Around Halong bay. 10th to 13th March.

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Our home for 3 days.

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Mill pond flat.

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Going through a ‘hole’.

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A real one. Sadly we can’t keep it. Unless we give $’s.

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Home for fisher folk.

Ha Long bay. For some people the whole reason for going to Vietnam. UNESCO world heritage sight. Some people go to Halong Bay for the day.  A 4 hour bus ride,as much fun as root canal work with no local anaesthetic. 4  hours around the bay, and then repeat the dental work.  The area is huge, beautiful, quiet and needs exploring. 4 hours just is, well, crazy.  We opted for a 3 day, 2 night aboard the Halong Phoenix Cruiser.  In between sort of weather.  A few days ago the area was covered in mist, and it would have been difficult to see much at all. We had mostly dry but rather grey, none of the bright sunshine in the adverts.  Still, the scenery is spectacular with the vast limestone rocks rearing up out of the sea.  Ha Long means ‘Dragon teeth’, or, rather, it may mean that. Our guide thought that loads of things meant all sorts of stuff. Sounds good, though. There are vast stalactite and stalagmite caves to visit, along with all the other tourists.  Would be easy to spend longer and take some time to look around the largest island, Cat Ba.

It’s all very orderly in the Bay with all the cruisers and ferries stopping in the same places.  Off-piste is strictly forbidden.  However, with a kayak, we were able to explore  the hidden coves and lagoons, away from the boats. We did manage one lunch with not another boat in sight, well away from the crowds. Exceptionally quiet and peaceful.  We were amazed to see some wild monkeys.  Maybe macaque monkeys. Our guide wasn’t sure. On Cat Ba they do have langurs, but are very rare and endangered. We were keen to support their conservation project.

Treated to some very good food with lots of fresh squid.  Paul tried to catch some. Failed, but had a bit of fun with synchronised fishing with three Germans.

Would love to revisit the area again for even longer. Ideally when the sun is out and 10 degrees warmer.

To Quy Nhon, Fri, 26.2.16

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To Quy Nhon

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Great views, almost sunny for a few minutes.

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Free drinking water at lunch stop.

Weather still grey, grim and windy but no way are we staying at Scandia for another night.  Vietnamese tea definitely more quaffable than the Vietnamese coffee.  Poor Paul is stuck with water for breakfast with his cold fried eggs.  A quick clean of the rusting bike chains and off back down the mucky road.

At least the road is quiet.  A back road for part of the way before hooking back onto Highway 1.  As a major highway linking north and south Vietnam this is surprisingly light with traffic too.  Mostly it is trucks carrying hundreds of live pigs – lost count of how many passed us.  The smell lingers for a couple of minutes as the truck races by.  Other road users are the small minivans, the worst, with their loud persistent horn blowing and habit of overtaking on blind bends.  Second worst are the large green buses.  Heads down, against the wind we stick tight to the hard shoulder.  At least it’s not raining.

A nice detour through an unmarked fishing village.  Daily food market on the street with fresh veg on the ground, then the fresh fish and an enormous pile of shellfish being cleaned off by half a dozen women, but nowhere to eat.

Have one of our best lunch stops at a roadside stall.  Pointing and miming we manage to order large plates of rice with squid, prawn and veg on one and crackling pork and chicken on the other.  With two Pepsis the bill was only around £2.50.  Bargain and really tasty.

Wildlife watch today – Paul saw a large snake slither across the road.  Linda was busy in the bushes and missed it. Pah!

85 kms and some good hills.  We cycle down the very narrow village lanes to “Life’s a Beach”.  A brilliant spot.  An upmarket backpacker place and very well done.  A gorgeous curved sandy bay and our room upstairs is a bamboo hut with a veranda overlooking the beach.  The weather hasn’t cleared yet and still in the tail end of the big storm but the view is amazing and it is such a treat to sit watching and listening to the thundering waves crashing onto the beach.

Two days here we think, to hope the weather improves a bit.

 

Negombo to Kite House

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Hard long day, but ended in The Kite House. Stunning position. Loved it. 7/12/15, Mon. 121.6km, 234m climb.

