Category: South China and Thailand 2013

#10 Returning from the Burmese Border

One of the seven waterfalls at Erawon. Very much worth the 1/2 day hike.

One of the seven waterfalls at Erawon. Very much worth the 1/2 day hike.

This site so endeared me. Many adult men drive modified motorcycles with sidecars for taxis. But here, someone  has modified a bicycle to be a play taxi for these two sisters. How cute.

This sight so endeared me. Many adult men drive modified motorcycles with sidecars for taxis. But here, someone has modified a bicycle to be a play taxi for these three sisters. 

 

Most Thais are quite modest. Western tourists, less so.

 

Most Thais are quite modest. Western tourists, less so.

 

Along side the 'Railway of Death' there is a cave. When the allies bombed the railway, the slave laborers would dash into this cave. The local Buddhists made this shrine to honor those who died here.

Along side the ‘Railway of Death’ there is a cave. When the allies bombed the railway, the slave laborers would dash into this cave. The local Buddhists made this shrine to honor those who died here.

After being stopped at the Burmese border, I turned around and bussed back to Kanchanaburi. From there I visited the Erawon Waterfalls. These are a series of seven waterfalls leading up a mountain. They were stunning in the dry season. But the locals said that the true beauty and fury of the falls are only revealed during the monsoon.

I needed more bicycling before I returned to Bangkok. If I returned via the direct route to Bangkok, I would be retracing a high-traffic, boring industrial route. So I headed north toward Suphan Buri. This is the heart of Thailand’s rice-growing district. And as Thailand is the #1 exporter of rice in the world, this is agribusiness at its most intense.

I left well before sunrise and pedaled north. The scenery was purely large-scale rice farming. Massive irrigation pumps flooding fields, lush light green rice seedlings bursting thru the ponds with 1000s of white egrets wading in them for as far as I could see. The roads were as flat as the rice paddies. I would have made great time, except that I was bucking the wind all the way. By 10 am it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. And by 1 pm, it was 100 degrees F. I was guzzling a liter of water an hour. Surprisingly, I did not feel too exhausted by the heat. I took a two-hour nap inside a large, covered outdoor bus stop. Then I headed out at 4 pm to try to made 25 more miles by sunset. I did. I struggled for an hour to find a place to stay. At the end of the day I had made 85 miles into the wind. I was good with that.

Read More…

#9 Chased by Border Guards

Far in the distance in ThongPhaPhum I see this, and walk toward it

Far in the distance in ThongPhaPhum I see this, and walk toward it

I walk the suspension bridge, climb several hundred stairs, and I find the gold Buddha. The book says it has real gold on it. I am there alone for a while.

I walk the suspension bridge, climb several hundred stairs, and I find the gold Buddha. The book says it has real gold on it. I am there alone for a while.

 

The mountains at the far horizon are in Burma. 80 kms away. I plan to pedal there tomorrow.
The mountains at the far horizon are in Burma. 80 kms away. I plan to pedal there tomorrow.

It is starting to heat up here. So I leave on bicycle before sunrise. I have what looks like 2 days of pedaling into the mountains to climb to the Burmese border. My first day went relatively well as I pulled into Thong Pha Phum. It is a small town on the River Kwai, at the edge of steep mountains. The river now flows swift, deep, and clear.

Across the river I see a glittering Buddhist Shrine atop a jagged pinnacle. I walk across a long suspension bridge to it. The bridge sways in the wind. I climb the 300+ steps to the top and I discover that I am the only person here. It is beautifully made shrine, open to all. Later, a few visitors arrive. As the sun sets, I take some pictures to the north, where Burma lies in the distance. I will try to pedal up thru the mountains to here tomorrow.

I load my bike and leave well before sunrise. Immediately I hit steep hills. Most of them are less than 7% climbs, and I can still make that, in the morning, while I am fresh. Something that I notice about the people that I pass is that they are no longer ethnically Thai. In general, they are smaller and darker than Thais. Most are Karen and Mon refugees from the Burmese government.

