Route

We made an initial outline plan for feasibility and planning visas and seasons. Then we refined it as we went along, choosing places to see and planning in chunks of 5 or so days. We rarely planned exact overnight stops. This map shows our nightly stops. Daily distances vary a lot. Typically, on cycling days, in not-hard terrain, without long stops, we cycle 80-100 km a day. Below the map is the list of cheats, where we confess to not cycling.

Cheat List
Ok, so we always admitted we couldn’t cycle all the way, the bikes don’t float very well, at least. Here’s a record of the not-cycled bits.

Newhaven to Dieppe, by ferry.

Danube “breakthrough” cruise, about 4km and very scenic.

A few (4?) crossing-the-Danube ferries, one of which we confess was highly “diagonal” and must’ve saved 3km of pedalling.

Not really a cheat, but: Train back-track and replay of Vienna-Budapest route already cycled, in order to collect a visa we didn’t apply for in time.

Istanbul to Yalova ferry: A 40km ferry ride, that took us from busy European Istanbul, south to Yalova on the Asian mainland. This circumvented all the busy industrial areas and main road. Apart from the very first few km (uphill, dual carriageway, in rain), it more or less dropped us straight into rural Turkey.

Eastern Turkey: Malatya to Tatvan, 20/21st July 2016, a bit under 500km was done on an overnight bus. We had examined our plan and found ourselves looking to be late with respect to our central Asian visas. Then, Turkey had an attempted coup and was perhaps not such a great place to be. Our nearest feasible exit route (we were in Afsin) was to cycle to Malatya where there was a choice of full-size buses that can carry bikes. So we did, and boarded a bus east to Tatvan, away from the allegedly more risky areas in the mid-east-south part (see UK Foreign Office online advice for map, we were in between two “advise against” bits.). By the time we caught the bus Turkey seemed a bit more settled, if unEuropean, and a few days later, another replan, deleting a number of optional visits, suggested we were now ahead of schedule by 10 days. So maybe the bus wasn’t necessary! Apart from turning up 90 minutes late, it was trouble free and economical, but 23:30 to 04:00 on a bus is never joyful! Also, see next paragraph, we might have been better going north rather than East – but that would mean one of the FOs dodgy areas. Finally, we assumed the bus would take a direct route, but in fact it looped south, visiting one of the towns the FO advised against.

Not really a cheat, but: Two day excursions, by car from Malatya. The trip to Nemrut would have been savage on the bikes.

Turkey – Dogubayazit to Kars, about 150km, was done in a dolmus (to Igdir) and mini coach, because the local police advised against cycling that road, as it was potentially affected by the troubles with the PKK.

Turkey – from about 20km short of Artvin, to Borcka, we were late and knackered, faced with many more steep hills, and a kind local offered a lift. Saved us about 40-50km.

Not really a cheat, but: Minibus excursion from Tbilisi to Davidi monastery on Azeri border. A lot of it we actually covered later after leaving Tbilisi.

Azerbaijan, Baku to Alat: Purchasing a ticket at 12:00, for a ferry presentation at 17:00, 80km away, more or less forced us to hire a taxi. See main blog.

Baku (Alat) Azerbaijan to Aqtau, Kazakhstan: Caspian Sea, on Mercuri 1. See main blog.

Uzbekistan has lots to see, and lots of distance. We always envisaged some use of train, to make up time across the steppes. In fact we rode that bit, but gained a day Khiva-Bukhara by hitching 100km after a day’s riding. Bukhara-Samarkand we did by riding just 74km before getting on a night train, saving about 2 days ride.

Not really a cheat, but: Having got to Tashkent, with Clare rather weakened by her recurring travellers tummy, we left the bikes for a few days, and went by train into the Ferghana valley.

Not really a cheat, but: Having taken an easier northern route from Samarkand in Uzbekistan to Bishkek, we had a week’s motor excursion, doubling back to see the Pamirs.

Note on the last two: Cycling the Pamir highway route Samarkand-Dushanbe-Khorog-Langar-Osh-Bishkek on our quite loaded non-mountain bikes would probably have been unenjoyable for us. However, the route Samarkand-Ferghana-Osh-Bishkek would probably have been our option if Clare had been fully fit. We could still have taken the Pamir tour, as it was based from Osh.

Not really a cheat, but: While based at Bishkek,  a second excursion, to and around Issy-Kul lake, by bus. And horse.

