, Scotland or Wales and a nice rural pub.

 

BEST CAMPSITES:

1. Lake Charla – Tanzania –  What a gem. perfect climate, stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro, hundreds of elephants, Colobus monkeys, unspoiled bush, a spectacular volcanic crater lake, great bar, friendly hosts, and of course the famous roasted goat dinner.

 

2. Makuzi – Malawi. Peaceful paradise on the shores of Lake Malawi.

 

3. Mountain Rock – Kenya.  A lush enjoyable grassy campsite next to a trout filled river on the equator in the foothills of Mount Kenya.

 

Europe ….Scotland   no camp sites in the whole of Europe were on the same scale of the three above in Africa. Camping in Europe, regardless of whether its next to stunning scenery like Mont Blanc or near a historical town like Lucca in Italy has a whiff of concentration camp about it.  France has simple and clean municipal campsites that were great value. Italy had some decent places but they were expensive. Wales was quite good. England just doesn’t have any and the few there are are awful, with a few exceptions. Our worst experience on the whole expedition was at Crystal Palace in London where we were interrogated and abused by gestapo like camp wardens. Hobson’s choice because London is so expensive, in fact the most expensive anywhere, and so camping was the only alternative to paying over 100 pounds for a small room for a night.

Scotland however has no trespass laws and so provided you show respect for the owners property and leave the site in the condition you found it in you can free camp where you like. Its also a gloriously pretty and interesting country and so the best European camping award easily goes to Scotland, followed by France and Wales. 

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North west point of Scotland at 11pm in the evening.

 

Camping on Skye

Camping on Skye

 

China – Nan Tso (Tibet). 

China is a great country to back pack across (I have done it) and as such has great youth hostels and cheap accommodation in all cities and towns.  As for camping, China is, on the whole, a safe country (apart from driving standards). However, despite its enormous size there is not a great deal of spare land that is not farmed on or developed… until you get into the remote western provinces of Xizang (Tibet), Xinjiang and Qinghai. We were very fortunate to camp in two stunning locations.

One with Lamas on the banks of a river in the Himalayas and another in the middle of Tibet at over 5000 meters next to the shores of Tibet’s most sacred lake, Nam Tso with 7,000 meter + peaks surrounding us.

USA – Needles, Utah

Campsites in the USA are basic by African and European standards. They are clean, tidy, averagely cheap, have friendly elderly attendants, but usually lack ablutions and the facilities you get in continental European campsites and most African lodges.

Apart from free camping, which I did a lot and prefer, the best organised campsite I found was at Needles in Utah, just south of Moab. In other States the campsites are pretty gruesome, far too expensive and generally geared towards caravans and RVs, and so free camping with a tent is the best option, and easy to do.

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Camping with lamas in east Tibet

 

Camping at Nam Tso.

Camping on the shores of Nam Tso, Tibet

 

WORST CAMPSITES .

We never stayed at any really bad campsites. To our mind the simpler the better and there should be more like the good ones we saw in Africa.  Whilst Sudan allows free camping,  Egypt is heavily controlled by the military and police and our attempts to free camp were fruitless. We were chased off seemingly remote places in the desert and along the Red Sea by police, army and security people.

Being unable to camp in certain places, we did stay in some rather ropey (because they were cheap) hotels in Sudan and Ethiopia but you get what you pay for and we didn’t pay very much. The Kilpatra hotel in Wadi Halfa had the worst lavatory and shower outside China… a true shocker.

Of course, Europe is the land of the caravan. Rarely seen in Africa or Asia, these boxes on wheels are seen everywhere in western Europe, blocking the country lanes and oblivious or uncaring to the traffic mayhem they cause around them. To a biker they are annoying enough, but we can whizz pass them more often than not. To another car driver stuck behind one on a road in Cornwall I hate to think.

No wonder they are targets of Top Gear persecution and derision. Once they eventually get to their “beauty spot” they position themselves cheek by jowl and then the occupants immediately position themselves outside on deckchairs, guarding their plot with disapproving territorial expressions on their faces.

Actually, these caravan clubers are not a bad bunch when you get to know them and are often passionate about their caravaning lifestyles and can wax lyrical about chemical toilets and lace curtains.

I have to say caravaners, with their impressive tea making facilities and well stocked biscuit tins, who brew up on the hour every hour are always welcome next to our tent.

BEST FOOD AWARD

Africa ….  Egypt

Apart from the Chinese food we had in various places, Egypt probably just surpasses South Africa as the country with the best food in Africa. Fresh seafood, spicy curries, kebabs and falafel, roti, dates, fruit, salads, tasty bread… and good beer.

Lots of great street food in Egypt and Sudan

Back streets of Cairo

Lunch in Hurgharda

The food in Sudan is also pretty good and the Nile fish breakfast in Wadi Halfa is a special treat, especially with Bedouin coffee or tea. Again icy fruit juices are a specialty and very welcome when the temperature is scorching hot.

 

Europe … Turkey 

The best food we ate in Europe was in Turkey.  This was a big surprise as we don’t think either of us have been to a Turkish restaurant in our lives. Whilst in Istanbul and Mersin we were treated to some excellent local feasts by our new Turkish friends. The street food was also cheap and delicious, a bit like in Egypt.

Further along through Europe we had delicious cakes and pastries, especially in Austria, Italy and France, but the classic Italian and French fine cuisine famous throughout the World was not available to us because of the cost. I am sure its delicious, its just we couldn’t afford any.

We were fortunate to be in Italy during Easter and were treated to a delicious traditional Italian lunch with our friends Nick and Paola and her family near Rome. We also had some great home cooking with family and friends while we were in England and Wales.

I know there is good food about in Britain, but can you find it when you are hungry, or afford to eat decently in, say, London? No. Ubiquitous sandwich shops, junk food, petrol station food, and processed food is the tourists’ lot. Best you can get is a good cardiac arrest “fry up” breakfast at a roadside lay-by or fish and chips for dinner.

Even the so called ethnic food we had in the UK, like Indian or Thai was awful. So, unless you are lucky to be invited to eat at a “Master Chef” finalists’ house, have relatives and friends who are good cooks or win the lottery and have the chance to try out a Michelin starred restaurant you are going to be disappointed on the food front in the UK.

We met many tourists, especially Chinese who were on the verge of tour group mutiny in the UK because they disliked the food so much.

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) amongst the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTMshop 。 

A wonderful lunch (into dinner) among the citrus groves at a superb restaurant in Mersin, Turkey. With our very kind hosts Metin and Sylvia who run the local KTM garage。

 

China – overall winner by a long way…..

Nothing beats the food in China for variety, freshness, health, flavour, texture, low cost, accessibility, colour, exoticness, pure joy and of course taste. Spicy Hunan and Sichuan, sweet and sour Shanghainese, salty and savoury Dong Bei, roasted meat from Xinjiang and seafood from Guangdong …..and it goes on with each province and each region within a province having their own specialties and traditions .

We all need food and everywhere we went in the world the people took pride in their local cuisine, but to our mind nothing beats Chinese food.

We and 1.4 billion others think so anyway..

Best Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaXiao Long (Laughing Dragon) – Livingstone, Zambia. On par with the Sichuan and Hunan food we have in China,  but I suspect only if you insist on the genuine stuff… in Mandarin ….and have a Chinese companion who does a thorough inspection of the kitchen, the ingredients and interrogates all the staff.

Worst Chinese Restaurant outside ChinaThe Panda – Mosi, Tanzania (The lovely girl, Cheng Yuan Yuan, who was left in charge of the restaurant while the owner went back to China admitted she couldn’t cook and neither could the chef). In the end one of the Chinese guests went in the kitchen and cooked a few dishes which we shared.

Would you believe it? Fanny eating again. Chengdu is famous for Xiao Chi (lit.. little eats) Snacks if you will.

Sichuan street food

I am like a dog in China. I get fed once a day, complete strangers come up and stroke the blonde hairs on my arms, in my presence I get spoken about in the third person, certain hotels wont let me in, and I have no idea what people are saying to me all the time. Woof Woof.

Yunnan food

Chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

Its exotic and specialties appeared on street corners and by the side of fields as we rode across the country . Here chatting with locals selling lianzi (lotus seeds) next to huge fields of lianhua (lotus)

WORST FOOD AWARDS

Worst food in Africa – Malawi

The lakeside resorts run by foreignors had pretty good food, but unless you like eating a diet consisting of 99% cassava (which has the nutritional value and taste of a flip flop) you will starve in the rest of the country as indeed a lot of the people are doing.  There is no excuse for this as Malawi has fresh water,  untapped natural resources and shares nearly the same geology and agricultural potential as Tanzania which grows coffee, tea, fruit and vegetables in abundance.

The problem, as with too many places in Africa, lies with the government who are greedy, corrupt and incompetent …and the people who put up with such tyrants who keep them in the stone age.

The other crop that grows pretty freely in Malawi is marijuana , so if you like you can spend your days in Malawi stoned out of your skull in a blue haze, however when you get the munchies don’t expect to see much in the fridge.

Worst food in Europe – the UK. If you have the money, or live with an excellent cook you will eat as well as anywhere in the world.

However for any visitor to the UK the food on the street is pretty dire. The healthy option, if so inclined, is a salad with a bit of meat or fish in a plastic box. Still hungry? .. of course you are … so a tub of lard for pudding. You can tell by the unhealty disposition and obesity of most English people that there is little nutrition in many peoples diet.

In England the day starts off well with a variety of decent breakfasts and then goes downhill thereon.

Worst food in China Tibet. If we are to be picky, a diet that consists of a thousand ways to eat yak and yak’s milk might be pushing the limits… so local Tibetan food, whilst pretty OK, is at bottom of of the list as there is some amazing food to be eaten in every province across China.

All this being said the upside of increasing migration of more Han Chinese into Tibet is that good food from other provinces can be found in the main cities in Tibet. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Its a good thing when you’re hungry.

Also, I have to mention the province of Guangxi and Chinese provinces bordering Laos and Vietnam for their fondness for dog, rat, pangolin, civet cat, and other furry, feathered and scaly creatures and their insides… nope…. not my cup of nai cha, nor Fanny’s.

BEST BEER AWARDS

Africa – Namibia – Windhoek beer.

Windhoek

 

 

Europe – English bitter (in particular Marston’s Pedigree from Burton Upon Trent)

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Marston’s Pedigree – from Burton on Trent

China – Tsingdao beer  青岛啤酒)

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Tsing Dao from Qingdao, China

 

WORST BEER AWARDS  – of course there is no worst beer award, but perhaps Sudan should get a mention for not allowing beer at all.  In fact the punishment for any alcohol possession in Sudan is 40 lashes.

Ouch!

BEST GAME PARK  AWARDS

1. Masai Mara (Kenya) (in late August)

We had an awesome time in Masai Mara. Great guides, reasonable entry fees (compared to Tanzania), and when we were there the great wildebeest migration was in residence and stretched across the grassy plains as far as the eye could see. It was true Lion King country and we had a terrific motorcycle ride to get there along cattle tracks and through Masai villages.

2. South Luangwa (Zambia).

South Luangwa National Park is possibly one of the prettiest and diverse game reserves in Africa. Certainly one of my favourite. Unfortunately, while I was there the last rhino had been poached in collusion with corrupt security guards who for their evil part were paid a fraction of what the horns were eventually sold for in Asia.

Whilst the 150 kilometer road from Chipata to the national park was too technical for Fanny at that particular stage of our expedition (not now of course), I had been there on a previous motorcycle trip across Africa and on the way bumped into the Long Way Down TV show motorcycles on their way to Lusaka. They had also decided against going to Luangwa because the road was too tough for Mr. and Mrs. McGregor, although easy for Charlie Boorman and the cameraman, Claudio I expect, who turned out to be decent guys and true motorcycle enthusiasts.

With the help of my Zambian cousin I managed to ride right into the game park along a locally used two track sand road and ride right up to many of the African animals and through the stunning bush of the Valley, but trying to keep a decent distance from creatures that might like a KTM sandwich. However, I inadvertently rode into a herd elephants and was mock charged by a young male which was quite exciting. They do not like the sound or sight of motorcycles at all, especially with loud Akropovik exhausts.

 

BEST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Ras Mohammed, Dahab and Sharm El Sheikh, Sinai, Egypt.

