Southeast Asia on a Bike

Temples, elephants, jungles and spicy food

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Temple riding.

Vehicles, especially motorcycles, are rather expensive in Southeast Asia. Thailand is no exception. Since I was spending an extended time in Thailand, I decided to splurge on a motorcycle. Versys was the only locally made bike over 300cc at the time, so I got it.

Over the course of next few years, I put over 40,000 km on it riding it around Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Even though, I wanted to make longer trips with my Versys, I couldn't. It's is virtually impossible to bring vehicles into China and Myanmar. Vietnam and Indonesia make it rather hard to do so as well. So I explored the countries that I could and then sold the bike before stator burnt (made to go out at 40,000 miles).

Laos

I made a few trips to Laos both as a backpacker and on a motorcycle. This relatively small country has a lot to offer - Ethnic minorities, rugged landscape, laid-back backpacker enclaves, Buddhist temples, twisty mountain roads, jungles and one of Asia's mightiest rivers - Mekong. It was also the most bombed country in the history of the world during the Vietnam war. Famous Ho Chi Minh Trail went through Laos and parts of it are preserved even today.

Most tourist head stright to Luang Prabang - the old capital of the country and UNESCO world heritage city. It's chock full of temples, guesthouses and restaurants. These days tourists outnumber monks during the morning alms giving ceremony. I found watching overzealous tourists armed with latest DSLR gear more interesting than monks themselves.

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Lao-style temple entrance.

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Golden Triangle - once the hub of opium trade.

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Vientian, Lao capital.

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Curious novice monk.

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Alms giving ceremony in Luang Phrabang has become a major tourist attraction. These days, there are more tourists snapping photos than monks.

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Novice monks doing chores in a temple.

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Camping in a jungle near Lao-Viet border. At night, I was woken up by loud noise of the wild elephants passing by. Luckily I did not see them.

Mekong flows through a dense jungle. Cruise down Mekong river from Thai border at Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is an experience not to be missed. There are two options for travelers. Fast boat, uncomfortable and loud, makes trip in one day. Slow boat, more spacious and quieter, makes an overnight stop half way through and arrives in Luang Prabang the following day.

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Jungle-covered mountains at the border between Laos and Vietnam are home to wild elephants, among other animals. On one of my trips, I ended up camping in the jungle. Loud noise of trees being crushed in the middle of the night woke me up. Needless to say, I couldn't go back to sleep.

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Preserved section of the Ho-Chi-Minh trail. Lao, even never officially involved in the war, was the most bombed country in the history of the world.

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Chilling by the river in Nong Khiaw. This is another backpackers' enclave. It's a peaceful village (outside holidays, when vocally challenged make up with volume for the lack of their singing skills) on Nam Ou river. It's surrounded by mountains covered with a dense forest. It is also a jump off point to go to Muang Ngoi village further up stream, accessible by boat only.

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Old palace in Luang Phrabang.

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Luang Phrabang temple at dusk.

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Vang Vieng is probably the most famous of backpackers places in Laos. It's got jungle-covered limestone mountains as its back drop with peaceful river flowing in between. Unfortunately, these days it looks more like Khao San Rd in Bangkok than a getaway destination.

Cambodia

Cambodia has got a piece of ocean, some mountains and jungle, but the single biggest attraction here is the Angkor temple complex.

Unfortunately, the movie Tomb Raiders made the place too famous and now, it's just another tourist trap. Still, everyone should visit the place at least once in a lifetime.

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Giant faces of Bayon temple - my favorite.

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One of many smaller temples of the complex.

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Temples are impressive by themselves, but what really makes this place special are the giant trees that grew around the stone structures.

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Bayon temple.

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Crossing Mekhong river with other riders.

Malaysia

This country is a true melting pot of Asian cultures. This is where Chinese and Indian trader have been meeting for centuries to exchange goods. Today, one can enjoy great Malay, Indian and Chinese food.

Malaysia is blessed with tropical climate, jungle-covered mountains and two oceans.

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Climbing up a mountains outside Kuala Lumpur. Getting high up in the mountains is a great way to escape tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur.

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Colorful guesthouses on Redang island.

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Interior of a Chinese temple in Malacca.

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Mosques are supposed to be on the water or, at least, surrounded by water. This one outside Malacca is perfectly situated.

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Mosque in Putrajaya - a purpose-built capital of Malaysia.

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Crossed a causeway to visit friends in Singapore.

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There are wild elephants roaming around roads that pass through the jungle.

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Perhentian islands - a picture-perfect tropical islands off eastern coast of Malaysia.

Vietnam

Vietnam is truly made for motorcycle, scooters, to be more precise. Mountains are criss-crossed by narrow twisty roads where scooters rule. It is very complicated to bring in a vehicle into Vietnam and I was glad I did not have a big bike to ride around.

The country is long and narrow. So it makes a lot of sense to travel from north to south or vice versa. Recognizing this, many shops rent motorcycles for one way travel. I rented a scooter in Hanoi and made a loop around the northern part only.

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The climate varies quite a bit even in a relatively small geographic area. While the rice fields just west of Hanoi were green, higher up in the mountains to the north, the rice was harvested and they were preparing the fields for the new season.

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Who needs a truck when scooters can be loaded just as much.

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Clouds lifting up over rice terraces in northern Vietnam.

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Minefield to stop illegal crossing into China. Judging by the footprints around, even mines do not seem to deter smugglers.

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The owner did not bother making sure the bike had enough oil when he rented it out. Of course, I did not bother checking the oil level. So going up some steep hill, the little oil that was in the engine collected at the back and I blew the piston. A local shop put a new piston and honed the cylinder in less than two hours for the total cost of $22. Gotta love Asia!

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A lady selling flowers in front of a banyan tree in Hanoi.

Thailand

I spent most time riding in Thailand, on scooters or my Versys.

The country stretches from near China in the north and goes down

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Sukhothai - the old capital of Thailand.

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Sukhothai.

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Hanging out with other riders in Northern Thailand.

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Bamboo forest in Northern Thailand.

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Most of the jungle in Thailand has been cleared for rice fields. It's hard to find a road that goes through lush forest like this one.

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For some reason this orangutan couldn't get enough of me. Who can blame him :))

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Khao Sok NP park in Thailand. I avoid national parks in Thailand as the entrance for foreigners 10x the price of entrance for Thais - double pricing at its finest.

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Elephants can still be seen on some roads in Thailand.

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Thailand is the land of stupas.

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Beautiful Banyan tree.

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At the elephant festival in Surin.

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Chiang Mai temple.