The leg from the easternmost “stan”, Kyrgistan, to India, is closed to us because: It will be winter, and the Himalayas don’t take visitors in those months; and we can’t get a China visa on the road; and the Foreign Office (and thus insurers) don’t advise travelling the (annoyingly short) bit of Pakistan between Gilgit and Islamabad (assuming we could get a Pakistan visa on the road, which also is unlikely). Therefore we reluctantly flew: South from Kyrgyzstan to India. This also involved taxi cheats: To Bishkek airport in the wee small hours, with boxed bikes, thru the snow. And from Delhi airport to the hotel, bikes still boxed. Both proved very sound choices!

In India, airport shuttles with packed bikes, a few side trips by bus, tuk-tuk, cycle rickshaw, jeep, and camel.

The India-Myanmar land route is unfeasible at present (err, except on 12th March we met a Czech couple who got through, and a solo English guy did too). Myanmar side has onerous and expensive regulations. But since we set out, India side (state of Manipur) seems to have descended into near revolution. We’d be unlikely to get the necessary permit, and if we did, bicycle would probably be pretty dumb (obvious and vulnerable). So we flew from Gaya, in NE India, to Yangon. Gaya is about 8 days short of our original planned exit (Kolkata), but avoids dealing with Kolkata’s major roads, notorious traffic and (!) bicycle bans. The flights are for Buddhist pilgrims, so only run in the winter. Air India refused point blank to entertain our bicycles, once we could penetrate typical big airline excuse for customer service via Varanasi’s awful telephone lines.. Myanmar Airways International is a nice small airline, their airport manager is directly contactable from their website, and couldn’t have been more helpful. It was rather an expensive flight ,though the charge for the bikes was reasonable.

In Myanmar, we’re doing a similar thing to India; fly into the chief airport, then go the wrong way, to make a country tour of our ride to the next border. But unlike Delhi, Yangon is really almost at the “end” of Myanmar (i.e. near the Thai border), so this time we go the wrong way by public transport, only cycling the “forward” route. Thus we’ve travelled 600km north by a picturesque if rather bumpy sleeper train, to Bagan, then taken an Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) river boat to Mandalay, then another classic train ride to Hsipaw, a mere 600km or so from the Indian border, before finally pointing the bikes back towards Australia and resuming cycling.

…Which has turned out quite physically tough. Shan State was pretty hill, but we coped. After a single 40km downhill, dropping around 1km we’re back near sea level and it’s touching 40C in the afternoons and there’s the Myanmar problem of finding accommodation. At one point, on the A1, we cycled 100+km, knackered, then saw an empty truck going south: worth at try; “Taungoo?”, thumbs up, ride sorted…. Except he was indeed going Taungoowards, slowly, but after 10km stopped at his place, end of lift. Taungoo, where we knew there are tourist hotels, still 50km away. Driver kind of signalled “place to sleep about 10”, dunno if he means miles or minutes. Well, found a monastery who seemed happy to put us up. Anyway, cheat 10km by truck!

Not really a cheat, but: Myanmar: On the way towards the Thai border, we stopped a couple of nights in Kyaiktyo. On the rest day between we took a shared taxi (ie a bench in the back of a pickup), then a special truck ride, to see the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo – the very similar names made getting the right shared taxi a challenge. It seems only the special trucks are allowed on the road up to the rock. It had looked possible to cycle, but we were well overdue a rest day after a hard week of headwinds and 40C temperatures. And now we’d seen the ride profile, basically 1km up, rock, 1km down. That’s 1km vertically. The road is bonkers steep in places, and full of hairpins. The truck drivers clearly enjoyed roaring their vehicles round the tight bends, with the sardined passengers oohing and aahing. No need for theme park rides here. At the top it was heaving, like a cheerful, colourful, sunny Lands End with prayers and gold leaf.

Not really a cheat, but: In Thailand, we decided our route would be a sort of zigzag down the western side of the country. Bangkok isn’t really on this line, so, as we were due a rest, we parked the bikes in Kanchanaburi, and took a side trip by bus.

To get from Singapore to Sumatra took two ferries. A short one to Batam, then a real deal PELNI ship to near Medan. 

Sumatra, Indonesia. One great touring destination, but wow, challenging. Steep and hot. The south western coast road, which looks flattish on a map, got us beat down to little more than 50km a day. In the end, out of time, and out of legs, we took 50km, then 500km, on big buses, to jump to Jakarta. 

Indonesia to Australia. There’s no boat, so we flew from Bali to Cairns before cycling the east coast of Australia.

How humiliating! Loading the baggage trolley after landing in Cairns, Gid twanged something in his back, already aching from packing the bikes and Jetstar’s awful seats. After a week in Cairns, and two physio appointments, it was… Somewhat better. And we were itching to be off. Kind host Nick, knowing the first 20km or so ascended around a kilometre, offered Gid and Clare’s bags a lift in his “ute” to the top. Gratefully accepted. Clare generously decided not to include her climb in the trip mileage!