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7 am and all’s mellow. Anticipating 120k cycle ride.

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Early morning sail from Negombo beach.

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The belly loves it. The knees, not so sure.

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Once bitten, twice shy. Our hut for the night.

Keen to drag Paul out of the hammock to get going for long cycle ahead. Were  flooded out of our bedroom the night before and it didn’t get any drier heading north.  Risked a dodgy looking food stop 70km into the trip – so desperate for an ice cold coke.  Skipped on the hard boiled egg with rice (looked as though it had been sat there awhile) and had freshly cooked chicken fried rice.  Don’t see any other tourists in this area and definitely not on bikes. In fact one one cycle tourist so far at all, in 4 weeks. Odd. People still always so friendly, waving and calling out to us.

Have an Airbnb place booked up on the Kalpitiya peninsula – £13 per night yeh.  Our hosts emailed to say were heading to Colombo but “Sanda” would sort us out.

Took a wrong turning. And then another. And another. Soaking wet in a coconut plantation (owned by the St. Anne’s Shrine)  Lucky to knock on the door of a Russian kitesurfer who was able to direct us.  This peninsular is renowned as the best kitesurfing area in South East Asia.

Sanda and husband live next door to Ana and Manoj, speak no English and are absolutely charming.  Sanda had been tasked to cook us curry and rice and, wow, best meal so far.  Sat on the floor of their “chill out hut” with half a dozen different dishes of curry.  Doesn’t get much better.

The Kite House b and b is basic but very comfortable with cold shower and a fan.  Sadly, the fan does nothing to dry out our sodden cycling kit which is becoming “riper” by the minute.  Missing washing machines and tumble driers.

Hopefully tomorrow will see bright sunshine.

 

 

To Trincomalee, Thanksgiving.

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Leaving our great hotel,Giman Free Resort. Rural, lovely food and great rooms. Huge bathroom. Friendly folk.

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Fuel for the cookers. No diesel needed

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Maybe the reason we were the only ones in the hotel? Not passable by anything other than 4×4. Or feet.

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Girls and boys wear very smart uniforms, and take their education seriously. Happy the country is at peace. At last.

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Most of the ladies are very elegant and shade themselves as much as possible. Hindu, Muslim, Christians and Buddhists live side by side.

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Lunch. Tasty and better than it looks.

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Its customary to use any loo when passing. Just knock on the door and ask (Linda would feel happier using a bush. Except for the snakes.) The picture does not include the smell.

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Drying fish. Again, the smell…

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Fish retail outlet. Again, the smell.

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Cows add something on the beach

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End of day beer. 100k!

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Our 100k route. East coast Sri Lanka.

Later than anticipated start to our 100km cycle after a full curry meal served together with omlettes and fresh fruit.  Already high 20’s getting on the bikes.  We have been so well looked after by Marcus, Suranga and Ganesh, who anticipate our every need with refreshment stops.  How will we cope next week on our own?

Head wind all the way up the coast but wonderful views of the lagoons and the plains (still trying to spot a rogue elephant).  The thought of a chilled beer at the end keeps us going.  Now for that beer.

 

 

 

 

 

Tamarind Gardens to Dambulla. Sun 22nd November

LInda and our hostess Ayesha saying goodbye.

Linda and our hostess Ayesha saying goodbye.

 

Breakfast at 6:30am to get an early start on the bikes before the heat and the traffic.  Bright sunshine and already 26c.  Cycled past young Hindu girls heading for the temple, dressed so smarty in bright yellow saffron sari’s.  Sad that we  ran out of time and didn’t get to explore more of the village, the dolomite quarry and the craft workers. We hope to come back, great place.

 

The team: Paul from Silicon Valley, Suranga our cycling guide, Linda, Paul, Janice and Bill from Glasgow.

The team: Paul from Silicon Valley, Suranga our cycling guide, Linda, Paul, Janice and Bill from Glasgow.

 

Crazy driving, crazy roads

Crazy driving, crazy road

Workers in rice fields

Workers in rice fields

Paul experiencing some Ayurveda treatment at the spice and herb garden.

Paul experiencing some Ayurveda treatment at the spice and herb garden.