I do not care for diving particularly having been put off  when I did a CT selection course when I was in the Royal Hong Kong police,  but due to putting down roots in Dahab by the beautiful Red Sea I had little to do while Fanny was windsurfing and so I have now completed the PADI open water and advanced scuba course with H2O Divers.

http://www.facebook.com/H2ODiversDahab

Dahab is 90 Kms away from Sharm El Sheikh in the Gulf of  Aqaba (Red Sea) and enjoys amazing marine life and is a very popular destination for kite surfing, wind surfing and diving. As well as scuba diving with an aqua lung, I also learnt to free dive and practised nearly everyday at the famous Blue Hole, or just off the coral reefs at Eel Garden, The Caves or Lighthouse. Amazing places. Fanny on the other hand learnt to windsurf in the lagoon with Planet Windsurf and is now a very competent sailor.

http://www.planetwindsurfholidays.com/resorts/egypt/dahab/

The Red Sea in Egypt, especially along the Sinai peninsular is absolutely spectacular. I have been fortunate to have traveled around most of South East Asia, but the Red Sea is to my mind better. Crystal clear warm waters, amazing tropical fish and coral reefs and pretty decent infrastructure to support it all. The Sinai desert mountains create an awesome backdrop to the coastal towns of Nuweiba, Taba and especially Dahab, and the desert itself is quite possibly the prettiest in the world, especially at sunset and sunrise.  That said, the whole tourism thing could be done so so much better, but then the Egyptian tourist industry is reeling from the Arab Spring revolution, the world economic downturn and the negative effects of blowing up tourists with fire-bombs.

WORST DIVING & SNORKELING AWARD

Any open water in East or South China. Polluted and disgusting.

BEST MOUNTAINS & VALLEYS

Africa – Ethiopia and Lesotho

Whilst we thought Ethiopia was spoiled a bit by some of its annoying stone throwing feral inhabitants and decaying cities, it does have spectacular natural beauty with mountains, rivers, pastures, lakes and valleys that looks a bit like those in Switzerland, Scotland or Austria.  The roads are also for the large part extremely good, although as I have said often crowded with people and animals.

Lesotho, which is bordered completely by South Africa, is also a very mountainous country and is an excellent place to visit, albeit a bit chilly to ride through in winter.

Ethiopia’s proximity to some very dodgy African countries, short visa restrictions and some very wet weather while we were there prevented us from exploring the amazing Danakil depression and Afar region in the east of the country which are said to be spectacular.

Not many regrets on the expedition, but not venturing to this amazing part of the world that features in the January 2012 edition of National Geographic magazine.

We did go to Lalibela to see the rock hewn churches, and they were fairly interesting. But unless you are an archaeologist or Christian pilgrim you’d be better off visiting Salisbury Cathedral, and indeed any Norman church in England as they are older, far more impressive and have less fleas. The ride there was fun though and took us  “off road” for a few hundred kilometers through valleys and across rivers and streams.

Europe – you are probably going the expect me to say The Alps, Pyrenees or the Dolomites, maybe the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia in Wales and indeed they are spectacular, but I am going to have to pick the mountains and valleys I enjoyed riding through the most and so I will say The Highlands of Scotland.

West coast of Scotland

West coast of Scotland

 

China –  is a very mountainous part of the world and along our 13,000 kilometer ride through the middle kingdom we navigated over, around and often through many mountain ranges. Chinese history is steeped in legend about mountains and have been the subject of pilgrimages by emperors and philosophers throughout the ages.  We were lucky to see some of the wuyue 五岳 – sacred five and the Buddhist and Taoist fours. But for me and Fanny seeing (and riding through) the greatest mountain range on the planet with the highest peaks, the Himalayas was one of the highlights of the expedition.

After all the awful roads we get to cruise on the awesome S201 through Guangxi 广西。

Guangxi 广西。

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River ... yellow

These are the mountains that turn the Yellow River … yellow

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

Tibet and the Himalayas from space

The Himalayas... what can you say?

The Himalayas… what can you say?

 

BEST BORDER CROSSING –

Africa – South Africa. Quite simply modern, efficient, quick and fair.

Europeall easy

Chinano border crossings.. although riding through the road blocks in Tibet was “interesting”.

WORST BORDER CROSSING 

1st Egypt and 2nd Sudan.

The opposite of modern, efficient, quick, or fair. The further north in Africa we went the worse the border crossings became.

LEAST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Botswana

Europe – Austria

Asia – Singapore (its not going to be China is it?)

MOST CORRUPT COUNTRY AWARDS

Africa – Egypt

Europe – Italy

Asia – China

Most countries we went through in Africa could very fairly be described as corrupt. Some more than others. Unfortunately, there are countries we simply couldn’t risk traveling through because they are so corrupt and dangerous, such as the DRC, Chad, Nigeria etc.. Even the famous Dakar Rally no longer races through the Sahara to Dakar and has moved to Argentina and Chile in South America.

An anecdote from our first day in Egypt:

Having spent considerable time and parted with a huge amount of cash at customs and immigration at the Egyptian border in Aswan, we were stopped 50 meters away at a road block, the first of hundreds, by a policeman with an AK47 variant of assault rifle who looked us up and down and asked, ‘Where you come from?’

Me (clearly thinking this is stupid question at the Egypt/Sudan border) ‘ Sudan’

Policeman ‘What in bag?’

Me ‘ Our things’

Policeman ‘ Open up’

Me ‘OK’…. ‘It’ll take a bit of time… hang on a bit’

As I was getting off my bike to open the panniers the policeman said ‘ Ah.. no need, haha…  anything nice for me?’

Me ‘ I don’t pay bribes’ (eye to eye), and continued,  ‘Actually I used to be a policeman and think policemen like you are an insult to the cloth, you make the job of honest, conscientious policemen more difficult and more dangerous’ rant rant…

Policeman (grinning like an imbecile and waving me on) ‘ haha .. you can go’

Policeman to Fanny ‘Where you come from?’

Fanny ‘China’

Policeman to Fanny ‘ You got present for me?’

I turned around and shouted ‘ HEY! – I TOLD YOU’

Policeman ‘Haha.. OK you go’   and so we went.

On each occasion the authorities even suggested a bribe I stood my ground or played my “I used to be a policeman” trump card and they all gave up.

Some of Fanny’s friends, a Chinese expedition starting from South Africa and riding Jin Chiang motorcycle and side-cars, gave up in Tanzania after running out of money, spirit and heart after paying bribe after bribe and being messed about at every single border crossing.

I guess the Africans thought that Chinese are accustomed to paying bribes. Maybe they are, and maybe they are also as fed up as everyone else.

 

NOISIEST COUNTRY AWARDS  – Sudan followed by China and Egypt.

Sudan is a strictly Islamic country and so requires its Muslim population to pray five times a day among other noisy rituals. The density of mosques and minarets in Sudan is very high and the call to prayers starts at 4-5 am which is rather early and without doubt a very loud wake -up alarm call where ever you are.

I vaguely remember bell ringing on Sunday mornings from the church in the village, Abbots Bromley, I grew up in England, and even that annoyed me after a few peels.

As a Roaming Catholic of the lapsed kind I am a firm believer that anyone can believe in what they like provided it causes no harm to others, but object to people inflicting their superstitions, religion and beliefs on other people.

My helpful suggestion that calls to prayer be made using mobile phones on vibrate mode was not met enthusiastically by anyone I met, nor was the suggestion that  “All Things Bright and Beautiful” might be more cheerful.

China?

There are 1.4 billion Chinese, the streets are crowded, and they absolutely love noise and any excuse to make some is welcomed and encouraged.

Megaphones, public announcements, promotions, advertisements, car horns, traffic, construction noise, warning signals, conversations, music, talking in restaurants etc etc… DO IT LOUDLY!. T

There are four tones in Mandarin and to make sure the other person understands clearly its best to SHOUT. In Cantonese there are nine tones and so the Hong Kongers SHOUT EVEN LOUDER ……..AAAH MAAAA. 噪音太大。!!!!

 

MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY AWARD – Namibia

To the motorcyclists who like a bit of technical off road riding, stunning scenery, quiet roads, good camping sites, African animals and birds, decent petrol and getting close to unspoiled nature then Namibia is the country to go and disturb the peace with your Akropovik or Leo Vince exhausts!

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A long way from anywhere…. The Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Pictures at http://www.facebook.com/bigbiketrip

Chapter 31 – Vietnam and Cambodia

So what do two adventure bikers do for their Christmas holidays?

Of course, go on another motorcycle adventure, this time to Vietnam and Cambodia.

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Lots of temples in the Cambodian forests… some like this very isolated

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Riding through The Cardomon mountains, Cambodia on a Honda Transalp 650

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Coffee and noodles and more coffee in Hanoi.

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Riding around Hanoi

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Our Honda and a hat

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Hanoi

Flying directly into Phnom Penh from Hong Kong was expensive and so we decided to fly into Hanoi first, have a look around and then take a local flight to Cambodia where we would pick up a Honda Africa Twin and spend two weeks over the holidays touring the country, and perhaps include a few days relaxing on the southern coast.

I have been to Ho Chi Minh a few times, but neither Fanny or I had been to Hanoi and we had been planning to go there for some time.   Originally our plan was to ride from Hanoi to Hai Phong, inspired by the famous “Top Gear Special”, but we didn’t really have enough time to do a big trip in both Vietnam and Cambodia. Also, Fanny was recovering from ACL reconstruction surgery to her knee and she did not want to ride a bike herself, and so we decided to spend the majority of our time in Cambodia as we could share a larger adventure motorbike. It seems Vietnam only hires out small scooters and mopeds, which are perfectly OK for scooting about the city, but a bit challenging for an countrywide tour in a few days.

Hanoi is a really interesting and bustling city with French and Chinese style architecture reflecting its rather complicated heritage. We liked it very much. There are tens of thousands of scooters riding about in a seemingly chaotic manner, but after a while you realize, despite universal none adherence to any traffic laws whatsoever, that carnage, death and destruction is actually quite rare. In fact, everyone just manages to avoid colliding into everyone else.

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When in Hanoi….

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Lots of markets and hawkers stalls

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School kids visiting the Hanoi War Museum…

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And serving soldier …

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A B52 …once

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And Fanny . and B52 wreckage in a very small pond.

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Riding into restaurant in Hanoi

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Exploring around the narrow streets… perfect on a moped

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Look at her happy face… anyone would think she had found authentic Vietnamese beef noodles for a dollar

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And more…

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I believe this is a called a “take a picture of your self” or something like that.

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Fanny and I hiking around Hanoi

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Before…..

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After… !

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Zoom…. kids and all

Crossing the road on foot does take a leap of faith, if not courage, and yet the bikes and cars just seem to slide by, dodge and side step you, employing well practiced collision avoidance techniques. Accidents do happen of course, and like their Thai neighbours the Vietnamese take enormous pleasure in publishing the graphic images of squashed and smashed up human being in newspapers and specialist magazines. Everyone’s got to have a hobby I suppose.

Finding accommodation in Hanoi was easy and we stayed at a superb hotel in the old town called Oriental Suites. A colonial looking and very well managed mid sized hotel right in the heart of the old town. Great coffee and very obsequious staff… just how we like it.

http://www.orientalsuiteshotel.com/en-us/hotels/home.html

We decide to hire a scooter to get around and explore the city and at first were given a “last thing you’ll ever ride” piece of junk clearly belonging to one of the hotel staff.  After an 18.5 second test drive I returned and gave the hotel manager a full and frank appraisal of his “Vamporetta” or whatever it was. The traffic was bad enough in Hanoi, but without any brakes, steering bearings gone, and an engine that stalled all the time… I don’t think so.  So, we were given one of the ubiquitous Honda 110 mopeds and it was perfectly fine and off we went.

We found lots of great restaurants, cafes, noodle shops, and market stalls, most of which were selling a huge array of Christmas decorations and junk nobody really needs in life. The street food was very good and it seems the Vietnamese, like the southern Chinese they share a border, will eat absolutely anything. There were a lot of roasted pooches looking rather sad for themselves in heated glass display cases at various street hawker stalls. Evidently, the locals are perfectly aware that their taste in cuisine isn’t appreciated by the vast majority of tourists, including many Chinese from the more civilized cities and northern provinces, and so they were sensitive to people like Fanny and I taking pictures of poached pug and char grilled collie. But we did anyway.