For the rest of the day, in increasing heat, I climb increasingly steep mountains. By 2 in the afternoon, I must stop and cool off at a Buddhist monastery. They bring me cool water. I have been drinking at least a liter an hour, and it is still not enough. If one cannot cool off with water, then one risks heat exhaustion. So I rest on. I covered 50 kms in the mountains this morning. I figure I can surely cover the remaining 30 kms before sunset.

But I am, in the end, wrong. It is getting hotter, the mountain roads are steeper, and I am more tired. The roads are too steep for me to pedal. So I hop off my bike and push my bike up to the top of passes. This can be 30 minutes or more, and although it is not cycling, it sure is exercise. At the top of each pass, I discover another mountain on the other side, higher than the one before. I coast rapidly to the bottom, and then begin the arduous walk/push bike to the top again.

When I get to the top of the last ridge, I am ready to congratulate myself. It is late, but I have made it to Sangkhlaburi, the end of the road. But wait, what do I see in the distance? Another mountain. I listen to the truck that has just passed me. I hear its engine whining loudly in first gear as it climbs up the longest slope. It will be dark soon. I look around. I could bivouac here for the night if need be. But I do not have a tent. I am so close to the city. So I try to wave down the next truck. The very first truck stops. Somehow, in Thailand, this does not surprise me. A middle-aged Thai couple stop, get out, and help me load my bike into the back. I ride in back with the bike. They take me over the last mountain, and it is the highest and the steepest one that I have encountered on this trip. Maybe I could have made it in the morning, but not now.

I find a lovely old hotel next to the town plaza and market. It is of tile and natural stone, with the fine workmanship of professional masons and stone workers. I choose a room with only a fan. That is good enough for me. At this altitude, it is not so hot. I quickly guzzle 2 more liters of water, take a cold shower, and wash my laundry by hand. I turn the fan toward the bed, and pass out. I had made it, of sorts.

The next morning before sunrise I go to the market to eat. Here was my breakfast of a green coconut curried vegetables. It tasted fine, and set me back 35 cents.

This was delicious, and set me back 35 cents. I am embarrassed to pay so little, so I leave tips.

This was delicious, and set me back 35 cents. I am embarrassed to pay so little, so I leave tips.

 

Many Mon women paint their faces white. Most will not let you photograph them. It can range from garish to striking.

Many Mon women paint their faces white.It can range from garish to striking. Most of them will not let you photograph them. 

 

 

Most of the women have their faces painted white. Usually it consists of a smear of paint on either cheek and their forehead. But occasionally there is a woman who has elaborately painted her face up in the detail one would imagine of a Geisha. When I ask if I an take their photos, they almost universally say no. Here is one who did not. I notice that the refugees here at the border are particularly kind and helpful to me. I later find out that there are numerous NGO’s working here in behalf of the refugees. Many of the employees are Europeans, and the refugees have very good associations with them. They have most likely assumed that I too am an NGO employee and they are giving me preferential treatment because of it. Well, it sure beats being hated.

Then I take a short ride in the back of the truck to the Burmese border. I get there and hike up to the border. I want to check out the border before I arrive on my bicycle.

I ask the Thai border guard if Burma is allowing people to cross today. He tells me that they are only permitting Burmese to enter. But many of the Burmese are afraid to return because of political repercussions. I decide to find out for myself. I follow a loaded truck thru the no one’s land of the border to the Burmese checkpoint. I watch the customs agents begin to search the truck.

Then one of them glances up and sees me. He shouts something unintelligible to me. I am holding my camera as I pull out my passport. He begins gesturing angrily at me,. Then he starts to run at me with his hands held out forward, as if her were going to push me over. I turn and start running back to the Thai border. Another guard follows him in the chase. They continue to chasing me until I am on clearly marked Thai soil. One of them continues shouting something at me. Then they turn and walk away. This is the only picture that I got.

just beyond those buildings is Burma

just beyond those buildings is Burma

 

After I had safely run back into Thailand, I turned to take this photo. They could not get me from here.
After I had safely run back into Thailand, I turned to take this photo. They could not get me from here.

Looks like I won’t be entering Burma any time soon.

