I had no idea what to expect, when I left Bangkok on my first day of bicycle touring. Neither did I know how many kilometers I would be able to ride, nor was I sure how it will work out to find places to sleep.
At least I wasn’t alone. Accidentally I met Jay from Korea, who almost had the same plan as I had. He also just bought a bicycle in Bangkok after backpacking for a while in Asia. Quickly we decided to start riding together towards Singapore.
Supporting each other we were struggling during the first days, as we had to leave Bangkok over a busy highway, but as soon as we could choose smaller roads through the countryside, we started enjoying all the benefits of travelling by bike. Quickly we found out, that we don’t have to worry about places to sleep. There are Buddhist temples everywhere in Thailand, and mostly the monks are happy to allow cyclists to camp there or sometimes they even offered us to sleep inside. Traditionally Buddhist monks collecting food donations from their community every morning, what is usually more than they can eat in a day, so quiet often they provided us with their leftover.
If we couldn’t find a temple for a night there were still other options, so we asked at football clubs if we can pitch a tent next to the court or just asked farmers for some space. Through this way of travelling we weren’t just saving money, we also got much closer contact to the local people and their culture, what gave me another impression of Thailand as I had from previous backpacking trips.
Over the time our legs were getting stronger and we were getting closer and closer to the Malaysian border. Jay and I decided to split up and from then on I was riding alone, what didn’t really bother me, I just enjoyed the freedom to go where I wanted. I chose to cycle along the west coast, what was not really exciting though, as I passed for hundreds of kilometer just oil palm plantations’ Malaysia is together with Indonesia leading in the production of oil palm. As consequence to this massive monoculture a huge area was cleared from rain forest, what brings of course many environmental problems. Very often I was imagine how it was looking there before.
Different to Thailand Malaysia has a Muslim majority and the fasting month Ramadan had just started, when I crossed the border. During this time it isn’t allowed to eat and drink over the day, just after sunsets and a short prayer everyone starts eating. Non Muslims luckily don’t have to fast, but due to respect I avoided eating in front of Muslims and went for lunch to Chinese restaurants. If I stayed with locals over night and we had dinner together I really liked the atmosphere though. Although it was the time of fasting, food still seemed to be a very important thing, every afternoon food markets or Ramadan Bazaars were set up besides the roads, and then in the hours before sunset they got flooded by people, who were buying food for dinner.
After six weeks of cycling I reached Singapore, where I first had a little problem at the border. I entered this city state over a bridge, but apparently it was a highway and bicycles weren’t allowed there, but on the Malaysian site nobody cared about it. Luckily the Singaporean customs officers let me pass after a while of waiting and discussing, because I wasn’t really keen to cycled back and do a 70 km detour over another bridge.
Singapore felt first really different to me compare to all the other Asian countries I’ve been before, suddenly the traffic was so organized and everything was clean, a bit like at home. Nearly a week I stayed with my couchsurfing host Rakesh and I’ve to admit, that I enjoyed a bit to be in a modern tidy city again. But you’ve to be careful, as even little things, like cycling over a pedestrian bridge or spitting is going to cost you an expensive fine.
From Singapore I traveled by ferries to Sumatra. Cycling on this large island wasn’t really easy, the traffic was awful, one truck came after the next one and the drivers didn’t really care about me on my bike. Besides of that was the road going up and down all the time, what made it not really easier. However, the people were incredible, even though it wasn’t easy to communicate with them, as hardly anybody was speaking English. In the two weeks I spent on Sumatra I haven’t seen any other foreign tourist, so it wasn’t surprising, that I was an attraction for many people. When I entered villages usually a group of children were chasing my bike and shouting ‘bule’, what means something like ‘white person’. Almost everyday I got stopped by cars or motorbikes, and the people asked for a photo. In some restaurants I even was refused to pay, a picture with a white man was enough.
Just a short ferry ride through the Sunda Strait divides Sumatra from the Java, what is the most populated island on Earth, and of course the traffic wasn’t getting better, even worse. Jakarta was more less just one traffic jam and I still don’t know, why I decided to cycle there. At least I got over the cycling network ‘Warmshowers‘ contact to Ricky, who could host me for a couple of days.
After I’ve left Jakarta I could eventually escape from the busy highways and was riding mostly over small roads through the countryside. It was incredible steep sometimes, but for the breathtaking volcanic landscapes it was it worth. From Ricky I got some contacts to cyclists in other parts of Java, so I haven’t had to worry about accommodation in most cities. Also the cycling communities helped me to find nice routes through Indonesia and gave me a lot of other advice and information about their country. I was surprised how popular cycling is in Indonesia, especially on weekends hundreds taking their bike for ride.
Although I would have loved to continue cycling further over the other smaller Islands, my visa expired and I was just allowed to extend it once. So I was flying from Bali to Darwin in Australia.
My Plan was to cross Australia from there to Adelaide over the Stuart Highway, but I just got half way. At the Uluru aka Ayers Rock I met luckily some people, who helped me to get a job in the resort. So I took this opportunity, took a break from cycling and travelling for six months and was working there till May.