Hanoi, along with the same parts of China that regularly eat dog, i.e. Guangxi and Guangdong, are also the markets for rhino horn although I never saw any evidence of this devastating trade in endangered animal parts. Not surprising since gram for gram rhino horn its more valuable than gold. Wont last for long though as there wont be a rhino left on the planet within a generation.

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Harley Bikers in Hanoi

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Biker Cafe

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Lots of captured US aircraft

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US aircraft sculpture ….

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The winners flag flying above their captured aircraft

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Bit mad on roads in day and night

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Hanoi shop

Anyway, we explored the back streets, drank lots of excellent coffee, went to a small lake with the wreckage of a downed B52 bomber still in it, and really enjoyed our visit to the Hanoi War Museum that was full of US warplanes and helicopters, as well as large displays of medieval warfare techniques and home made weapons used against the French troops during the 1950s. Despite nearly everyone being half the size of Fanny, the Vietnamese seem like very tough people… they certainly have a high tolerance for discomfort and hardship.

A day or so later we took a Vietnamese flight via Vientiane in Laos to Phnom Penh and breezed through immigration very quickly as we had applied for our visas in advance. We avoided the taxis and hired a “tut tut” on the main highway to take us to our hotel, the Grande Palaise, near the central market.

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Phnom Penh

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In a tut tut on way to pick up our bike

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Cambodia-physical-map

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The Grande Palaise, Phnom Penh… looks nice until you have to flush a lavatory.

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Ahh… no guests at breakfast… wonder why?

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The GDP of a country is inversely proportional to the length of their leader’s motorcade.

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If you see this dog …. hand him over to the Cambodian police … not the Vietnamese police…unless you are fond of pug stew.

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An amazing looking colonial hotel in keeping with its name, but the devils in the detail and its seems Cambodian attention to detail and good grouting is en par with that in Hong Kong.  The hotel had been converted from an old colonial cinema and it was also clear that they had done a pretty crap job of it. The electric was shocking, the plumbing was appalling, and the bed was lumpy. Judging by the expression on the faces of two snooty looking French guests at breakfast the next morning we were not the only people to think so.

The next day we navigated around a seemingly endless motorcade of Vietnamese and Cambodian officials in blacked out limos, army trucks and police officers in SUVs as they raced back and forth across the city.  Cars and pedestrians alike were forced to stop by hundreds of police officers as this officialdom went about what ever it was doing. Eventually there was a window of opportunity to move about and we got another tut tut to our motorcycle hire shop.

The Bike Shop is run by a Frenchman and his Cambodian partner and we rented a decent looking, but rather old 2001 Honda Transalp 650. I was a bit disappointed that the Africa Twin 750 we had booked online had been given to a French couple, but in the end the Transalp was absolutely faultless and was to prove the ideal bike for some very demanding riding later on. I really grew to like the Transalp.

http://www.motorcyclecambodia.com

We had intended to ride south to the coastal resort town of Kep, but decided instead to ride north west towards Siem Reap where the world heritage temples of Angkor Wat are located. For those not familiar with Cambodia, and that included me before this trip, there is a huge lake in the middle of the country and you have no choice but to ride around it.  No bridges span it and during the rainy season it expands greatly in size and pretty much the whole country is under water.

As it was late December we were traveling in the dry season and so we rode along unsurfaced, potholed and dusty construction roads for several hundred kilometers to Kampong Thom. The Honda, although 14 years old, was extremely well maintained and I could tell from the briefing about checking oil, general maintenance and spare parts that the company we hired it from really looked after their bikes and cared about them. We were also given soft panniers and I have to say if ever I ride around the world or do a significant motorcycle adventure again I will use some sort of soft pannier system rather than the  hugely expensive aluminum square “Touratech” boxes we had on our KTMs for our ride through Africa and Europe.

Because the roads and traffic were so bad we didn’t make the progress we thought we’d make. Also, I was by now really fed up riding on a so called national highway made of holes, dirt and more holes with thick dust being thrown up by trucks and speeding SUVs and so at Kampong Thom we turned off the highway and headed north towards Preah Vihear where we were told there were some interesting temples in the hills at the northern border with Thailand and Laos.

A great decision. The roads were now virtually empty, the scenery was very rural and beautiful, and the road surface was excellent. After about 40 kilometers we saw a sign indicating that there was a resort nearby and since it was getting late and we were tired we headed off along a narrow road through endless fields full of cows, water buffalo and horses and between expanses of rainforest and large deciduous trees.  At around 6pm the light faded noticeably and we had still been unable to find the “resort”, but we did find the ruins of an ancient temple complex. Quite a sight to find in the middle of a forest as the sun was going down.

There was no one around except for a young man on a scooter by a small wooden booth. We stopped to ask him about the “resort”.  ‘This is it”, he told us in perfect English.  Huh!  Apparently the resort was the ruins of the stunning Khmer temples and there was, in fact, no “hotel with a swimming pool and a restaurant” type resort that Fanny and I had envisaged in our minds.

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One of many temples we found

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Fanny and the young Cambodian guy who brought us back to his homestay

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Restaurant where we had our dinner and evening shower in a cow paddock behind restaurant

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Just Fanny and I exploring a site full of temples in the forest

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early morning light

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Prasat Yeay Poeun

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Our homestay

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Morning fire at our homestay…

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Morning wash

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Inside one of the temples

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Sandy roads

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2001 Honda

We had no tent, no sleeping bags and actually very little in the way of luggage at all. Certainly no food. Neither of us were too fussed. It wasn’t raining, the temperature was a perfect 24 degrees and we could perhaps kip with the ghosts in one of the many thousand year old ruins.

‘You can stay at a homestay’, the young man told us. ‘No problem’.

Apparently for 6 dollars for the two of us we could stay at a local home, and that is what we did. But first, food hunting. We were told there was a village nearby and we could find something to eat. Result.

We rode into a charming little farming village and found a small stall selling a very limited selection of local food, including something that looked like papaya salad with dried river prawns. As we drew up on the Honda the whole village stopped and stared at us as if we had landed in a flying saucer. The lady owner looked us up and down and we were covered from head to toe in red dust. I was wearing shorts and my light weight motorcycle jacket and my legs were absolutely caked in filth.

Would I like a shower?  Yes, I would and so I was taken into the cow paddock behind the restaurant where there was a well, a plastic bowl, a hand pump, and a bar of soap right in the middle of the field.

I looked around pondering whether I should just wash my hands and face or have a full shower, and if so am I expected to stand in the field stark bollock naked or wear a sarong or something?  I started stripping off and nobody seemed to take any notice and so I had a proper wash and then wandered back to the restaurant absolutely refreshed and in great spirits.

‘You gotta have a shower’, I told Fanny, as I described the washing facilities, ‘ Its great’.

I chatted as best I could with the owner and her extended family while Fanny had a more modest shower in a field in the middle of Cambodia. Fanny came back all refreshed and tucked into some rather chewy and gamey prawns, and I decided that dinner would be a fried egg and three bottles of Angkor beer.

After we left the restaurant, bade our farewells and were riding through the pitch blackness of where ever it was, I suddenly realized that all the farm houses looked exactly the same and could not remember which was the one we agreed we would stay in. They were all virtually identical wooden structures on stilts and it was pitch dark except for a few lights that were powered by small electric generators or oil lamps. Luckily Fanny came to the rescue and remembered that the only distinguishing feature was that “our” farm house had two doors on the outside bog. And indeed it did.

We parked the Transalp under the farm house, right next to the young man who introduced the homestay in the first place, who was resting in a hammock. Aha! It was his families house. We were shown up the wooden stairs, found our little space on the wooden floor with two mats covered by a mosquito net, lit a candle and settled down.

I had bought a Cambodian sim card for US$5 at the airport the day before and it had unlimited 4G internet connection for one month, and low and behold it actually worked and so Fanny and I did some research and realized that we were in the middle of the pre-Angkorian temple complex called Sambor Pre Kuk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambor_Prei_Kuk

I slept absolutely soundly and very comfortably. It was pretty much like camping. I woke up as the sun was rising thanks to several hundred cockerels and the rest of the farm yard dawn chorus engaging in a rendition of “Old MacDonald had a farm”. We had a quick wash from a bucket, a warm up by the fire and then packed our few things up.

Would we like to see the temples?  Yes please.  Our young saviour who found us somewhere to stay and guarded our bike over night was also the ticket issuing official to the temple complex. US$5 dollars later we were riding along sand tracks through an 8th century world heritage site with not another soul in sight. The morning light streaming through the tree canopy gave the temple ruins a surreal appearance and we spent several hours exploring. Simply amazing.

We then continued north to Preah Vihear through a truly idyllic rural setting. It was like taking a ride in a time machine and going back several hundred years to a purely agricultural pre-industrial era. Like an oriental version of Constable’s Hay Wain painting, there were beautiful trees and flowers, paddy fields with oxen pulling wooden ploughs, farm labourers toiling in the fields, strange looking long legged white cows with frilly necks, water buffalo wallowing in paddies, and typical Asian skinny mongrel dogs skulking about.

As we got further north the topography became more hilly, but not particularly mountainous as we thought it would. Again we found more amazing Khmer temple ruins, but we were a bit templed out and wanted to press on to Siem Reap and find a place to rest and so we headed south west along very rural and narrow roads. None very direct. Fanny was navigating from the pillion seat using my Samsung phone and a map app, but like parts of west China we rode through the maps were clearly not very accurate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preah_Vihear_Temple

We did a lot of riding that day and I had the beginnings of a sore bottom, as did Fanny. In fact, riding pillion is more tiring on your lower back and bum than actually riding because you are not supported by the handlebars. The scenery and riding was amazing, but the Honda Transalp seat was not the most comfortable I have ever sat on. I had forgotten to bring my sheep skin seat cover and was regretting it.

We approached Angkor Wat from the north along very rural roads, and for about 5 kilometers actually rode along a very narrow canal embankment, through local villages and then suddenly we were inside the Angkor Wat complex via a rather unorthodox route.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat

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Not something you see everyday

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An amazing place .. and we could ride our motorcycle freely between the temples.. Not Angkor Wat, but the other one nearby.

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Riding towards Angkor Wat

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Angkor Wat complex

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Wow!  Templed out or not, fond of history or not, this is a spectacular place to see and experience.  On par with the Taj Mahal and Giza pyramids, the symmetry and beauty of these Cambodian temples is astonishing. As with the other man made wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is something most people are familiar with and yet its a strange feeling to actually see the buildings in the flesh, so to speak. The scale was larger than I was expecting and there were a lot more temple complexes, statues and structures. Whilst we could ride right up to many of the ruins and structures, the actual Angkor Wat is surrounded by a huge symmetrical square moat and you can only get to it by crossing a foot bridge.

Not as old as the temples we had seen so far, its undoubtedly the most spectacular. Originally Hindu and later Buddhist, its supposed to be the largest religious complex in the world and like the pyramids, and indeed Stonehenge, the architectural skill and engineering involved in its construction is almost inconceivable.

We had started early that day and we were feeling tired, but the early evening light and amazing architecture was mesmerizing.  As expected there were a lot of tourists from all over the world which contrasted with the virtual empty temples we had seen earlier in the day.

After seeing as much as we could, we rode a few kilometers south into the busy city of Siem Reap and found a very pleasant hotel to stay in called Horizons Cambodia.  Given it was one of best B&Bs in the town and it was peak season we were lucky to just rock up and find a vacancy. In fact. they also gave us a really nice suite and allowed us to park our motorcycle in the garden behind locked gates. A result.

It was Christmas Eve and we wandered into the old part of the town and found a very decent restaurant serving local delicious local food.  My bum was still really sore and I could barely sit down, but what a great day.

The next morning we had a big choice to make. As there is a huge expanse of water called Tonle Sap Lake just south of Siem Reap and right in the middle of the country, we could either go clockwise around it, ride the truly awful national highway again back to Phnom Penh and then further on to the south coast, or take a much longer anti clockwise ride around the lake towards Battambang and then south across the Cardamon Mountains towards Koh Kong on the south west coast of Cambodia.  This is very near to Koh Chang in Thailand which I toured a few months earlier (previous chapter).

Fanny and I wanted to see the Cardamon mountains as they are off the tourist route, remote, and home to some of the last expanses of Asian rainforest.  However it would take two to three days, I was not sure where we would stay, and we would probably have to ride on gravel tracks and trails.