This is the end of this line. I check my maps out, and I must now retrace 230 kms of road before I can branch off and bicycle another direction. I much prefer riding loops rather than retracing a route. So I go to the bus station. For $2.50 additional, the bus driver allows me to carry my bike in the bus. The Thai people are so kind about accommodating guests. So back to Kanchanaburi I go, one of my new favorite little cities in Thailand.

 

Thailand makes it very easy to carry bikes on trains or buses, for hybrid trips.

Thailand makes it very easy to carry bikes on trains or buses, for hybrid trips.

And will someone please help me with this?

???

???

 

#8 from SE Asia. The local marketplaces

A local lake crab delicacy. Note: I simply could not get her to hold it without the tongs.

A local lake crab delicacy. Note: I simply could not get her to hold it without the tongs.

Local marketplaces have always been a joy of travel to me. These are often loud, chaotic affairs in the center of each town. Many have been going on for centuries, if not millennia, in the very same spot. I have visited them around the world. Often I discover entirely new foods; fruit and vegetables that I have never seen before. I try eating them. Once I literally threw away the part I was supposed to eat, and tried eating the part I was to throw away. To my embarrassment, the women in the market roared with laughter. I wonder how long afterward they told that story about the ‘dumb foreigner’.

The secret with local markets is to get there before sunrise. Much of the business is done in the cool part of the day. You will not have to worry about being too early.

Read More…

#7 Hellfire Pass and Sai Yok National Park

 

My private resort. It would have been better if Susan were here.

My private resort. It would have been better if Susan were here.

I am running on (and out of) battery power now, as the electricity has been down for hours. In the isolated areas, this happens frequently. The Mynah bird in the cage next to me shrieks incredibly loudly and frequently. I want to let it go. And whenever I Skype Susan in the lounge where I can pick up WiFi, a small crowd of smiling locals gather, amazed. At first they thought the image on my net book was television, until I told Susan to wave to them and say ‘hello’ in Thai. I will not be able to transmit until we have power (and WiFi). I guess this is what I should expect in remote mountain towns at the Thai/Burmese border. One learns quickly to immediately plug in their recharger whenever there is working current.I stayed at a luxurious isolated resort on the River Kwai. I was the only guest there, so I had the use of the entire facility to myself. So late at night I went to the pool, declared it ‘nude swimming night’, and jumped in. Swimming in the River Kwai would have been better, but I was fearful of getting washed downstream in the rapid current. It seems like when I am on a bicycle, I manage to find all these isolated, empty resorts. For $10 to $15 @ night, I live well.

Read More…

#6 The Allies War Cemeteries in Kanchanaburi

The perfectly maintained Allies Cemetery in Kanchanaburi, containing British, Australian, and Dutch casualties. All US casualties were re-interred back to the United States.

The perfectly maintained Allies Cemetery in Kanchanaburi, containing British, Australian, and Dutch casualties. All US casualties were re-interred back to the United States.

After I visited the war museums here, I went to both the of the Allies Cemeteries. The grounds were perfectly kept. And there I spent the rest of the day. At the Chungkai cemetery, I read every one of the 1700 grave sites.

Many of the markers thanked the deceased for their service for country. Some planned for the time when they would be reunited with their loved ones. But the most poignant to me were the ones of sheer grief. I have included photos of these. I believe that they speak mostly for themselves.

marker1

Read More…

#5. Pedaling to the Bridge over the River Kwai

#5: Bicycling to thee Bridge over the River Kwai

The actual Bridge over the River Kwai, where it was when the allies bombed it. Some of it is still original.

The actual Bridge over the River Kwai, where it was when the allies bombed it. Some of it is still original.
I take comfort in the Buddhist temples here. I rest in them when bicyclling. They are always open to anyone.

I take comfort in the Buddhist temples here. I rest in them when bicycling. They are always open to anyone.

