South East Asia, roads new and old.

South East Asia, roads new and old.

Photos and words by Jimmy Ashby

Sabaidee, Xin Chow or just a simple smile, it was fun to be back in the organised chaos of South East Asia. The smells, sounds and intensity were all still there, 4 years on from my last visit. This time I was in search of roads new and old.

With my summer empty of plans I once again packed up my life onto a bike and ventured across the world. This time I was heading back to South East Asia, in particular Thailand, Laos & Vietnam. 
For this trip I had a very loose plan and no schedule, I wanted it to be the complete opposite bike tour to my Rhino Run adventure last October in Africa. I wanted lots of sleep, plenty of breaks and no urgency at all. So, without a return flight booked and only a rough plan in my head I was off to Bangkok. For the next 6 weeks I had nowhere to be yet everywhere to go. A blank canvas of adventure and two wheels to travel on.
My tour ended up covering 3500km over the 6 weeks starting in Bangkok, heading north to Chiang Mai and the Mae Hong Song region of Thailand. A short dash across Laos, then a final explore of Northern Vietnam and the Ha Giang region. Having been to these countries 4 years ago I wanted to find roads old and new, to explore the corners I’d missed but also revisit some of the towns, roads and places I’d ridden before as a young 19 year old traveller on my around the world cycle.
The ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai wasn’t anything to phone home about, it felt like an 800km commute to get to the good stuff in the North, the good stuff being mountains & forests. Saying that, it was still a fun ride. To be immersed in the villages of Thailand, see the day-to-day life of the Thai lives and have a million scooters pass me is something you only get in Asia. 

Once in Chiang Mai the trip really took off. Northern Thailand and the Mae Hong Son loop were the big-ticket item in my plans. The one pocket of Thailand I had heard so much about but yet never seen. I can tell you now with passion that the loop is one to do! It did not disappoint. This place is magic, although you’re going to want to enjoy climbing, because there isn’t a kilometer of flat road out there! From the fields of Pai to the hill tribes of Ban Rak Thai this loop was a culture rich adventure with views that brought goose bumps to my skin. All of which connected by some of the most steep, curvy & exciting passes you could ride. Now what goes up must come down hey? Whist you’re the slowest thing on the road going up these 1000vm+ passes there is no doubt that you’re the fastest thing going down. When you then throw in scooters, buses & all sorts of wildlife, ripping down these descents felt like a real life game of Mario Cart. It was just so much fun. It’s one of those places you just need to go and ride to understand, words and photos don’t quite do it justice.

 From northern Thailand I ventured towards Laos and the Mekong River. Just to enter the country you get to cross over one of THE rivers of the world, that in itself as a special experience. Instead of hopping on the long boat down the river I kept on riding, up and over the stunning Laos landscape, watching sunsets from mountain sides and finding myself in villages that felt more remote then ever. 

If you’ve read my blogs before or heard me speak you’ll know about my love for a simple smile. It’s the international language, more universal then any word but yet speaks more then any word could. It’s in these corners of the world where that truly shines through. Riding into these remote hillside villages is like a pocket of joy and smiles. I released no matter what mood I was in it was impossible to not be smiling on the other side. Endless smiles, waves and laughter were sent my way in volumes. It didn’t take long at all to remember why Laos was a country I loved so much.
It was also in Laos where I rejoined my world ride route from 4 years ago. 
Now that was a special thing. 

It’s crazy how the memory works. A certain building, restaurant, sign or even corner would send waves of memories and emotions through my mind. Spotting the little shelters and riverbanks, which I camped at or finding the same restaurants and sitting in the exact spot I sat 4 years ago was wild. I also just laughed at some of the places I camped and things I remember doing. I guess we’re all a bit ignorant and foolish at 19…

One of the more special moments came in Muang Xia, a central city of Laos. I cycled down an alleyway to a restaurant based out of someone’s home and it instantly clicked I’d been there before. The memories of that place were so vibrant in my mind because there was a young girl who sat next to me smiling and laughing throughout the entire meal, she must have been only 5 or 6 at the time. Four years on as I walk through the garden there she was, I recognized her instantly and her smile felt oh so familiar. I sat down, probably ate the same meal in the same seat and dove deep into my phone to find a photo of here and I we’d taken on that day. As I left that restaurant I showed the grandmother and the now 10ish-year-old girl the photo of us. That was special, as special as it gets really. They were full of laughter and joy at it. I gave them a final wave and said see you again in another 4 years. I look forward to that moment!
Vietnam was the third and final country of my SE Asian tour and the Ha Giang Loop was my main reason for it. The loop itself is famous for backpacker tourists to explore on motorbikes however I still think a bicycle is the way to go, I’m probably biased…
The landscape of the Ha Giang region is like nowhere else I’ve ever seen so to be back again felt like a special treat. It feels like the moon in places but then these raw rocky peaks cutting roads through the edge of the sky at just epic! 

Whilst the roads and landscape of Vietnam were incredible the factors around it were almost a bit much for me. Maybe I’m getting old but I don’t remember the chaos and noise of Vietnam getting to me like it did this time. Throw in Chinese New Year with everything being closed and everyone on holiday I became quite overwhelmed by it all and became ready to find some quite and peace in the noise, a rare thing in Vietnam. So with that, I felt ready to come home. I booked a flight out of Hanoi, rode into the city and flew back home to Aus. 

 With my life packed away onto my bike you might be wondering what was packed in my bags. Here’s a run down…!

  • Curve ti GMX+
  • 29” Curve Carbon Dirt hoops with 2.25” Vittoria Terreno tyres. DT 350 Hubs.
  • 55cm Curve Walmer bars
  • SRAM Force ETap mullet drivetrain (32-10/50)
  • 3 x bottle cages
  • Treadlite Frame bag, Sol Seeker Handlebar Bag, top tube bag & feed bags
  • Curve Rocket pooches on the rear.

In The Bags

  • Ground Effect Slim Jim shorts
  • GE Dogma Shirt
  • GE Astro 
  • GE Socks, gloves & arm warmers
  • GE Rain Flash Gordon Rain Jacket
  • Patagonia lightweight Puffer Jacket
  • Sleeping mat, sleeping bag & tarp
  • Kask Valegro Helmet
  • Shimano RX shoes
  • Sandles
  • Electronics (power banks, cables, batteries, phone, headphones)
  • Olympus OMD M10III Camera
  • Book
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