I prefer to stand up on foot pegs when riding off road, partly because of balance and centre of gravity, and partly to take the load off my bum. With a  pillion rider you have to sit down all the time, and for the pillion rider they are also going to have a rough old ride balancing on the back seat. Fanny was game on anyway, and so we set off west towards the western border with Thailand and by lunchtime swung around the lake and were heading south east towards Battambang.

Whilst filling with petrol at a gas station and studying the map I realized that going forward navigation was going to be a bit tricky. We were told by locals there were some new gravel roads built by Chinese contractors to serve hydro electric dams up in the mountains, but these were not marked on our maps. In fact, as far as this remote south western part of Cambodia was concerned none of the maps reconciled at all.

Oh well, go for it.

As we turned off a fairly busy highway between Battambang and Posat we still had about five hours of daylight left. Within a few kilometers, the road narrowed and we were on a single trail just elevated above the paddy fields and within fifteen kilometers it turned into the classic gravel type track we were very familiar with in southern Africa.

I could see a range of medium sized mountains in the distance and knew that there were several peaks around two  thousand meters in height that we would have to navigate around. I was estimating that as the crow flies we had about 250 kilometers to reach Koh Kang, but the roads indicated on both our hard and soft copy maps meandered about and often faded out completely.  I know logically that locals over the years would move between villages and there should be some sort of access, even if only using small tracks.

As we rode along Fanny suddenly told me that our position on the cellphone map indicated we were in the middle of a field, and yet we were still on the road. Strange. We had similar problems in remote locations in Sudan and Egypt from time to time, but then we were using a GPS with loaded maps, rather than a cellphone that uploaded maps from the 3G internet signal.

We carried on for a while, but we were going more and more off course, or so it appeared. After a while I doubled back to the point it deviated and could see no sign of another road and so we turned around yet again and carried on again.  After about 40 minutes we arrived at a small village where I could see a cell phone repeater mast on a nearby hill. However, the Samsung still showed we were in the middle of nowhere and our hard copy map tended to indicate we had gone too far west.

Time to ask someone, but we were really struggling with the language and through repeated attempts I realized the locals would just nod and shake there heads, point in any direction and agree to anything you said just to get rid of you and save face. I am pretty sure “I don’t know” is not in a Cambodian’s vocabulary.

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Riding around on sand roads in the forest looking for temples

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A lot of gravel roads in Cambodia

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Crossing one of the Chinese bridges across the dams for the hydro electric stations in Cardamom mountains

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me

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Nice bit of concrete near dams… only last a few kilometers and then back to gravel and sand

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This is pretty much only picture we have of the rough roads as I had to concentrate on riding and Fanny was holding on for grim life. Usual obstacle course …. quite steep here and deciding which route to take. Good fun really

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Mostly we were on our own all day… rarely saw any other people

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Is it a road or a stream? … both apparently

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Water to cross

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Reservoirs for hydro electric dams

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One of many bridges crossing the dammed river in the Cardamom mountains

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Fanny

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If its takes a car .. it’ll take us

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Eventually someone pointed to a road that by the position of the sun seemed to be heading south and that to my mind was all the corroboration I needed and so we started riding down an increasingly narrow and eroded trail.  Within half an hour the road turned into an obstacle course of rocks, deeply rutted hardened mud and occasional ponds and swollen streams. I was sweating profusely as we battled along for an hour, making what I guess was less than 10 kilometers in progress. The track went up, down, left, right, through jungles, over ridges and across streets and rivers. Often the vegetation was so think, or a branch so low I would have to get off the bike and walk it through while ducking.

We stopped for a water break, looked around, studied my lying maps, and then I looked at Fanny for some feedback.  I was a bit concerned she was not enjoying her “Christmas Day lost in the jungle adventure”, but actually she was in pretty good spirits and seemed to be enjoying herself.  Of course, as an adventure rider I do not like to say that I am lost, rather I am not where I thought I should be. Nevertheless I hadn’t a fucking clue where we were.

Occasionally the track or river bed was so bad that Fanny had to get off and walk as a tackled some particularly rutted patches or wade the bike through a river or stream, or worse a river that I didn’t know what the depth actually was. I have to say that the Transalp was superb though…. handling like a modern 250 enduro.  I was a bit nervous that I was giving the 14 year old veteran too much of a work out as the long suspension fattened out and the belly pan scraped over logs and rocks. But it seemed fine, the engine, gear box, clutch all purring along doing what its meant to do. Only the suspension was showing its age, but then it was carrying two big chunky humans over a surface that resembled a trials bike course.

A one stage there was a dark and particularly still expanse of water in the jungle where the trail suddenly just stopped and so we got off and prodded around a bit, trying to gauge how deep the water was.  The dark pond seemed to continued into the darkness of the jungle and I couldn’t see the other side from where we were.

With no other vehicles to observe going through the water Fanny decided to get off and take a jungle trek around and I took a leap of faith and plunged into the water and sludge and to my relief emerged out the other side. I was a bit alarmed to catch sight of a large snake dashing for safety as I hurtled towards it. If I lost momentum the bike would undoubtedly fall over and get stuck in the sludge, so out my way Sid, I’m coming through.

Trucks clearly used the trail, possibly as a short cut, or maybe there was no other way through. I just couldn’t tell. But during the recent rainy season the trucks had carved out two to three foot deep troughs in the mud that had now hardened and were like an obstacle course and quite difficult to ride across. Often there was no sign of consensus for the two wheeled traffic and the motorcycle tracks weaved about and went in all directions.

I don’t drop my bike often but on one particularly nasty stretch I hesitated on a high ridge with Fanny on the back and as there was a four foot drop on either side there was nowhere to put my feet and so I called out to Fanny that we were going over and in very slow motion that is exactly what happened.  Fanny jumped off, but I didn’t want to damage the hired Honda and so it fell on top of me. No Alpinestar enduro boots, no enduro gear.. just shorts and trainers and so I was pinned into the hardened mud with 200kg of motorcycle on top of me. It hurt a bit but I was basically uninjured and the bike was completely undamaged having had a soft landing.

Adventure bikers will know that once pinned under a heavy adventure bike its near on impossible to get it off. However, Fanny has a black belt in picking up motorbikes and despite the uneven surface she lifted the bike sufficiently for me to wriggle out from underneath it. Once free we could easily right the bike, push it to a place we could get back on again and carry on.

It was a stupid fall caused because I was faffing about and because I was tired near the end of a very long day of riding.  Riding off road is a head game and requires being focused, being balanced, using proper throttle control and riding assertively. If you lose momentum on a slope or uneven ground you will fall down. If the front wheel washes out or don’t use proper throttle to keep up a forward momentum you will fall down. And if you are wearing shorts and trainers instead of enduro boots and riding gear, you stand a good chance of hurting yourself.

We crossed a few more rivers and I was starting to think we had bitten off a bit more than we could chew. On one tricky and very rutted section Fanny said she would prefer to get off and walk and so I powered the very capable Honda along the twisty and ploughed up trail, until the surface improved a bit and there were less streams to cross and then waited for Fanny. After a while I decided to park up the bike and hike back the way I came to find her and share some water.

As I was hiking back I could hear the unmistakeable whine of a 100cc moped and then I saw it appear out of the murkiness of the jungle canopy, with an old man riding and Fanny waving and laughing on the back. As it approached I noticed the old man only had one leg.

‘I have been rescued by a real biker who knows what he’s doing’, Fanny said laughing.  Well you can’t argue with that.

We thanked to old man who then he soldiered on into the jungle again and we watched until the putt putt sound of the moped disappeared. I am quite sure he knew the route much better than me, but was humbled by his riding skill and endurance, especially given the fact that he had only one leg and was about 70 years old.

We had spent a good deal of the afternoon battling along the trail and did seem to be getting nearer to a visible cross roads near the Pursat River that looked like it might be habitable and we might find somewhere to stay. And then almost suddenly we were in pitch blackness. For some strange reason that only Cambodian’s will understand, you are not allowed to put your headlights on while riding in the daytime.  This safety feature is reserved only of the government. In most parts of the world the headlights on a motorcycle are always on… for safety so you can be seen. Not so in Cambodia and so now it was officially dark I could turn them on.

Riding in the dark is not so bad,  you can see the road clearly enough, you just can’t seen anything else.  After a while we came off the trail and joined a more substantial gravel track and within about 30 kilometers we were at the cross road marked on the map which in reality was a roundabout with a statue of an elephant in the middle. Not only did we find a hotel, but also a pretty decent roadside restaurant.

The hotel wasn’t very nice, but it was cheap, had a sort of shower thing, and we could ride the bike into the hotel building and park it outside our room. Again we were filthy, but after a scrub down and some food were out for the count.

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Out of jungle into an open space … time for a water break

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Rest break…. dense forest behind which we rode through on second day in Cardamom mountains

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Plaque showing Chinese Civil Engineering Company who build hydro electric plants, bridges and dams etc…

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Gravel roads and trails

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Good bit of gravel road meandering through Cardamom mountains

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Have to stand up a bit… bum too sore and road to rough

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Fanny doing the elephant sign motorcyclist pose … we all have to.

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Our Honda Transalp 650 on a good stretch of gravel road in the Cardamom mountains, SW Cambodia.

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Similar to picture I took of Nick Dobson in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast in 2009

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After you….

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Fanny playing volleyball for first time after her ACL operation with some locals in Kep

The next day the weather was perfect. The bike started which was a relief and we set off up into the mountains and subsequently along some of the best trails I have ever ridden. The only sign of humans were when we got close to a hydro electric dam and the road turned to concrete, but quickly reverted back to gravel and sand after a few kilometers. There were many lakes and quite a few impressive bridges and dams.  We passed through some very basic villages that reminded us very much of Africa and meandered around lake shores, rivers and contour trails around hills.

Strangely, considering the natural beauty of the rainforest we were riding through, there were no animals and birds. I expected this area to be teeming with life, like a tropical paradise, but it was unnaturally barren and very quiet apart from a few insects and butterflies. Had the Cambodians eaten the place clean during the war? Perhaps.

By mid afternoon I could tell by signs of human activity and signs of electric pylons etc… we were getting nearer to Koh Kong, and as we descended out of the mountains we could see the sea, a huge river delta, mangroves swamps, bridges and the buildings of the coastal town that border with Thailand.

We stayed at Oasis Resort, a very lucky find indeed given it was peak season, and a thoroughly relaxing place to re-charge the batteries for a couple of days. A lovely location next to the river and mangroves, great value for money, big clean and well appointed room, top notch bar and restaurant and a superb “infinity style” swimming pool. Jason, an Englishman from Southampton, had built it from scratch over a decade ago and over the years built one of the best places we have stayed at.  Jason is starting a new project in Sri Lanka and so this place will be up for sale. Very tempting.

http://oasisresort.netkhmer.com/p/blog-page_30.html

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Riding down towards Koh Kong

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More water to cross

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Chilli crab on beach at Koh Kong

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Riding along elevated trail roads above mangrove swamps in Koh Kong

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Oasis Resort in Kep

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Jason at his resort called Oasis in Koh Kong…. Highly recommended.

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Oasis infinity pool, Koh Kong

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Oasis Resort, Koh Kong

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Exploring the magrove swamps around Koh Kong

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Koh Kong …. next to Chilli Crab restaurant.

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Koh Kong

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Fanny concentrating on chilli crab

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Our hotel in Kep

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Kep

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Relaxing at our French owned resort in Kep

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How many glasses of rosie can one drink in the afternoon before falling asleep? Six allegedly.

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Kep beach

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Not too shabby…. our hotel for New Years Eve in Kep

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Our evening dinner spot…. Kep

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15 seconds after this photograph was taken the cow took exception to Fanny and tried to head butt here… luckily it was tethered

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Hiking around Kep

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Seafood market in kep

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Kep coastline where we went sailing

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Really good bike ….

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Ummm…I think it was a good move to get a Honda Transalp instead of a Honda Africa Twin… maybe.. perhaps… probably.

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New Years Eve in Kep, Cambodia

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Kep…. relaxing at Yacht Club with a sundowner

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Fanny and our trust stead

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Never stop exploring

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Another year gone by….