Ahhh, Thailand feels like an old friend already. I check into the Top Inn on Kao San Road in Bangkok and they greet me by my name. And I have not been here in two years. I go outside and within 2 minutes I have all the bicycle touring maps I need. Five minutes later and I have the 2011 LONELY PLANET guide to Thailand. That afternoon I buy a bike. And the next day at sunrise, I am pedaling on the road, trying to figure out how to get out of Bangkok without becoming roadkill. The route to Kanchanaburi is fairly clear. But the traffic isn’t. It is left-hand driving here, so I don’t dare make one mental lapse and do a right-hand move…

I dislike entering and leaving large cities by bicycle. If I know the city, like Chicago, I can do it. But to experiment with international cities where I cannot read the signs is challenging. So it took me over 50 kms. before the traffic thinned enough. I especially did not like climbing high, long bridges where the shoulder suddenly becomes one foot wide and I have trucks passing me. I am very willing to toss my bike on a train or bus to get out of cities, and I would recommend that to others.

Look at what I found on the road near Bangkok.

This was ling along side of the road in a big city, just hit. What a shame.

This was lying along side of the road in a big city, just hit. What a shame.

This had just been hit and was laying on the side of the road in a BIG city. It was over 1.5 meters long and must have weighed 17 kilos. I had never seen anything in the wild close to this in size.

Read More…

#4 from China: A Big Change in my Itinerary

To understand better how China has positioned itself and outflanked the west for the 21st century, READ THIS BOOK.

To understand better how China has positioned itself and outflanked the west for the 21st century, READ THIS BOOK.

I decided to cancel my bicycle trip and temporarily leave China. I have never canceled a bicycle trip before in my life.

Why?

—1. I was lost all the time. I did not have a functioning GPS. China blocks Google maps in China, and I simply could not find ONE map in English of China.

— 2. China’s national firewall blocks all Google products including Gmail, Google Voice, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and most any videos. This prevented me from communicating to my partner Susan for several days at a time. When I would finally get thru (illegally thru a VPN – Virtual Private Network) Susan would be so distressed worrying about me at that she would be close to tears. This did not make me feel any better about the state censorship in China. I was going to solve this problem by buying an iPad with mobile and WiFi and GPS and voice translation aps. I was ready to do it until I checked with two Canadian friends of mine who are living in China with their Chinese spouses. They both independently warned me NOT to buy ANY Apple products in China because there would be a high probability that they would be forgeries. I discovered that groups in China even forge ENTIRE APPLE STORES in China. In China only ‘Caveat Emptor’ applies, so I could get stuck with non-working garbage without a warranty. There is no Consumers’ Protection Agency here in China at all. My friends recommended that I go back to Hong Kong, where the odds of my buying an Apple forgery ‘was less’. LESS? I want the probability of it being a forgery to be ZERO. “Well, go back to the US then.”

Read More…

#3 from China: The man looking over my shoulder

Mistakes that I have made on this trip:

1. I should have brought along some type of tablet device that supports GPS with both English and Mandarin prompts. With the excellent mobile service throughout China, people are using GPS and not maps anymore. I have not been able to find one good detailed map in English anyplace in China or Hong Kong. I imagine that they are not printing very many of them anymore.

2. I need translation software that runs on this same tablet. My friend Michael just demo’d one to me. You speak into it in English, and about 5 seconds later it repeats what you have said in Mandarin. Magic. It does it versa-vica too. Something like that would have saved me much grief (and many false turns) on the road.

3. It would have been better to take one’s bike past the coastal mega-industrial sites, away from the confusion and pollution. Pedalling thru 150 miles of congestion and traffic is not an ideal bike trip for me.

So what has gone right. Well, my bike is holding up well.  My body is feeling great. I can still pedal 100 kms a day on a loaded down bike (on the flatlands). I never know if I will be able to do the next trip until I start pedalling. The people are wonderfully kind and helpful and well-mannered (with the exception of the Internet cafes).

A daytime shot of an officially approved Chinese Internet Cafe. You are ID's and monitored. I had my own personal monitor. How thoughtful of them.

A daytime shot of an officially approved Chinese Internet Cafe. You are ID’ed and monitored. I had my own personal monitor. How thoughtful of them.

Read More…

#2 from China: Pedalling deep into Guangdong Province

I quickly found a safe bicycle path going my direction.