Great tree

Great tree

 

Our group, plus Marcus, our main guide and Dinesh, Tata driver and Mr T lookalike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycling on the roads is fun, exhilarating  and a challenge. You have to keep listening and watching, both in front and behind you. Blue private buses are crazy, fast and on a mission: to get to wherever they need to by… a few minutes ago. Roads mainly tarmac, but quite a lot of mud at times. Sadly a dog met his end by the side of a road today.

 

Cycling through busy villages, and workers in paddy fields. They don’t know it’s Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually rather relaxing. Saw loads of spices growing, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, nutmeg, cocoa, coffee and an interesting plant called cocaine.

Neck and shoulder massage - spot the cyclist.

Neck and shoulder massage – spot the cyclist.

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Entrance to Golden Temple

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home of the highest Buddha in Sri Lanka.

And great caves with loads of Buddas, dating back over 500 years. Some of the caves are over 2,000 years old, each one filled with various Buddahs, created by kings to show their spirituality. Not so sure. Buddha isn’t a God, but seems to be treated like one by some.

The incumbent Buddha carved into the granite cave

The recumbent Buddha carved into the granite cave

The feet of Buddha

The feet of Buddha

Buddha statues carved out of brick and clay.

Buddha statues carved out of brick and clay.

 

Sundown over Matale plains - centre of Sri Lanka.

Sundown over Matale plains – centre of Sri Lanka.

This recumbent Buddha is carved out of the rock itself. Still some of the gold leaf can be seen. Impressive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lovely end to the day.

Now to food.

 

Around Tamarind Gardens

John, our host

John, our host

Breakfast: milk rice, tuna curry and fresh fruit – delicious

One of John and Ayesha precious babies

One of John and Ayesha precious babies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John and Ayesha our hosts bought 10 acres in Digana as a development project to help the local villagers whose lives are third world, and change all their lives. They developed Tamarind Gardens.  The area experiences drought for 7 months of the year and the government does not supply continuous water even though it charges for it.  John and Ayesha, in collaboration with Walker Tours, a Sri Lanka based company provide an authentic opportunity for visitors to the area to experience life in rural Sri Lanka.  Visitors are able to assist with projects, depending on their length of stay, eg, build a chicken coop, hook up a water tank, anything and everything.  They have established a small Jersey herd and John is proud of his neufchatel style cheese and clotted cream.  He is able to sell these to specialist organic shops in Colombo where there is high demand. We tasted the clotted cream, with home made scones. Oh Gosh! Almost as good as Cornish clotted cream. (In fact better, but we can’t say that). We were both really taken by the whole concept, our hosts and the magical spirit of the place.

Taking the Jersey milk to market

Taking the Jersey milk to market

Handmade incense sticks

Handmade incense sticks

Paul under Ficus tree; the species under which Buddha meditated.

Paul under Ficus tree; the species under which Buddha meditated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cabins overlook Victoria reservoir which is fished by the local villagers.  We had a paddle out up to the dam in one of the fisherman’s canoes – cool breezes across the water and totally peaceful.  At certain times of the year the elephants do come across from the opposite hillside to graze.  They are “encouraged” by the use of firecrackers not to swim across to the village.

View from our cabin

View from our cabin, early morning

 

Paddling across the Victoria reservoir

Paddling across the Victoria reservoir

The hole left by Linda's foot (cow poo).

The hole left by Linda’s foot (cow poo).

John has seen a Russell’s viper by his cowshed which his manager was swift to dispatch.  The viper is responsible for the highest number of human deaths….. (not  a common  species in this area)

 

 

 

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Cultural experience in Kandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cultural experience in Kandy, Ves dancers. Highly regarded and loads of symbolic dancing. Some of it came over more like a circus, until the symbolism was explained by Marcus, our guide and chauffeur.

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Supper – freshwater lobster from the reservoir. £2 for them both.

 

Aga, eat your heart out

Making string hoppers.

Making string hoppers.

Supper cooked on a wood fire range, helped, or rather not helped by Paul, making string hoppers. They are rice flour and water, squirted onto a reed dish and then steamed. Yummy.