After exploring Koh Kong, eating chilli crabs, drinking Angkor beer on the beach, swimming, serious idling about and yarning with Jason we set off back into the mountains, but this time on a good road through Boulum Sakor National Park, with elevated views across the forests towards Kep.  We passed the turning to Sihanouk which was described by some people we met as a tourist resort for “common people with nasty kids” and into Kampot which is famous for pepper plantations. We didn’t stay, but it looked a pretty nice place, and continued to Kep.

At first, I didn’t care for Kep too much, but I grew to really like it.  Quiet, relaxed, very nice resorts and excellent food. Just what we wanted for a few days over the new year. We hired a hobby cat and sailed around until Fanny got seasick, tried out a few French owned resorts that actually had some vacancies as we hadn’t booked ahead, did some hiking and exploring, ate a lot and saw in the New Year at a party at the Yacht Club.  Well, “saw in” is a bit of an exaggeration as we both fell asleep at 10 pm … which was just as well as we had to ride back to Phnom Penh the next day to return the Honda before midday, which we did.

As we had some time to kill before our flight to Hanoi we decided to visit the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuol_Sleng_Genocide_Museum

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Whilst we should all be aware of what real shits human beings can be when push comes to shove, I wish I never went. It was thoroughly depressing and disturbing. Its unimaginable what the Cambodians did to each other in the killing fields and torture chambers just a few decades ago, until of course its thrust in your face at such a hell hole as this.  With the ungodly atrocities being committed at this moment by ISIL, Jihadis and Boko Haram… carrying on where the Maoists, Rwandans, Japanese and Nazis left off, do we really need it? Maybe, maybe not.  I just wish I hadn’t gone.

We caught the evening flight back to Hanoi, stayed at the same hotel in the old town as before, and the next day took another short flight and were back in Hong Kong with yet another motorcycling adventure added to the list.

The Honda Transalp was a superb bike for an old girl, and hauled the two of us all over Cambodia with ease. Its fired up my interest to take a look at the Honda CRF 1000 Africa Twin when it comes out in 2015.  Or do we stick with KTM and try out the new lightweight 800 Adventure?  Decisions decisions…..

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Next … we off to the Isle of Man TT and Ireland on our KTM 990 SMT……

Chapter 17 – The UK – its alright for ducks

 

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Utleystan in Yorkshire

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Fanny and her KTM 990 Adventure “Stella”

Constant rain, grey skies, mealy mouthed job worthies, stifling political correctness, unhealthy tasteless food, boring non stop reality TV, Kay Burley, speed cameras, stealth taxation, VAT, high crime rates, fat women in leggings, fat women in leggings and shorts, fat women in yoga pants, under performing sports teams, corrupt greedy bankers, a haven for violent radicals, inept and dishonest politicians, and fluorescent green reflective jackets….

HURRAY we finally made it to the mufti effnic kingdom of Blighty. The country I am indigenous to and have a love/hate relationship with … I love to hate it.

But hey! Enough of all that pom bashing stuff.

The reality is of course there are some real gems in good ol’ Blighty, but like diamond mining you have to sift through a lot of shit to find it.

The UK produces the best soldiers in the world; is a leader in innovation, creativity, art and design; has a unique sense of self effacing humour; and most importantly it produces Marstons Pedigree bitter and Marmite (both from Burton Upon Trent near where I grew up ….I might add).

We have some lovely friends and family who for some reason or another still live on “mud island” and they have all made Fanny and I extremely welcome in their homes and tolerated my smelly boots, wet soggy clothes, and my incessant whinging and whining about the food, the weather, Britain’s preoccupation with health and safety, snowflakes being offended at everything and anything, and inflicting diversity on me against my will.

I can’t help it… I like it the way it was… in 1839, probably.

We intended to take the Euro-tunnel from France to England, but the price for a single trip was a minimum of £99 each, and so we took the cheaper ferry option where on board we met some very interesting fellow bikers and shared our stories of daring do and adventures in far flung exotic places.

I have to say I was a bit emotional when I saw the white cliffs of Dover and realized we had actually ridden our bikes more than 35,000 kms from the southern tip of Africa, across the Middle east and Europe and all the way to England, and done so with no back up or support, no Long Way Down style Nissan Pathfinders full of spare parts, medics, security etc., and completely self financed. We had also managed to raise a few bucks for our charities, Autism Research Trust and Half the Sky along the way.

As we drove down the ferry ramp I looked back in my rear view mirror and saw the orange headlight of Fanny’s KTM bringing up the rear, as it had done every day for more than a year, and I felt immensely proud of her. Against all the odds she had done it. A remarkable achievement given that she only had a driving licence for a month before we set off.

And even more remarkable, that she had managed to put up with me the whole time!

I also felt very lucky and privileged as only a very few people ever get the chance to ride a motorcycle around the world, and of those who do, only a few get to do it on the best adventure motorcycle,  and together with their “other half”.

It was late when we cleared (i.e. just drove through) customs at Dover port, we were both very tired, the weather wasn’t very warm, and we had to make a concerted effort to remember to ride on the left hand side of the road for the first time since Kenya.

We were aiming for Bexhill on Sea in East Sussex where my good friend Nick Dobson and his parents live and where we would be staying to celebrate Nick’s 50th birthday and indeed the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

As we were riding the twisty roads along the south coast of England I kept wondering whether this would be the end of our big bike trip. Neither of us were ready to stop and so I was constantly mulling over various options to keep going.  We were aiming for Shanghai and between us and east China were a lot of challenges.

It was strange riding in England after so long. We had no problem keeping to the UK speed limits as we had got into the habit of driving quite steadily and slowly for fuel and tyre consumption, but occasionally I would forget we were in the land of speed cameras, the terminally offended, and where the locals might get a tad upset if we did a bit of off roading across their gardens. Just as well we had South African licence plates!

Whilst we had become used to terrible driving conditions in places like Cairo and Addis Ababa, we still had to make a concerted effort to keep well clear of the notoriously “biker unfriendly” car drivers that hog the roads in the UK.

There are actually some very considerate car drivers about, but there are also some extremely inconsiderate and very grumpy ones. What is really disturbing is that there are some car drivers who think its perfectly OK to nudge a bicycle or motorcycle off the road, or deliberately prevent them filtering through spaces that are wide enough for two wheels but not for four. A definite slack jawed character flaw among some of the UK population.

The most dangerous times on UK roads are when the mummies (both male and female) are collecting their little darlings from school in their “Surrey tractors” and a motorcyclist has to be very alert to their erratic manoeuvres, dangerous obstruction and appalling parking techniques.

I can proudly say I was never taken to, or collected from school in a car during my entire school days. As very small children we would of course walk to school with our mothers, and from the age of six or seven onwards we would walk, cycle or take the school bus by ourselves as any kid seen being taken to school by their mummy would be quite justifiably beaten at playtime, even if they didn’t have ginger hair.

In fact, in those days most kids played outside all day, drank from hose pipes, regularly worked on farms, and only lollypop ladies and “The Sweet” wore hi-viz clothing.

Back in the 60s and 70s when I grew up in England the concept of the poor hurt “victim”, being offended at everything, personal injury lawyers and namby pamby health and safety hadn’t invented themselves yet and so there was more joie de vivre and leg room for a kid to kick about and learn about life.

When I look back at my childhood I had a lot of freedom growing up in the countryside in Staffordshire. I was a very independent young child and according to my mother would disappear for hours on end and only reappear at mealtimes.

I would regularly get caned, mostly justifiably, and occasionally unfairly, but more often than not I would get away with my various infractions and deviations from adult social constraints.

I remember an occasion when my brother and I both got thrown off the school bus  (“The Stevenson Rocket”) in the middle of no where for an alleged “fighting incident” and immediately got picked up by a passing truck that subsequently overtook the school bus blaring its air-horn and with us hanging out the window and waving with immense delight at our friends sitting on the bus.

Nowadays I am told its too dangerous for kids to walk or cycle to school. And indeed it well may be… not because there are more pedophiles and pervs trawling the streets for little boys, but because all the mummies are causing driving havoc in their Surrey tractors outside the schools whilst collecting Henry for ballet lessons, or Chesney for his Ritalin prescription ….and of course at the same time texting, tweeting, updating their Facebook status and panicking they are late for Pilates class.

Anyway, I digress as usual.

We continued with our tour of the UK and started by visiting my younger sister, Amanda at her home in Wiltshire, very near to Stonehenge, and then to see my eldest daughter, Becky at her home in Bristol.  My brother, Simon, is a good chap, but suffers from acute online Tourette’s Syndrome and insults everyone.  He interferes in sensitive matters inappropriately, and appropriate matter insensitively, and so for the sake of Fanny I keep her and myself well away. A great shame, but actions have consequences.

Later, we escaped into Wales, which Fanny describes as the nicest part in England!!

We crossed the Severn Bridge into a very wet and rainy South Wales and then across glorious countryside and picturesque valleys all the way to the north to see Alan Jones, an old buddy who lives in Conwy,  and with whom I joined the Metropolitan police in 1981. He has now retired and his many idling activities includes testing eight thousand quid law mowers and motorised wheel barrows, and shouting at the dogs.

After a superb time in Wales, where Alan guided us as we climbed Mount Snowdon and did some impressive hikes in the mountains, we went to see our friend Tony whom we first met in the Sinai when we were staying in Dahab for several months, having been directly caught up in the Egyptian Spring Revolution and all the chaos in Syria. We made the most of it, Fanny learning to windsurf and me getting my diving qualifications in the Red Sea. Tony was my dive master.

He was back in England for a while from sunny Egypt and staying in his home town of Wallasey, near Birkenhead, undergoing yet more medical treatment. As a former UK special forces soldier he had been through a lot and he was now suffering from the punishment he had put his body through in his earlier life serving our Nation in hostile climes.

He lived in a small, but immaculately kept apartment, yet because he lived on his own the local authorities wanted to put him in even smaller accommodation, no doubt so they could use his apartment to provide free housing to some immigrants with dozens of children and extended families.

The injustice of it all is unbearable, but he doesn’t complain, as is the way of these former fighters for our freedoms. He just soldiers on. I think Britain’s former soldiers are treated abysmally and its a disgrace.

Well Liverpool? What an experience!

I hadn’t yet seen the UK TV show called “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” nor had I any inkling that it was now fashionable for British women of all shapes and sizes to spray paint themselves orange and make a lot of effort to display as much of this orange flesh as possible. Very odd eye brows too!

Why?

I never found out as I never had the nerve to ask one of these fiercesome looking Oompa Lumpa creatures why they do it.  Patches of flesh that weren’t orange were tattooed, something else that never looks good on a woman. Each to their own, I suppose. So long as they don’t make it compulsory, and I don’t have to look at them!

Maori patterns were once popular tattoos (as many forty somethings are reminded each time they take a shower… for ever and ever), but now many men and women have Chinese characters indelibly inked onto their flesh and since I can speak, read and write Chinese quite well I am privy to some real clangers.

 

The Chinese is either badly translated or just poor calligraphy. I guess this is the reverse of the nonsensical English expressions written on T-shirts worn by Asian teenagers (“What’nt Gone Be Nobody’s Cool” and all that).

Or perhaps having the Chinese character for “wardrobe” on your bum has some special meaning bigoted old farts like me don’t appreciate.

Or perhaps its the Emperor’s New Clothes, ‘Hey! Everyone….that woman is orange and has “Lard Arse” tattooed in Chinese’.

And ankle tattoos? Just don’t do it.. its asymmetrical and upsets people with Aspergers like me.

I think I took yet another wrong turn along rant street. 

The high streets of all British towns all look pretty much the same to me. Same shops, same design, same sort of people selling the Big Issue with the same dog, same miserable people milling around.

Generally I don’t like these town centers and shopping malls very much and I make a real effort to avoid them. However, Fanny and I do occasionally have to buy important things from UK shops, like Motorcycle News and lottery tickets and so, if we can, we prefer to go to the out of town retail centers where we can park our bikes safely (Britain is full of bike thieves) and get the miserable experience over and done with as soon as possible.

It is true enough that the UK supermarkets are the best in the world and seem to sell everything, although its quite hard to take in a kilometer long aisle of 1000 different types of breakfast cereal or cat food when you have traveled through countries like Malawi and Ethiopia.

Despite the UK spending 13 billion quid every year on Aid to places like Africa you still can’t buy Vindaloo flavoured shampoo or green Kitkats in Blantyre or Addis Ababa!

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Fanny in Kingston on Thames

 

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Rupert packing up the bikes in sunny Wiltshire

 

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yeah!