I quickly found a safe bicycle path going my direction.

I set out on bicycle from Zhuhai, China, on the morning of February 18th. Zhuhai is a coastal town located just to the north of Macau, which is 30 kms west of Hong Kong. To add to the mix, I am in the middle of the Chinese New Year. My plan is to pedal straight west to avoid the industrial zone around Guangzhou (formerly Canton) which lies just north of Hong Kong. From there, I would ride into Yunnan province. I wanted to avoid the congestion and pollution. I would be wrong on both counts.

First of all, the bicycling here is not nearly as dangerous as I had been warned. I rode my first 25 miles in a fence-protected bicycle zone. You can’t get much safer than that. Show me that in the US. Secondly, Chinese drivers have been courteous to me. I had heard that Chinese drivers were dangerous. Perhaps in the north they are, but my experience has been exactly the opposite. The highest posted speed limit I have seen is 70 km (42 miles per mile) and I do not see drivers breaking the limits.

I found many safe bicycle paths like this one on my route.

I found many safe bicycle paths like this one on my route.

Second, all the people I have met and asked for help (mostly for directions) have been as helpful as they could be, given my complete illiteracy and muteness. I have not had a rude gesture or word from anyone. They also leave you alone, after that first stare of surprise when they see you.

Third, the street food is simply great. Maybe it is even better in the sit down restaurants, but I am not wiling to leave my bike, loaded with valuables, out of my sight.

Read More…

# 1: Setting out from Hong Kong to Chengdu, China by bicycle — 2013

Entering into The People's Republic of China. The people here have been very helpful.

Entering into The People’s Republic of China. The people here have been very helpful.

I arrived in Hong Kong on 2/14/2013 with plans to visit briefly, buy a bicycle, and then ride out north, passing thru Guangzhou. From there I would turn west to Yunnan province, with my final destination being Chengdu, in Sichuan Province. My goal was to attend the wedding of a former student, Yimei Lin. Yimei had been one of my best graduate students. She has been working as an auditor at a major accounting firm and has kept in contact with me.

In the past, I have attended other students’ international weddings. South China was on my bucket list of places to visit, and so I thought ‘Why not?’  So here I am, going into the world’s most densely populated city, in the world’s most populous country.

I was greeted at the airport my Michael Metelnick, the brother of a close friend of mine in Bloomington. I could not have had a better welcome. Michael had made many arrangements for me, including getting me an ‘Octopus card’. This was a magical piece of plastic that you just needed to put near anything to pay for it. When it got low on money, you just added to it via credit/debit card or cash.

My gracious hosts Paulina and Michael, showing me the incredibly modern, efficient Hong Kong subway.

I was near amazed at the efficiency, cleanliness, and general excellent service the their MTR (subway). The cars were well crafted, the service inexpensive, and very frequent.

I managed to finally find a decent mountain bike in Hong Kong. I fully dressed it up later with vertical grips, lights, dual mirrors, and fenders for grand total of $250. This is very cheap for touring. But it is here where these bikes are made, so I could expect them to be reasonably priced.

My new touring bike. It is a Mongoose mountain bike. It should be adequate for my trip.

Read More…

The Wild Years

Dwight Worker The Wild Years A series of autobiographical stories about Dwight Worker’s life, running from the law…before Lecumberri. THE WILD YEARS is available in paperback and ebook.

Escape from Lecumberri

Dwight Worker Escape from Lecumberri Only two people ever escaped from the infamous Lecumberri Prison in Mexico City: Pancho Villa and Dwight Worker. This is the true story of Dwight Worker’s amazing escape. ESCAPE FROM LECUMBERRI is available in paperback or Kindle.

About the Author

Dwight Worker is an American professor, activist, adventurer, and fugitive. He escaped from the Mexican penitentiary Palacio de Lecumberri in 1975 along with the book and movie Escape about the story

Throughout his life he participated in civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. In 1991, Dwight volunteered to serve in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Worker is a former professor at Indiana University, where he created the Information Security program for the Kelley School of Business before retiring in 2008 to farm, write, and travel.….READ MORE