Abbots Bromley (home) to Uttoxeter (School) in the 1970s on the Yellow Peril Stevenson Rocket school bus. I think the number of times I got thrown off by the conductor was 42 times!

 

The grey skies of England… and Arundel Castle …also grey…. and family car …  grey.  Nice green fields, though. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fanny, Paola and Nick in Bexhill

 

 

Who dares mess around with Mr Dobson Senior.

 

A biker chap I met on the Channel ferry who had lived life to the full in some amazing places…

Waiting to board the ferry with the other bikers 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuppa tea and cake … must be England. (Actually this is Wales, Fanny’s favourite bit of England).

 

 

Our good friend, Nick celebrating his 50th birthday with his family in Bexhill

 

 

Felpham in Sussex … where I spent childhood holidays

“The Front” in Felpham… fond memories of carefree days.

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Fanny meets Touratech

 

 

 

 

 

 

A high street in the UK.. can’t remember which one as they all look the same

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Britain, and indeed Europe have beautiful cathedrals and churches… this one in Hitchen has an art gallery inside.   In Hereford I saw a church that had been partly converted into a coffee shop, and had reduced the size of the “praying” area due, I assume, to a greater demand for caffeine and cakes than redemption and salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone rides along the wonderful roads of Derbyshire to Mattlock Bath, has fish and chips and then wanders around looking at other people’s bikes…. a very civilised way to spend the day

“They do better chips in the Cairngorms” – but then according to Gary Corbett “everything is better in the Cairngorms”

Fanny and Andrea with her red Ducati Monster

Horizon’s Unlimited gathering in Ripley…. more BMW GS 1200s than you can shake a stick at.

Camped up… but this time with hundreds of other adventure bikers

It rained hard …as indeed it did nearly every day while we were in the UK in June and July 2012.

The Horizon Unlimited gathering attracted all sorts of people. Some aspiring adventurers and other the “real deal” nomads who have been everywhere on the planet on anything from mopeds, Australian postie bikes, racing bikes and of course the Adventure bikes such as KTM 990 Adventure, BMW GS 800 and 1200, Yamaha XT 500, 600 and 660 and the classic Honda Africa Twin.

The slow ride race which Paul Chapman and I entered and we narrowly missed the finals. Great fun and a great few days with like minded motorcycling enthusiasts.

Paul Chapman (of Adventure Parts and Camel Toe) and Ruprecht the Monkeyboy at the Horizons Unlimited slow riding competition. We KTM riders were well beaten by slower guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If my sister had seen my feet she would never have allowed them in her bubbly bath thing.

 

Fanny and my niece, Sophia relaxing in the kitchen at my sisters house

 

The last time I rode a motorcycle into Thomas Alleynes High School I was punished. I believe it was my Batavus Mk 4S which I got on my 16th birthday when I was in the sixth form.

 

Waiting outside the Headmistress’ office at Oldfield’s School in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. Somethings never change.   I got caned and slippered so many times I started to like it… raaaah!

 

Fanny hooliganing around in the KTM shop and disturbing the reserved British types who were clearly unused to so much noise and mayhem coming out of one single human. One of the assistants (of a shop that sells machines that go BRRAAAAP!) asked her to shut up… very funny…only in Britain. 

 

Yum Yum … thanks you Pae and Fanny

 

 

Due to the fact that it never stopped raining we gave up the idea of going to the Lake District and Scotland and rode eastwards to the beautiful English county of Derbyshire to see our friends, Andrea and Gary who lived in the Peak District inside a dry house with a larder and two refrigerators full of food.

I can assure Gary and Andrea the great food wasn’t the only reason we visited. Honestly.

Gary and Andrea are also bikers and while we were staying with them we went on a ride together to Mattlock Bath where hundreds of bikers gather on Sundays and drink tea and eat fish and chips.

We then went to Stoke on Trent and spent time with my sister and her family  and were thoroughly spoilt with great food, a very comfy bed and even served “Manhattan Cocktails” by my brother in law, Mark as we wallowed like hippos in their Jacuzzi.

Adventure biking is exciting and there is nothing to stimulate the mind quite like world travel, but after so long living in our tent or occasionally in grotty budget hotels a home cooked meal, a bathroom with clean towels and a comfy dry bed are extremely welcome and so we are very grateful to our friends and family in the UK who looked after us

(Photos in “Our Friends” Page above):  ……..a special mention to The Dobsons in East Sussex; Mandy, Sally and Martin in Wiltshire; Alan & Sue in North Wales; Gary and Andrea in Derbyshire; Rachel and Mark in Staffordshire; David and Pae Lee in Hertfordshire; Andrew and Abigail in Kent; Becky in Bristol; and Rik in Wales. Thank you all very much.

Whilst in Staffordshire I took Fanny to see the schools I went to as a boy.  Oldfield’s Middle School and Thomas Alleynes (Grammar/High) School. We rocked up on our loud KTMs in the evening and I thought the caretaker was going to chase us away, but I explained what we were doing and that it was many years since I was last there as a schoolboy and so he very kindly gave us the grand tour, which brought back many memories for me and gave Fanny an insight into what an English school looks like.

Oldfield Hall is a very nice looking school set in beautiful grounds with playing fields and woods. I had heard on this trip that many school playing fields in the UK are being sold off by the education authorities which to my mind is a crying shame. Sport, physical training and competition is extremely important to a child’s development. Winning and losing is a reality of life and eventually all of us have to come to terms with not getting what we want sooner or later. Its how we deal with defeat and failure that matters.

Later, we also went to the Horizon’s Unlimited Adventure Bike gathering in Ripley. We had a terrific time, met some interesting people and would especially like to thank Sam Manicom, one of the world’s greatest motorcycle adventurers and an all round decent chap who made us very welcome at the HU meeting.

After our tour of the Midlands we had to head back “daan sarf” so our bikes could get yet another service.

We rode to the KTM UK Centre in Hemel Hemstead where Jason and his team did their thing to the bikes, hopefully changed oils and filters, checked all the bearings, and tightened the nuts and bolts and then relieved me of more money than I can really afford + VAT.  No choice though. KTMs like their filters changed and are fussy about the quality of their oil.

While our bikes were being serviced I was kindly loaned a blue KTM 990 and my friend, David Lee looked after us at his home in Hitchen. His wife, Pae is originally from Thailand and so that evening we had a delicious authentic Thai dinner with all the hot chillis and spices, and also polished off some of David’s impressive booze cabinet.

A great evening with good friends.

It so happened that while we were in Hitchen the Queen was visiting as part of her Diamond Jubilee Tour and so we all trooped off to line the route with our plastic Union Flags to see Her Majesty inspect her subjects, including a visiting Pinko Commie RTW motorcyclist, Fanny.

The “Establishment” was well represented and looked as alarmed and uncomfortable among the proletariat as if Millwall football supporters had invaded the Royal enclosure at Ascot.

Lady Farsenby -Smythe and Lord Twistleton-Flange looked particularly uncomfortable as they had to endure mingling with the great unwashed who were being rather common and vulgar with their regional accents and uncouth ways, don’t you know.

Anyway, well done Ma’am (as in Ham) on 60 years of reign and occasional sunshine.

After saying goodbye to David, Pae and their very charming children we went to collect our bikes from KTM in Hemel Hemstead.  The new 990 Adventure which they loaned me was handed back in the condition it was given and then we headed to London on our newly serviced KTMs to sort out visas, passports, air-tickets for Fanny back to China and shipping arrangements for our bikes to where-ever they were going. We were still not sure.

We not only went into London to do all our admin chores, but also did some touring of Kent which is a rather well to do county of England. We particularly enjoyed visiting Chartwell where Winston Churchill lived. A super home, even nicer gardens and in a particularly green and pleasant bit of the country.

One of the few things I do like about London is that it has some of the greatest museums and art galleries in the World and so while we were running around applying for visas we went to the superb British Museum which houses a collection of the finest and most interesting treasures collected during a time when the sun never set on the British Empire.

Of course the museum is now run and operated in the best possible taste so as not to offend any of the tourists from the countries the loot was “half inched” from in the first place.

We stayed at my friend Andrew’s house in Seven-oaks and were very well looked after by him and his wife, Abigail.

Andrew is another motorcycle enthusiast and Abigail probably has me to thank for their garage being full of motorcycles as fifteen years ago or so I rocked up for work in the Stand in London, where we both worked (in the Fraud Services Unit of the now defunct Arthur Andersen Accounting firm) on my Suzuki 1300 GSXR Hayabusa and the seed was sown.

He is a die hard biker now and when we were living in Egypt he came out and we rode to St. Catherine’s Monastery on the KTMs.

I was born in London, but I am sad, and a bit embarrassed to say I do not care for it very much, and according to Fanny, neither does she, a born and bred Shanghanese woman from another continent and totally different culture.

She told me in Chinese that it appeared to be a mess, felt hostile and not very English. I had to agree. People ask me if I would ever go back to live in England. Maybe, but definitely not to London or any of the other English cities.

Nowadays, London is like Karachi on bin day. If I am being totally honest I am rather scared and wary of the menacing young Muslim men who prowl about looking hostile and confrontational in many parts of London, and indeed in British cities such Luton, Birmingham and Bradford.  I am also suspicious of humans who cover their face and engage in superstitious odd rituals, and that includes Moonies, Freemasons, Doggers, and Catholics.

Fortunately, the Holy See in Rome has given up torturing, burning, hanging, mutilating, beheading and generally being nasty to people for apostasy, otherwise I would be in a lot trouble. Islam has not.

I can assure you this is not racism or Islamophobia. For a start Islam isn’t a race, its a superstition, one based on ancient texts penned by frail humans with a poor understanding of science and a fear of the unknown.

Also, its not a phobia as my fear is not irrational. On the contrary, my fear and loathing of all organised religion is extremely rational and based on common sense, a very good understanding of “Strain Theory”, and a decent knowledge of the works of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Powell, Hitchens, Dawkins, Newton, Darwin, and Johnny Rotten.

In actual fact, I enjoy and relish different cultures, that’s why I travel. I couldn’t care less what shade of pink, yellow or brown a human being is, but I am increasingly saddened that I am indigenous to a land that has little culture of its own, and feels compelled to adopt some nasty and unsavoury alien ones.

Strangely, I found Muslims and Christians I encountered in the Middle East and north Africa to be quite friendly, if not a little aloof and conservative. But then, whilst visiting these Islamic countries I went out of my way to be respectful, compliant and courteous to my indigenous hosts.

Anyway, what can you do?  A “belief” to my mind is something private, and not to be inflicted on others. The best one can be is well mannered.

Again I digress. Back to the big bike trip.

Our visit to London wasn’t a particularly successful one because the London passport office had basically closed down and the applicants now had to go online and make an appointment to submit their documents at another office behind Victoria Train Station.

I already had a well used passport, full of visas and entry stamps, but I needed a second passport and used the excuse that the Israelis had stamped my passport and now I couldn’t travel to my favourite country, Yemen anymore.

I could have told them the truth– that its a safety precaution for when I travel to dodgy countries–but then the mealie mouthed jobs worthies at the passport authority wouldn’t have given me a second passport. The UK is getting more like China– everything is banned and so you have to use lateral thinking to get around the ridiculous red tape.

Also, Fanny and I were still undecided about where we were going next and so we didn’t know which visas to apply for, when, and in what sequence.

If we wanted to ride across central and eastern Europe and through the “‘Stans” to China on our KTMs it was entirely possible, but administratively it was a major headache and was far far too expensive.

In the end we decided that Fanny should fly back to China and see if she could secure some support and sponsorship from some Chinese companies and sort out all the administration and permits for places like Tibet, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan and Mongolia on the ground in China.

For instance, as a foreigner, I was not allowed in Tibet without a special permit, I had to have a paid escort whilst riding a motorcycle in China, and visa restrictions would be prohibitive.  (Note: we sorted all this out — as described in subsequent chapters of this blog) 

Fanny had to leave anyway as her UK visa was about the expire. Somalian warlords, Italian mafioso, Saudi arms dealers, Romanian pickpockets and Islamic hate preachers can all stay in the UK and get a council house if they want one. Chinese lawyers cannot. Roll on Brexit.

Anyway, it would not be a good idea for her to overstay as she might want to visit the UK in the future. In the meantime I would stay in England … at least until the first week of August which was a sort of deadline for several reasons.

One of the reasons was the weather, as we cannot ride through places like Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Xinjiang or Tibet in the winter as it reaches ridiculously cold temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade in places, even in late autumn. Another was that our funds were now in the red and we would both have to get jobs the following year.

As we had already ridden several hundreds of kilometers that day we had left it too late to ride the bikes a further 150 kilometers to Bexhill where we were going to store Fanny’s bike in Nick’s garage. So we checked out some budget hotels in London and were shocked that there was nothing available under £80.

Crickey!

Fortunately we had researched some campsites and there appeared to be one in Crystal Palace of all places and that is where we headed for.

It was quite fun riding through busy central London at night with all the neon lights and bustling activity, especially so with our South African registered bikes as however hard we tried to comply with the road signs, painted mostly on the road surface to make it even more confusing,  our Garmin GPS was forever causing us to be in the wrong lane at the wrong time, inadvertently causing us to break many provisions of the UK Road Traffic Act.

South African plates, though! We were effectively immune from prosecution in the UK. I felt like a Nigerian diplomat.

Although it was getting late, we took it steady through the busy boroughs of London. This was just as well because we were overtaken by a Triumph Street Triple that was filtering through the gaps and we saw it make the fundamental mistake of not checking vehicles waiting to make a right hand turn through held up traffic, and we watched in horror as  it ploughed right into the side of a white van that turned in front of a waiting bus.

Luckily the rider was wearing decent protective clothing and its seemed only his pride was bruised. Unfortunately his bike was not so lucky as it broadsided into the side of the van. His lovely new Triumph was a real mess and he had no-one else to blame really but himself.

As a fellow rider I did actually feel sorry for him as he picked up the fragments of his pride and joy and examined the holes in his riding gear.

Fanny and I had of course ridden through some of the most congested cities with the worst driving standards on Planet Earth and we had learned to ride with caution and anticipation. Many of the motorcycle riders we saw in Europe clearly hadn’t learned this lesson and their meeting with a wheel chair, or their maker is sadly inevitable.

We pushed on across the River Thames and got to the campsite near the famous radio tower in South London at about 10 p.m.

No-one was around and so I rode around as I had done many many times, in many many campsites around the world, scoping out the ground and looking for the perfect place to park up our motorcycles and pitch our tent.

In England such activity is obviously a heinous antisocial crime and this blatant breach of local etiquette had infuriated the two wardens and the 300 pound security officer who appeared out of nowhere and tore into me in what I can only describe as a “London rant” of obscenities with lots of “YOUR BANG AAAWWWT  OV AAAWWWDAAA” stuff and other Cockney cliches.

Now there is a time to argue and there is a time to put on a gormless posh accent and mumble “I’m terribly sorry old chap”…… like the British paratrooper played by Edward Fox who lands in a greenhouse in the war movie “The Battle of Britain”.

This was the time for the latter and it worked a treat because they did not know what to do and gradually calmed down and reverted to just plain lecturing mode with lots of tutting and head shaking.

In the end, instead of them calling the “Old Bill” to take us off to the Tower they found us a very nice camping spot and in the morning I continued my humble apologetic routine, told them we had had an awful day in the drenching rain, were held up in appalling traffic, and were riding around the world for charity etc etc.” (which is all true).

Surprisingly they had completely changed their tune and kindly informed us that the camping fee was on them. They told me they had also had a shit day, apologised for getting angry at us, and wished us well.

I should never have told this story to Fanny because she then went into a speech I have heard from my mother, teachers, wives, and a multitude of former girlfriends ….. The speech that consists of variations on the theme of being nice:  ‘I told you being nice is better’, ‘You see, you don’t have to start a fight all the time’, ‘People will be nice if you are nice to them’, etc etc..

To which I nodded intently and replied, ‘ Where’s my breakfast, Bitch?’. Which probably accounts for the fact that there is a long list of former females in my life.

In the morning we packed up and rode out of the suburbs of south London, which let’s be honest, is not very nice, and into Surrey, which is very nice.

We followed a lot of the route that was later going to be cycled along during the road event in the London Olympics, and we then cut through charming South Downs villages with cricket greens and duck ponds to a place I saw advertised in Motor Cycle News, called “Cycles Spray” that I hoped could repair and re-paint Fanny’s damaged side panels that had been grazed and gouged when she cart-wheeled her bike along a sand and gravel trail on the way to Soussesvlei Dunes in Namibia.

The scratched and grazed panels did looked the part, and certainly gave the impression that we had indeed ridden across Africa, but it was time to get the bike back into 100% tiptop condition. The KTMs are superb motorcycles and despite where we had been they were in great condition and had been well looked after and serviced.

I unbolted the orange plastic panels, handed them over and said I would collect them in a couple of weeks when they were ready. We were lucky because they were being repaired and painted at a fraction of the cost of replacement plastic panels from KTM or Acerbis, which I have to say are a ridiculously expensive.

Fanny then rode her bike “sort of naked” to Bexhill where we stored it in the Dobson’s garage.  I then took her and her bag on the back of my bike to Gatwick to catch the express bus to Heathrow airport for her flight back to Shanghai.

As she boarded the bus I was suddenly and unexpectedly flushed with enormous sadness.

We had been together every day and every minute for the last year and been through some amazing adventures together. Few people live cheek by jowl as we had, and saying goodbye to a loved one is always tough.

After her bus pulled away and I rode back to Bexhill to get my own things I kept looking in my mirror. No more orange light following me anymore. My 尾巴 had gone. I suddenly felt extremely lost and very lonely.

It took several days not to panic each time I looked in my mirror and couldn’t see her bike. For everyday over the past year or so I had led the way with Fanny following behind.  I paved the way and moderated the way I rode to Fanny’s speed, Fanny’s capability, and made sure there was always enough space and time for both of our bikes to maneuver, get over something, passed something, or overtake.

I was like a lookout Meercat constantly doing a 360 degree scan for danger and risk. Now I only had myself to worry about and it was only a matter of time before I was back to my bad habits, riding around rather more quickly than I should, performing unnecessary wheelies, sliding on bends, and banking steeply around corners.

‘Are you riding safely?’, Fanny would ask me when she called me on the telephone.

‘Oh, yes” I would reply.

So what should I do now? I felt a bit lost.

The first thing I did was to organize all our kit and then take a ride to Arundel where I knew there was a YHA and campsite I could stay at cheaply, think about things and plan the next few weeks.

I really didn’t want to fritter the time away and yet I didn’t want to put unnecessary mileage on my bike.  I also wanted to do things that would have probably bored Fanny a bit.  Old fart activities like visiting military museums, airshows, county fares, bird parks, and castles.

I knew the Farnborough Airshow was coming up and so I headed for there, but on the way I pulled into the former WWII RAF airfield at Tangmere where Hurricanes and Spitfires battled against the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. Now a museum, I had a great day looking at all the aircraft and exhibits and chatting with the volunteers who ran the place. These people are represent Britain at its best and I had an amazing time. I would love to have been a RAF pilot, but alas, not to be. A Royal Hong Kong Police officer was not a bad alternative as it turned out.

As I arrived in Farnborough it was pouring with rain. Very heavy, very wet and extremely miserable. I looked around for places to stay, but being unprepared I ended up camping right at the end of the runway, illegally in Army grounds as it happened, and in the morning a military patrol chased me away, but not before I watched some amazing aerobatic displays which put on quite a show despite low cloud and continuing bad weather.

Decidedly wet and soggy,  I pushed on into Wiltshire to see my sister again and perhaps do some skydiving at Netheravon. In the end I just watched the skydivers from Amanda’s garden with a cup of tea and a cake as they tumbled out of the aircraft and spent the remaining time walking her basset hounds (Urgh!), running across Salisbury Plain (good fun), riding bicycles with my sister, and going for rides around Wiltshire on my stripped down KTM.

I decided that if its going to continue to rain I might as be in Wales and so I left my sister’s house and rode back across the border. Whilst cahooning along the many superb motorcycling routes in Wales, and believe me there are many, I stayed at Rik Davis’ bed and breakfast. Rik is a fellow adventure motorcyclist and has ridden around the world on his BMW GS.

His website is www.thebigbiketrip.com and so with a URL like that he is sort of our motorcycle adventure cousin.

We shared stories and adventures late into the night and the next day I rode up to Conwy in North Wales to stay with my friend Alan again. We had provisionally agreed to do some hiking in Wales together and he suggested we hike the entire Offa’s Dyke.

Good idea I thought … how far is it?   177 miles!

Alan is a meticulous planner and also as a former Snowdonian mountain rescue team member owns the best hiking and mountaineering kit money can buy.

I have very little decent kit, and what I do have is all stored in Shanghai.  My last ill prepared climb to the summit of Mount Kenya in borrowed shoes and my motorcycle kit was rather miserable, wet and decidedly cold. I told Alan I would only do it if he lent me some kit which he kindly agreed. The only thing he didn’t have was boots as I take a size 12 2E wide, and as I didn’t have the money to buy anything decent I bought some cheap shoes in a sale.

I assumed if I could climb Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in someone else’s falling apart boots and borrowed kit, I could easily walk across Wales.

Wrong!

We drove down to the start of the hike at Chepstow on the Severn Estuary and had planned a 7-10 days hike to along the Offa’s Dyke trail to Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.

To save costs we were bringing camping gear with us in our rucksacks and against Alan’s recommendation we each brought our own tents. Alan lent me an 30 year old rucksack that felt comfortable enough in his dining room. Little did I know this 90 litre instrument of torture would bring me misery and injury in days to come.

The first day was very pleasant, walking up above the River Wye in unusually brilliant sunshine. All was well, but by 25 miles my ankles and feet were sore as my shoes had no heel and the rucksack was cutting into my shoulders as the waist support no longer worked, nor provided any support, and so the weight was carried 100% on the flimsy shoulder straps.

Alan was also suffering as he got bitten by some insects that became infected and although he wouldn’t admit it, being a “mountain man” and all was probably struggling too.

When we eventually clambered into Monmouth we were both tired and aching for different reasons.  We camped up and had some dinner in a local pub and the next day we were both in an even worse state.

After an unnecessary argument, that was mostly my fault, Alan decided that was that and went home. I think he was secretly relived to escape my yomping pace and Asperger’s ways.  I don’t like civilian style hiking, I like to march as if going into battle. No idea why. I just like the rhythm and pace. I used to like foot drill when I was training as a young Police Inspector in Hong Kong. Everyone else hated it.

The cheap Karimoor shoes I was wearing were not very good for long distance hikes because they had no heel or ankle support. However, I made the mistake of giving them away to a charity shop and buying an even worse pair of hiking boots that became so painful that by the third day of hiking I had no choice but to take them off and wear my flip flops, which in turn I had to take off in the soggy ground, or steep hills and walk bare footed because they were just too slippy to walk in, especially with a heavy backpack.

Crazy stuff.

At Hay on Wye my feet were in an awful state, so much so I barely registered the red welds and blisters on my shoulders from the heavy ill fitting rucksack. I put blister ointment and plasters on my feet and taped them up with silver gaffer tape, but the new boots were just too ill fitting, not worn in, and badly designed that they were agonizing the whole time.

It was a real shame because the weather and scenery was stunning. When the five days of sunshine in Wales was over and it started to rain I decided enough was enough. This was supposed to be for pleasure, not a selection for a counter terrorism unit and I was not having any fun at all.

Although my body was fine, my feet were very blistered and in excruciating agony and so when I got to Knighton I completed the trip back to Conwy by train and considered feeding the boots to Alan’s dogs when I got there. I have some decent boots in China and I have vowed to myself that one day I will do it again and complete it

(Post note —Offa’s Dyke Unfinished Business — May/June 2017–with proper kit!!)

As things between Alan and I weren’t that cordial, all my fault and I apologise, I didn’t hang about to annoy him anymore and so collected my KTM from his garage and rode back into England to see my friend Gary and Andrea in the Derbyshire High Peak again.

The only trouble was they had decided in the weeks since Fanny and I saw them to part company,  which was probably for the best as they seemed to spend their entire time bickering and arguing.

As Andrea had moved out I supervised her moving her stuff into her new home, went for a few motorcycle rides together, and gave moral support in her time of need by drinking most of her wine and eating everything in her refrigerator. What are friends for after all?

I was pleased for Andrea when I later heard she not only got a super new job, a new house, new man, but had eventually been awarded her PhD. We Thomas Alleynes’ Class of 81 don’t hang about.

I then went to Staffordshire to see my Mum again who was looking much better following her stroke a year or so previously.  As she is partially paralyzed she is confined to a chair. Why she doesn’t have a mobility scooter or electric wheel chair is beyond my understanding.

However, I think I know.

She is being held captive by her abusive partner of many decades, the dimwitted village idiot, Tom.  I only see her very rarely, living overseas, and when I do I am allowed only an hour or so a year before the revolting smelly oik returns and causes trouble.

The poor woman stupidly ran off with this oaf when my siblings and I were small children and subsequently she endured a life of domestic abuse, parochial drudgery and missed opportunities. She rightly left my father, who was actually a very well educated gentleman, but (like his eldest son) totally unsuited to marriage and domestic restraint.

A few years back I had a run in with this dullard, when we were trying to relocate our mother to a more suitable disabled friendly bungalow on the south coast of England. A part of the country she loved as a child and young woman, pleaded with me to go to when she was lying in her hospital bed, and where her mother and father retired to by the sea.

Tom, the village cretin, refused and insisted that she remains confined to a chair on the ground floor of a totally unsuitable 16th century cottage in the village that time forgot. She can’t even go out or sit in the garden.  I understand she goes shopping occasionally, when it suits Tom to get her into the car and push her about in a wheelchair.

During a heated debate when I was reiterating my mothers wishes Tom raised his fist to hit me, much like he did to my siblings and I when we were small children, but he suddenly realized that I am no longer eleven years old, nor very small.  In fact, I am an evil fucker of note, love a ruck, and extremely well trained and practiced looking after myself.

For the first time in his life, the village oaf realized he was nano seconds from a sound hiding, and like all bullies he scurried off, in this case to the next door neighbour, an off duty police constable, to come to his rescue, and perhaps arrest me …. as was the constant threat when I was a teenager.

During the 1970s he was prone to dishing out beatings, often threatening to have me locked up, or sent away to a children’s home. Most of the time he was just a typical nasty stepfather. Aggressive, abusive, unsupportive, highly embarrassing, and irritatingly dimwitted.

My teenage years would have been an absolute misery if not for Graham and Jean Whirledge, local farmers, who sort of adopted me and allowed me to work on their dairy farm when I wasn’t at school. I also thank my aunt and uncle, Bill and Gail McCarthy, and my grandmothers, Amanda Utley and Joan Golbourne for allowing me some respite from the misery, and to enjoy a modicum of normality and support from time to time.

My brother, Simon, clearly an undiagnosed dyslexic, was also badly treated and his bolt hole was another dairy farm called Aikenheads, until he escaped and joined the British Army Junior Leaders Regiment at 15 years old, and later the Blues & Royals Household Calvary.

Our schools? In those days teachers didn’t care. We had nothing, got nothing, and got punished and further disadvantaged just for being poor and underprivileged. Plain and simple. I regret that I never learned to play a musical instrument, play rugby, or any other team sport because I didn’t have money for kit, or extra curricular equipment, nor transport to get about. I generally hitch hiked everywhere, which, whilst a common practice at the time, wasn’t particularly reliable for getting anywhere on time.

I did learn to throw a tractor around a muddy field as soon as my feet could touch the pedals, shovel poo, milk a cow, deliver a calf, toss a straw bail high up onto a trailer, and developed a respect for graft and money!  I remember village kids used to smoke cigarettes. I never did, not for health reasons, but because ten No. 6 fags equated to an hour of shoveling shit in my mind, and I had better things to spend my “50 pence an hour” on.

Later in my mid-teens I supported myself with money earned from some other holiday jobs. A memorable and lucrative gig (that my Aunt Gail arranged when I was 15) was with the Long Term Credit Bank of Japan in Lombard Street in the City of London. With cash in my back pocket that I earned all by myself and a 50cc moped to get around, Joy Division, The Stranglers, Bauhaus, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Killing Joke, Sex Pistols, Psychedelic Furs, and Stiff Little Fingers took care of me until I escaped to London to help old ladies cross the road and chase crims in a SD1 Rover.

(Back to Bagot Street, Abbots Bromley, 2012) 

So, to the embarrassment and visible discomfort of the off duty officer, he was educated (or reacquainted) with how UK law should be enforced, should have been enforced 40 years ago, and sensibly slide away back into his house and closed the door. The deflated village oaf was left standing on the street and had no option but to escape in his “Fritzl” van and go off to a nearby cow shed to be consoled by one of his cretinous mates, or one of the revolting farm hags he often shagged.

Alas, the poor old dear remains in her chair and I visit her rarely and far too infrequently. My inability to resolve this issue fills me with frustration and anger. My siblings accept the situation, but I never will. Families, huh!

After saying goodbye to my mother and feeling thoroughly wretched about the situation and somewhat depressed, not least because I hate that fucking village, I received some good news from Fanny.

She had managed to negotiate sponsorship and two brand new motorcycles from a Chinese motorcycle manufacturer called Chun Feng Moto. She also got sponsorship from some adventure kit manufacturers, including The North Face, the adventure clothing and equipment manufacturer. This was super news and I was delighted for Fanny that all her hard work had paid off.

This meant I knew exactly what I had to do now.

Get a new Chinese visa and arrange for both KTMs and myself to get shipped out of the UK.

I had been looking for new Pirelli tyres for both KTMs, but this was now unnecessary as they could more easily be found in South Africa. Every tyre fitting place it seemed in the UK, and even KTM UK had no time to find and fit tyres.

After a wasted trip to KTM in Hemel Hemstead to look for tyres I had to find somewhere to sleep or a place to camp and looked around in vain for a decent priced B&B or a campsite, but there were none to be found.

I remembered I used to paraglide at Dunstable Downs which wasn’t too far away and I also knew there were fields and meadows I could possibly get into on my bike under the cover of darkness and this is what I did.

It was a strange experience because as I was putting up my tent on a grassy bank surrounded by trees about ten cars suddenly drove into a nearby car park and a mighty commotion started. It took me a while to realise what was going on and how far the UK had slide down the slippery slope since I left three decades ago. This was a doggers party and the local “dogs” (if that what you call the participants) had all rocked up and were doing their thing.

For crying out loud.  I was stuck, didn’t want to alert anyone to my presence, and so I waited unseen and unheard only a few hundred meters away until these “sad acts” had finished their evenings entertainment and drove away before I managed to finish pitching my tent, secure my bike and get to sleep.

It must have been about 3 a.m in the morning that I heard roaring and as I roused from my sleep I was confused.  I rubbed my eyes, pricked my ears and listened out. There it was a again, as distinctive as when I had heard that sound before in South Luangwa, the Kruger, Okavango Delta, Swaziland, the Masia Mara and so on.

Its a fucking lion.

I sat bolt upright, considered where I was and then the coin dropped, I was literally 500 meters from Whipsnade Zoo.

The next day I packed up and rode out to a nearby biker gathering to see my friend Alex from Kaapstad Adventure. It was at a Ducati dealers shop and the Long Way Down rider Charlie Boorman was going to be there to support Garmin who were launching a new GPS and were clearly a sponsor of his.

I met a few bikers and I wandered up to Charlie to say Hi. He said, ‘Oh I remember you, are you still riding that heap of scrap’. I tried to think of something witty to retort, but could only think of  “Cheerio”.

As my friend Nick was still in Italy, another friend, Andrew very kindly volunteered to put me up again in his comfortable studio apartment above his house and later take me down to Bexhill to collect Fanny’s bike and store them in his garage until I could ferry both bikes to Anglo Pacific Shippers in London NW10.

We arrived just in time for a famous Dobson’s Sunday lunch. Perfect timing. While both bikes were in Andrew’s garage Paul Chapman of Adventure Parts very kindly fitted them out with “Camel Toe” side stand supports, adventure windscreens and wind vents to direct the air to the radiators to improve cooling and sound dampening.  I really wish we had had those when we were in Africa.

While I was rested up and waiting to leave I also spent some time thinking about what to do for work when the expedition finishes at the end of the year. I had been asked by several companies to get involved in their forensic investigation and risk consulting practices and I had to have a good think whether this was something I wanted to do again. I believe I am very good at my job, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the politics and intrinsic unfairness of large consulting firms.

Over the years I had built up a great network of satisfied clients and good relationships with a number of law firms, and so I decided to set up my own practice, Apollo Advisory, which has been a great success.

I had a year working for a firm called Censere with three other forensic directors, but this was not working out, despite us working on amazing projects and meeting the objectives of our business plan. While I was in hospital recovering from a serious bout of peritonitis that nearly killed me, they decided not to pay any of us for our work, and so we all went our separate ways.

This proved to be a blessing in disguise, despite being owed a lot of money, my company, Apollo Advisory, went onto even better things.  It allows me to work with very talented people, on projects I like and am very good at, earn a few bucks, continue with my pursuit of fluency in Chinese, travel, keep fit, and have sufficient time for more adventures and expeditions.

But all that would come a little later, as the Asian leg of our big bike trip was just around the corner.

Next chapters : China, Tibet, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, USA.

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Fanny packing up her bike in Wiltshire

 

 

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Bernard, Cathy and Biscuit  …  famous RTW riders at HU meeting

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Rupert & Nick doing some off road riding with Yamaha in Wales

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Stonehenge in Wiltshire (again)

 

 

The orange North Face bag in the holdall en route to Shanghai… bye bye Fanny

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Fanny’s bike all kitted out.. thanks Paul

New windshield and kit

Waiting until sunsets so I can find a free camping spot… England doesn’t do camping very well… not like Wales.

Free camping on Dunstable Downs. I think I have made a tent pitching error somewhere … where’s Fanny when you need her.

 

 

Parked up outside my childhood home in Abbots Bromley for tea with my mum

 

The Offa’s Dyke…. highly recommended, but bring good boots

 

 

 

 

Proof, the sun is shining on the Welsh/English border

Hello cow

 

 

Camped in a small park in Knighton

 

Now barefooted as boots unbearable, and my flip flops, those classic hiking footwear, were unwearable in the wet.

The dogs…..

Putting the evil rucksack down for half an hour for a pint of cider at a small pub in the ruins of a castle. I asked many of the Brits who were out for a drive if they would give me a lift to Hay on Wye as it was still 17 miles away and I was in flip-flops and my feet were finished but none of them would help me and so I had another pint and walked. 杂种的英国人。

 

 

 

Hiking the Offa’s Dyke, very beautiful in the sun

 

Chatting with Colin Lyle, Ex Rhodesian Air Force at RAF Tangmere museum

 

 

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A really enjoyable visit to RAF Tangmere which was one of the famous Battle of Britain airfields. Passionate volunteers who keep everything running smoothly. Highly recommended

 

 

The Queen and I — we have something in common…neither of us has a pension plan.

Rupert looking like a very dodgy character in the crowd

 

The loan bike from KTM UK… no wheelies…must remember it has a UK registration plate and not an untraceable South African one.

 

The KTMs have lived in many lovely garages in the UK

 

A day trip to Chartwell… thoroughly recommended.

Top bloke that Churchill fellow… and nice house

 

Fanny and her bike outside Buckingham Palace just before the police came along in a van and told us to move on.

HP Brown Sauce label with a KTM …and its about to rain, again.

 

So many wonderful things in the British Museum, but this Anglo Saxon helmet is probably my favourite.

 

While in London I tried and failed to get into the Olympic village. This is as far as I got

I did manage to get a ticket for the volleyball at Earl’s Court.

 

 

 

 

The new UK passport office behind Victoria train station.  I am pretty sure I was the only indigenous person from the British Isles in there, and that included all staff. I wonder how long before people like me have to live in a “natives” reserve in Surrey.

 

A ride with Andrea to the Cat and Fiddle which used to be a road in Derbyshire where bikers could give it some beans. But now like most fun in the UK, it is banned and over policed with cameras, helicopters and CCTV.

 

Bumped into this Chinese Rickshaw rider who had ridden to London from China.

 

 

The repaired shiny side panels on Fanny’s bike… looks good as new

 

 

“And there I was with my mate Ewan in the middle of Zambia and this really handsome chap turned up on a much nicer KTM than our piles of scrap”.. bore bore boreman…

Alex and his KTM

 

 

 

 

 

The KTMs at the shippers and heading back home to Cape Town. We on the other hand are off to China for a new adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

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